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Copper Country adventure

Two vacant chairs welcome visitors to F.J. McLain State Park to watch the waves on Lake Superior. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Houghton and Keweenaw counties exhibit a vast historical mining heritage and unmistakable exquisite beauty fanned out from the west to the northeast over what is commonly referred to as the “Copper Country.”

The copper mining tradition here is displayed prominently in the holdings of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, headquartered in Calumet, which includes just under two dozen sites.

“From 7,000 years ago to the 1900s people mined Keweenaw copper. Native peoples made copper into tools and trade items. Investors and immigrants arrived in the 1800s in a great mineral rush, developing thriving industries and cosmopolitan communities,” the park’s website reads. “Though the mines have since closed, their mark is still visible on the land and people.”

The Keweenaw historical sites making up the park operate independently of the National Park Service. Sites stretch along the length of the Keweenaw Peninsula, from Copper Harbor to south of Ontonagon.

The Quincy Mine, north of Hancock in Houghton County, is one of the park’s historical sites, as is Fort Wilkins Historic State Park at Copper Harbor, which is maintained by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A visitor rides up a park road at F.J. McLain State Park in Houghton County. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

“The U.S. Army built Fort Wilkins in 1844 to keep peace in Michigan’s Copper Country. It now serves as an example of mid-19th century army life on the northern frontier,” the national historical park’s website states. “The park also includes the Copper Harbor Lighthouse along with the 1848 light keeper’s house and interpretive trails. The lighthouse is reached by boat through the summer season.”

This summer marks the centennial of Michigan’s state parks system and the 175th birthday of Fort Wilkins. Costumed reenactors will help the park celebrate its milestone this year, including a special July 27 performance by the Dodworth Saxhorn Band of Ann Arbor – a replica band of the 1800s.

Beautiful state parks are also located in the Copper Country in Houghton County at Twin Lakes, south of Houghton off M-26 and F.J. McLain State Park, off M-203 north of Houghton along the windswept shores of Lake Superior.

Twin Lakes State Park sits on the southwest shore of Lake Roland. The 175-acre park includes a modern campground, boating, a playground, mini-cabins and, perhaps most notably, a popular 500-foot swimming beach.

Lake Roland is one of the warmest lakes in the Upper Peninsula, providing a welcome place for summertime swimming.

Children enjoy the playground at Twin Lakes State Park. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

There is a 1.5-mile hiking trail at the park, with the Bill Nicolls multi-use trail situated nearby, which extends for 38 miles throughout the western U.P., into neighboring Ontonagon County.

Lake Roland’s twin, Lake Gerald, is located directly north of Twin Lakes State Park. This area is a beautiful place for boating, swimming and fishing. Between the two lakes, there are 16 species of fish waiting for anglers.

The state park was established in 1964. There are roughly 60 campsites with electrical hook-ups there. Two miles south of Twin Lakes State Park, the DNR manages the Emily Lake State Forest Campground, which has nearly a dozen rustic campsites, a boating access site and fishing.

Like F.J. McLain State Park, Twin Lakes State Park is in a good place to set up a base camp, traveling throughout the surrounding area to explore numerous additional attractions, including local copper mines, a restored mining community at Victoria and mineral museums.

With stunning sunsets and sweeping views of Lake Superior from its shores, F.J. McLain State Park remains a favorite place for many park visitors who return each year to camp, swim, bike, picnic and gaze at stars or the northern lights over the lake.

This park offers 2 miles of beach on Lake Superior. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities at the park, including fishing, hiking, windsurfing, berry picking, beachcombing and sight-seeing.

The park is located between Hancock and Calumet and has a 4-mile hiking trail, a playground, roughly 100 modern campsites, a concession store and a picnic area, horseshoe courts and volleyball equipment.

There are numerous historical and natural attractions nearby, along with restaurants located in the small towns that adorn the extent of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Farther north, the beauty of the Lake Superior shoreline takes center stage on the way to Copper Harbor. Places like Eagle Harbor, Eagle River, Brockway Mountain Drive and the Copper Harbor itself, are examples of places that accentuate the beauty of this rugged and wild inland sea.

There are renowned mountain biking trails and spring bird migration opportunities at Copper Harbor, along with the Estivant Pines, a forest saved from the woodsman’s ax by the efforts of schoolchildren.

Lush green forests, blue waters and azure skies that spawn dazzling sunsets mark many of the views from the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Travelers visiting the area will be disappointed if they have planned only one day to stay, as the numerous attractions – natural and historical – number far too many to experience in such a short period of time.

Chances are, the Copper Country will keep visitors returning again and again.