Even though it’s one of the most isolated little communities in the contiguous United States, Copper Harbor, Michigan, is still a favorite all-season destination by many.
It’s set at the very end of U.S. 41 and in the northernmost end of Keweenaw Peninsula, which is, in turn, the northernmost populated territory in Michigan.
Because of these features, the town has numerous nature-related attractions that are perfect for photographers, thrill-seekers, and adventurers.
It wasn’t always the nature destination that it is today, as the community was once the hotspot for copper mining in the 1800s.
But as the mines ran out, the locals turned to the region’s natural beauty and have since served as stewards of the environment.
And you’re welcome to partake in all these wonders!
Here are the 15 best things to do in Copper Harbor, MI:
Go Fishing in Lake Superior
During your trip to Copper Harbor, you’d see Lake Superior glistening on the horizon, inviting you to head out to its waters and see its wonders.
It’s the largest body of water amongst the Great Lakes and holds the record as the largest freshwater lake in the world in terms of surface area.
Because of its immensity, Lake Superior holds a vital role in shipping, agriculture, and even climate in the region.
But it’s also a tourist spot owing to the many cities, parks, and historical attractions along its banks.
One of the favorite activities here is fishing, and you can join a charter from Copper Harbor to try catching the large game within its depths.
You can fish a wide variety of salmon, trout, large and smallmouth bass, pike, walleye, and many other species teeming in the lake.
Learn About the Past at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park
When the copper mining boom began in the 1840s, the government saw the need for discipline and security within the new towns and shipping lines.
Fort Wilkins was then established as a military outpost meant to keep the peace between the miners and the Ojibwas Indians, who were the area's original inhabitants.
Over the years, the fort saw and managed many conflicts before it was abandoned in 1870.
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park was eventually established to preserve and celebrate the original fort and its role during the country’s first mining “rush.”
The area now spans 700 acres, with verdant grounds, trails, day-use facilities, as well as reconstructions of past structures used by the army.
You’d even see people dressed in period costumes guarding the area, giving you an immersive experience during your visit.
If you’re looking for a base camp during your Copper Harbor adventures, the park has cabins and campgrounds that accommodate tents and RVs.
Marvel at the Sceneries Along Brockway Mountain Drive
Dubbed as “the most beautiful road in Michigan,” Brockway Mountain Drive offers unparalleled vistas of Lake Superior and the Kennesaw Peninsula.
It’s one of the most beloved attractions in the region, spanning 8.8 miles and climbing up to 1,320 feet above sea level.
While driving the route, you’d pass by some of the best viewpoints in the region.
The highest one is the summit of the mountain, aptly called Brockway Mountain Lookout.
Stay for a while and take in the marvelous views of the surrounding wilderness and bodies of water.
The sceneries vary from season to season: during spring, migratory hawks grace the skies; summer is the perfect time for wildflower viewing; fall is simply magical with the changing foliage; and winter is pristine with gray skies and white landscapes.
Spot Wildlife at Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor
Spanning 1,200 acres, the Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor is one of the largest preserves on this side of the Kennesaw Peninsula.
It’s the easternmost as well, sitting at the very edge of the land.
Because of its location and relative isolation, this preserve has become the home to several unique species, some of which are endemic or endangered.
These plants thrive on the harsh landscape and climate of the region, with most of the shoreline being exposed bedrocks with little soil.
So you can expect to see stunted trees, lichens, windproof bushes, and other unique-looking living organisms flourishing in between cracks or cliffs against all odds.
Deeper into the forests, you’ll see taller tree species that serve as homes to animals like black bears, snowshoe hares, and several birds.
Don’t forget to visit the beautiful Horseshoe Bay beach, which sits on the northern edges of the preserve.
Cruise Lake Fanny Hooe on a Kayak
Aside from Lake Superior, there’s another body of water you’d spot during your trip across Brockway Mountain Drive: Lake Fanny Hooe.
It sits on the eastern edge of Copper Harbor and spans 227 acres in total surface area.
While it’s a trickle compared to Lake Superior, this attraction is still a worthwhile place to visit, especially if you want a less crowded destination.
Lake Fanny Hooe doesn’t draw that many people except for locals and curious travelers owing to the underdeveloped area and lack of access points.
But it’s because of these reasons that the body of water has remained pristine over the years.
So you’d be treated to tranquil sceneries, especially on the banks opposite Copper Harbor.
Rent a kayak or canoe and paddle to these isolated areas to commune with nature and marvel at the natural beauty.
Tour the Museum of Copper Harbor Light
On the edge of land that creates the harbor lies Copper Harbor Light, a beautiful manmade structure standing as a guide for ships passing Lake Superior.
This attraction has been around since 1847 and is listed under the National Register of Historic Places.
Because of its status, the lighthouse has been the subject of many preservation efforts.
One of the most notable many projects is the creation of a museum, which showcased the history of the lighthouse and Lake Superior’s maritime industry.
You’re welcome to visit the attraction during summer, as other seasons may prove too treacherous for leisurely visits.
The views are well worth the trip, as you’d see uninterrupted views of the coastline and Lake Superior during clear and sunny days.
See the Birds of Hunter’s Point Park
On the western edge of the harbor, opposite Copper Harbor Light, is Hunter’s Point Park.
This 9.4-acre land juts off the mainland, creating a long coastline on either side with their own trails.
You’re welcome to explore these routes and see the park's various attractions, such as pebble beaches, unusual rock formations, and views of the harbor and Lake Superior.
If you’re a birdwatcher, you’ll have a great time documenting the various avian species that call this home, such as hawks and waterfowl.
For landscape photographers, make sure to reach Plimpton Point or Agate Beach for stunning vistas to add to your portfolio.
Ride an ATV to Keweenaw Rocket Range
Because of Copper Harbor’s isolation, a portion of its backcountry has been used as a launchpad for NASA’s rockets.
It may come as a surprise to some people, as this place is at the opposite end of more famous launchpads, such as the ones in Houston, Texas and Cape Canaveral, Florida.
But it makes sense, as the Kennesaw Peninsula is sparsely inhabited and sits next to a large body of water—two important factors for safe launches.
Keweenaw Rocket Range is the launchpad within Copper Harbor’s borders, located on the easternmost edge of the land.
It isn’t easy to reach, and the site itself is a little more than a concrete pad, some other surviving paraphernalia, and a marker that details its history.
But the views are what most people come here for, as the site is located in an elevated spot that offers views of beautiful Manitou Island.
The trip is also one of the highlights of the experience, especially if you join the thrilling ATV tours that bring you to the site.
Trek the Trails of Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary
South from Lake Fanny Hooe lies another picturesque natural attraction that brings in throngs of visitors during peak season: Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary.
This 508-acre destination contains the largest collection of old-growth white pines, making it an important ecological hotspot in the region.
And despite the boreal climate and thin topsoil, the nature sanctuary still contains many flora and fauna.
Explore the trails to see rare and colorful wildflowers, other tree species, and various fern varieties that cover the forest floor.
Because of the lush vegetation, birds like woodpeckers, crossbills, and hawks have made their homes within the trees.
Bring your binoculars of cameras if you want to see or document these creatures as they flit about in between branches.
Make a Stopover at the Beginning of US Highway 41
US Highway 41, U.S. Route 41, or simply Route 41, is a major highway that runs north to south of the country.
It spans 2008 miles, running from Michigan all the way to Florida.
The northern terminus of this road is located in Copper Harbor, and you’re welcome to check it out during your trip.
While it’s a quick stop past Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, the attraction still holds a sense of infinite possibilities.
From here, you can ride straight ahead through eight states and to many beautiful spots in the Midwest and the South.
Explore Copper Harbor Trails on a Mountain Bike
The Copper Harbor Trails is a series of routes that crisscross the wilderness surrounding the town, bringing adventurers to some of the hidden wonders in the region.
These single-track paths span more than 37 miles in total, with Copper Harbor Trails Club in charge of their maintenance and supervision.
Under their care, Copper Harbor Trails has earned a Silver Level designation from the IMBA Ride Center.
It’s a prestigious recognition awarded to some of the most challenging yet scenic trails in the country, wherein Copper Harbor deservedly belongs to.
So rent or bring your mountain bike during your trip to the town and come check out these routes.
From elevated courses to dangerously rugged segments, these trails are something that only true enthusiasts and pros will attempt and conquer.
You’d be in for a ride of a lifetime!
Challenge Your Hiking Skills at Manganese Falls
A little way south of Lake Fanny Hooe, along French Annie Creek, is a little hidden treasure that most visitors will miss during their trip to Copper Harbor.
Manganese Falls is a majestic attraction located deep in the forests near Manganese Road, often invisible from the overlooks surrounding it.
This is because the water cascades into a deep and narrow gorge obscured by trees and rocks.
So before seeing the actual waterfall, you’d have to do a little bit of trekking and adventuring to reach the lookouts.
The best ones are at the top, offering close-up views of the waters as they start to foam and fall into the deep pool below.
Unfortunately, there’s no dry area where you can take pictures of the falls from its base, as the surrounding rocks will prove too steep and dangerous to climb.
The best way to check out the falls is during the spring thaw when there’s a considerable volume of water flowing into the intimidating landscape.
Other Things to Do Nearby
After your adventures in Copper Harbor, why not visit these other attractions nearby?
Take a Ferry to Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park is Michigan’s only national park, and it’s located far north in Lake Superior, almost near the Canadian border.
With Isle Royale as the biggest one, the attraction contains more than 400 islands that cover a total area of 206 square miles.
The park is accessible via Isle Royale Queen IV, a ferry boat in Copper Harbor that serves as the main public transport to the destination.
Since there is no permanent population in the islands, the park has remained pristine and devoid of urban developments, even though there were copper mines in the past.
It now stands as an important environmental hotspot home to animals like moose, timber wolves, red foxes, and other large predators.
There are also numerous plant species thriving in the varied habitats of the park, ranging from boreal forests to lakeside marshes.
Camping, hiking, and birdwatching are just some of the favorite activities to do here.
Explore the Wonders of George Hite Dunes and Marshes Preserve
Since Copper Harbor’s beaches are mostly made of pebbles or exposed bedrock, some visitors might find themselves looking for the iconic dunes common in the Great Lakes.
If you’re one of them, simply drive to George Hite Dunes and Marshes Preserve, west of Copper Harbor.
Though not as tall as the ones in Lake Michigan, the dunes here have the same windswept look that creates rugged and unique landscapes.
Some parts fall under the Michigan Sand Dunes Protection and Management Program, which preserves the most sensitive land features in the state.
So make sure to follow the guidelines and stay within prescribed trails during your visit.
Head Underground at Delaware Mine
In the neighboring town of Mohawk lie remnants of the copper mines that once served as the source of livelihood for the region’s townsfolk.
The Delaware Copper Mine Tours offers trips to these abandoned structures, bringing you deep into the earth and into the history of the area.
It’s a unique experience to see all these shafts up close, with ancient structures restored much like how they were used back in the day.
But if you’re claustrophobic or scared of being underground, you better stay on the surface and simply check out the historic buildings surrounding the mines.
Copper Harbor is nature’s playground, full of beaches, old-growth forests, majestic waterfalls, and scenic mountains.
So whether you’re an intrepid explorer or a laid-back nature lover, you’d have plenty of attractions and destinations to explore.
Reference this list to get an idea of what to expect during your trip to this isolated community.