Known as the Lake Superior Copper District, the Keweenaw Peninsula was a significant copper mining area, with a population of close to 100,000 people. Remnants of several old mines, many which operated for more than 100 years, can be seen from the highway. Most of the communities supporting the mines are now ghost towns. The miners were largely immigrants from Cornwall and Finland, and many of the current residents are of Cornish and Finnish decent.
While Copper Harbor is a unique little village, there is not a lot to do. It appears that most visitors come to Copper Harbor to be transported to Isle Royale National Park as it is the closest harbor from which ferries depart. Otherwise, the only other notable attraction is Fort Wilkin’s State Historic Park.
Today, we drove and biked around the Copper Harbor area. Our first stop was to view the lighthouse from the highway as it is accessible only by boat. We then drove through Copper Harbor to see the Lake Superior shoreline from Hunter’s Point Park. Hunter’s Point Park is a protected natural resources area comprising some 100+ acres jutting out on a narrow peninsula point at Copper Harbor. Hunter’s Point, a part of Hunter’s Point Park, is 9.4 acres with almost a mile of shoreline and a mile of varied trails. Hunter’s Point connects to Copper Harbor via hiking and biking trail, and also via road. The shoreline contained many colorful and unique rock formations in the otherwise rounded, reddish brown sand and gravel. Lake Superior is incredibly clear, and one can see down to depths of 50± feet; surface water temperature of Lake Superior is currently 43°! As we hiked one of the short trails, we noted still ripening blueberries and picked a few of the tasty morsels.
Our drive then took us along the north coast in a westerly direction. A light fog and mist began as we departed Hunter’s Point Park, significantly impacting visibility. Consequently, we bypassed Brockway Mountain Drive and the panoramic views it offered. Along Lakeshore Drive, we saw the often rugged shoreline interspersed with sand and gravel beaches on the Lake Superior side and lush boreal forests with lakes and waterfalls on the east side. Near Jacob’s Falls, a small bakery and confections shop lay among the woods. he Jampot, operated by the monks of Holy Transfiguration Skete, exuded the cacophony of aromas from the many preserves, fruitcakes, breads, and confections prepared on the premises. Kay bought fresh made caramels, jalapeño caramels, and “monk bread”, the latter which must have been soaked in alcohol. Eagle Harbor had a number of notable historic sites including the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse built in 1871 and Eagle Harbor Life-Saving Station Museum (Life-Saving Service was a forerunner to the US Coastguard). Further down the road, Eagle River Falls contained remnants of an old dam and sluice constructed to power a factory which made fuses for the mines. Just downstream from the Eagle River Falls was an old wooden-arched bridge, still in use. We stopped at a small store for lunch, and ordered a pastie—a meat, potato, and rutabaga pie. This delicacy was brought to the area by the wives of the Cornish miners so that the miners would have a hot meal at noontime. We mispronounced it when ordering, and the proprietor said we would have to go to New Orleans or Las Vegas for a “pasty”; however, he had pasties (pass tees). The store’s owner was a 4th generation Cornishman, and the store was built before Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. The Cornish gentleman gave us a great oral history of the area and showed us photographs of Eagle River during its heyday as a major international port on Lake Superior. I asked him about snowfall in the area, and he said they received 390 inches last year—that’s over 22 feet! Turning around, we drove back the way we came, stopping at Silver River Falls for a photo.
Back at the motorhome, I donned a daypack, uncovered the bicycle, and rode into town and then to Hunter’s Point Park, stopping there to hike a short 1-mile trail along the coast. Returning to the RV, I was drenched despite the mild temperatures after the 8+ mile ride on mostly off-road, and seemingly uphill, trails.Upon our return to Fort Wilkins State Park, we walked the short distance to the historic Fort Wilkins for a more thorough tour. We expected a living history type of experience, but there were only two young “role players”, and they were more interested in socializing than in providing history. The fort is definitely worth seeing, if one makes a trip to Copper Harbor.
The evening interpretive program was about an historic ship wreck in the early 1900‘s off the northeast coast of Copper Harbor—good but brief.