When we spent two months driving the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, we found ourselves in the Keweenaw Peninsula at the beginning stages of the fall foliage season.
And what a sight to behold.
We were blown away as the green tree-lined roads began to intermingle with extraordinary reds, burnt oranges, and brilliant yellows.
For a moment, I thought the term “Copper Country” had to do with the magnificent transformation that autumn brings – not the long mining history!
It didn’t take long to figure out that Michigan’s Upper Peninsula’s fall foliage season will rival that of any locale in the United States.
Where is the Keweenaw Peninsula?
Located on Michigan’s Lake Superior Coast, Keweenaw Peninsula is as north as you can get in the state. It juts out into the lake like a sharp talon pointing over the rest of the Upper Peninsula.
The remote location coupled with its down-to-earth Midwest charm makes it a perfect getaway to disconnect with technology and the fast pace of the world and to reconnect with nature and mindfulness.
When to Visit for Fall Color
The fall color season depends on various things like temperature, soil moisture, and the amount of sunlight. In Upper Michigan, the season can start anywhere from mid to late September and end mid-October.
It’s a good idea to keep checking fall color reports as the autumn months roll in.
Let’s get to all the wonderful places you must put on your Michigan fall road trip itinerary!
1. Historic Towns of Houghton & Hancock
Lying across the Keweenaw Waterway from each other, the charming college towns of Houghton and Hancock are the gateway to the Keweenaw Peninsula. Houghton was named after Douglass Houghton, an American geologist known for his exploration of the peninsula and rediscovery of copper in the area. If you are interested in learning more about the rich history of the mining era, head over to take a unique tour of the Quincy Mine Properties.
Wander around and notice the turn-of-century buildings and make sure to drop in at Roy’s Pasties & Bakery to try a pasty (pronounced pass-tee), a local tasty treat.
You cannot visit the UP without having at least one of these delicious meat pies. Not only did Cornish miners from England bring over their skills in mining, but they also brought over the art of making these portable lunches.
Even though we don’t need to bring them in the tunnels or to last hours, pasties are still an aboveground signature dish in the area today.
A friend of ours who has a family fishing cabin in the area recommended it to us and when he said he picks up 50 of them to bring back home, we knew it was a must-visit place.
2. M-26 from Eagle River to Copper Harbor
Beaches, lake views, parks, waterfalls, and lighthouses. Can it get any better than that? Yes, yes it can.
Sprinkle in a little fall color and the rain can’t even stop us from enjoying this scenic joyride.
One standout site along M-26 is the brick and red-roofed Eagle Harbor Lighthouse. Built in 1871, it is still operating today to guide mariners around the northern edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
3. The Jampot and Jacob’s Falls
While cruising along on M-26, take a pitstop at The Jampot, a bakery run by the monks associated with the Catholic Monastery of the Byzantine Rite, and Jacob’s Falls which is right next door. It’s a small waterfall, but worth a picture or two.
The Jampot is a little pricey, but it is a unique opportunity to support a local religious community.
Plus, they offer all sorts of yummy baked goods, fruitcakes, homemade jams, jellies, and preserves. The line was out the door when we visited!
4. Brockway Mountain Drive
The 9.5-mile scenic drive runs between Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor and has been touted as one of the most scenic drives in the Midwest. A claim we will not argue!
Follow the road as you climb along the ridgeline on Brockway Mountain to the highest point overlooking the peninsula. The views are decent going up, but it’s at the top that you won’t be able to put your camera down.
At the West Bluff Scenic Viewpoint, 1,300 feet above sea level, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the entire area – Lake Superior and untouched forest as far as the eye can see.
The drive and commanding landscape are so outstanding, we meandered to the peak a few times on our visit only to be awed each time.
5. Harbor Haus Restaurant
There’s nothing like enjoying a fabulous meal and a drink while enjoying a beautiful water view in the comforts of a cozy restaurant after a long day.
The German-Austrian influenced Harbor Haus in Copper Harbor is THE place for that magical moment. Another lasting effect of the mining boom in the area is the ethnically diverse culture including the food!
The mouth-watering braised pork shank and Jägerschnitzel aren’t the only reasons we will be returning to the Harbor Haus. After a day of hiking in the rain, we thought we’d treat ourselves to a nice indoor meal. Having no idea the restaurant is a white table cloth, reservations type of place, we walked in with our baseball caps and muddy-bottomed pants, immediately feeling out of place.
The hostess asked what time our reservations were and we replied we had none but could sit at the bar if necessary. When she told us they don’t serve food at the bar, we countered that any table would work. The ever so nice stranger rearranged a few things so we could have a table with a view even though sunset was an hour off and there were many scribbled reservations in the book. Never underestimate the power of a kind gesture.
6. Hunter’s Point Park
Hunter’s Point Park is a small park worth a visit. Providing an ideal band of protection from the wild climate of Lake Superior, the park extends out into the water as a barrier to Copper Harbor.
The pebbled beach shoreline is a mix of smooth volcanic rocks and big burly boulders. Two connecting trails, north and south, will loop you through the rugged forest with the ability to get down to a few scenic coves.
TIP: The walk is easy with no elevation gain, but difficult as far as roots and rocks on the ground so wear sturdy shoes.
7. Tree Tunnel on US-41
For the next stunner of the trip, look for US-41. The 18-mile section from Central to Copper Harbor is the first road in Michigan to be designated a Scenic Heritage Road.
The canopied drive is spectacular even without the speckled array of fall foliage, but when the colors intensify it is a jaw-dropping landscape.
The narrow two-lane road is snuggled by woodland all around providing a leafy tunnel vibe that’ll make you want to turn around and drive it again and again.
8. Lake Gratiot
Lake Gratiot is a pretty inland lake not too far from downtown Copper Harbor. We wished we had kayaks to get out on the water, but at least we got the drone up for a bird’s-eye view.
There’s a short but steep 1.4-mile hike up to Eister Falls near the boat launch. The overlook is overgrown so you can’t see much of a view, but it is a quiet hike through the woods.
TIP: If you are looking for another lake hike, hit the 2-mile Red Trail near Lake Manganese. The steep hike will take you from the lake uphill to the historic Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. Look around and grab a drink or lunch at the cozy bar before heading back down.
9. Jamsen’s Fish Market & Bakery
Jamsen’s is a tiny blue shack situated in downtown Copper Harbor that offers smoked trout and whitefish in addition to a small selection of baked goods and fresh coffee.
A great way to start your day is munching on a savory cheddar, bacon, and chive scone and a thimbleberry frosted donut while enjoying the waterfront views.
10. Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary
Estivant Pines protects an old-growth forest of 300 to 500-year-old Eastern White Pines, one of the largest tracts in the United States.
The ancient trees average 110 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet in diameter. There are two loops – the Memorial Grove and Cathedral Grove – that combine to make a 3-mile enjoyable hike.
TIP: It’s a pet-friendly hike if you are traveling with any furry friends.
TIP: Take Manganese Road on the way to see an awesome display of fall colors on a tight road.
11. Fort Wilkins State Park
Explore a well-preserved nineteenth-century military outpost and one of the first lighthouses erected on Lake Superior.
The self-guided tour throughout the historic complex vividly tells the story of what it was like as a soldier in the 1840s who were sent to help keep the peace between the miners and indigenous people. Luckily, the troops weren’t needed for long as the exchanges were peaceful between the two groups.
Today, many of the original buildings are restored and still stand on a tranquil piece of land in Copper Harbor.
If you would like more ideas for your visit, click here to check out the Keweenaw Peninsula’s website.
Have you visited the Keweenaw Peninsula? What would you recommend? Tell us in the comments below!
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