Skip some rocks
The journey starts on County Road 505 at Little Girl's Point, which hugs the Lake Superior shoreline just west of Ironwood. From the parking lot, a short jaunt ends with an abandoned beach full of Lake Superior rocks and a vast horizon of Gitche Gumee blue. There, master the art of skipping rocks with endless rocks at your disposal.
Enjoy the city
Continue down County Road 505. This paved road weaves through part of the Ottawa National Forest and into downtown Ironwood. The forest, which includes nearly 1 million acres of preserved land, is a mix of hardwood maples, oak and aspen. No need to stop yet, though. Instead, enjoy the colors from the comfort of the car. Once in Ironwood, fuel up on pasties, which are stuffed with a variety of vegetables and meat, from Joe's Pasty Shop (116 W. Aurora St.; 1-906-932-4412; www.joespastyshop.com). Trust us, you'll need it for the upcoming amped-up session of nature's StairMaster.
Those seeking an authentic piece of U.P. culture can purchase a Stormy Kromer hat at Hobby Wheel (1435 E. Cloverland Dr.; 1-906-932-3332; www.hobbywheel.com). Stormy Kromers date back to the early 1900s, and the company is now headquartered in Ironwood. The hat was created by the wife of train engineer George "Stormy" Kromer who needed a winter hat that wouldn't blow off in the wind. Today, they've become a popular winter apparel item that captures the essence of the North Woods.
For families who like to document their journeys by taking snapshots in front of oversized roadside attractions, a pit stop at the 52-foot wooden Indian statue named Hiawatha is a must-see. While there is some dispute on whether he's the world's tallest Indian, the 16,000-pound statue, engineered to withstand 140 miles per hour winds, is certainly the heaviest (Suffolk Street, downtown Ironwood).
With the Yooper visitor checklist complete, it is time to venture away from the city to experience the U.P.'s real draw -- its natural beauty. First stop -- the world's largest ski jump, but it needn't be winter to visit. Copper Peak is located between Ironwood and the town of Bessemer on the Black River National Scenic Byway (County Road 513). The road is easy to find -- just take Hwy. 2 until you see the massive skier statue. Copper Peak (1-906-932-3500; www.copperpeak.org, $12, open weekends) hosted some of the nation's best ski jumpers until it closed in the '90s. Now, it is a regional attraction that includes a 36-story chairlift ride followed by an 18-story elevator ride and an eight-story hike to an observation deck providing an impressive bird's eye view of the Lake Superior basin.
The workout continues through a series of five falls located along the Scenic Byway. Each waterfall has a distinct look and set of stairs to experience. In total, there are four separate parking lots with marked trails, all under a mile long. The falls, which include Rainbow, Conglomerate, Sandstone, Potawatmi and Gorge Falls, showcase the power of the Black River flowing toward Lake Superior and are set against a backdrop of deep green pines tinted with vivid fall colors.
The Black River is known for its trout and Coho salmon but by fall, many of the parking lots are abandoned and the trails are quiet. The waterfalls end where the Black River flows into Lake Superior. Here, take advantage of the spacious picnic and grill area and meander over the Black River on an impressive suspension bridge. Feel your worries melt away as you watch the sunset over Lake Superior. Roast S'mores and enjoy the star-lit sky at the nearby campground in the Ottawa National Forest. (1-906-932-1330; $15 per night).
Once you've made the trek, consider staying for more than the weekend. The region is rich in endless hiking trails and historical attractions that'll take you back to this area's prosperous mining rush. At the top of the list is one of the most photographed spots in the U.P.: Lake of the Clouds, in the heart of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (1-906-885-5275; www.mi.gov/porkies; nonresident vehicle sticker $8 a day). It's about an hour from Black River Harbor. The Porkies are home to more than 31,000 acres of old-growth hardwood forest. The abundant sugar maple, American basswood, Eastern hemlock and yellow birch create a colorful backdrop that artists and photographers dream about. While the overlook is often busy in the fall, the park boasts more than two dozen trails that crisscross more than 87 miles along the Presque Isle River, Lake Superior, and endless vistas to get away from it all.
Beth Probst is a freelance writer located in Iron River, Wis.