The road to the end of the Upper Peninsula leads to Copper Harbor, a quaint village where the Lake Superior shoreline and the blue sky merge in an endless blue. True to its name, the Michigan town of 80 was built during the copper mining boom. Today, it's a prime destination for a summertime escape and the jumping-off point for a wilderness expedition on Isle Royale, where moose outnumber people.
A mountainside drive
The best way to take in the view of the fishing village and surrounding countryside is by driving up to Brockway Mountain Drive on Hwy. 26. It also happens to be one of the few places you might be able to catch a cell signal. Afterward, take a leisurely hike while learning about the rich history of the region at Fort Wilkins State Park (1-906-289-4215; 15223 U.S. Hwy. 41; www.michigan.gov/ftwilkins). The park is home to one of the first lighthouses on Lake Superior. It also features a military outpost from the 1840s that was built to keep peace in this remote wilderness during the copper mining boom. Actors at the park play out an important piece of American history.
Those wanting to experience the remote wilderness can hesd to Isle Royale National Park. Visitors can access the island daily via a ferry service that leaves from Copper Harbor (1-906-289-4437; 60 50th St., Copper Harbor; Isleroyale.com).
Wilderness lovers can also be rewarded by driving beyond Fort Wilkins State Park where a hidden gem awaits at the Mary Macdonald Preserve on Horseshoe Harbor. Check in with locals before making the drive to the preserve, which requires a trek through unnamed and unmaintained dirt roads off the end of Hwy. 41 east of Copper Harbor. There you'll find an uninhabited expansive beach marked with an archipelago of impressive rock outcroppings and an infinite number of glass-like skipping stones lining the big lake as far as the eye can see. (More information on the preserve at www.startribune.com/a534.)
Enjoy the lake
Take some time to get out on Lake Superior. Enjoy a boat tour of the harbor and Copper Harbor Lighthouse, scuba dive, rent a kayak, or charter a boat to fish for whitefish. The number of outfitters is limited compared with more well known Lake Superior destinations such as Duluth or Bayfield, Wis. -- but then again, you aren't competing with crowds, either. Keweenaw Adventure Company (155 Gratiot St.; 1-906-289-4303; keweenawadventure.com) is a good place to start for day rentals. Additional information on charters and tours can be found online at the Keweenaw Peninsula's tourism bureau at www.keweenaw.info.
After a day on the trails and exploring the lake, take some time to explore the town and find the perfect U.P. souvenir. At Swede's Gift Shop (260 3rd St.; 1-906-289-4596) pick up a local piece of copper jewelry, artwork or a Scandinavian gnome. A block away, Studio 41 Gallery (at Hwy. 41 and 3rd Street; 1-906-289-4808; www.studio41copper.com) is packed with local artwork from more than 50 artists. And just off Hwy. 41, Grandpa's Barn is the best spot in town to peruse local antiques and browse for the perfect book to enjoy on the beach (S. 4th Street; 1-906-289-4377).
History on the way
On the drive up the Keweenaw Peninsula into Copper Harbor on Hwy. 41, history buffs will want to stop in Calumet, a.k.a.Copper Town USA. Catch a glimpse of the copper boom of the late 1800s at one of Michigan's oldest taverns, Shute's Bar (322 6th St.; 1-906-337-4430; Calumet), which entertained countless miners and cooper millionaires. Enjoy a brew from the Keweenaw Brewing Company, while the bartender shares colorful stories about the speakeasy in the basement and the million-plus-dollar offer for the stained-glass Tiffany awning. If you have time, tour the historic Calumet Theatre (340 6th St.).
Be sure to stop by Vertin Gallery (220 6th St., Calumet; 1-906-337-2200), located in the original Vertin Department Store founded in 1885. Work by 130 artists includes paintings, woodworking, photography, pottery and jewelry. Other noteworthy gift shops and galleries dot the downtown landscape.
West of Copper Harbor on Hwy. 26 lies the township of Eagle Harbor. Make time to stop for an afternoon scone and locally made jam at Jampot Bakery (6559 Hwy. 26). The shop is run by monks and has become a U.P. destination by word of mouth. Less than a stone's throw away, Jacob's Falls plunges toward the highway before cascading to your ultimate destination -- Lake Superior.
Once you arrive in Copper Harbor, surrounded by wilderness, Yooper kindness, rich history and artistry, you'll wonder why you didn't make the drive sooner.
Beth Probst is a freelance writer in Iron River, Wis.