Marine News from the Great Lakes

Houghton & Hancock, MI - Where Your Keweenaw Adventure Begins

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2019
By: Brad Barnett, Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau

Visitors to the Keweenaw, whether by air, car, bike, foot, or boat, don’t come by accident. Located hundreds of miles from the nearest interstate, the region is known for its abundant natural beauty, copper mining legacy, spectacular waterways, and vibrant fall colors. For those who make the trek, their journey is rewarded with unique experiences drawing visitors back year after year.

The cities of Houghton and Hancock, Michigan, are set in the heart of the Keweenaw Waterway – a natural and human-made system allowing boaters passage across the Keweenaw Peninsula. Houghton, which serves as the gateway to the Keweenaw, is located on Highway 41 and is known as the birthplace of professional hockey and is home to Michigan Technological University – a leading science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) institution. Directly across the Portage Canal is the city of Hancock, named for the American revolutionary figure John Hancock and home to the historic Quincy Mine.

Your Pick of Boating Experiences

Visitors of Michigan’s northern most cities have their choice of boating experiences. For anglers and boaters seeking an inland lake experience, visit Portage Lake which features nearly 10,000 acres of freshwater fishing, gorgeous views, and calm waters. The lake is one of the area’s premier fishing venues with opportunities to land northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, perch, crappie, and sturgeon.

Ready for the big waters? Houghton and Hancock offer access to Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area, at the northern and southern ends of the Keweenaw Waterway. Lake Superior’s lighthouse-dotted coastlines, pristine waters, and abundant sea life make any expedition a memorable experience! More than 30 fish species are native to the big lake’s cool waters including walleye, perch, whitefish, lake sturgeon, northern pike, and lake trout.

Looking for a more “urban” boating experience? Be sure to travel along the Keweenaw Waterway’s Portage Canal which runs between Houghton and Hancock and provides easy pedestrian access to both downtowns, dining options and local attractions like Chutes & Ladders Park – a favorite among children and adults alike. You won’t forget the experience of sailing under the Portage Lake Lift Bridge which contains more than 35,000 tons of concrete and 7,000 tons of steel!

Boaters in need of docking can use the Houghton County Marina located in Hancock on the north shore of the Keweenaw Waterway. The 54-slip marina provides gas and diesel fuel, a pump-out station, concrete boat launch ramp, and picnic facilities. The Harbormaster is on duty from May 1 through October 31. Other nearby public boat launch sites are available along the lake at Chassell (along US-41), the Hancock Boating & Recreation area (on M-203), and Lily Pond (on M-203).


A Song of Copper & Ice

A copper-boom beginning in the 1840s earned the region its nickname: Michigan’s Copper Country. Visitors can learn how the industry’s ebb and flow shaped local communities and the rapid industrialization of the United States. The Keweenaw National Historical Park, located just a short ten-minute drive north of Hancock, tells this story through interactive exhibits, museum objects, and films.

No trip to the Keweenaw is complete without a visit to the Quincy Mine. Located in Hancock, visitors can experience life as a copper miner during the late 1800s by touring the 1908 shafthouse, 1918 hoist house, and underground mine shafts. After learning how copper ore was extracted, visit the Quincy Smelting Works where copper ore was purified and cast into ingots for shipment to markets across the United States.

For hockey enthusiasts, and sport lovers in general, a visit to Houghton’s Dee Stadium is a must. Called “The Dee” by locals, this hockey rink was built in 1928 and is now the seventh oldest indoor ice rink in the world. Visitors are encouraged to check out historical memorabilia on display and lace up their hockey skates to take the ice during open skate sessions.

Endless Outdoor Adventures

For boaters seeking to stretch their sea legs, the Keweenaw offers countless opportunities to hike, bike, climb, and speed along hundreds of miles of trail systems. Nearby trail systems at Nara Nature Park and Pilgrim River Community Forest provide hikers access to pristine woodlands and wildlife. Mountain biking enthusiasts should make the short trip to Copper Harbor to experience world-class, Silver-Level International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) trails. In the mood for something a bit more casual? Explore the Keweenaw Waterway by pedaling the gentle trail from Houghton to Chassell.

Are you ready for an adventure of a lifetime? Take a seaplane or ferry from Houghton to Isle Royale National Park where you can experience more than 160 miles of hiking trails. The 45-mile-long island in the middle of Lake Superior is the most re-visited national park in the United States thanks to its rugged, natural beauty and opportunity for solitude.

Do you have a need for speed? The Keweenaw has hundreds of miles of off-road vehicle (ORV) trails which cater to both adrenaline junkies and those who enjoy a more meandering pace. Riders can choose between short day excursions or circuit the entire Keweenaw Peninsula along the maintained Michigan Department of Natural Resources Multi-Use Trail System. No ride? No problem! Several outfitters offer rentals to meet your needs.

Waterfront Dining

Houghton and Hancock offer numerous dining options with spectacular views of the Keweenaw Waterway. Local favorites include Roy’s Pasties & Bakery, the Ambassador Restaurant, Bonfire Bar & Grill, and the Downtowner Lounge. Enjoy some local beer and canal views on the deck of the Keweenaw Brewing Company or Joey’s Seafood & Grill’s famous fish ‘n chips in downtown Houghton. Be sure to try the local whitefish at 4 Suns Fish and Chips Outdoor Café located directly across from the Quincy Mine.

Plan Your Visit

Looking to plan your visit to the Keweenaw? Visit and request your Keweenaw Adventure Guide today! Or contact the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-906-337-4579 to speak with our friendly and knowledgeable staff or email [email protected] today.


This article first appeared in the Fall Issue (Sep/Oct) 2019 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Destination

2021 jan - jun

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