Road Trip: Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan

There is a place in northern Michigan for people who seek waterfalls, solitude, starry nights, Northern Lights, bears, moose, sometimes wolves, breathtaking sunsets, and massive amounts of cool, clean water. If you are a swashbuckler, wanderer, daredevil or fortune-hunter, then you belong at the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The History of Keweenaw 

The name Keweenaw comes from the Ojibwe, indigenous people of the subarctic and Northeastern Woodlands in southern Canada and northern Midwest. Their language is a pictorial one — Ojibwe means “those who keep records of a vision.” To travel through the Ojibwe’s home, one begins to understand how their name came to be. The Keweenaw, which means “the crossing place,” is a visual masterpiece.

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Getting to Keweenaw Peninsula

To get to The Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a journey. A long one. It is one worth taking though. When you drive, you will see the landscape change, and with it, you will too. 

As you go further and further north, you will undoubtedly open the windows. The mild breezes will tangle your hair with the invigorating scent of vast forests of white pine.

On your trip you will probably, hopefully, find a place to gas up, and you will find yourself relaxing into the unhurried pace of the people you meet at the isolated gas station. 

This trip up north might feel like a trip through time. You will be reminded of what you really need and what you don’t need. The slower pace will open you up to experience The Keweenaw as it should be — with all of your senses presently available.

I remember my first time seeing The Northern Lights over Lake Portage. My dad ran upstairs to wake me and my little brother and took us to the window overlooking the lake. The sky was alive, and it was laughing! In starry bursts of bright green and purple threads of slippery light it took our breath away.

 “What is that?” I remember finally finding words.

My dad held me close and whispered, “The Northern Lights.”

The Keweenaw is known for its skies, because of its lack of light pollution, you will encounter the stars like never before. 

Where to Stay and What to Do in Keweenaw

The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in Copper Harbor was recently named as the world’s newest International Dark Sky Park: a conservation area that implements good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs. Bring a blanket, borrow a telescope from KML Outdoors Activity Center, and prepare for a celestial show that will leave you wonder-struck.

If you stay near Lake Portage, then you are near Michigan Technological University, which you should visit — their hockey games are ridiculously fun and bring the entire town together. The thriving college campus also means a fun downtown area. 

There is a ferry that will take you to the least-visited National Park in the country: Isle Royale. There are only two ways to get there: a six-hour ferry ride or a three-and-a-half-hour sea-plane trip. Since it is a National Park, there are plenty of engaging activities and ranger-led programs. You can also see the island from the water by renting a canoe or kayak from Keweenaw Adventure Company. If you don’t want to camp, you can stay in the one lodge or one of a few rustic cabins, but you must book months in advance. As I write this, there are only a handful of open dates this summer. Bring your hiking boots and be ready for an outdoor adventure worthy of Ernest Hemingway or Jon Krakauer. 

Where to Eat in Keweenaw

For a delicious breakfast, stop at Suomi Home Bakery and Restaurant, a Finnish-style breakfast  and pastry shop that has been in business for 40 years. My belly hates me for writing about it — it’s growling in the background as I type — but you simply have to visit in July to order the French Toast with Fresh Strawberries. You will be put to the test to eat it slowly and savor each bite, but do. This breakfast will make your trip. 

Any worthy trip to The Keweenaw must end with a stop at The Jampot. The Jampot is an unassuming little bakery on Scenic Highway M26, five miles west of Eagle Harbor. In the middle of the forest next to a waterfall sits this little bakery that opened its doors in 1986, selling its first wildberry preserves. The bakery is run by robe-clad Ukrainian-Catholic monks whose beautiful monastery sits across the street on the rocky shores of Lake Superior. 

I have never visited The Jampot when there wasn’t a line out the door. A tip: Buy more preserves, jams, muffins and cupcakes than you think that you could possibly need. You can’t make this trip all the time, and they are only open for half the year. Another tip: Eat one of the muffins right there at a picnic table in the woods. You can tie in a hike or trek down to Lake Superior, so that this treat feels well-earned. 

There are so many reasons to visit this beautiful place. It will beg you to return again and again. One article could never hit all of the reasons to visit, but I tried to squeeze in a few of my favorites. If you visit or you have visited, please share your favorite spots in the comments below!

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