Copper Country Trail National Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2005)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- Length47 miles
Traversing the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the Copper Country Trail National Byway is the 47-mile stretch of U.S. 41 from the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, which connects the cities of Houghton and Hancock, to Copper Harbor It not only provides a road from one historic site to another, from forest to shore, but the route follows the underground copper that made the area famous. The byway corridor, which encompasses the entire Keweenaw Peninsula, preserves this rich copper mining heritage, as well as promoting the four-season outdoor recreational opportunities of the area.
Story of the Byway
Located on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the Copper Country Trail National Byway travels the spine of the Keweenaw, a narrow, jagged finger of land about 70 miles long. The peninsula juts northeastward into Lake Superior. The region is remote; some 550 miles separate it from Detroit, MI. The closest large population centers are Green Bay, WI and Minneapolis, MN, 220 and 350-miles away respectively. The Copper Country Trail National Byway begins between the communities of Houghton and Hancock at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge and travels north along US-41 to Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The highway is considered the main artery of the byway, but multiple spur routes take travelers directly to the Lake Superior shorelines or through historical mining areas. These spur routes include highways M-26 and M-203, along with Gay-Lac LaBelle Road, Cliff Drive, and Brockway Mountain Drive.
This region is rich in natural features, such as the Lake Superior shoreline, colorful forests (including virgin northern hardwoods and eastern white pine), myriad of bird and plant species, inland creeks, streams, and waterfalls, and numerous scenic views. It is the geology that is at the heart of this area. Not only did this area once contain the largest pure copper vein in the world, but that copper brought about one of the most culturally diverse industrial stories of the nation.
The Copper Country Trail National Byway tells the story of a spectacular natural history that supported a rich mining history of the world's larger pure copper deposit. American Indians pit mined copper early on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Later, in the mid-19th century, copper mining began in earnest and boomed here for decades. This burgeoning industry lured thousands of immigrants (e.g., Irish, German, Cornish, English, Scandinavian, Italian) to the area. These enterprising immigrants built towns and villages, and in doing so, they also stripped the environment of timber and minerals. Although the remote location and harsh winters challenged their very existence, communities thrived.
The truly unique sense of place, grounded in the resourcefulness and resilience of its forefathers, endures on the Keweenaw today. The environment has recovered and many of the vestiges from the mining era remain on the landscape as testimony to an earlier time. Copper Country Trail National Byway provides a backdrop against which these stories are told.
The Keweenaw is still a place of quiet relaxation. No longer is copper pulled from the ground; instead, only a few mines still see the light from headlamps, guiding visitors on tours. Heritage is now the Copper Country's mined treasure. The Copper Country is not a ghost town, lost after an era of booming industry, but a thriving area proud of its heritage. The downtown areas have been preserved for their unique architecture. Museums hold the stories of the people and places and established walking tours of many of the historical downtown areas exist. Cultural diversity is still alive in the area due to the local universities (Finlandia University and Michigan Technological University), a thriving community ethic, and the 110-year old-Calumet Theatre, which still brings in acts and movies from all around the world. The natural and cultural features and recreational opportunities are not only revered by visitors but by the people of the Copper Country who have strove to protect these resources. The land of the Keweenaw is rich in natural wonders, history, and experiences.
The Copper Country Trail National Byway begins between the communities of Houghton and Hancock at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge. The byway then follows the 47-mile stretch of US-41 north to Copper Harbor, where the highway ends. The Lift Bridge is the only road access to the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Points of Interest
Quincy Mine Hoist & Underground Mine
Historic copper mining facility with museum exhibits and above-ground and underground mine tours.
Keweenaw National Historic Park
Visitor center that provides information on Keweenaw Heritage Sites and features interactive exhibits, films, and museum about mining history.
Phoenix Church and Museum
Historic church built in 1858 to serve local miners and restored back in the 1980s.
Keweenaw Mountain Lodge
Built in 1934, the lodge is a historical wilderness resort with lodging, dining, and a variety of outdoor activities such as golfing, mountain biking, and hiking.
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park
State park that preserves a historic army military outpost and the Copper Harbor Lighthouse, which now features camp sites and day-use facilities.
Portage Lake Lift Bridge
Lift bridge and the start of the byway that connects the cities of Houghton and Hancock .
Historic theatre built in the late 1800s that still operates as a theater and holds a variety of performing arts events.
Heritage in Copper Country
Start in Houghton where you will find the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum. If you want to see more historic sights, take a detour to Lake Linden on the Historic Side Trip Route, where you will find the Houghton County Historical Society, a number of exciting historic sites, and plenty of opportunities for recreation on Portage and Torch Lakes. Alternatively, you could take the scenic side trip route through McLain State Park. The main portion of the byway heads directly through the Keweenaw National Historical Park. Shortly after Hancock, you will find historic sites such as the Quincy Mine Hoist and Underground Mine.
Stretch your legs in Calumet and Laurium. There are many great places to stop for lunch here, but you will also find a number of historic sites. Highlights include the Calumet Theatre, Coppertown USA, the Upper Peninsula Firefighters Memorial Museum, and the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne’s. There are also a number of opportunities to tour the historic mansions in Laurium.
Follow the byway north to Delaware, where you will find the Delaware Coppermine. Then, Continue to Copper Harbor, which is home to the Fort Wilkins Historic State Park as well as the Harbor Lighthouse. There are many scenic and historic drives around this area if you wish to drive along the coast of the peninsula. Take the time to explore the many parks and enjoy views of Lake Superior.
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