By Eric Johnson*
Clear Lake is one of three lakes that can be found in the Emily Lake Camping Area near Toivola. (Photo © Ben Cottrill and courtesy Eric Johnson)
HOUGHTON -- Summertime in the Copper Country stretches into September, providing many opportunities for outdoor recreation and adventure. Small towns like Houghton, which author Norman Crampton listed in his book The 100 Best Small Towns in America, dot the area, drawing in tourists from around the globe. Numerous state parks, along with state and federally owned forests, allow for camping and hiking. There is also easy access to Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.
"I can think of over twenty campsites, beaches and rivers off the top of my head that I’ve been to here," said Andrew Brucki, a Michigan Tech student who enjoys going on wilderness excursions. "If you have a car, you can get to most of these places within an hour."
Recent warm temperatures have made the lake more swimable than ever. Don't forget your bathing suit and beach towel if you plan to visit the Copper Country this coming Labor Day weekend. If you're already here, try a beach you haven't yet visited. The following locations are commonly visited by local citizens and Michigan Tech students:
Breakers is a black sand beach on Lake Superior that is approximately 10 miles northwest of Houghton on County Road S-553, south of the Portage. Visitors can walk along the rocky breakers to the lighthouse, watch the sun set, and make a bonfire.
McLain State Park is also on Lake Superior, located on the west side of the Keweenaw Peninsula, approximately 11 miles northwest of Houghton on M-203. It has been named by Reader’s Digest as one of the top beaches in the United States. A small daily fee is needed to get into the park, featuring two miles of beach, a lighthouse, and opportunities for fishing, windsurfing, and hunting.
Gay Beach is approximately 25 miles northeast of Houghton, located on the eastern side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The road to the beach may or may not be blocked off by a gate, so visitors should be prepared to park and walk to get in to the beach.
The Copper Country has much to offer in terms of campsites, both rustic and modern.
"Many of these sites cost money, but most are pretty cheap," said Lydia Patch, a Michigan Tech student and member of the Outdoor Adventure Program. "Some of the campsites have really cool histories, too, like Fort Wilkins State Park. They do reenactments there of life in the 1800s."
Campers who prefer rustic camping need to be aware of the hazards of leaving society behind.
"Many of these locations are very remote and are not recommended for first-time campers," said Tyler Losinski, also a Michigan Tech student and member of the Outdoor Adventure Program. "Visitors are encouraged to bring maps, compasses, and a GPS."
Lake Perrault is approximately 13 miles southwest of Houghton. It is a designated trout lake, with brook trout being the main catch. Though it used to be a roadside park, Lake Perrault is now largely abandoned -- perfect for those wishing to get away from their busy lives for a day or two.
Agate Beach Campground is approximately 22 miles west of Houghton and is located on Lake Superior. The camping fee is $15 per night. Agate Beach is well-suited for rock collecting, swimming, kayaking, or canoeing.
Twin Lakes State Park is approximately 26 miles southwest of Houghton near Toivola, Mich. There is a $16 - $22 camping fee per night, but visitors have access to a volleyball court as well as a beach. Campers wishing to head to the Emily Lake Camping Area must first obtain a back country permit from Twin Lakes State Park.
Emily Lake Camping Area is approximately 27 miles southwest of Houghton near Toivola and includes Emily Lake, Pike Lake, and Clear Lake. There is no charge for camping at any of the three lakes, though a backcountry permit is required. Permits can be obtained from Twin Lakes State Park.
Fort Wilkins State Park is located approximately 47 miles northeast of Houghton on US-41 near Copper Harbor. The campground has running water, a sanitation station, electricity and a boat launch. Fort Wilkins State Park also houses Fort Wilkins itself, a 19th century military post and lighthouse complex that has been well-preserved. Visitors are able to witness re-enactments of life in the 1840s at the fort.
Lake Fanny Hooe Campground, as the name suggests, is located near Lake Fanny Hooe, 49 miles northeast of Houghton. One site with electricity and water costs $28 per night. Campers willing to pay $40 per night will also receive sewer and cable television.
Schlatter Lake is located at the very tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, 56 miles northeast of Houghton. Visitors are recommended to use a vehicle with four-wheel drive to reach Schlatter Lake due to the rocky road. A unique fact about Schlatter Lake is that a rowboat has been donated to the lake and is available to the public free of charge to use whenever they please.
RIVERS TO CANOE OR KAYAK
For people who like water but not necessarily camping, the Keweenaw offers plenty of rivers for kayaking or canoeing.
The Sturgeon River ranges from 10 to 48 miles south of Houghton. Certain parts of the river are appropriate for beginners, but the Sturgeon River Gorge can be dangerous in the spring due to an influx of water from the melting snow.
Intermediate canoeists may prefer the Ontonagon River, which is approximately 50 miles southwest of Houghton.
In addition to rivers, several waterfalls are located throughout the Copper Country, all of which are free to visit.
"If you haven’t been to the waterfalls yet, you should," said Kevin Merritt, a Michigan Tech student and outdoor enthusiast. "They’re close [to Michigan Tech] and are perfect for taking pictures or just to walk by."
Hungarian Falls is only 10 miles northeast of Houghton near Hubbell. There are the upper falls and lower falls, which are both accessible by different roads. Scenic trails wind along the falls, affording visitors a spectacular view of the water.
Jacob’s Falls is located approximately 32 miles north of Houghton near Eagle River. The waterfall is fairly small, but it is located right next to the Jampot, where monks make and sell their own jam and baked goods.
Canyon Falls is located approximately 42 miles south of Houghton near L’Anse. Canyon Falls is known for its cliff jumping, which Michigan Tech students regularly do. The falls are scenic, and there are trails to hike as well.
Manganese Falls is located 48 miles northeast of Houghton near Copper Harbor. Visitors are able to view the falls from bridges as well as swim in pools formed by rocks in the river.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is a scenic area of the United States rich with opportunities for outdoor adventure and exploration. Residents of the Copper Country, along with visitors, are encouraged to explore their surroundings and better enjoy the Copper Country.
"It doesn’t matter where you go, as long as you get outside and get active," said Losinski. Andrew Brucki agrees.
"I would have never known how cool this area was if I just stayed on campus," said Brucki. "As soon as I started exploring the area, I started liking Tech a lot more."
*Editor's Notes: Visiting reporter Eric Johnson wrote this article as part of his work in David Clanaugh's summer journalism class at Michigan Tech University. This is Johnson's second article for Keweenaw Now. See also his Aug. 9 article, "Summer haying season challenges local farmers."
For information on Michigan Tech's Outdoor Adventure Program, visit their Web site.