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.
Now 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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….
86 Responses to “Copper Harbor, MI – The end of the road”
Comments are closed.
November 30, 2014at11:57 pm, Michael Wulfman said:
I’ve been there! It is the northernmost point in the UP!
November 30, 2014at9:43 pm, George Hernandez said:
Would love to,winter or summer!!!!
November 30, 2014at8:32 am, hownowbrowncow said:
this is beautiful.
November 30, 2014at5:08 am, Janet M. Stull said:
Beautiful place. Hoping to return for a longer stay…
November 29, 2014at9:54 am, Joan Johnson-Klassy said:
Wow….need to see this
November 29, 2014at9:15 am, Mark Theibert said:
One of my favorite views of the harbor
November 29, 2014at10:47 am, Janke David said:
where i grew up!!!!
November 29, 2014at9:10 am, Shirley Carter Smith said:
November 26, 2014at7:50 am, Carla de Jonge said:
November 25, 2014at8:00 am, Patrick Sheehy said:
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).
November 25, 2014at7:01 am, Dick Hinrichs said:
We plan on driveing up next summer from Alabama. Copper Harbor sounds like a beautiful place to visit.
November 25, 2014at6:53 am, Janice Harper Jones said:
One of the most beautiful places I have ever been!
November 25, 2014at1:07 am, Karen PT Miller said:
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.
November 25, 2014at12:34 am, Jocelyn Harvey said:
November 12, 2014at3:20 pm, Mc Fichtenberg said:
Like, but it looks cold now, maybe next summer!!
November 12, 2014at7:25 am, Bill Hite said:
Beautiful area and the friendliest people.
November 11, 2014at10:16 pm, June Anderson said:
We have been there. Isn’t it the end of Rye. 41!
November 11, 2014at7:42 pm, Bunker Barb said:
we spent our honey moon there LOL
November 11, 2014at9:31 am, Daylane Cox said:
Time forgot this place and it is so peaceful and beautiful….
November 11, 2014at9:11 am, Donald Womble said:
hope to sea it next year
November 10, 2014at9:15 pm, Karen PT Miller said:
Been there and the streets are made with copper.
November 10, 2014at8:26 pm, Tony King said:
Just visited there about 6 weeks ago.
November 10, 2014at8:17 pm, Patti Siemers Corse said:
I absolutely love Copper Harbor! It’s like stepping back in time to the 1950’s! Beautiful area.
November 10, 2014at8:03 pm, Simone Levantesi Groesche said:
Love the U P of Michigan !!!
November 10, 2014at7:51 pm, Chuck Metherd said:
At the very tip of the Kewaunee peninsula of Michigan’s upper peninsula.
November 10, 2014at7:46 pm, Derek Garrett said:
Where is copper harbor located at
November 10, 2014at7:40 pm, Chuck Metherd said:
Copper harbor is beautiful. I’ve been there many times but only in the winter while snowmobiling. All the snow is pretty.
November 09, 2014at6:17 pm, Charlotte Bruce said:
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.
November 09, 2014at3:16 pm, Don O'Brien said:
Good deer hunting
November 09, 2014at11:34 am, Mary Jane said:
November 09, 2014at11:24 am, Diane Roland said:
Would love yo
November 09, 2014at8:40 am, Kay L. Lee said:
P. S. This was our jumping off spot to go to Isle Royal. 🙂
November 09, 2014at8:39 am, Kay L. Lee said:
The end of the road? I don’t think so !
November 09, 2014at5:27 am, Janet M. Stull said:
Looking forward to going back up there…
November 09, 2014at4:16 am, Jo Obenchain said:
November 08, 2014at9:58 pm, Debbie Woodard-Mikulin said:
November 08, 2014at9:26 pm, Paul Mays said:
Been there ate some of the best fish ever
November 08, 2014at9:05 pm, Dale Becky Bryan said:
It may be the end of the road, but it is beautiful and peaceful.
November 08, 2014at8:56 pm, Ann Powell said:
Been there, love it!
November 08, 2014at7:40 pm, Dave Meekhof said:
We took our first RV up there in 2000 and visited all those same places. Loved the view from the mountain overlooking the town!
November 08, 2014at3:16 pm, Carole Apostolakos said:
where the sea meets the land…….
November 08, 2014at12:56 pm, Pam McCarrick said:
November 08, 2014at12:12 pm, Lynn Chastain said:
November 08, 2014at11:48 am, Nancy Hotchkiss said:
Great vacation spot!
November 08, 2014at11:44 am, Pat Mesic said:
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. 🙂
November 08, 2014at9:35 am, Mary Blank said:
One of our favorite vacation spots.
November 08, 2014at9:11 am, Jojo Helm said:
It,s beautiful in the winter too
November 08, 2014at7:41 am, Ben Ordonez said:
Beautiful up there!!!
November 08, 2014at6:30 am, Kristi Porter Haugland said:
We love camping up there!
April 14, 2014at12:26 am, Tonya Black Greager said:
April 13, 2014at7:29 pm, Gary Hennes said:
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.
April 13, 2014at5:09 pm, Patty Arms Voynik said:
April 13, 2014at5:03 pm, Barbara Arms said:
Isn’t this fantastic scenery right here in Michigan
April 13, 2014at5:02 pm, Barbara Arms said:
April 13, 2014at4:17 pm, Conda Kay Arteaga said:
Been there, go if you can…
April 13, 2014at10:56 am, Janet Arnold said:
April 13, 2014at9:35 am, Cyndie Jack Wood said:
love it up there
April 13, 2014at9:12 am, Ruth said:
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.
April 13, 2014at8:32 am, R Sherry Targum said:
Been there …did you go to the lighthouse
April 13, 2014at7:22 am, Daniel J Diller said:
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.
April 13, 2014at6:39 am, Nero R Hero said:
I live right close to there iam a yooper 🙂
April 13, 2014at3:58 am, John Mullally said:
Not quite the end but close enough
April 12, 2014at11:24 pm, Mike W Anderson said:
Been there, great scenery and great German food
April 12, 2014at11:13 pm, Karen M Mistysyn said:
Was there last summer it was beautiful
April 12, 2014at10:57 pm, William Routh said:
Was there in 1965.
April 12, 2014at10:00 pm, Bob Svoboda said:
It was a great ride, some wonderful views from the seat of the bike.
April 12, 2014at9:53 pm, Kathy Franklin said:
Amazing that the lake has waves like that!
April 12, 2014at9:30 pm, Lisa Holbrooks said:
Gorgeous, I love hearing the waves crash onto the shore!
April 12, 2014at9:25 pm, Bill Krouse said:
April 12, 2014at9:24 pm, Victoria Gilbert said:
I miss michigan…that area is my most favorite!!!
April 12, 2014at9:22 pm, Dave Ross said:
April 12, 2014at9:21 pm, Debbie Jones-Worvie said:
Beautiful! Want to go this summer and do some camping.
October 06, 2013at4:37 pm, Davydd said:
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.
September 29, 2013at12:34 pm, Campskunk said:
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.
September 29, 2013at9:45 am, Copper Harbor Improvement Association said:
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!
September 29, 2013at9:40 am, Dave Miller said:
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
September 29, 2013at8:44 am, LInda G. said:
Seriously, Mike and Jennifer: You guys should lead a tour! (I’m a different Linda than the Linda above)
September 29, 2013at8:35 am, Richard Pullman said:
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!
September 28, 2013at8:09 pm, Mike Wendland said:
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.
September 28, 2013at8:06 pm, Linda said:
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.
September 28, 2013at7:21 pm, Staci said:
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!
September 28, 2013at5:57 pm, James Povich said:
Love the hands “map!” Great photos, too. The Lake Superior shot looks like the Pacific Northwest.
September 28, 2013at3:02 pm, Walter said:
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.
September 28, 2013at10:42 am, Mike Wendland said:
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.
September 28, 2013at10:38 am, Debbie Billings said:
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!
September 28, 2013at10:15 am, Dale & Christie said:
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.