Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been, ever since our first visit in 2006, one of our Happy Places. We love the low-key, land-that-time-forgot atmosphere. We usually stay in non-chain one-off family-run motels furnished in Camelot-era mid-century modern, where the big old freezer full of bagged ice cubes by the front office is run on the honor system when the office is closed. This casual it’ll all work out attitude helps us shed our mundane worries and slide into a relax, have a drink and watch the sunset lifestyle for a while.
It's a challenging, exhilarating drive that cries out to be done fast in a small nimble open-top rear-wheel-drive sports car, or a good motorcycle.
The UP has a lot of interesting drives. We once drove for an hour through the Hiawatha National Forest between Sault Ste. Marie and Munising without seeing another car. The trip from Green Bay to Ontonagon winds through a number of pretty and interesting little towns (and right past the amazing Ice Cream Station, may it live forever!). But for us, the Mother Road of the UP is the stretch of US-41 that runs up the Keweenaw Peninsula between Houghton and Copper Harbor.
Starting at the Houghton Lift Bridge over the Keweenaw Waterway, US-41 takes you north through old mining towns like Calumet (the Big City with about 6,500 residents), Ahmeek and Phoenix. Side roads will lead you to interesting places like Eagle River, where a group of Eastern Rite monks run an amazing bakery, or vanishingly small Gay, known mainly for its Bar.
But for me the most memorable part of US-41 is the ten or so miles between the turnoff to Lac LaBelle and Copper Harbor. On this stretch, the trees that line the road in most places grow thicker and taller, while the road is only single lane. Their crowns begin to extend over the pavement, until you are driving through what is called “the tunnel of trees.” The terrain becomes hillier, and the road twistier; soon there are very few places where you are not turning, braking or accelerating. There are constant transitions from patches of sunlight to deep shadow. It’s a challenging, exhilarating drive that cries out to be done fast in a small nimble open-top rear-wheel-drive sports car, or a good motorcycle. I want to do it in my classic Jaguar XK-E if ever I get one.
At the north end of the Tunnel of Trees, 41 intersects with M-26, which comprises Copper Harbor’s half mile long main drag. Straight ahead you will see the harbor and the sign for our favorite UP motel, the King Copper, which is visible on the left side of the cover photo. At this point we know that, for a few days or a week, we are home.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.