Destinations / North America / Michigan

6 Unforgettable Things to do in Houghton, Michigan

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Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a special, unspoiled place that invites you to linger and take a deep breath of fresh air while you’re surrounded by the region’s natural beauty.

If you’re looking to explore the scenic Keweenaw peninsula in far northern Michigan’s copper country, the town of Houghton offers an ideal base. It’s close enough to the highway for easy access, has a few attractions of its own (including just across the Portage Lake lift bridge in Hancock) and is close enough to Copper Harbor for a great day trip.

Things to do in Houghton MI

One of the best things about Houghton is that there are so many activities to choose from, ranging from mine tours to outdoor things to do like hiking and beach combing.

Quincy Mine tour

Quincy Mine offers a fascinating tour of a massive copper mine complex, but it also gives you a deep look at the Keweenaw Peninsula’s rise and fall over the 20th century. This site is part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, and you’ll see the impressive above-ground facilities in addition to taking a lengthy walk in the mine.

Be sure to wear warm clothing and closed toed shoes that can get dirty – my kids were so cold that they each stole one of my layers, and we all came out of the mine much dirtier than expected! There’s no age requirement to go on the tour, but realistically I think it’s best for kids 8+.

Though scheduled tours are only offered in the summer, the mine is open year round by appointment.

Adventure Mining Company

If you’re looking for a thrilling experience, check out these offerings! You can go rappelling down into an old copper mine, though keep in mind that the thrill experiences here are for teens and adults.

This is a great place to go if you need indoor things to do in Houghton MI during inclement weather conditions. However, unlike Quincy Mine it’s NOT open year round.

Chutes and Ladders playground

This may just be the coolest climbing-based playground in the USA! It’s massive and kids can spend hours burning off energy while parents enjoy a relaxing stroll along the waterfront trail. It’s the perfect place to spend the evening and watch the sunset! The park is located just west of downtown Houghton and has a great view of Portage Lake lift bridge.

Brockway Mountain Drive

One of the most popular things to do in the Keweenaw Peninsula is enjoy Brockway Mountain Drive, and with good reason. This beautiful road between Silver River Falls and the village of Copper Harbor offers great scenic lookouts that don’t require any hiking. Just keep your eyes peeled for the very obvious places to stop.

Agate Beach

This pretty spot just west of Copper Harbor is the perfect place to go hunting for agates and other beautiful rocks. Since it sits on Lake Superior, don’t expect warm water for swimming!

Astor Shipwreck Park

This lovely beach park is just outside the bounds of Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, which we didn’t love enough to recommend it compared to other historic forts we visited in Michigan. But Astor Shipwreck Park is an awesome place to relax and enjoy views of the Copper Harbor lighthouse as you wrap up your epic Michigan roadtrip!

Of course there are also tons of hiking trails in the area if you’re looking for active exploration! If you’re considering a day trip to Isle Royale National Park check out the logistics here – you’ll likely want to take a seaplane from Houghton Michigan, otherwise you’d have to drive up to Copper Harbor and take the much slower ferry.

Where to stay in Houghton MI

No matter where you stay in Houghton, Michigan you’ll be driving around to sightsee. You choice of hotel isn’t going to make or break your visit.

The Vault Hotel – If you like unique historic properties, The Vault Hotel is a great pick! It’s housed in a historic bank building in the heart of downtown Houghton. The rooms here only sleep 2, so it’s a better pick for couples than families.

Hampton Inn & Suites Houghton – We had a solid stay at this hotel, though there’s not a whole lot that sets it apart other than a generous breakfast spread in a really pleasant room looking over to Hancock (which isn’t always the case with simple chain hotels).

Holiday Inn Express Houghton-Keweenaw– Another dependable choice in town, though it doesn’t have any view to speak of. This Holiday Inn offers suites that can sleep up to six people, making it a great choice for large families in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Restaurants near Houghton

The region offers some nice local restaurants to try out during your visit.

Harbor Haus – A great meal in Copper Harbor for the last night of your Michigan UP road trip! It’s not cheap, and you’ll want to make a reservation a few days in advance.

Milly’s Hancock – Stellar pizza spot in Hancock, with a top-notch selection of unique sodas too

Keweenaw Co-Op Market & Deli – Perfect lunch stop thanks to their awesome sandwiches at the deli counter in the back

A quick history of Houghton MI

What makes this small town near Lake Superior so important? Houghton MI sits in the heart of copper country, and the region’s Indigenous community began surface-level mining thousands of years ago.

Houghton County was established in 1845 after surveying several years earlier showed the potential for major copper reserves deep underground. The town and mining efforts grew in the ensuing decades, with large groups of Cornish and Finnish immigrants arriving to work the mines. At its peak, Houghton Michigan produced the vast majority of America’s copper. Eventually in 1885 Michigan College of Mines was established, later transforming into Michigan Tech.

Houghton’s population peaked in 1910 around 90,000 people. As the mines extended deeper and became more expensive to operate, conditions for miners also became worse and culminated in a strike in 1913-1914. Once copper prices declined precipitously during the Great Depression, even the huge mines like Quincy Mine couldn’t continue and shuttered their doors. Though they reopened temporarily during World War II, the economics of mining nearly 10,000 feet below ground weren’t viable in the long term.

Today Houghton County’s year round population is just under 40,000. The “Gateway to the Keweenaw Peninsula” may not be a mining powerhouse, but instead it’s focused on the education industry and providing a great small town quality of life.

Where to go next

Continue your Michigan road trip with a stop in Munising! It’s just 2.5 hours away and serves as the perfect home base for exploring the heart of the Upper Peninsula. You can also see how your visit to Houghton fits into your Michigan summer road trip itinerary.

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