The westernmost U.P town is Ironwood (pop. 6,800), which, along with sleepy Bessemer and rough-and-tumble Hurley over the Wisconsin border, was the center of the Gogebic Range iron-mining district. The area’s population now is about a fifth of what it was during the 1920s peak, and these mountain towns have moved on from mining to a more leisurely occupation: downhill skiing. Within a few miles are some of the Midwest’s largest ski resorts, all benefiting from the vertiginous topography and the average 200 inches of annual snowfall. Most of these ski areas, like Indianhead (800/346-3426), double as summer mountain biking centers, and rental shops line US-2.
The center of Ironwood is easy to miss, but it’s worth the quick trip along the US-2 Business Loop to see the old-fashioned business district, which fills a few blocks around the art deco Ironwood Theater movie palace. In a small hillside park just south of downtown, don’t miss the absolutely huge, 52-foot-high statue of Hiawatha, the fictional hero of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem.
The place to eat in Ironwood is Joe’s Pasty Shop, two blocks off US-2 at 116 Aurora Street, serving pasties since 1946; it’s open daily for breakfast (try the pasties filled with eggs and cheese) and lunch. Ironwood is the only town along US-2 to keep the U.P. Finnish tradition of sauna alive; many of the motels strung along US-2, including the Sandpiper Motel ($45 and up; 906/932-2000) right on the highway on the east side of town, boast real cedar saunas like the old country—bring your own birch twigs for self-flagellation in the snow banks.