Michigamme & Three Lakes area: Gateways to abundant waters
Serving as gateway communities on either side of the Marquette-Baraga county line, Michigamme and Three Lakes are places tied indelibly to the waters of peaceful and picturesque inland lakes.
This is a land of shoreline cotta
Michigamme, on the Marquette County side, shares its name with one of Michigan’s largest lakes, which laps against the shores of the village. Lake Michigamme covers nearly 4,300 acres and reaches depths of at least 70 feet.
Van Riper State Park, a site known for Lake Michigamme’s warm swimming waters at Champion Beach, is located a few miles east of the village. The state park is home to hiking trails, cabins, campgrounds and an inflatable summer water park, situated just offshore.
The village of Michigamme offers small shops and quiet, comfortable streets for walking. Along U.S. 41, north of the village, sits the Mount Shasta Lodge, which was featured in the 1959 motion picture “Anatomy of a Murder.”
A roadhouse scene, with Duke Ellington as “Pie-Eye” playing the piano and James Stewart was filmed here, as were some exterior shots that featured the lake.
Northwest of Michigamme, in Baraga County, is Craig Lake State Park, the most remote and wilderness-style of Michigan’s 103 state parks.
There are more lakes here defining the landscape, along with craggy bluffs and swamplands home to a remnant population of moose transplanted here from Canada during the mid-1980s.
There are yurts, cabins and campgrounds at Craig Lake State Park, with a few accessible only by canoe. The North Country National Scenic Trail cuts through part of the park, which is home to mixed forests, waterfalls and a rugged, remote setting.
North of Craig Lake State Park are the Michigamme Highlands, the Peshekee River and, to the delight of birdwatchers, bird species more commonly found in Canada’s boreal forests, including gray jays and boreal chickadees.
Michigan’s highest point, Mount Arvon, is found nearby.
Three Lakes, in Baraga County, is aptly named with lakes Ruth, George and Beaufort connected in a line, the first two bisected by U.S. 41. These are lakes of beautiful sunset skies and quiet mirrorlike waters at morning’s first light.
These lakes are also well-acquainted with the plopping of lures and bobbers of anglers pursuing panfish and other species from boats and docks located along the water’s edge.
Like Craig Lake and Van Riper state parks, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources manages a state forest campground and a boating access site on Beaufort Lake.
Not far from here, farther west and north, the DNR maintains a handful of state forest campgrounds at Big Lake and King Lake. Parent Lake, located near here too, has good boating opportunities.
Canyon, Agate and Silver waterfalls are well within a morning or afternoon’s drive, each providing great places to take photos, along with the Sturgeon River Gorge and sloughs.
Henry Ford owned about 400,000 acres in this part of the peninsula during the 1920s, using the lands for production of timber components for his automobiles. After the Great Depression downturned his prospects, Ford sold his holdings here during the early 1940s.
A sawmill, some additional buildings and other items are preserved at the Ford Forestry Center in Alberta, across U.S. 41 from the Alberta Pond, a quiet place for fishing and picnicking.
The villages of Baraga and L’Anse are easy day trips away from this area, along with Houghton and Hancock — situated on either side of the Portage Canal — in neighboring Houghton County.
The highway corridor from Michigamme east through Champion and Humboldt, and west through Three Lakes and Nestoria, is prime moose wildlife viewing country. The animals are often seen in wetlands flanking the highway.
It’s best to have a camera ready when traveling through this area, for an opportunity to see a moose can present itself year-round.
By the late 1800s, Three Lakes was home to a railroad station and an iron mining settlement. Today, there are a couple of operating motels and a restaurant and bar up the road at Nestoria.
At Michigamme, an iron mine discovered by Jacob Houghton operated during this same time. After the Michigamme Mine closed in the early 1900s, the village declined in population.
State highways connecting to this area, including M-95 and M-28 offer arteries to new horizons of summertime adventure and exploration — more moose country and more water along the Michigamme, Ontonagon and Sturgeon rivers.
A glance at a good county map will show a landscape dominated by blue ink representing the countless lakes and waterways, and green for the deep forests and wilderness areas in this wild oasis.
A visitor here can find peaceful places to wet a line, snap a photo or sit by a fire and watch the sun go down and the stars come up. This somewhat remote part of the Upper Peninsula is a little slice of heaven right here on Earth.