If you’re scratching your head trying to come up with the perfect Northern Michigan vacation — where hashtag-perfect photo opportunities await a “like” or “favorite” from friends and followers on social media — then look to the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula.
As this remote corner of the Upper Peninsula is actually farther from Detroit than the White House in the nation’s capital it’s pretty much off-the-beaten-path except for those travelers who are in the know.
What to do
Spend your first day exploring the Keweenaw National Historical Park, which encompasses most of present-day Calumet and gives one a fascinating glimpse into life during Copper Country’s gilded age.
In Calumet, you’ll also come across incredible architecture, including brick and red sandstone buildings from when this village was known as Red Jacket and nearby Laurium was Calumet. Particularly striking is the Richardsonian Romanesque-style old fire station-turned-Upper Peninsula Firefighters Memorial Museum. Be sure to also take the nearly two-hour tour of nearby Quincy Mine, which was operational from 1846 until 1945.
The ghost towns — Cliff, Gay, Delaware, Mohawk, Phoenix — that faded away as mining came and went make for a great driving tour. Just pay attention to the wooden signs erected along both U.S. Route 41 and M-26 for points of interest.
One of your stops should be the circa 1869 former Methodist church in Central that’s hidden away on Old Stage Road. The notable carpenter Gothic-style architecture was inspired by the countryside churches of the Cornish immigrants who came here in the mid-19th century.
Between the Keweenaw County courthouse, jail and sheriff’s house and old lighthouse, Eagle River looks and feels a lot like one of those quaint little New England villages. The same is true for Eagle Harbor, located about 8 miles north on M-26 along the Lake Superior shoreline.
From Eagle Harbor, take the seasonal Brockway Mountain Drive, which climbs 1,320 feet above sea level. In particular, the scenic overlook at the summit offers glorious Lake Superior sunrises and sunsets.
At the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula is Copper Harbor, which today serves as the main gateway for visitors to the even more remote Isle Royale.
Here the big attraction is Fort Wilkins State Historic Park, which contains a very well preserved fort that was built to keep the peace and protect U.S. interests during the 1840s copper rush.
There’s also a new mountain biking trail with picturesque views of Lake Fanny Hooe, Fort Wilkins and Lake Superior. Another good ride is out to the 1,261-acre preserve at Horseshoe Harbor that’s protected by the Nature Conservancy. A rental bike from the Keweenaw Adventure Company (http://www.keweenawadventure.com; 906/289-4303), located right in town, is a must.
Where to stay
Perhaps the biggest thing holding tourism in the Keweenaw back is a major lack of accommodation options. Most of your options are bed-and-breakfast inns or roadside motels.
In Laurium, about a 10-minute walk from the historic downtown of Calumet, is the aptly named Laurium Manor Inn. The Greek Revival, Edwardian-era home, built for a copper baron, has been a 10-room inn since the late 1980s. Rooms start at $99 and include a good breakfast and friendly staff.
The Eagle Harbor Inn is located as its name suggests in Eagle Harbor. A small roadside motel with clean rooms and newly renovated bathrooms, it’s attached to a restaurant also of the same name (see below). Neither breakfast nor dinner are included with rooms, which are $82.
Where to eat
This part of the Upper Peninsula may be the land of pasties, but it’s actually possible to dine out and not consume a pasty. For coffee or a quick lunch, Calumet’s Café Rosetta is a big city-style coffeehouse with somewhat limited hours (closed Sundays, even in the summer).
Michigan House Café, also in Calumet, has craft brews, gastro pub fare and an eclectic interior that has been assembled since the original building was rebuilt in 1905.
Eagle Harbor Inn is a local favorite, which is always a good sign for restaurants. The fresh, locally sourced lake trout is phenomenal. Consider trying the homemade cheesecake, which changes daily.
The rustic-inspired, Adirondack-style Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, just outside Copper Harbor, is practically an institution around here. The whitefish is a smart choice on an otherwise uninspired menu.
Driving here is actually really easy. It just takes a long time.
Expect about a 9-hour drive from both Detroit and Grand Rapids, though those in West Michigan can cut about 50 miles off the trip by taking the Lake Express high-speed ferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee and driving up through Wisconsin.
Flying out of Lansing or Flint via a connection in Chicago on United Airlines to Houghton County Memorial Airport (about 10 minutes from Calumet) costs about $376, according to a search on Google Flights.
Alternatively, airfares into Marquette on American Airlines out of Flint and also connecting through Chicago are as low as $260 through fall, also according to Google Flights.
Dennis Lennox is a travel writer. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.