The Sleepover: The Keweenaw Bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

The Sleepover: The Keweenaw Bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are recreational playgrounds for many Chicago, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee dwellers.  The concept of the “cabin on the lake” is a dearly-held tradition, and during the summer the Northwoods hums with activity as boaters, fishermen, jet skiers, hikers, and campers arrive for their yearly sampling of rustic nirvana.

For those seeking a deeper level of remoteness, the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan awaits just north of the Wisconsin border.  Visitors will notice the scant collection of tiny towns, proliferating wildlife, and seemingly endless miles of thick forest.  A true wilderness.

In recent years the Upper Peninsula has experienced a decline in population as a lack of industry sends people to the more urban south for employment opportunities.  Many of the houses, cabins, and land left behind are now vacation properties for urban professionals from across the country who seek amnesty from their metropolitan obligations.

It is becoming more commonplace for a local to sip coffee at a cafe with a Manhattan executive or a West Coast physician taking advantage of the Upper Peninsula’s affordable real estate when investing in a second home.

The Keweenaw Bay is an area where visitors and locals alike appreciate blazing sunsets over Lake Superior, fragrant green summers, and an abundance of outdoor recreational activities.   Fishing, boating, hunting, hiking, snowmobiling, skiing, biking, beachcombing for agates—there is something to do all year long.

For those wanting to conclude a wind-blown day on the water with a hot meal, the village of L’Anse beckons from the southeastern cusp of the bay.  Here, an assortment of cafes and restaurants, such as the Nite Owl Cafe offer traditional fare including homemade pasties or a Friday night fish-fry featuring lake trout harvested from the bay.

The Hilltop Restaurant is legendary for their enormously portioned sweet rolls (each purported to weigh over a pound!) that are so popular they will even ship them to your doorstep.  For a midday mocha or post-Saturday-morning-run latte, Java by the Bay offers both internet access and a comprehensive food and espresso menu.  Only steps away, children can frolic on the sandy beach and playground of the L’Anse Waterfront Park; in the pavilion, adults stock up on local produce and artisanal goods at the farmer’s market by day and relax to music from the Summer Concert series by night.

For those interested in exploring outside of L’Anse, nearby townships such as Aura and Skanee host community-wide potlucks on the weekends.  Announced in The L’Anse Sentinel, these gatherings are a melting pot of old familial recipes, conversation, and local flavor.

Just north of L’Anse lies a peninsula is known as Abbaye Peninsula (or “Point Abbaye” towards its tip).  Sparsely populated, Abbaye Peninsula features miles of thick forest, sand, and rock beaches and trails for hiking and biking.

It is also home to Pequaming, a small settlement that once flourished as a mill town beneath the ownership of the Ford Motor Company.  Ford closed the mill during World War II, and the village was abandoned soon after.  For years, it was a true ghost town with empty, derelict buildings and weed-ensconced roads. In recent decades some buildings have been remodeled into private homes while others were torn down to make room for new construction.

The old water tower still remains, bearing the Ford logo and overlooking what is known as First Sand Beach, an inlet of the Keweenaw Bay where kayakers and canoeists can enjoy calm serene water.

Just north of the water tower, another structure harkens from Pequaming’s early days – The Henry Ford Bungalow.  The Bungalow was built in 1914 by the Hebards, a family of industrialists who founded Pequaming as a mill town in the 1870s.  After 1923, when the Ford Motor Company purchased the Hebard’s Pequaming holdings, The Bungalow was maintained as a summer home for Henry Ford when he visited the area.

Today, the nine bedroom, six bath estate is lovingly preserved as a historic home by Eugene and Kathleen Thompson and is available to rent for groups of sixteen or less.  Gatherings of families, writers, friends, teachers, and organizations continue to experience The Bungalow’s sweeping lake views, historic nostalgia, beautiful architecture, and proximity to Point Abbaye’s natural attractions.  Groups interested in rental information can contact the manager, Therese Korpi, at 906-524-7595. She is known to welcome guests with a batch of tender, homemade cranberry oatmeal cookies and a wealth of information regarding local provisions and attractions.

For other lodging options in the Keweenaw Bay area, visit the Baraga County Chamber of Commerce website for a comprehensive list of local hotels, bed and breakfasts and camping sites.

Therese Korpi’s recipe for Cranberry Oatmeal Walnut Cookies

The Sleepover are short stories about the places we get to visit in our travels.

Fried lake trout Photo is courtesy of the Night Owl Cafe

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