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Last year, my husband and I were supposed to go on an epic road trip through the Upper Peninsula. We had grand plans starting in Ironwood MI, heading through Makinac Island, stopping in Traverse City and then looping back to Chicago. Unfortunately, cancer got in the way. The Upper Peninsula cabin rental where we had paid a non-refundable deposit was generous enough to allow us to use our three nights in 2018. Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t able to make it, but I thought a road trip to Ontonagon MI was a good way to get my mom back in the saddle after 18 months of recovery.
Ironwood, Ontonagon, and the Upper Peninsula: Getting There
About two months before we were to leave for our trip, my mom nixed our road trip. She requested that I search for flights to the UP. To be honest, the thought of flying there never crossed my mind. The reason the Upper Peninsula is such a perfect quiet travel destination is that it is difficult to get to and so the crowds keep away.
I first searched the airports of the Upper Peninsula. While there is an airport in Ontonagon, I could not find any information about commercial airlines or flights to get me there. Next, I searched flights for the Gogebic Iron County Airport, Ironwood. What luck it was when I found a commercial flight from O’hare Airport in Chicago. I had never heard of Air Choice One, but it was the only airline operator that had flights into Ironwood Airport. Ironwood is about 50 miles from Ontonagon, where we were staying.
The Air Choice One planes are eight seater, single propeller planes that are roomy and spacious. The planes are unpressurized and therefore fly much lower than the standard commercial flight, between 6,000-8,000 feet high. When checking in for your flight, both you and your luggage are weighed in order for the flight crew to determine the most even distribution for the flight.
Our flight was two hours and fifteen minutes from runway to runway. There was not much turbulence, but if we were more prepared, we would have brought our earplugs. It was a bit louder than the standard airplane. Heading to Ironwood, we were able to see the beautiful lakes of Wisconsin, the traffic of Chicago, and the trees of the North Woods.
Getting Around the Upper Peninsula
There is one car rental agency available at the Gogebic Iron County Airport. It is Red’s Car Rental, an independently owned car dealer in Ironwood. There are only six passenger vehicles available for rental and two, twelve passenger vans available for rental. While you can make a request for the vehicles online, it is imperative that you call to actually reserve your vehicle. It is in your best interest to call early, at least six weeks ahead of your trip, to secure a vehicle.
Cell phone service is quite spotty in the Upper Peninsula, MI. While I had service near the Ironwood golf course, as soon as we headed toward Ontonagon, service was gone. The only thing that saved me was offline availability of Google Maps. It is imperative that you download area maps for offline use. When we landed in Ironwood, we were on Central Time, but on our way northeast to Ontonagon, the UP switches to Eastern Time.
Porcupine Mountains Lodging
There are no luxury glamping accommodations in the Upper Peninsula Michigan. A more adventurous traveler would probably decide on camping Upper Peninsula Michigan. If that’s you, here you can learn more information on tent camping and camping for beginners. Since I was with my sixty-something mother, we needed more comfortable Porcupine Mountains lodging. After a bit of research, I booked a room for three nights at the Mountain View Lodges in Ontonagon. Each lodge comes with two queen sized beds in separate bedrooms, a bathroom, couch, loveseat and television, as well as a kitchenette, screened-in porch, Adirondack chairs and outdoor swing. There are plenty of board games in each lodge. The lodge was clean and neat, with both art and photography by the proprietors Rick and Jen displayed prominently in the lodge. We were content with our Porcupine Mountains lodging at Mountain View Lodges.
Above is a video of just how close you are to the water at Mountain View Lodges. It also includes a video of sunrise at 6 AM on the shore. Mountain View Lodges also has kayaks and canoes for use during your stay. How gorgeous would it be to launch out and watch the sunrise from the water??
Eating in Ontonogan and Ironwood MI Restaurants
Dining options near Porcupine Wilderness State Park are limited. There is a restaurant at the Americinn Hotel known as Porkies Pub and Grub, as well as Konteka. We found that the opening and closing times didn’t work well with our hiking and traveling schedule. Ironwood Mi Restaurants were more plentiful, but during the week, some did not open until after 3 or 4 PM. We enjoyed a nice burger and chicken wrap from Elk and Hound at the Ironwood golf course and country club. A public course, Elk and Hound sits on the 18th hole of the Ironwood golf course. It had a nice selection of local beers, and beautiful views onto the Ironwood golf course and country club. Of course, the UP is known for pasties, but we only partook in this traditional meal once on our trip.
When we landed in Ironwood, we bought most of our food for the week at the local Walmart. We stocked up on meat and veggies to make sloppy joes and fajitas, and various other groceries. Each day, we would pack two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well as fruit and cheese for our treks in both the Porcupine State Park and up in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Things to do in Ontonagon and Ironwood, MI: Hiking and Upper Peninsula Waterfalls
If you enjoy the hiking and the outdoors, there is never a shortage of things to do in Ontonagon and Ironwood MI. Hiking in the Porcupine Wilderness State Park in the summer spoils you. There is ample tree cover to shade from the sun, and hardly any people on the trails. When compared with other state and national parks in the summer, it feels almost desolate. If you’re not one for too much hiking, the Porcupine Wilderness State Park rangers also have various programming available on certain days. While we were visiting, there was a “Birds of Prey” talk, a “Bear Den Discovery” walk that included venturing out to known bear dens, and “History of the Porcupine Mountains” talk that covered plane crashes, hermits on the lam, and politicians.
When we were visiting, we had ample bug spray and sunscreen with us. I recommend going with a bug repelling product that is 95%+ DEET. We used the OFF Deep Woods Sportsman travel sized product and used 80% of it in one day. Our first day, we stayed in the east end of the park and explored the trails. The highest point of the park is Summit Peak at 2,000 feet above sea level. But, the most breathtaking sight is the Lake of the Clouds. I was really grateful that you can either hike to the point, or drive there and walk 300 feet to a viewing point. After a long day, a quick walk from the car was all that we could handle.
If you’d rather knock a national forest off your bucket list, the North Country Trail also extends into Ontonagon. This 4,600 mile trail stretches from New York to North Dakota. In the Upper Peninsula, the trail runs through the Ottawa National Forest.
Copper Peak: The Highest Ski Jump in the Western Hemisphere
The last day of our trip, we decided to explore the Adventure Ride at Copper Peak. Copper Peak is the only ski jump outside of Europe. While the last time it was used as a ski jump was in 1994, it is still in use today for Red Bull competitions and for a tourist viewing spot. First, you take a chair lift 800 feet up to the first landing. After a short walk to the base of the jump, you take an elevator 18 stories up to the viewing deck of the jump. From the top, you can see three states and sometimes Canada on a good day. I was able to see the Apostle Islands clearly, as well as all of the ski mountains in the area.
Copper Peak: Views from the Top
When you reach the top of the observation deck at Copper Peak, you can either stay there or take more stairs up to a few higher look out points. I attempted to climb to a higher vantage point, but then my nerves got the best of me and my legs started shaking. It was still a gorgeous view, and I was able to enjoy more of it when we took the few hundred stairs down the shoot. You can take the elevator, but we opted for this scenic path.
While this is billed as an adventure ride, I would say it is more like an adventure viewing point. When we first arrived, I was worried that we were going to be launched off the shoot somehow! Luckily, the ride part is the chair lift and elevator up. Much like many of the attractions in the UP, this is not overly crowded. The ride gets about 100 visitors a day and about 10,000 visitors a season.
We also spent one day exploring up the Keweenaw Peninsula toward Houghton and Laurium. I’ll share more of that architecture and history filled day in a post to come soon! All in all, we had a great time visiting Ironwood and Ontonagon.
- Bring bug spray and sunscreen
- If staying at Mountain View Lodges, leave your board games at home; they have plenty!
- Throw a handful of ziplock bags of varying sizes in your bag for food storage.