Copper Harbor, MI – The end of the road

Everyone knows we Michganders love to represent our state by showing our hand. Here, try it.

Take your left hand and extend it, palm facing out. That’s the Lower Peninsula, the familiar Michigan mitt.

Okay, now turn your extended left hand to the left, and bring your handdown to the right so the fingers are pointing horizontally to the right. That’s the Upper Peninsula.

Now bring up your right hand, palm facing you, thumb to the right. Put the left hand at the top of the right and…voila… a map of Michigan.

michXHNow look at the tip of your thumb on the hand representing the Upper Peninsula. That is Copper Harbor, the end of the road, some 600 miles northwest of my southeastern Michigan home, at the tip of the Keweenaw  Peninsula.

You can’t go any further north without falling in Lake Superior. In fact, Lake Superior borders the little town of Copper Harbor on three sides. A mountain, Brockway Mountain, hems it in from the South. It is so remote that you can’t even get cell phone coverage in town. There’s one way in, US 41, which dead ends about two miles out of town.

It is one of the best spots we’ve found to take our RV anywhere in North America.

Copper Harbor, with a year-round population of 90, prides itself on being far away, But what it lacks in big city amenities, it more than makes up for in outdoors fun.

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Copper Harbor is at the end of US 41 at the tip of the Upper Peninsula’s Keewenaw Peninsula

Start out at the Historic Fort Wilkins State Park, tucked along the shoreline of Lake Fannie Hooe, a long inland lake loaded with trout that is just across US 41 from the pounding surf of Lake Superior. There are two loops to the park, the west unit with paved pads for big rigs, and the east unit with flat but grassy spots a half mile away. Separating the two campgrounds is Fort Wilkins, a wonderfully restored  1844 military outpost.

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The campsites on the eastern loop ofHistoric Fort Wilkins State park are flat, grassy and roomy.

We spent a night in each loop. Even though the west campground was more modern with the cement pads, we preferred the east, which when we visited in mid-September was less crowded. To compensate for the lack of cell phone coverage the state park, and most places in town, offered free and surprisingly robust WiFi connectivity.

The Fort is well worth half a day’s visit. It was opened in 1844 in the midst of the copper mining boom which had made the whole Keweenaw  Peninsula as wild and wooly a place as Alaska’s Skagway during the Gold Rush. Thousands of miners from all over the world were pouring into the region and the local Ojibway and  Chippewa Indians were understandably resentful of the Treaty of La Pointe that had taken the land from them and ceded the area to the United States two years before.

 

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Most of the buildings at Historic Fort Wilkins State Park have been restored to their mid-1800’s conition

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Brockway Mountain

The Fort was established to keep what was thought to be a delicate peace. But it was all for naught. The fort proved to be unnecessary. The native Americans largely accepted the influx, and the miners were too cold in the unforgiving climate to be anything but law-abiding. In all, the Army built 27 structures,including a guardhouse, powder magazine, 7 officer’s quarters, two barracks, two mess halls, hospital, storehouse, sutler’s store, quartermaster’s store, bakery, blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, icehouse, four quarters for married enlisted men, stables, and a slaughter house, to house the operations of two full-strength infantry companies. Several of these original structures still survive. Most of the others have been rebuilt following archaeological excavations.

The Fort is on the shores of Lake Fannie Hooe, just across US41 from Lake Michigan

The Fort is on the shores of Lake Fannie Hooe, just across US41 from Lake Michigan

The Fort was garrisoned for just two years, with nearly 120 soldiers stationed there. In 1846 , when the Mexican War broke out, the fort was abandoned, leaving behind a single caretaker. Some troops came back during the Civil War, and it was again reoccupied , but for just three years in 1867-1870.

The archeological excavations and restoration of the buildings by the State of Michigan is spectacular and you can walk in and out of the buildings, seeing artifacts from the time and reading letters from the men who spent a miserable existence in a place so remote to be militarily irrelevant.

We absolutely delighted in strolling around the fort, just a short walk from our campsite.

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The lighthouse is accessible only by boat and is restored to its 1846 condition

There is, across from the Fort a quarter mile out into the Big Lake, a lighthouse, first constructed in 1846. It, too has been restored and tours are available all day. You need to board a boat in Copper Harbor for a short ride to the lighthouse.

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There are many spots on the lonely Superior shoreline for photos like this

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The area is a mountain bike mecca and the Brickside Brewery is their hangout

Then we headed into Copper Harbor. The town has become a mountain biking mecca, with world class trails abounding in the  hilly forests that surround the town. We found mountain bikers gathered from across the country. Many are very hardcore and the trails are technical. But there are also easy rides and a great place to rent bikes right downtown. At the end of the day, the bikers all congregate at the Brickside Brewery, a very friendly microbrewry that hand crafts artisan brews.

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The always on winds from Lake Superior make for good kite surfing

Copper Harbor is also a center for kite surfing. We watched a half dozen wetsuit clad kite surfers scoot across the frigid waters and always roiling waves of the lake.

Also in town and well worth a hike is the Estivant Pines, a 500 acre stand of virgin white pines. Michigan, in the mid to late 1800’s was the land of white pines and the entire state was practically clear cut by thousands of rough and tumble lumberjacks. The white pine, which grows 150 feet tall, were used for sailing masts and its lumber built many a frontier town as the nation expanded west.

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Just outside town is Estivant Pines, a 500 acre stretch of virgin white pines

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Some of the white pines are 400 years old, 150 feet high and eight feet around

Today, the state has been reforested but the magnificent stands of white pine are almost all gone, expect for places like the Estivant plantation up in Copper Harbor and a stretch called the Hartwick Pines near the Lower Peninsula town of Grayling.

About the time the white pine forests were being played out, copper became the next big thing for Michigan, headquartered on the Keweenaw . There are  tours of two copper mines within a short drive of Copper Harbor. The Delaware Mine just south of Copper Harbor, and the Quincy Mine near the town of Hancock, offer guided tours deep underground. Copper turned this part of the state so rich at the Keweenaw  town of Calumet missed becoming the capital of Michigan by two votes.

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This historic photo shows how men went a mile underground to mine copper. There were deaths every week.

The copper boom was fueled by huge demands for copper wiring, as the nation began lighting city streets and homes with electricity.  The copper, too, too played and after a devastating mining strike in 1913, industry slowly vanished from the Keweenaw .

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The Quincy Mine offers tours

Today, it’s the end of the road. And beautiful. The air is clean, so is the water. Fish and wildlife abound and those who live here pretty much choose to live here.

I met lots of locals, young and old. They are proud of their heritage, deeply respectful of the land and lake, and very welcoming to visitors, especially RVers.

If history is your thing and you like to learn about it surrounded by beauty, Copper Harbor is deserving of a visit. Give yourself a week up here.

What to do? Fishing, hunting, biking, exploring during the summer, snowmobiling, sled dog races and ice fishing in the winter. There is a gourmet coffee shop, several excellent restaurants and, of course, the Brickside Brewery. And yes, US41 is plowed and maintained all year round. The folks of Copper Harbor know how to handle the annual snowfall of over 300 inches. Alas, the state park shuts down in October, though there is also an excellent private campground in town that may be able to handle late season RVers.

It may be the end of the road, but there’s a lot to see and do.

We’ll be back….




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  • Dale & Christie

    Oh, Mike. You have captivated us yet again. What a great place. Your photos make us want to drop everything and head up there from our Louisiana home. We are hoping to purchase a new Roadtrek in the spring. this may be our first trip! Thanks for posting this.

  • Debbie Billings

    Hey Mike… this is awesome. I want to go there, too. How about if you and Jennifer lead a Michigan rally next year? You guys have been everywhere and would be great tour leaders. I just love your travel reports. That eTrek sure has taken you two to some great places!

  • Mike Wendland

    Thanks, Debbie, but I can barely organize myself, let alone a group. You guys would string me up me after I left behind all the stragglers and dawdlers.

  • Walter

    Don’t sell yourself short, Marsha and I would gladly accompany you and Jennifer should you ever be inclined to organize a “Roadtreking Tour.” We’d follow you anywhere 🙂 Assuming, of course, you’d let a Class C coach join the group. By the way, we agree with your assessment of Copper Harbor. We have not been there in years but reading this makes us want to go again.

  • James Povich

    Love the hands “map!” Great photos, too. The Lake Superior shot looks like the Pacific Northwest.

  • Staci

    Hi Mike, So glad you had such an enjoyable time in our wonderful little town! It is truly a special place. With such a busy schedule I am sorry you were not able to stop in at Into the Woods Mini Golf and Gardens! I was looking forward to meeting you as we all knew you were on your way. I hope you do make it here again and perhaps we will have the chance to make each others acquaintance.
    Safe Travels to you both!

  • Linda

    We went to Michigan Tech University close to 40 years ago and one of our favorite things to do was “Go to the End of The Road”. Truly, you cannot say the you have been to the UP until you make this trip. Thanks for reminding me how unspoiled and beautiful it still is.

  • Mike Wendland

    Thanks, Linda. We ran out of time. We’re thinking about coming up and doing a story on ice fishing camp. Abd for sure, back next summer.

  • Richard Pullman

    I think we should start a petition drive to have Mike and Jennifer Wendland lead a 7-10 day tour of Michigan. We’re in. Just so it’s not one of his winter camping trips. If they want to instead do a tour of Florida and warm weather states after the first of the year, we’re good for that, too. Come on Mike and Jennifer, your public is calling!

  • LInda G.

    Seriously, Mike and Jennifer: You guys should lead a tour! (I’m a different Linda than the Linda above)

  • Dave Miller

    We spent a couple of nights at the Copper Harbor city dock two years ago on our multi year circumnavigation of Lake Superior in our 24′ Lifetimer boat. The second night was the 4th of July. As darkness approached there was a a huge thunderstorm approaching from the West with magnificent lightning, a full sky northern lights show to the north and then fireworks from across the harbor. A night to remember. The whole peninsula is a great place to explore. Happy trails, Bigfoot Dave

  • Thank you for visiting us in Copper Harbor and writing such a wonderful story on your blog. We appreciate you taking time to tell your subscribers about us UP here. You very nicely described Copper Harbor as the truly unique, special destination that it is!

  • Campskunk

    i always wondered where highway 41 ended up, and now i know. it’s startling to see some of the old familiar highways i grew up with in Florida extending far into Yankee territory. i’m going to coordinate with the black flies so we’re not there at the same time, and visit the UP again next year.

  • Davydd

    We stopped at Fort Wilkins SP last May on our way to the RV.net B10 Rally in Kincheloe on the UP. There was still snow on the ground and the inland lakes were still frozen over but the temps overnight were in the 40s. We were the only campers in the entire park with the exception of one lonely tent camper. Just past the park entrance is where the road ends.

  • Debbie Jones-Worvie

    Beautiful! Want to go this summer and do some camping.

  • Dave Ross

    Gorgeous!

  • Victoria Gilbert

    I miss michigan…that area is my most favorite!!!

  • Awesome place!

  • Gorgeous, I love hearing the waves crash onto the shore!

  • Amazing that the lake has waves like that!

  • Bob Svoboda

    It was a great ride, some wonderful views from the seat of the bike.

  • Was there in 1965.

  • Was there last summer it was beautiful

  • Been there, great scenery and great German food

  • John Mullally

    Not quite the end but close enough

  • Nero R Hero

    I live right close to there iam a yooper 🙂

  • in 1994 we were there, a fellow I read about in country magazine called himself “rent a ranger” a local gave tours, so we hired him for 2 days. Retired form the state forestry division, he was the one responsible for Estivant and pursued through death threats from loggers to save this forest from destruction. We were lucky enough to have him give us this tour of Estivant. I could tell other stories of our adventure with him but not enough room.

  • R Sherry Targum

    Been there …did you go to the lighthouse

  • Ruth

    We could not agree with you more on everything you said. It is an absolutely wonderful place to visit. But mind the bears while camping. We camped there years ago while still using a tent and I listened to them snorting around the campsite while checking for goodies. We even saw one running out of the campground with a small cooler. Always interesting! And as long as you are up there, swing by the Porcupine Mountain area. Michigan is a beautiful state.

  • love it up there

  • Janet Arnold

    beautiful photo

  • Conda Kay Arteaga

    Been there, go if you can…

  • Ist

  • Isn’t this fantastic scenery right here in Michigan

  • Breath taking

  • Gary Hennes

    Did you know that same copper vein dives under Lake Superior and emerges as Isle Royal National Park. It’s 20 miles from MN, but somehow still Michigan territory! Our family cabin is not far from there, 1200′ above Lake Superior. I get better TV reception from Houghton, MI (across the Lake) than from Duluth. Haven’t been to Copper Harbor, but hope to soon.

  • Tonya Black Greager

    Wow

  • We love camping up there!

  • Beautiful up there!!!

  • It,s beautiful in the winter too

  • One of our favorite vacation spots.

  • Pat Mesic

    The urge to go back East again is getting stronger. Your article has me inspired to try this trip next year. I have gone across Canada a couple of times, but this time I want to travel on the US side. If I do I will send pictures to you via Facebook. Stay safe and maybe I will meet you on the road someday. 🙂

  • Nancy Hotchkiss

    Great vacation spot!

  • Lynn Chastain

    Beautiful

  • Beautiful!

  • where the sea meets the land…….

  • We took our first RV up there in 2000 and visited all those same places. Loved the view from the mountain overlooking the town!

  • Been there, love it!

  • It may be the end of the road, but it is beautiful and peaceful.

  • Been there ate some of the best fish ever

  • Beautiful

  • great

  • Looking forward to going back up there…

  • The end of the road? I don’t think so !

  • P. S. This was our jumping off spot to go to Isle Royal. 🙂

  • Would love yo

  • been there

  • Good deer hunting

  • I have very fond memories of camping there when I was a teenager and young adult. Picking thimbleberries and eating pasties–it doesn’t get better than that.

  • Copper harbor is beautiful. I’ve been there many times but only in the winter while snowmobiling. All the snow is pretty.

  • Where is copper harbor located at

  • At the very tip of the Kewaunee peninsula of Michigan’s upper peninsula.

  • Love the U P of Michigan !!!

  • I absolutely love Copper Harbor! It’s like stepping back in time to the 1950’s! Beautiful area.

  • Just visited there about 6 weeks ago.

  • Been there and the streets are made with copper.

  • hope to sea it next year

  • Time forgot this place and it is so peaceful and beautiful….

  • we spent our honey moon there LOL

  • We have been there. Isn’t it the end of Rye. 41!

  • Beautiful area and the friendliest people.

  • Like, but it looks cold now, maybe next summer!!

  • Been there

  • My hubby and I know this place very well when we had a vacation visit at Copper Harbor, MI. Yes, there is copper in them there streets folks.

  • One of the most beautiful places I have ever been!

  • We plan on driveing up next summer from Alabama. Copper Harbor sounds like a beautiful place to visit.

  • Been there, loved it. Great place to explore..take some mosquito repellent along. Side note.. Population of Copper Harbor in winter (90)… in summer (several thousand).

  • Beautiful!

  • Beautiful

  • One of my favorite views of the harbor

  • Wow….need to see this

  • Beautiful place. Hoping to return for a longer stay…

  • this is beautiful.

  • Would love to,winter or summer!!!!

  • I’ve been there! It is the northernmost point in the UP!