I am sitting outside, listening to the crickets sing. It is a sign of the oncoming autumn. The air is calm, and it takes a while for the day to warm. I have a real love/hate relationship with this time of the year. I love summer and I adore fall, but it’s the transition that is hard.
It’s a tricky balance to have to still enjoy these lingering days of summer, all while knowing new rhythms are around the corner- kids go back to school, the days grow shorter, and the list of sporting activities and obligations begins again.
And while these routines create joy and bring order to many, I always mourn the loss of the freedom that summer offers.
A Long Weekend to the Magical Keweenaw Peninsula
This year, to celebrate this transition, and soften the blow of the end of summer, our family decided to institute a vacation week. Our plan is for these dates to always be “our” week- even as our kids grow older.
We set aside a long weekend and ultimately decided to explore the magical Keweenaw Peninsula.
First Leg of the Journey to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
This was our first time to head this far in the Upper Peninsula. I researched the best hikes, mountain bike trails, things to see and places to go. We were lucky enough to book the last site at Fort Wilkins State Park, and with our belongings loaded into the van, away we went.
My husband loves history, so his one request was that we take a slight detour on our route and explore the Iron Mines in Vulcan, MI. I am always anxious to reach our destination, so I was slightly skeptical of adding time to our already long drive.
But, as I was about to learn, sometimes the most memorable moments happen when you aren’t expecting it.
Detour to Explore Iron Mines
From the moment we parked in the lot, it was obvious this was going to be a grand adventure. My kids loved “Big John”, the world’s largest miner, that welcomes you into the parking lot.
We ventured into the rock shop to get our tour tickets, and while we were waiting, had the chance to explore their impressive collection of stones and treasures found from the earth. Each of the kids picked a rare specimen to add to their home collections, and we prepared for our tour.
Armored with hard hats and raincoats, we loaded the mining train and headed deep into the hillside. I couldn’t believe the intense drop in temperature- we went from a humid 80 degrees to a chilly and damp 43 degrees within a matter of minutes.
The daylight faded away the further in we ventured. My kids were fascinated by the cavern walls and the ride to reach where the miners worked. For the next 20 minutes, we heard the incredible history of how iron was mined.
I will never forget the awe on my kids’ faces or the unbelievable facts we learned. Inspired by these stories of the miners, we continued on our journey north and found the perfect stop for pasties at Dobber’s.
First Glimpse of Copper Harbor
Finally, we reached the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula- with our last destination being all the way at the top in Copper Harbor. The roads wound over hills and through heavily wooded pathways.
Among the many things I didn’t know about this area was how mountainous it was! We pulled into our camp nearing dusk, already astonished by the beauty of our location.
A Stay at Fort Wilkins State Park
Sandwiched between Lake Superior and Lake Fanny Hooe, Fort Wilkins State Park is a gem. We stayed on the east side of the park- which is definitely busier than the west. However, we were close to the playground and were able to access the historic Fort Village quite easily.
As we were winding down, our camp neighbor came over to introduce himself. He was leaving the next day, and I asked him what some of his recommendations were in the area.
He said something that stayed with me through our remaining days, possibly proving more true than I could grasp. “My advice,” he said, “is to throw away any plans you may have. Just go out every day, and see what speaks to you. You’ll find the magic.”
How right his words were.
It All Comes Down to Choices
The Keweenaw Peninsula is full of charming surprises at every turn.
You could spend a whole afternoon shopping at the little stores in Copper Harbor, or an entire few days chasing the waterfalls that are found in neighboring towns.
You could focus on the area’s acclaimed mountain biking trails, or plan your entire trip around the numerous spectacular hikes.
You could stay up late, armed with a UV light, searching the beaches for “Yooperlites”, or eat your way through the villages, known for fish and baked Thimbleberry goods.
You could spend your entire trip stopping into museums, exploring the Fort, or taking tours of the mines.
You could do any number of these items, filling your whole trip with sightseeing “musts”- but then you may miss the magic found everywhere you look.
Meaning in the Unremarkable Moments
We did accomplish a few items on our well-researched list:
- Hiked the absolutely stunning (and challenging) Bare Bluffs Trail
- Drove the scenic road up Brockaway Mountain
- Ate at the acclaimed Fitzgerald (do yourself a favor and make a reservation!)
- Explored old-growth pines at Estivant Pines Sanctuary
- Sampled baked goods and jams at both Jamsens and the Jam Pot
But we also took the advice of our camp neighbor and made time for what spoke to our family. Some of my favorite moments were those I least expected.
Walking through camp with the coffee, and winding our way to the shore of always calm Lake Fanny Hooe brought me great peace.
Having a “happy hour” walk to Lake Superior, clambering on rocks to watch the setting sun created contentment.
Spending an afternoon at Hunter’s Point Park, wading in the water and discovering thimbleberries along the trail reminded me that joy is simple.
Passing through the historic buildings at Fort Wilkins, learning about history and pretending to be soldiers made me realize that adventure is everywhere.
Eating nuggets of fried fish at dinner, its buttery goodness reminded me that life is worth savoring.
Throwing stones into a hidden stream, mountain biking at dusk, and snuggling on a rocky beach before dinner- these moments are unremarkable but left the biggest mark.
Keweenaw Peninsula’s True Gift
The beauty of what the Keweenaw Peninsula offers isn’t in the number of waterfalls you find, or how many tours you go on- it’s the feeling you get here- tranquil, grounded, like anything is possible.
On the way home, we made one more detour, this one proving that delight is what is worth seeking. We pulled off in Houghton, letting our kids loose at the well-designed Chutes & Ladders Park.
Watching them run up and down the stairs, climbing ladders, and zipping down the slides almost made me forget that our trip was coming to a close. “Mom,” they called, “you have to do the big slide!”
And so, up I climbed, making peace with the changing season and holding tight to this incredible life.