Four days of mountain wilderness and mining town adventures
Traveling throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an immersion into natural beauty and the history of people determined to build a good life from the untamed land and the Great Lakes that surrounded them. But the Western U.P. has a distinctive brand of grit built from its tree-covered mountains, expansive wilderness and veins of copper and iron.
Over the next four days, this itinerary will take you to raging river rapids, gorgeous waterfalls, magnificent lakes, mountain tops and mine depths. It’s a new adventure mile after mile — worth returning to all four seasons.
DAY 1 – Iron County/Lake Gogebic
Even if history isn’t normally your vacation entertainment, start your day in Caspian to visit the Iron County Historical Museum. Explore 26 buildings, 100+ exhibits and two art galleries at this top-ranked Michigan historic site.
Catch lunch in Iron River at Firebrick Bar & Grill at Young’s. Choose your favorite drinks and pub-inspired food, then take in the gorgeous Chicaugon Lake views.
Take M-45 N to Paulding to see one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Midwest, Bond Falls.
Spend the afternoon exploring the Lake Gogebic area and the million-acre Ottawa National Forest. Lake Gogebic is the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula and is popular with anglers and boaters. Other passions to pursue along US-2 include riding your ATVs/UTVs, hiking, mountain biking, golfing and paddling near Watersmeet, Wakefield, Bessemer and Ironwood.
Find comfortable lodgings in Wakefield, Bessemer or Ironwood.
DAY 2 – Far Western UP
This is your be-wowed-by-the-wilderness day, so plan to pick up food for a picnic lunch before you leave town. Choose your outdoor activities from this list and enjoy your lunch at one of these scenic spots:
National Black River Scenic Byway Waterfall Tour and hiking trails, north of Bessemer, will be a highlight of your Western U.P. journey. You can drive or hike the 14-mile Black River Road and see each of the five waterfalls. Be sure to stop and see the impressive Great Conglomerate Falls. Then visit Gorge Falls and the barrier-free Potawatomi Falls. Both are ranked among the most beautiful waterfalls in the U.P. Hike a quarter-mile trail from the parking lot to see the Sandstone Falls’ rock formations. Then follow the road to Rainbow Falls. If you can navigate the steps down to the observation deck, look to see how the falls got its name. When you reach the end of the Byway, spend time at the park where the Black River empties into Lake Superior. You will be awed by the view from the park’s suspension footbridge.
The Copper Peak Adventure Ride (open late May to mid-October) takes you to the top of the world’s largest ski flying structure. From its 26-stories above the hilltop, you have views unparalleled in the Midwest. If you come in the fall, nothing compares to this colorful vista of amber and red leaves and the deep blues of Lake Superior. From this sky-high vantage point, you will overlook 2,500 square miles of the Lake Superior Basin with sightings on a clear day of the Apostle Islands, the Porcupine Mountains, Isle Royale and numerous historic sites.
Book two nights in Silver City for mountain wilderness, mining and waterfall discoveries over the next couple of days.
DAY 3 – The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
This area has an abundance of things to do, places to see and views to stop you in your tracks. If you are a first-timer to the region, we would be remiss not to encourage you to explore the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, so that’s where we will start your day.
Whether you explore the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park by car, motorcycle, hiking boots, watercraft or mountain bike, you will immediately know why Michigan’s largest state park is a recreational paradise. Spanning 60,000 acres, it offers unrivaled vistas of Lake Superior’s stunning shores, roaring waterfalls, miles of rivers and streams, 35,000 acres of untamed old-growth forests and 90 miles of hiking/backpacking trails. It is the ultimate off-the-grid experience east of the Rockies! Two places to take in while you are in this national treasure are:
The Lake of the Clouds Overlook, accessible by foot, wheelchair or motorized cart. Beautiful spring through fall, this mountain vantage point tops the national leaf-peeping charts each autumn. Hikers and anglers (catch-and-release only) can reach the Lake of the Clouds below on the Big Carp River and Escarpment Trails.
Summit Peak Observation Tower is another sky-high-view destination. This one requires climbing 50 steps to look out from your 2,000-feet-above-sea-level perch. Just as at Copper Peak, you can see Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands, Isle Royale and miles of Lake Superior. This is also a fall color tour must-stop.
Refresh and relax over lunch at Konteka in White Pine.
For dinner, stop by Paul’s Superior View Restaurant in Silver City (it’s reopened). Paul’s is located in the AmericInn at the base of the Porcupine Mountains with a dining view of Lake Superior. Enjoy a glass of wine or beer with your pasta, fish tacos, pasties and more.
Return to your hotel in Silver City.
DAY 4 – Mining & Waterfalling
Today you will be astounded by the grit of 19th-century miners and the sheer beauty of Lake Superior and its nearby waterfalls.
Lake Superior Coastal Tour: Take M-64 N from Silver City to a mile east of downtown Ontonagon. Stop at the Ontonagon Township Park to enjoy its mile-long stretch of beach perfect for walking, swimming, rock hunting or relaxing with a good book in the sun. If you have never spent time by Lake Superior, you will be awestruck.
Mine Tour and Victoria Dam Adventure: Discover just how much stamina it took to work the copper mines more than a century ago. Adventure Mining Co. in Greenland takes underground mining experiences to a new level from easy walking tours to rappelling down a shaft or taking a drilling and blasting workshop. Go south to Rockland to visit the Victoria Hydroelectric Dam, the Old Victoria Restoration and Minesota Mine, and dig deeper into the story of how we’ve claimed and used our natural resources.
Waterfall Tour/Paulding Light Mystery: Plan this trip later in the day so you can see the mysterious Paulding Light after sunset. Highway 45 to Bruce Crossing, then east on M-28 to Agate Falls. If you didn’t see Bond Falls on Day 1, make a stop today. Then as sunset approaches, take Old Highway M-45 to the Paulding Light Mystery Site. It’s a great place to share ghost stories.
Close out your day with a good night’s sleep in Baraga or to the north in Houghton.
This itinerary suggests dining choices that are local and traveler favorites, but you can peruse more options here. Have a different town you want to stay in? You can find alternate lodging by city here. The Western U.P. is just the beginning of the wilderness and attractions you can experience in this magnificent peninsula. Check out our Central U.P. and Eastern U.P. itineraries, too. Wherever you go, get outside and play. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your family!