The Perfect Fall Road Trip Itinerary to Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula

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On our last trip, we drove just about every road in search of the best things to see and do in the Keweenaw Peninsula. This itinerary is our hand-picked guide to make the most of a long three-day weekend trip to the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula.

The guide is structured in order from south to north to ensure you hit all of the best spots without a lot of backtracking and with more time enjoying all there is to see in the Keweenaw Peninsula. If you follow each day step by step there are some big days of adventures so feel free to pick and choose which sights you are drawn to. All of that being said, this list only scratches the surface and many more activities can be found on the Keweenaw’s official site.

Why visit the Keweenaw during the fall? While the leaves change in most places in the country, not many places do it in as spectacular fashion with stunning backdrops as this beautiful slice of land dangling into the largest freshwater lake in the world.

Why visit the Keweenaw Peninsula right now? This slice of paradise in Northern Michigan is always worth a visit, but now in these crazy times we find ourselves in, it shines even brighter. We visited while fall colors were at peak and hotel rooms scarce, but we never found any of the main attractions even close to being crowded. There is so much wildness and outdoor activities to enjoy, that social distancing naturally happens up here.

We were equally impressed with the current protocols anytime we had to venture inside for food or a place to rest. All of the restaurants and hotels we visited we found proactive people doing as good of a job or better than we were used to at home. Times might be strange right now, but there’s probably no better time than now to get back out and enjoy all the nature the Keweenaw Peninsula has to offer.


Day 1: Houghton, Hancock, & The Southern Keweenaw

Downtown Houghton & MTU

Often referred to as the gateway to the Keweenaw, Houghton is a great place to kick off your trip. The charming streets of Downtown Houghton are full of late 1800’s and turn of the century architecture, many of which now host restaurants, bars, hotels, and even a couple of breweries. Downtown Houghton is set right on Portage Lake, offering stunning views from many of the venues here.

In Houghton, you’ll also find the campus of Michigan Technological University, which attracts engineering students from around the country and abroad. The college also houses a few attractions for visitors like the renowned A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum, which houses around 25,000 rock specimens worldwide and the Tech Recreational Forest with 18 miles of single-track. In addition to the museum and trails, MTU and its 7,000+ students (which Adam was one of, back in his college days!) keep the city feeling young with a university city atmosphere.

Portage Lake Lift Bridge

The only way to the Keweenaw is over the Portage Lake Lift Bridge. This white and blue bridge has become an icon of the area.

Local Must Try Food stop: Amy J’s Pasty Shop

Just up the hill from the lift bridge is the top locals pick for best Pasty. If you don’t know what a Pasty is – first things first, it’s a pasty with “ahh” not an “a” sound, second they’re amazing, and third they’re kind of a big deal up here. Some liken them to a pot pie to go, with roasted meats and potatoes stuffed into a flaky shell of goodness.

Quincy Mine Tour

If you know anything about this area before you visit, you might know that this is Copper Country. In the mid 1800’s, before the gold rush, people came to the Keweenaw in search of some of the largest copper deposits on earth. Today,  you can take a tour of the Quincy Mine to get a feel for what life was like as a 19th-century copper miner.

Hungarian Falls

First of all, I love these falls. I think it was right here in front of these falls that I realized places like this are becoming hard to find in this world. When we visited this stunning set of falls during peak color – when there wasn’t even a single room left for rent in the entire peninsula, but yet we had this whole place to ourselves – That’s part of the magic here. There’s so much open space and beautiful sights that social distance was never really an issue.

Dinner or Lunch Local Favorite: The Library & Copper County Brewery

Finish your day at one of the area’s top restaurants with a great view of Portage Lake and Mont Ripley while having dinner or drinks at sunset or early evening as the lights of the Portage Lake Liftbridge start to illuminate.

Where to Stay on your Keweenaw Road Trip

On our last fall trip, we stayed at one of Houghton’s newest hotels The Vault Hotel, – as its name suggests, this trendy lodging was once a bank and recently repurposed to one of the best stays in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Fall colors only bless the Keweenaw Peninsula for a few short weeks every year, and during those weekends from the end of September to early October, hotels can be hard to come by, so book early to ensure you have a room for your stay.


Day 2: Copper Harbor and Northern Shoreline

Keweenaw Coffee Works

Start your day with a cup of locally roasted coffee and a bite to eat to fuel up for a big day of exploring.

Eagle River Falls

Start your day with a visit to one of the best waterfalls in the Keweenaw. Eagle River Falls is a must-see with streams of water cascading over a broad cliff made of dark jagged rocks.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse

A stop at the classic brick lighthouse built in 1871 is essential and to get a taste of the nautical heritage of the region. While visiting, don’t miss the museum operated by the Keweenaw County Historical Society documenting the lighthouse and surrounding structures.

Must-try local snack spot: Jampot Bakery

Just to the north of Eagle Harbor is a small roadside shop that could literally pull you off the road with the smell of baked goods coming from its kitchen. The skilled hands responsible for delectable baked goods are those of a group of Catholic Monks.

The Poorrock Abbey monks prepare a wide assortment of baked treats, jams, preserves, and even rum-soaked brownies. You really can’t go wrong with anything from behind the counter at Jampot, but the locally picked thimbleberry jam and rum & bourbon preserved baked goods are some of the most popular.

Jacob’s Falls

Next door to Jampot Bakery is the most accessible waterfall in the area. Right on the side of the road is Jacob’s Falls with a few spots to pull off, but it’s probably a good idea to walk off a few calories between the Jampot parking lot to the falls.

M-26 Fall Color Drive

In a peninsula full of stunning drives, this one might be one of the best. The stretch of M-26 from Eagle Harbor to Copper Harbor is lined with trees over arching the pavement creating tunnels of trees – which is exceptionally beautiful in the fall.

Copper Harbor

This charming town toward the northern end of the peninsula is a main draw for visitors. Here you’ll find a cozy little town surrounded by all sorts of outdoor adventures and plenty of local history. Copper Harbor makes a great place to base yourself as well if you plan to spend most of your time in the northern section of the peninsula.

Dinner or Lunch Spot Suggestion: Harbor Haus

One of the top spots to catch a meal in the Keweenaw is the Harbor Haus right on the shoreline in Copper Harbor. A German restaurant with a number of classic dishes with timber-framed charms of Germany.

Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Outside of town to the north is a beacon that has been guiding ships safely along the northern shores of the Keweenaw since 1848 in this location. The current lighthouse you’ll see was built in 1866 in a classic style with cream-colored bricks. The lighthouse makes for a great photo op but is not currently accepting visitors inside.

Start of HWY 41

Just to the north of Copper Harbor, you’ll find a signpost marking the start of HWY 41, which runs nearly the entire length of the country ending in Miami, Florida. A family photo here is obligatory. Somewhere in the photo albums is a picture of young Hannah and her parents in front of this sign from sometime in the 90’s – so we tried our best to recreate it with our little Atlas on our last trip.

Brockway Mountain Drive

One drive not to miss is the stretch of pavement that winds its way along the ridgeline of Brockway Mountain. We recommend driving this route at sunset to get the best photos of this epic drive. While the road is only around 10 miles long, plan on the voyage taking an hour (or much more) with plenty of pull-offs and great viewpoints. I think it took us well over two hours to go the 10 miles with a few hundred photos logged on to our camera’s memory card.

Copper Harbor Viewpoint

While on the Brockway Mountain Drive, keep an eye out for a pull out just south of Copper Harbor because there is a panoramic view of the town and the northern tip of the peninsula.


Day 3: South Shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula

The final day of our 3 day road trip guide to the Keweenaw Peninsula explores the Eastern edges of the peninsula and has opportunities for some adventures and hikes.

Lac La Belle

In the shadow of Mt. Bohemia, this large lake is surrounded by hills and forests and lined with small cottages. In the fall, these colors around the lake are nothing short of picture-perfect. There is a small marina and parks nearby the lake.

Mt. Bohemia

Depending on the time of year you visit, Mt Bohemia has a few different things to offer. In the winter, the ski hills here offer some of the best skiing in the area, and the Keweenaw Peninsula has no shortage of snow, averaging around 300” annually.

In the fall, you can take a ride up the ski lifts to take in the fall colors on the way up and panoramic views from the top. If your trip finds you outside these times, there are also some hiking trails that bring you along some of the ski runs and into nature. Mt Bohemia was voted by USA Today the best Ski Resort in North America in 2019!

Haven Falls

Across the small road running along Lac La Belle is Haven Falls Park, where you can visit Haven Falls, a small fan of water streaming down a rocky face. In the fall, it’s surrounded by every shade of autumn imaginable. While maybe not the most impressive waterfall in the Keweenaw, the peaceful surroundings make it worth adding to your road trip itinerary.

For the Adventurous – Montreal Waterfalls or Bare Bluff Hike

Some of the best soft adventures in the area are found along Smith’s Fisheries Road. A short-ish drive down a bumpy gravel road brings to the starting point of a hike to Bare Bluff in the Russell and Miriam Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary. This 4.6 km trail is a bit more technical, but you’ll be rewarded with great views of Lake Superior below.

A little further down the road is the trailhead to Montreal Falls. Here you’ll find a relatively easy, but sometimes slippery, one-mile trail to a set of cascading falls of Lower Montreal. The upper set of falls is also possible but requires a more rugged hike.

Bete Grise Preserve & Lighthouse

On this side of the peninsula, you’ll find a few more sandy beaches, and some of the best we found was located in the Bete Grise Preserve with long stretches of golden sand with tall colorful hills in the background. If you visit in warm weather, this would be a great spot to lay out a beach towel or jump in a kayak.


In case you needed any more reasons to visit, we hope we inspired you to set the Keweenaw Peninsula as your next road trip destination. If you have been, leave a comment with your favorite things to do up here or your best-hidden gem or tip!


 

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