PAID CONTENT

A husband and wife head north across the Mackinac Bridge for a winter vacation on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Here are their tips, including where to eat, play and stay, for a long weekend in this snow-loving region of the Upper Peninsula.
Most people don’t like winter because of its indecision. They love the snow, the stillness, the beauty—until it’s gone, and brown slush and winter slop replaces the stunning scenery.

That’s why my wife, Laura, and I love the Keweenaw Peninsula—there isn’t so much in between. Winter comes and it stays; the trails stay groomed, the water stays frozen, and the ski hills stay white.

The people that call this rugged peninsula home have wintering figured out, because they have to. With such a long snowy season, they’ve found the perfect formula to savor this time of year, and visitors like us can learn a lot from them.

Trails on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Is It Winter, Yet?

When we’re tired of waiting for that next storm to fill in the local ski trails downstate or need a reason to justify buying $700 snow tires, we head north. But honestly, you’ll never have to twist my arm to spend a few days on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

On a frosty Thursday morning, we piled gear, layers, and boots into our truck, excited to be spending the next four days in the U.P. Two hours later, we crossed the Mackinac Bridge as the rigid suspension cables hummed in a cold wind, which was supposed to bring several inches of snow with it.

To break up the 9-hour drive from our home to Copper Harbor, we spent the night near Baraga on the banks of the Huron River. We rolled into our campsite just before sunset. While camping in 10-degree weather isn’t most people’s first choice, we’re not your traditional campers. We pitched a lightweight teepee in Big Eric’s Bridge State Forest Campground, one of the few DNR campgrounds in the U.P. that is (mostly) plowed in the winter. A lightweight wood stove, our heat source, creaked in the blue twilight while I unrolled our sleeping bags and Laura made cocktails. We’d finish the drive tomorrow to our first destination: The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.

Winter camping on on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Camping coffee on Keweenaw Peninsula

North to Copper Harbor

In the morning, we loaded up and continued on to Copper Harbor. Chickadees pecking at road salt peppering the hardpacked snowy road as we weaved our way north.

The woods are quiet this time of year under a glimmering white quilt. Most trees have lost their leaves, although a few of them still clung to mostly bare branches. Marcescence, or the retention of leaves on deciduous trees, is an unexplained phenomenon. Some say trees do this because they’re delaying the release of nutrients to their roots—crispy little treats to celebrate spring.

We checked into the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge later that evening, having spent the day exploring random roads and turns offs that hug the icy Lake Superior Shoreline. We followed our appetites—pasties, jerky and smoked fish from small convenience stores had everything we needed.

The historic lodge was built in 1934 and embodies the cozy Up North vibe we sought—a crackling fireplace, no television, no cell service, and trails just outside our door. An impressive structure, the lodge was built by engineers and laborers who were laid off when the local copper mines closed. It’s a perfect basecamp for adventures in all four seasons.

Before the sun could set, we unpacked and dashed out the door for a quick jaunt down the ski trails that trace the lodge’s property. Fat snowflakes fell from the darkening grey sky in indecisive swirls as we glided over the squeaky hardpacked snow.

Indoor cabin on Keweenaw Peninsula
Fireplace fire on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Mount Bohemia

In the morning, we grabbed breakfast burritos from the Little Cabin Café in the lodge to fuel up for a day at nearby Mount Bohemia in Mohawk (about a 25-minute drive). With 900 feet of vertical, 585 acres of terrain, and more than 270 inches of snowfall a year, this mountain is a perfect shredding substitute for this former western ski bum. You won’t find cruising groomers, just steep glades, cliff bands, and powder nooks that take most people (including me) by surprise.

The whopping 27 inches of snow they got a few days earlier was still plentiful and fresh for those willing to look for it. This is one of Boho’s superpowers—the ability to hold snow for days after a storm. Between panoramic views of Lake Superior and threading the needle between lichen-covered rocks and oaks, we found the winter ski conditions we’d been craving.

Before our legs gave out, we slipped into swimsuits and plunked our tired bodies into the hot tub at the base of the mountain. There, in the steamy haze of chlorine, water vapor, and laughter, we got to know other people who were in on the secret—this place is a winter paradise.

Views at Mount Bohemia on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Ski jump on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Apres ski swim on Keweenaw Peninsula
After a few hours of skiing and soaking, we traded swimsuits for sweatpants and drove back to our cabin at Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. While we waited for our dinner reservations, we wandered around the lobby to learn more about the lodge’s history, including how the Keweenaw County Road Commission saw the potential of tourism and that it could replace the defunct copper industry. Memorabilia and photos decorate the hand-hewn log walls and remind visitors of the area’s rich past and the challenges of calling the Keweenaw home.

Dinner that night at the lodge left us speechless, and I’m not being hyperbolic. The kitchen blends a rustic world food menu with a slow foods approach. They encourage guests to take their time and enjoy their company and the ambiance of the lodge while they dine. The menu uses simple, quality ingredients, and changes weekly. It was a great way to end a great day.

Cabin on Keweenaw Peninsula
The next morning, we woke slowly. I built a fire; Laura grabbed coffee at the café, and we did a little reading. We opted for something more mellow after yesterday’s Bohemia trip and decided to explore more of the trails just outside our cabin door. We brought our own cross-country skiing gear, but you can also rent equipment from the Outdoor Adventure Center. Lodge guests get a free half-day snowshoe rental.

With more than 10 kilometers of trails right outside, there’s plenty to keep visitors busy. You can also rent Altai skis to explore the woods off the groomed trails.

For lunch, we hopped in the truck and headed to Eagle River (40 minutes west of the lodge) to grab a bite at The Fitzgerald. This unassuming restaurant and hotel on the shores of Lake Superior welcomes visitors year-round. The lunch theme today was Vietnamese, the last thing I expected in a sleepy bar with more snowmobiles than cars in the parking lot.

Laura got a Mai Tai. I grabbed a beer, tasted her Mai Tai, and then ordered one. The food was brilliant—fresh, flavorful, unique. Bright winter light reflected off the warm knotty pine walls as we settled deeper into our comfortable chairs and ordered more food.

Food on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Lodging on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Dinner on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Horseshoe Harbor

After lunch, we worked our way back toward the lodge and north along Highway 26, continuing past Copper Harbor until the paved road ended. Any other time of year, we would have continued on the rough dirt road that weaves its way to the tip of the peninsula, but since it was currently under a few feet of snow, we grabbed our cross-country ski gear instead.

We loaded coat pockets with snacks for the scenic ski to Horseshoe Harbor. Trail conditions were perfect: smooth, fast, and cold. A few inches had fallen overnight on top of the snowmobile tracks and it continued to snow as we ambled toward the harbor. Since the ski trail follows a two-track, it’s easy to navigate and is well marked. However, the excursion turned into a backcountry experience once we left the two-track to follow the 1/2-mile footpath that leads to the harbor. (To access this trail, park where the plow trucks stop plowing at the end of Highway 41 as it heads east out of town and follow the large road signs for Horseshoe Harbor.)

Deer tracks zigged and zagged their way across the trail, occasionally pawing through the snow underneath oak trees for a few acorns. Rabbits and squirrels trounced on top of the snow, weaving through dense brush and burrowing into cozy tree cavities.

Winter views on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Winter hiking on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

We munched snacks once we arrived at the remote harbor. Clear, solid ice had formed in the protected waters of the rocky cove, yet the fractures in this celestial mirror reminded us of the dangers of walking across it. Outside the harbor, an ice and snow slurry heaved on the lake’s surface from the incoming swell.

We got back to the lodge just in time for our dinner reservation. While we relaxed in the warm dining room, the chef came out to chat. She shared her inspiration for the menu, her salad dressing recipe, and welcomed us back for another meal.

We ate with joy. As the fire hissed our conversation carried the carefree cadence of a couple who hasn’t looked at a screen in a few days or plugged into the news cycle. I wish dinner could be so rejuvenating every night of the week.

Headed to Houghton

We checked out of the lodge the next morning, but not before grabbing another breakfast burrito for the road. We took the scenic route back to Houghton that winds south along the rocky western shoreline of the peninsula.

In the summer, this route passes busy summer cottages and crowded scenic turnoffs. This time of year, these cottages are buried under snow and the plowed scenic turnoffs can only fit a few cars.
Along the way, we pulled over and crawled over the towering snowbanks lining the road to get a glimpse of the always-changing ice sheets and snow caves on Lake Superior.

Icy beach on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Pints and Pasta

Once in Houghton, we checked into our next hotel, Country Inn and Suites, and made a beeline for Keweenaw Brewing Company because, beer. There, in the dim light of the taproom among the bustle of college kids, we rubbed our tired joints and relaxed. It was hard to believe our trip was almost over and just how much we were able to squeeze into this four-day getaway.

Later, for dinner, we slid into a booth at The Ambassador for pizza and lasagna—the comfort food we needed. They serve one-of-a-kind food in a cozy atmosphere, and murals on the walls, are illuminated by colorful lights.

Morning in Nara

We couldn’t head home without one last ski. Fortunately, the Nara Nature Park was on our way out of town.

Perfectly groomed, wide enough to share with classic skiers, skate skiers, and snowshoers, and well-marked, this trail system demanded more than the hour we had to spare—next time, we told ourselves, we’d explore more.

Skiing on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Winter skiing on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Thanks, Keweenaw

It’s hard to visit the Keweenaw without bringing a small part of it home with you, even if it’s just a bruise from Mount Bohemia’s slopes. You’ll find yourself with a deeper appreciation for winter: snowbanks taller than your firstborn, crackling wood fires, zesty cocktails, and serene solitude.

The gritty people and communities that dig their heels into the rocky soil wear off on you. The food reinvigorates your taste buds and the scenery reminds you to love this wonderful season, no matter where you are or how much snow is on the ground.

Hilltop views on Keweenaw Peninsula

Photo by Sam Brown

Stay, Play & Eat in the Keweenaw Peninsula

Where to Eat in the Copper Harbor Area

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge
Fine dining in a warm, cozy lodge. Reservations are required.
Menu

Mount Bohemia
Wood-fired pizza, crepes, and other tasty treats.
Menu

The Fitzgerald
Famous for their BBQ but not afraid to switch things up. Lunch is on the weekends. Brunch is served on Sundays. Dinner reservations are required.
Menu

Where to Stay in the Copper Harbor Area

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge
Accommodations are available in 24 different cabins with 1, 2, and 4-bedroom sleeping arrangements.

Mount Bohemia
From yurts and cabins to hostels and campsites—Bohemia has many different lodging options.

The Fitzgerald
Six rooms with modern amenities and great views of Lake Superior just a snowball throw away.

Where to Play in the Copper Area Harbor

Mount Bohemia
Season passes go on sale for $100 the first week of December for one week only. Day passes must be purchased online and aren’t valid on Saturday morning.

Keweenaw Mountain Lodge
More than 10 kilometers of groomed trails on the beautiful property.

Eagle Harbor XC Ski Trails
10 miles of trail wind their way through the Eliza Lake Preserve, Long Lake Refuge, and the George Hite Dunes and Marshes.

Where to Eat in the Houghton Area

The Den
Creative cocktails and wood-fired pizza served in a modern setting.

Suomi
Traditional Finnish breakfast restaurant and bakery with cheerful staff and great food.

Where to Play & Stay in the Houghton Area

StayCountry Inn and Suites
Warm, comfortable, and clean rooms just outside of town.

PlayNara Nature Park
100-acre nature park that’s open year-round with more than 50 miles of trails. Winter trails are well-groomed and easy to navigate.

PlayMount Ripley
Michigan Tech’s very own ski resort located within city limits. Three lifts provide access to 22 ski trails that overlook the Keweenaw Waterway.

5 More Keweenaw Moments! 

Photos courtesy of Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau

Photo(s) by Sam Brown