Copper Harbor, Michigan

The end of the road is where the fun begins for RV Adventurers headed to this hidden gem at Michigan’s northernmost point

By Jim Junttila

Some call it a bucket list trip. Others have described it as an once-in-a-lifetime adventure to explore Upper Michigan’s scenic north woods. Any way you look at it, this isn’t just any place in Michigan’s storied U.P., but the Upper Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula, better known as “The Keweenaw.” The small town of Copper Harbor is its epicenter and there is no better way to explore this exciting destination than in an RV.

With your RV as your base camp, you can walk, bike, paddle and peddle your way around Fort Wilkins and Copper Harbor, although you’ll want to take your RV to the top of Brockway Mountain, and on a couple local side trips around the Keweenaw Peninsula to explore this land of the greatest of Great Lakes. Here you’ll find pristine woods, waterfalls, rivers, glacial lakes and trout streams, ghost towns and mining ruins, all steeped in the history of the Copper Rush.

Make it the ideal extended 4th of July or Labor Day weekend getaway, or anytime you can plan a 4- or 5-day RV adventure, leaving Marquette on a Wednesday and returning on a Sunday, with slip-time to Monday.

Copper Harbor is located at land’s end, at the northernmost tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Go any further north and you’ll run smack dab into Lake Superior.

One of the premier RV destinations in North America, Copper Harbor, fronts on the big lake they call Gitche Gumi (602 feet above sea level). From there you can also see Brockway Mountain, a volcanic landform, at its back. Rising to 1,320 feet above sea level (720 feet above the surface of Lake Superior), the drive runs along the ridge of Brockway Mountain on the Keweenaw Fault. On a clear day, Isle Royale is visible 50 miles from the summit.

Copper Harbor and the Keweenaw remain unspoiled, uncrowded and largely undiscovered, truly where the road ends and the RVing adventure of a lifetime begins. And you’ll be traveling the Copper Country Trail National Scenic Byway all the way.

The first thing you’ll notice is the traffic, or more accurately, the lack thereof. The farther north you drive, the more it thins out. Keweenaw County is truly a frontier county; with less than six people per square mile, traffic is virtually non-existent. North of Calumet, you’ll likely see fewer than a dozen cars during your 40-mile cruise to Copper Harbor.

1

Marquette

Though Copper Harbor can easily be reached from anywhere in the U.S., this adventure begins in Marquette. If you don’t already own an RV, that’s not a problem. In fact, a trip like this is a great time to literally “test drive” this fun way to travel. Don’t know what to rent? Go RVing has a handy tool on their web site that allows you to compare all kinds of RVs, from small pop-up campers to larger towable RVs with all the amenities.

Need a rental? Hilltop RV Superstore offers a big selection of RVs to suit your needs. And if you’re flying in from out of state, the Hilltop folks will deliver your unit to Sawyer Airport so you can be on the road north in no time. Copper Harbor is a 3-hour drive from Marquette, MI via U.S. Highway 41 North, but plan on spending four to five leisurely vacation-time hours if you want to make a few of these fun whistle stops along the way.

Sailboats Marquette
Sailboats line the shores around Marquette, your jumping off point for the journey to Copper Harbor. Photo By Aaron Petersen
2

L’Anse

The Visitor & Welcome Center is on the right just before you drive under the welcome banner. Indian Country Sports Tackle Shop and Lighthouse is on the downtown L'Anse Waterfront Park on Keweenaw Bay with picnic tables near the marina. Take your fishing rod and camera on a short scenic walk up the Falls River, a picture book trout stream, to the cascading staircase falls. Steve Koski at Indian Country is a local and is as knowledgeable as they come on area fishing and attractions.

Bishop Baraga Park and Statue--Left 1/4 mile off U.S. 41, L'Anse, and you’ll be standing in the shadow of the “Snowshoe Priest”, Bishop Frederic Baraga, perched high above a sandstone cliff overlooking Keweenaw Bay. After a photo op, turn left (north) on 41 past gorgeous sandstone cliffs on your left, Keweenaw Bay and Lake Superior on your right, and a roadside swimming beach with easy on-off free parking at water's edge.

Step out of your RV and enjoy a refreshing dip in the clear water of Keweenaw Bay. Park in the shade under a huge water’s edge willow while geese, swans and waterfowl waddle and preen on the beach, some willing to eat out of your hand.

3

Houghton

U.S. 41 runs right through the Michigan Tech University campus in Houghton, with downtown shopping, historic architecture, sandstone buildings built during the old copper mining days when the area building code was “Sandstone and brick two foot thick” and sandstone was carved from nearby Lake Superior shoreline outcroppings. Parking your RV in Houghton is easy. In addition to ample spaces downtown, Houghton also offers RV parking along the town’s waterfront. The city even has an RV park on the water just outside of town where you can reserve one of 22 dedicated RV units.

Keweenaw Star
Take the Keweenaw Star on a scenic tour down the Keweenaw waterway to the beautiful old lighthouse at Houghton. Photo By Aaron Petersen

Visit the old Douglass House Hotel, Bar & Restaurant, Library Restaurant & Brew Pub, and Keweenaw Brewing Company. The Thirsty Fish Lounge on the 7th floor atop the Magnuson Hotel Franklin Square Inn offers a great view of the Keweenaw Waterway and Mont Ripley Ski Hill.

Historic Dee Stadium Ice Rink & Museum, the birthplace of U.S. Professional Hockey, are all within 3 blocks walking distance, with free off-street waterfront parking.

4

Hancock

Take the Portage Lake Lift Bridge across the Keweenaw Waterway to Copper Island, "The Upper Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula” and historic downtown Hancock, home of Finlandia University. Follow U.S. 41 through town, up the hill to Quincy Mine, for an underground tour and tram lift ride.

Peterson's Fish Market across road offers fresh and smoked Lake Superior lake trout, salmon and whitefish, with an outdoor deck café serving delicious fish sandwiches and meals. Pick up some brat-size fish sausage for camp. Slice it thin, like pepperoni, and serve with cream cheese and crackers for a tasty hors d' oeuvres, or roast some over the campfire and serve on crusty rolls like a brat.

5

Calumet

Oscars Smoke House
In Calumet, you can tour the historic theatre and stand on the stage where Sarah Bernhart, Lillian Russell, John Phillip Sousa and Arlo Guthrie have performed. Photo By Aaron Petersen

Continue north on 41 past Houghton County Airport to Calumet-Laurium and Keweenaw National Historical Park Visitor Center, 3 blocks off 41 in downtown Calumet.

The historic Michigan House Hotel, Red Jacket Brewery & Brew Pub, a half block up 7th Street, offers a great menu, ornate carved mahogany back bar, period mural art on the ceiling, gorgeous stained glass windows, and an intricate mosaic tile floor.

Stop at the Keweenaw Visitors Bureau on the right (just off U.S. 41) in Calumet to pick up brochures, literature and information on Copper Harbor and Fort Wilkins, then turn left at the light to Pat’s Supermarket, your last chance to stock up on groceries and refreshments for the campground.

Prospector’s Paradise, a sprawling rock and mineral shop on U.S. 41 just north of Calumet, is a haven for rock hounds and collectors. Housed in an old sawmill, you’ll find thousands of ocean jaspers, rainbow fluorites, amethyst, copper, silver, crystal quartz, datolite, petrified wood, and shimmering minerals that sparkle and shine when the light hits them just right.

Continue north on 41 to Phoenix Store and historic Phoenix Church at the confluence of Central Creek and West Branch Eagle River. Whip out your ultra-light rod and wet a line in the brook trout stream in the back yard of the church and fish your way down to the confluence.

The Jam Lady, just up the road in Eagle River, sells amazing thimbleberry, blueberry and strawberry jams. Pick up a few jars before heading north to Eagle Harbor.

6

Eagle Harbor

This town offers a fantastic lighthouse tour, roadside picnic areas, sand dunes, a great swimming beach, the Jampot Bakery, Jacob's Falls, Eagle Harbor Inn (try their lobster pizza, the specialty of the house), and Cat Harbor roadside beach.

Eagle Harbor’s historic brick lighthouse sits on a lichen-encrusted jagged granite outcropping, while just around the lea side is a quiet, scenic harbor village on the beach. One of the big advantages of traveling in an RV is that you can stop and explore or take a swim just about anywhere and you never have to worry about finding changing rooms, clean restrooms or a quick snack for the kids because it all travels with you. So, get some beach time and take a dip.

Lighthous Eagle Harbor
The lighthouse at Eagle Harbor is spectacular and tours are available daily. Photo By Aaron Petersen

Head northeast past Cat Harbor and more rock, cedar and white birch shoreline to Esry Park, a granite outcropping with carved granite stairs to a domed bedrock made for picnicking, walking, wading and climbing.

Just before you reach Copper Harbor, take the west entrance to the top of Brockway Mountain for a panoramic, birds-eye view of your destination.

Destination

Copper Harbor

Camping at Fort Wilkins is just the beginning of your adventure at Copper Harbor, where you can check out the Copper Harbor Marina and Lighthouse Cruise, the waterfront, Isle Royale Queen dock and dockside store. You’ll also have fun exploring the Fisherman’s Daughter, Mariner North, the town’s One-Room School, Community Center, Keweenaw Adventures, Zik’s, The Loon, Harbor Haus, and Fort Wilkins State Park on Lake Fanny Hooe.

Things To Do

Historic Fort Wilkins State Park

On the north shore of Lake Fanny Hooe, Fort Wilkins offers excellent RV camping on site with 21 private, wooded paved pads with 50-amp service for $26 per night. Wayne Burnett, Park Supervisor, reminds RVers that all parks require a Recreation Passport for entry and visitors are advised to make campsite reservations in advance.

At the northern terminus of U.S. 41, which runs 1,990 miles to Miami, FL, Fort Wilkins is a fully restored 1844 military outpost and features the Copper Harbor lighthouse, one of the first lighthouses on Lake Superior, built in 1866.

Cold water, hot fishing

Scenic, sheltered Lake Fannie Hooe has a boat ramp, fishing pier and picnic area. Walleye, splake and smallmouth bass are the popular fish species you’ll find here, which are ideal for float tube and kayak anglers or just plain drifters.

Just across the road, you’ll find the mouth of Fanny Hooe Creek, where you’ll be walking on ancient Pre-Cambrian basalt bedrock encrusted with lichens and a cobble-and sand beach with a view of the lighthouse across the bay. It’s a great place to fish, as the warmer flow from Lake Fanny Hooe attracts splake, lake trout, steelhead, coho and king salmon basically everything that swims in the harbor and Lake Superior.

Nearby Lake Manganese and Manganese Creek offer good brook trout fishing, and don’t miss scenic Manganese Falls, tumbling 45 feet to Lake Fanny Hooe. Beachcomber & Rock Hound Tip: When strolling the shoreline, keep your eyes open for Lake Superior gemstones, like agates and greenstones, which are suitable for rings, necklaces and bracelets.

Mountain & trail biking

Copper Harbor is a mecca for mountain bikers, rated the best in the Midwest with world-class trails and challenging boardwalks for hardcore bikers as well as plenty of action for intermediate and beginner peddlers.

Paddle Up

Sam Raymond’s Keweenaw Adventure Company is the epicenter for biking, hiking, paddle boarding kayaking, and guided tours with rentals available.

Take a hike

Through Estivant Pines. This 500-acre stand of towering virgin white pine is one of the few remaining white pine forests in North America. These trees, which grow to 150 feet tall, provided masts for sailing ships back in the day.

Explore a historic lighthouse

Enjoy an exhilarating narrated cruise through the once bustling port to the iconic Copper Harbor lighthouse with its maritime museum and shipwreck artifacts. You’ll also see the first mine site of the 1843 Copper Rush, and the spot where Douglass Houghton discovered Keweenaw copper.

Catch A Fish

There’s splake (a hybrid cross between a boy brookie and a girl lake trout), and steelhead fishing in Copper Harbor. Lake trout and salmon may be found in Lake Superior beyond the lighthouse.

Sailboats Marquette
The area surrounding Copper Harbor provides a variety of stream and lake fishing opportunities for brook trout, walleye, splake and smallmouth bass. Photo Courtesy Go RVing, Inc.

Wet your whistle

At the end of the day, locals and visitors alike gather at the Brickside Brewery, a friendly little microbrewery and tourist, biker, hiker, paddler and fisherman’s hangout that handcrafts distinctive artisan brews with the taste of the Keweenaw. Take a cold growler or two back to camp for the ice chest to enjoy with dinner.

Extend your trip

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Isle Royale

Captain Don Kilpela, offers one-day round-trip cruises to Isle Royale, departing Copper Harbor 8 am for a 3-hour crossing, 3 hours on the island, then leaving Rock Harbor at 2:45 pm for the 3-hour cruise back to Copper Harbor in time for dinner in town or at the RV.

To put your Copper Harbor RV adventure in perspective, drive past Fort Wilkins to the end of the road cul de sac and read the U.S. 41 map sign illustrating the historic route from Copper Harbor to Miami, FL.

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge

Take U.S. 41 south one mile from Copper Harbor to Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, a handsome, historic Yellowstone-style log lodge featuring log cabins with fireplaces, a great restaurant and lounge, tennis courts and a stunningly gorgeous golf course.

Lac La Belle-Gay Loop

Another “Touch of the Keweenaw” side trip you won’t want to miss is the Lac la Belle-Gay Loop. Turn left 10 miles south of Copper Harbor to Lac la Belle and Mt. Bohemia Ski Hill. This are offers the greatest vertical drop in Midwest with year-round chairlift rides. Continue on Gay-Lac la Belle Road along miles of lakeshore Brunette Park and Beach, then to the mouth of the Tobacco River to see it tumble through a gorgeous sandstone gorge to its destination with Lake Superior.

There’s a waterfront roadside park and picnic grounds at the river mouth where you can pull your RV to water's edge, fish, wade and swim with brookie fishing upstream. Gay, MI and the Gay Bar are worthwhile stops, as is nearby Big Traverse Bay commercial fishing village and boat launch with a channel to Lake Superior, and a view of the Huron Mountains across the lake.

There’s a Township Park with a great sand swimming beach and washboard sand bottom, with blueberry picking just down Rice Lake Road at Blueberry Bob’s Blueberry Bog, Then follow Rice Lake Road back to Lake Linden, with perhaps a whistle stop at Dreamland, then left on M-26 to Hancock-Houghton, across the Portage Lift Bridge to the mainland and on your way back to Marquette, just the way you came.