Situated in the heart of Copper Country, Houghton Michigan is one of the most well-known cities in the Upper Peninsula, not just because there are dozens of things to do in Houghton Michigan.
This town of about 8,300 people is known as the Gateway to the Keweenaw Peninsula and is a favorite destination among those who are looking to explore the rugged and remote Isle Royale National Park.
Its perfect position makes this one of the best places to explore in the Upper Peninsula, and travelers come through every season to enjoy the natural beauty, relaxed atmosphere, and down-to-earth culture of Houghton Michigan.
Outdoor Things to Do in Houghton Michigan
The natural beauty of Houghton practically begs people to spend their time outside, no matter the weather conditions. This community is an outdoor playground for people of all ages and interests. These are a few ways that you can spend a day outside in Houghton Michigan.
Spend Time at Kestner Waterfront Park
Kestner Waterfront Park is one of the most-loved recreational areas in Houghton. Located along the shoreline of the Portage Canal, this peaceful waterfront park attracts locals and travelers who want to soak up views of this Keweenaw Peninsula town.
The park is, perhaps, best known for its massive playground — the Chutes and Ladders playground. Because of that, it is a favorite among families who want to let their kids get some fresh air and exercise.
In addition, the park offers swimming areas along the beach, an RV park, picnic areas, hammocks, and a beach volleyball court, allowing visitors to find something that will suit their interests on any given day.
Hike Along the Michigan Tech Trails
Michigan Tech University maintains an extensive trail system that winds through the campus and the community of Houghton, allowing avid hikers and bikers the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of this region all year.
Throughout this system, you will find easy, lighted trails that are perfect for families and those who are new to hiking. Also, you will discover moderate and difficult trails so that people of all skill levels can find trails that best meet their needs and the challenge that they crave.
Visit Nara Nature Park
The Nara Nature Park is an all-season respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life in Houghton Michigan.
This 100-acre park was donated to the community by locals, and it has become a treasured space where people can soak up the landscape, explore the region, and connect to the Michigan Tech trail system.
During the summer, the Nara Nature Park is a lush and green space where people enjoy hiking through the wooded trails.
And, the Nara Nature Trail Boardwalk is a favorite among spring and summer visitors for enjoying the serene views of the Pilgrim River Once you reach the shores of the Pilgrim River, you will find a kayak and canoe launch, which is another favorite summer pastime in this community.
Go Skiing, Snowshoeing, or Snowmobiling
Usually, hiking trails feel like warm-weather attractions. In Houghton, winter is the longest season of the year, so it only makes sense that most of the trails are accessible — and to many, the most enjoyable — during the cold and snowy months.
The miles of hiking trails at Michigan Tech and the Nara Nature Preserve are open during the winter and ideal for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. And, many snowmobile trails in the Houghton area provide an alternative mode of transportation.
Plus, the sledding hill at the Nara Nature Preserve is a favorite among the young and the young at heart. At the top of the sled hill, visitors can warm up in the chalet, which has restrooms, a fireplace, and concessions.
With interpretive displays scattered throughout the chalet, it’s a place where you can learn more about the plants and wildlife that exist in the region too.
Paddle Underneath the Portage Lake Lift Bridge
Perhaps one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Houghton is to go paddling on Portage Lake. Portage Paddle Sports is located on the lakeshore and offers paddleboarding and kayaking adventures for those who want to spend a day gliding on top of the crystal blue waters.
Many people who paddle the lake report that it’s the best way to see the majestic Portage Lake Lift Bridge in all of its glory. To add a sweet touch to the day, you can grab a scoop of ice cream or gelato on the shore right after you finish the excursion.
Indoor Things to Do in Houghton Michigan
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend a bit of time indoors as well. In fact, this is one of the best ways to truly understand the history of Houghton, the role that the mining industry played in the area, and the place that it wants to be today.
Whether you need to escape the elements or you simply want to relax in a comfortable, controlled environment, these are a few ideas for an indoor day in Houghton Michigan.
Spend a Day at the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw
In downtown Houghton’s historic district, the stately public library building stands out as one of the most recognizable structures in the community. Built in 1909 and funded by Andrew Carnegie, the former library building is now the home of the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw.
This museum is a year-round attraction that offers free admission, giving locals and travelers an opportunity to explore its exhibits and learn more about the culture, heritage, and natural history of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
The exhibits at the museum rotate from year to year. Some examples of recent exhibits include a celebration of Houghton’s golden anniversary, a display showcasing postcards from the region throughout the decades, and a collection of waterfront paintings that were created by a local artist.
Beyond the exhibits on display, the museum offers virtual experiences and hosts community events, making this a place where people can meet with one another and develop a lasting connection to the community at large.
Play a Round of Respawn Tactical Laser Tag
There’s typical, traditional laser tag, and then there is the Houghton version of laser tag. At Respawn Tactical Laser Tag, players take their laser tag game to the next level.
Heralded as one of the best indoor things to do in Houghton Michigan, this facility welcomes visitors 8 years of age and older to participate in a team-based, mission-specific game of laser tag.
With more than a dozen missions available, there is always a new challenge to try at this laser tag facility. It is open year-round, making it a popular rainy-day destination or indoor winter activity.
See Breathtaking Rocks & Gems at the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum
Located on the breathtaking Michigan Tech University campus, the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum is considered one of the best rock and mineral museums in the Great Lakes region.
This museum boasts a collection of more than 40,000 specimens of rocks and minerals, some of which were gathered by collectors more than 200 years ago. On any given day, there are more than 4,000 specimens on display, including fluorescent minerals, native copper, and soft pink calcite.
The most infamous display is the massive 19-ton native copper slab that earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Additional Attractions Near Houghton Michigan
With its well-earned nickname as a gateway to the gorgeous Keweenaw Peninsula, Houghton is the perfect starting point for a trip throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula. These are a few nearby attractions and activities to consider as you build your Houghton itinerary.
Explore the World of Copper Mining at the Quincy Mine
Across the bridge in the community of Hancock Michigan, you will find the historic Quincy Mine. This former copper mine has been preserved and exists today as a museum, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience what life was like during the copper boom on the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Two tour experiences are available, but the most popular is the Underground Experience. This tour takes guests deep into the mine for an immersive and informative look at mining operations.
In addition, you can complement your Quincy Mine experience with a Smelter Experience that takes you to the historic smelter near the waterfront. This is a seasonal experience that introduces visitors to the oldest, most well-preserved 19th-century smelter in the world.
NOTE: Keep in mind that it’s a bit chilly in the mines — about 40 degrees Fahrenheit regardless of the season.
Journey to Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park is one of the most remote parks in the country — and the least visited of all the national parks. Houghton Michigan is the main entry point via a six-hour voyage on the Ranger III from the city’s port to the island’s shores.
Isle Royale is a true northern wilderness and is a haven for those who like backpacking, camping, hiking, and exploring without frills. There are several campsites and a lodge on the island, so you can spend a few days on Isle Royale to truly appreciate the peace and beauty that surrounds you.
Visit the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse
Along the rocky shores of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse serves as a beacon of hope. Built during the 1850s to aid ships passing by the peninsula during the copper boom, this lighthouse was a pivotal navigational aid for ships moving along the unpredictable waters of Lake Superior.
The light at the top of the tower remains active today, though it has been automated since the 1980s. It’s a short trip from Houghton to Eagle Harbor Michigan, where you can experience this stately lighthouse. The museum is open seasonally, typically between the middle of June and early October.
Discover the Coppertown USA Mining Museum
The museum offers interactive and engaging exhibits that tell the story of the region’s copper boom, which was the first of its kind in the United States. In addition to seeing the tools and equipment that were needed for copper mining, many different pieces of natural copper are on display.
Local Restaurants in Houghton Michigan
Houghton is a town full of authenticity and flavor, which naturally lends itself to the development of small, locally-owned restaurants.
Historic downtown Houghton has long been a haven for local businesses, particularly eclectic restaurants. Those who live in Houghton and those who are just stopping by love to spend a few hours here enjoying fresh, flavorful meals.
These are the best places to meet the locals, try their meals, and soak up the culture of Houghton Michigan.
The Ambassador Restaurant
For more than 50 years, The Ambassador Restaurant has been a mainstay in the Houghton community. To this day, it serves delicious meals for affordable prices in an authentic atmosphere.
The Ambassador is situated inside a historic building in the heart of the city’s downtown, and the arched ceilings and wood details create an ambiance unlike anything else in the city. It’s not all airs and graces, though, because this restaurant is the place you go when you want the best pizza in town.
Victoria’s Kitchen & Gifts
Described as a place that has a little something for everyone, Victoria’s Kitchen & Gifts is a cafe and gift shop that is known as one of the best hidden gems in Houghton. The menu is filled with homemade items, many of which are influenced by Middle Eastern flavors.
After you have a quick and nourishing meal at Victoria’s, you can shop the artisan items in the shop.
The Den is a sports bar with a sophisticated twist, conveniently located in downtown Houghton.
This is the kind of place where locals go to chat about the comings and goings of the community while they watch the game on TV. It’s also the kind of place where visitors can grab a relaxing meal and refreshing beverage after a day of touring.
Alongside burgers and sandwiches, The Den offers an array of simmering entrees that are designed to tempt every palate.
Roy’s Pasties & Bakery
This family-owned pasty shop and bakery is proud of the fact that every pasty it serves is made from scratch, ensuring that every customer enjoys the best that the Upper Peninsula has to offer.
In addition to pasties, this shop is known for its hearty soups and homemade bread, making it an excellent lunch or dinner spot.
Coffee & Ice Cream Stops in Houghton
There are several places where you can treat yourself to a caffeinated beverage or frozen concoction in Houghton Michigan. Camp Coffee Houghton is a locally-owned coffee shop that is known for its one-of-a-kind specialty beverages, such as the S’mores or Honey Lav lattes.
If you are more in the mood for ice cream versus coffee, Portage Paddle Sports serves the widest variety of flavors in the city. Along with hand-dipped ice cream, it has creamy and delicious vegan gelato. This location is open seasonally and is particularly popular among tourists.
Houghton Michigan Wineries & Breweries
The Keweenaw Peninsula is home to several wineries and breweries.
Among the many Upper Peninsula breweries, you will find the Keweenaw Brewing Company in downtown Houghton, which serves some of the most affordable beers in the city. Its home-like atmosphere makes it appealing to those who want to sip and savor the brews.
Across the lake in Hancock Michigan, you will find Gitche Gumee Ciderworks, where you will find sweet, fresh-pressed ciders on tap.
Hotels in Houghton Michigan & Other Accommodations
There are accommodations for every type of traveler in Houghton, from local hotels that offer a hint of luxury amid the beauty of the city to classic campgrounds that showcase the beauty of the region.
The Vault Hotel
The Vault Hotel is a modern, luxurious hotel that has been fashioned out of a restored bank building in downtown Houghton. At this hotel, you will greet the concierge through a teller window and have access to vintage bank cubbies during your stay.
If you’d rather live the life of a local, consider booking a vacation rental in Houghton Michigan. Many homes are available for short-term rentals, including this downtown Houghton ground-level apartment.
With one bedroom and two beds, this rental can sleep up to four people and is located within walking distance of the Houghton waterfront. It even has views of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.
Of course, camping is always an option in Houghton Michigan. The city operates an RV Park within the boundaries of Kestner Waterfront Park.
This intimate RV park offers spectacular views of the Portage Canal, and all of the sites are just a few steps from the swimming beach. It is open seasonally between early May and early October each year.
About Houghton Michigan
Houghton is a community that has long been forged by its connections to the people who have long called Houghton home, to the land, and to the waterways that surround it.
Today, the most obvious symbol of this connection is the Portage Lake Lift Bridge — an iconic bridge spanning over Portage Lake and linking Houghton with the city of Hancock Michigan.
The History of Houghton
Houghton’s history has long been linked to the copper that could be mined from its land, but many people don’t realize that copper mining played an important role in this region’s culture and history long before the arrival of European settlers.
The indigenous people who resided in the Keweenaw Peninsula for thousands of years had long been mining for copper and relying on this precious metal for their own livelihoods.
Copper Mining Success
When European settlers did arrive in the late 18th century, they quickly discovered the potential of the copper mines. This industry brought thousands of immigrants to the area, ultimately creating the settlement that would become present-day Houghton.
Copper Mines Close
The mining boom in Houghton lasted for more than a century before the final mines closed in the 1960s. Shortly afterward, the Michigan College of Mines was established in the region. Now, that college is known as Michigan Tech, and it continues to anchor the Houghton community to the mining industry.
Houghton Through the Seasons
Its prime position on the Keweenaw Peninsula allows for spectacular views the entire year, regardless of the season. The weather in Houghton, however, can be a bit unpredictable at times.
Spring is short, sweet, and sometimes rainy, while summers are filled with cool breezes and abundant sunshine. Autumn ushers in a slew of colors on the trees, and this fleeting season is a favorite of many who want to see the leaves change and take fall scenic drives across the Keweenaw.
Winter is the primary season in Houghton, with the cold weather arriving as early as October and lingering well into April most years. Snow is plentiful and almost always blankets the ground throughout these winter months.
FAQs About Houghton Michigan
Is Houghton the largest city in the Upper Peninsula?
Houghton is a very well-known city in the Upper Peninsula, but it is not the largest city in this region of Michigan. With about 8,300 residents, it is the fifth-largest city in the Upper Peninsula.
Is Houghton an all-season destination?
Yes! Travelers come from across the Midwest and all over the country to experience the magic and beauty of Houghton and the entire Keweenaw Peninsula throughout the year.
How long does it take to reach Isle Royale from Houghton?
Isle Royale visitors must depart Houghton on the Ranger III, a ship that will take them across Lake Superior to the rocky shores of Isle Royale National Park. The trip takes about six hours to complete.
Discover More Things to Do in Houghton Michigan
Travelers to Houghton have the opportunity to uncover its past through copper mine tours and to look toward the future by supporting the local businesses that are a mainstay in this community.
No matter how you choose to spend your time in Houghton Michigan, you are sure to enjoy this one-of-a-kind community that exemplifies the best that the Upper Peninsula has to offer.