Finding America by RV—Michigan’s Copper Country Trail

Hoping to find an RV camping destination where you can learn about America’s past along an epically beautiful lakeshore? Why not venture north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and learn how copper mining shaped the region along the Copper Country Trail? It’s one of America’s National Scenic Byways, and a route where fascinating history, splendid landscapes and excellent campgrounds come together for a trip you’ll long remember.

How Do We Get There?

To give you the overall picture of Michigan’s Copper Country, let’s start by saying that it lies in the Keweenaw Peninsula, that finger of land jutting into Lake Superior at the top of the Upper Peninsula.

The Copper Country Trail is a 47-mile section of US-41 that runs from Houghton, Michigan to Superior’s shores at Copper Harbor. The Keweenaw is about eight hours north of Chicago on I-90.

It may seem like forty-one miles of byway isn’t worthy of an RV camping vacation, but once you’ve discovered the beauty and historic significance of the Keweenaw Peninsula, you’ll find yourself wishing for more vacation time.

What Can We See and Do Along the Byway?

Let’s cover a little history before we highlight the wonders of the Copper Country Trail. From 1841 to the Great Depression, copper mining was the main economic force of the region, with a high percentage of America’s copper output being mined there.

Immigrants from many countries arrived to mine copper ore, run the businesses that supported the mining industry and share in the economic upswing. As with other industries at the time, however, the 1930s brought the collapse of copper mining and the closure of the last mine.

But that’s not to say that you won’t find plenty of evidence of this region’s copper-laden history as you travel the Copper Country Trail.  We start our journey in the city of Houghton, MI, the perfect access point to the Keweenaw Water Trail. This series of lakes, rivers and canals cuts across the peninsula to connect to Lake Superior at both ends. It was an important addition to the region’s ability to ship copper to other parts of the country, and is now a nationally-recognized water trail for kayak and canoe paddlers. There are lighthouses at both ends of the water trail, as well as developed and primitive campgrounds and access to inland trails along the way.

Travel north from Houghton along the Copper Country Trail (US-41) to find Keweenaw National Historical Park, an expansive collection of museums, mining-related buildings, historic mining towns and visitor centers that tell the tale of the peninsula’s past.

Quincy copper mine

Quincy copper mine

At the southern end of the collection is the Quincy Unit, where you can tour Quincy Mine on a cog rail tram and walk the historic village streets to explore a blacksmith shop, a mine office and other structures.

Farther north along the Byway, you’ll arrive at Calumet, MI, where the Calumet & Hecla Copper Mining Company brought unrivaled prosperity. Many of the historic structures built during the copper mining boom remain and can be located on the self-guided Calumet walking tour.

One more stop, just twenty miles north at the Delaware Mining Company, will complete your education on the valuable mineral that changed this peninsula forever. This mine, also part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park collection, allows self-guided walking tours suitable for families (and pets!)

Visiting these villages and mines will certainly give you a better understanding of the Keweenaw’s past, but the present-day beauty of the area will also capture your imagination. All along the National Scenic Byway, you’ll find mountain lakes and lush, tree-studded hillsides sweeping upward to tempt your eye.

When you reach road’s-end at Copper Harbor, there’s still more to discover. A visit to Fort Wilkins Historic State Park offers a restored 1840s military outpost, a developed campground and the chance to tour Copper Harbor Lighthouse. 

For RV travelers who enjoy a good hike, the Copper Harbor area is an outdoor wonderland! Just a couple of suggestions to get you started: for a short walk in the woods, consider the 1-mile Cathedral Grove Trail through the oldest white pines in Michigan at Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. To fully appreciate the rocky Superior shoreline and the coastal forests that surround it, hike the trails at Keweenaw Shore Nature Sanctuary just east of Brockway Mountain.

And speaking of that high point along the Superior shoreline, be sure to treat your fellow campers to nine miles of breathtaking scenery along Brockway Mountain Drive from Copper Harbor east to Eagle Harbor. The entire drive is awe-inspiring, and a stop at the top promises full-circle views of Lake Superior.

Where Can We Camp Along the Way?

Besides Fort Wilkins State Park campground at the northern end of the Copper Country Trail, the peninsula offers many camping possibilities, from private lakeside resorts to basic state park campsites. 

The City of Houghton RV Park along the Keweenaw Water Trail accepts self-contained RVs, with quick access to downtown Houghton, the Water Trail and an adjacent city park.

The Village of Lake Linden Campground, north of Houghton and just east of US-41 on Torch Lake, is also adjacent to a village park, within cycling or walking distance to shops and eateries.

McLain State Park, west of Calumet, is right on Lake Superior, with a modern campground, hiking trails and a sand beach.

One more tip for RV camping along the Copper Country Trail—Lake Fanny Hooe Resort in Copper Harbor is a popular place to stay while enjoying the sights at the trail’s northern tip.

For camera-grabbing views, interesting historic sites and friendly, scenic campgrounds, Michigan’s uppermost peninsula takes top honors. Be sure to send us your favorite memories as you travel by RV along the Copper Country Trail.

Photo Credit: NPS.gov, Keweenaw NHP Archives, Koepel–8×10–B.F. Childs–Quincy
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