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The Great Northern Route

Ironwood

The westernmost UP town is Ironwood (pop. 4,936), 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 in (508 cm) of annual snowfall. Most of these ski areas, like Indianhead (906/229-5181 or 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 Theatre movie palace. In a small hillside park just south of downtown, don’t miss the absolutely huge 52-ft-tall (16-m) statue of Hiawatha, the fictional hero of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem.

The place to eat in Ironwood is Joe’s Pasty Shop (116 W Aurora St., 906/932-4412, Mon.-Sat. breakfast and lunch), two blocks off US-2, serving pasties since 1946. For breakfast, try the pasties filled with eggs and cheese.

Black River Road and the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness

From Hwy-28 at Bessemer, Hwy-513 heads north toward the shores of Lake Superior, forming one of the UP’s many lovely scenic drives. Best known as the Black River Road, this 15-mi-long (24-km), densely wooded two-laner runs along the banks of the Black River, which drops over a series of well-signed waterfalls as it approaches the lakeshore; a good trail starts at a parking area about 13 mi (20.9 km) from Bessemer. Nearby, the 26-story towers of Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill (906/932-3500) rise high above the forest. In summer, visitors with no fear of heights can take an “adventure ride” ($20) on the chairlift, then go up an elevator, then take stairs to the top for a great view of the forest, Lake Superior, three states, and Canada.

East of the Black River area, Michigan’s largest state park, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness, covers 60,000 ac (24,281 ha) of serrated ridges and dense pine forests, including the largest swaths of virgin forest in the Midwest. The main outposts of civilization here (motels, restaurants, bars, and more) are the lakefront towns of Silver City and Ontonagon; the latter is home to the park headquarters (906/885-5275). Both towns are about 20 mi (32 km) north of Hwy-28 via Hwy-64 or US-45, respectively.

Map of the Great Northern through Michigan.
Map of the Great Northern through Michigan.

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