Best things to do in Houghton in the fall

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Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Houghton is the gateway to the Keweenaw Peninsula, where you’ll find a combination of history and the great outdoors. Known for its copper mining history, the city, founded in 1861, is also the birthplace of professional hockey. In the fall, spending a long weekend in Houghton, Michigan is a great time to see Mother Nature’s full spectacle in technicolor.

Note: Thanks to the Keweenaw Peninsula for arranging my trip.

Things to do in Houghton

From an outdoors perspective, Houghton offers a combination of hiking and mountain biking, keeping all activity levels occupied. With the South Portage entrance, water enthusiasts will enjoy the Keweenaw Waterway, which provides access to Lake Superior. McLain State Park sits on the shores of the Keweenaw Waterway at the north entrance, where you can also access Lake Superior. To go further into Lake Superior, use Houghton as a jumping off point to Isle Royale National Park. If you prefer a more sedentary trip, a walk through the region’s stunning fall colors will do. For history buffs, the area is rich in ancient copper mining stories told through tours of mines and copper boom ghost towns.

Photo credit: Amy Piper

Visit of the Quincy mine

Taking a mine tour is the perfect way to understand the region’s copper heritage. The Quincy Mine, located in the twin town of Hancock in Houghton, offers an underground mine tour, museum and tram ride. After visiting the museum and Hoist House, you will take the cogwheel tram to the entrance to the mine. The guided tour covers approximately half a mile of wet gravel road through the mine.

Pro tip: The mine visit is wheelchair accessible. Call the day before your visit so that the establishment can prepare.

Exhibition at AE Seaman Mineral Museum
Photo credit: Amy Piper

Visit the AE Seaman Minerals Museum

Continuing the copper theme, the AE Seaman Mineral Museum, located on the Michigan Technological University campus, features the Great Lakes region’s premier public exhibition of minerals. In addition, the exterior copper pavilion houses a 19-ton native copper slab, a world record. Note: The lodge is closed in winter.

We found the fluorescent exhibit fun and informative. First, sit down before the room darkens and admire the exhibit as you see it during the day. Soon the lights are dimming and rocks are glowing in the darkroom. While each cabinet shines in different colors, the series of glowing and green minerals suggest the spirit of the holidays.

The entrance fee gives access for two consecutive days.

Hiking and biking the trails

The Waterfront Trail is a paved trail that runs east to west along the length of Houghton. The route begins east of the Pilgrim River and runs along the waterfront and the western end of Kestner Waterfront Park. The Waterfront Trail is relatively easy.

Explore the Michigan Tech System and Nara Trails for more moderate or advanced trails where all trails connect. The trail system offers up to 19 miles of marked and unmarked biking and hiking trails with easy access to downtown restaurants.

Plus, Michigan Tech’s summer recreational trail map will help you plan your outing. You can rent biking and boating equipment through Tech’s outdoor adventure program.

Portage Lake Lift Bridge on the Keweenaw Waterway
Photo credit: Amy Piper

Explore the Keweenaw Waterway

You’ll find many ways to explore the entrance to the south portage, from boat trips to paddle sports. Copper Country Boat Tours takes visitors on its boat, the SS Dragonfly, on a narrated tour of the region’s history and historic waterfronts. For a more active adventure, rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board for a close-up view of the water. The Portage Canal offers a smoother paddling experience instead of paddling the open waters of Lake Superior.

If you’re the captain of your boat, moor along the waterway for free daytime use near the Portage Lift Bridge. Then you can walk to nearby Houghton town center for shopping and dining.

Fall in Houghton Michigan - The Indoor Walk
Photo credit: Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau

Opt for a scenic route

Take a scenic drive in the fall and watch the leaves. Visit Redridge, a copper mining ghost town about 28 miles west of Houghton via “Covered Drive”. Located off Houghton Canal Road, the scenic dirt road features trees that create a tunnel effect. In Redridge you’ll find the historic Redridge Dam and Lake Superior. Right behind the dam you will find a waterfall, accessible via a short network of trails.

For stunning, high-level views, take a chairlift to the top of Mount Ripley.

Isle Royale National Park near Houghton, Michigan
Steven Schremp / Shutterstock.com

Visit Isle Royale National Park

Although Houghton is a jumping off point for Isle Royale National Park, visiting the park requires some planning. If you choose to visit Houghton by ferry, the journey takes around 6 hours one way. Arrive by seaplane and you’ll be there in less than an hour. Due to the ferry arrival and departure schedule, this is not a convenient day trip. You will only have a few hours if you go for the day. While most national parks last an average of 4 hours, the typical stay in Isle Royale National Park is 4 days. While most visitors are camping, you don’t have to. Rent a cabin or stay at the Rock Harbor Lodge.

The island has over 160 miles of hiking trails. Other popular activities are paddle sports, scuba diving to see the nine surrounding wrecks, fishing, talking with the rangers, and exploring the lighthouses.

Top restaurants in Houghton

Houghton offers one of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula regional specialties on his Pasty Trail. During the copper boom, miners carried hand-made pie-shaped pies filled with beef, potatoes, onion, rutabaga, and seasonings to work. Other local favorites are Lake Superior whitefish, blueberries, and craft beer. Here are some places where you can taste pâtés and dishes made from these ingredients.

Roy’s Pastries & Bakery

Roy’s Pasties & Bakery combines the regional specialty, pâtés, with deli dishes and a bakery. They feature the traditional dough from the Upper Peninsula. Still, the restaurant has also gotten creative and offers several non-traditional dishes, like pizza dough, bacon cheeseburger dough, and award-winning turkey and cranberry dough. Roy’s also offers deli favorites like a hot Italian beef and chicken salad. Then for dessert, it offers more than 26 bakery products. You will have a hard time choosing. If you’ve never had a pâté I would go for the traditional and try a cronut, combined croissant, and donut for dessert.

The den restaurant

Located in downtown Houghton, the Den Restaurant offers quality gourmet dining. Two must-try dishes are the pepper steak bites and the meatloaf dinner. In the appetizer section, it serves the pepper steak bites on a bed of parsnip and fennel puree, making it a starter for small appetites. The comfort food with lots of flavor was the bacon-wrapped meatloaf topped with onion rings, served with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.

The library restaurant and the beer bar;  Houghton, Michigan
Photo credit: Amy Piper

The library restaurant

Housed in an 1898 building, Library and Copper Country Brewery restaurant features red carpeted walls and book shelves. The theme of the library makes it a pleasant space to enjoy a flight of craft beers. Try the delicious Parmesan Truffle Fries and Ahi Tuna Tacos to accompany this beer.

Four Suns Fish & Chips;  Houghton, Michigan
Photo credit: Amy Piper

Four Suns Fish & Chips

Four Suns Fish & Chips is a beer garden located across from the Quincy Mine, making it a great place for lunch after a mine visit. It has counter style service and a covered terrace with tables to enjoy your lunch. For al fresco dining, you can eat at one of the many picnic tables in the courtyard. It features many forms of Lake Superior whitefish. I loved the whitefish tostada, where the base was a crispy flour tostada spread with a cold whitefish mixture. Then, for a pop of color, they sprinkled the top with tomatoes, onions, and green peppers.

Houghton Hotels

Houghton offers a variety of accommodations, local boutique hotels, national brand chains and camping experiences.

The vault hotel;  Houghton, Michigan
Photo credit: Amy Piper

The vault hotel

A boutique hotel located in downtown Houghton, The Vault Hotel is housed in what was once a bank. The decor of the hotel continues with the banking theme, from the teller counters, the recovered safes and the penny bar in the counting room, the hotel’s underground bar. Each room in the 17-room hotel is unique. The style of the room depends on which of the 3 floors you choose. The first floor, Old Money, offers jewel-toned decor and gold details, the second, New Money, has modern lines with pops of color, while the third floor, Found Money, is a bold contrast of colors. and graphic details. Regardless of the level, this is a fun, non-smoking, pet-free property.

The Holiday Inn Express

If you prefer to collect your Frequent Stay points from a national chain, the Holiday Inn Express is conveniently located on the west side of Houghton, just off Michigan Highway 26.

Houghton Town RV Park

Located half a mile from downtown Houghton, City of Houghton RV Park is a seasonal park with 22 campsites, open May through October. The park offers many amenities – sewers at each site, water, electricity, paved site, cable TV and Wi-Fi. A picnic table on a covered patio, a park bench, a grill and a fire ring add to the experience. The RV Park is next to Kestner Waterfront Park, where you will find a Chutes and Ladders play area for the grandchildren, a sandy beach, a boat launch and a fishing pier.

Pro tip: Many sites are open seasonally, generally May through October. If you plan to visit Houghton in the late fall, winter, or spring, check the venue’s website to make sure they’re open.

The Upper Peninsula and Lake Superior region of Michigan is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts:


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