Lake Superior - Keweenaw

Anybody circumnavigated the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s UP on Lake Superior? I know there’s a water trail, but I was looking for first-hand experience. I’m thinking from the waterway that goes thru Houghton/Hancock and north.

It’s a pretty long distance and roughly guessing it’s a 10-12 day trip, throwing in a couple weather days. This could be one of those long-term plans - happy winter, time to think about things like this…

The U.P.
Quite recently I spent some time trying to find info on the web about the water trail. I did not find very much, other than lots of links to buy maps & guides.

I’d also be interested in comments.



central WI

10* & snowy this morning

Not sure about…
Keweenaw Peninsula water trail, but just to the east at Big Bay is the start of the proposed Hiawatha Watertrail which would go all the way past Pictured Rocks to Grand Marais. I think they are still working on the western half as there aren’t any places to camp or even pull off the water (private property). Hiawatha Watertrail signs are up along the Pictured Rocks though.

How long??
How far would Big Bay to GM be?

I have paddled PR and Grand Island and a longer trip would be nice.

I believe the Hiawatha is about 150 miles long from Big bay to GM.

Keweenaw On Topic
I have been to the Keweenaw several times since it is the gateway to Isle Royale. The entire circumnavigation of Keweenaw would be about 100 miles. The inland waterway and Portage lake section has easy access, campgrounds, and protected water. Being between Houghton and Hancock, there will some be urban paddling and boat traffic.

The Keweenaw Bay section has lots of beaches, is the lee side of Lake Superior, has campgrounds and state land and with Lac LaBelle and the small town of Gay should be a great trip. Only risk is a strong easterly wind.

The Keweenaw Point section should be done with great care making sure that the weather and conditions are well within your limits as a paddler. There are cliffs and extreme exposure on this section; however, it can be completed in a few hours.

The big rub with the Keweenaw Water Trail is the northwest shore. It has only two designated campgrounds: one at the beginning Fort Wilkins State Park and one at the end McClain State Park. It is over 40 miles of exposed coastline and cobble beaches. I have definitely seen conditions in which I would not want to be out there. The good news is there are plenty of beaches, county parks and access points along the way. The people along the way will let you camp, but they will not sanction camping due to potential liability. There are restaurants, bars and motels along the way so cleanup or even an inn to inn trip is possible.

The trip will take as long as a circumnavigaton on Isle Royale. In fact, if it was not designated a peninsula, Keweenaw may actually be the largest island in Lake Superior.

contact National Park Service

was up on vaction to Pictured Rocks. Lots of shoreline . Didn’t get to paddle this time , but got info and ideas for a trip.

Keweenaw Circumnavigation: I did it!
September 1, 2005: Last week I completed a 7-day, 125 mile

circumnavigation of the Keweenaw Peninsula (“KP”).

The KP is about 450 miles north of Chicago on the Lake

Superior shore of the Michigan UP. The KP technically

became an island decades ago when the Portage Canal

was constructed across its base. For general

information about the KP:

The KP offers a wonderful paddling environment. Its

west and north sides are exposed to the full force of

Lake Superior, while Keweenaw Bay is more protected.

The Portage Canal offers even more protected paddling.

There are several inland lakes large enough to paddle.

During the spring snow melt the rivers would offer

some challenging conditions for river paddlers. There

are mountains that run the length of the KP, some

lovely harbors, and relatively few people. Indeed,

several nights I could not see a single electric light

except for a lighthouse 20 miles away. The shore

includes stretches of sheer rock walls 50 feet high,

long beaches, and rocky coasts with sea caves and neat

stone formations. Power boat traffic is nearly

non-existent once you get off the Canal. Once on Lake

Superior I never saw more than about 5 boats a day,

including the stately lake freighters.

The local paddling community has put together a very

handy Keweenaw Watertrail map:

On Saturday night I met Sam Crowley, an experienced

paddler and instructor from Marquette, Michigan at

McLain State Park, which is on the west coast of the

KP at the north entrance to the Portage Canal.

Here’s link to Sam’s kayak school:

Sam and I paddled together from Sunday through

mid-afternoon on Tuesday and then I paddled solo for

four days, landing for good on Saturday afternoon.

Sam was a great source of instruction, knowledge and


We woke up Sunday to high winds and 5’-7’ seas so put

in at Houghton, a funky and well-situated college town

midway on Portage Canal. The wind blew us down the

Canal and out the south entrance past a large

lighthouse into Keweenaw Bay. This was the first of

many lighthouses on the KP. From there we headed

north, past the first set of sheer cliffs, to a

campsite on a beach on state forest land. It was my

first time camping out of a kayak so I provided Sam

plenty of entertainment as I fumbled with gear and the


The next day we headed north, into a modest but still

pesky headwind. We cruised past more cliffs and along

rocky shores and beaches. Other than a few nearly

deserted groupings of cottages we had the place to

ourselves. In the late afternoon we encountered an

eerie moonscape comprised of stamp sands that had been

dumped into the Lake by a copper mining operation.

The KP had rich deposits of copper and there was

extensive mining from the 1840s through the 1930s.

The land still bears the scars and relics from that

area. We camped near the community of Gay, which has

a current population of 25, but once was home to

almost 1500 people. A couple of beers in the Gay bar

that evening sure hit the spot.

The next day we took advantage of a tailwind to fly up

the coast to Bete de Grise. This is a lovely bay,

with a long sweep of a beach at the west end and a

range of mountains (I use that term broadly) running

along the northern shore. When we were most of the

way across the bay Sam peeled off to return to his

pick up point. I was truly on my own for the first

time. It was a strange but good feeling. I paddled

another 5 miles or so and camped on the long beach at

Big Bay. I had a great view of the stars as they

emerged after a long sunset.

The next day I continued paddling east to Keweenaw

Point and then north and west to Copper Harbor. The

rock changed from sandstone to something called

Keweenaw composite, which looks like someone was in a

hurry when the rock was made. It contains everything

from sand to large boulders mashed together into rock.

The waves have carved lots of nooks and crannies into

this rock, which were fun to paddle into.

Copper Harbor is a small tourist town nestled in a

beautiful harbor. I camped on a sheltered beach on

the north side of Porter’s Island, facing away the

harbor. I had no sense of there being a town just a

couple of hundred yards away. Copper Harbor was good

for a pasty, a local meat/vegetable stuffed pastry,

and beer. Later, I was still hungry enough to cook a

meal while I enjoyed perhaps the most spectacular

sunset I have ever seen.

From Copper Harbor I paddled past Agate Harbor to

Eagle Harbor, another small grouping of cottages in a

lovely bay. After Agate Harbor the rock becomes hard

and granite like and the paddling environment feels a

lot like the Maine coast. Unfortunately, a sizable

portion of the coast from Agate Harbor down much of

the west coast of the KP is settled with summer homes.

The KP has not been spared the plague of McMansions.

It’s sure nice to know that the tax cuts for the rich

are being used so productively. Along this stretch

finding a camping spot can be a challenge, although

discreet camping certainly is possible. It will be a

real challenge for the local paddling community to

secure a place for paddlers in this area.

I continued on from Eagle Harbor into Great Sand Bay,

which is ringed by sand dunes, a Lake Superior rarity.

Midway in the sweep of the bay is an onion-domed

monastery. I almost found religion in the JamPot, a

bakery operated by the monks that specializes in jams

made from wild berries picked locally. That night I

camped in the sand south of Eagle Harbor. The

landowner happened by just as I was setting up and we

made a friendly arrangement where I would pick up some

of the broken glass in the sand (ah civilization!) in

exchange for the chance to camp. I’m told that many

KP property owners are willing to accommodate


From Eagle River I continued down the coast, stopping

at Seven Mile Point for a break. There was an

incredible selection of colorful rocks on the cobble

beach–as there is throughout much of the KP–and I

stowed some rocks to bring home. I pitched my tent on

another beach, about 16 miles from Houghton, in

mid-afternoon and took a nice nap while it drizzled.

That night the sound of pounding surf awakened me, but

by morning the waves were 1-2 feet, as they had been

all week. The surf always sounds higher at night.

I pushed off early and paddled hard to get around the

lighthouse at the north entrance of the Portage Canal.

After a short break I paddled the final 10 miles

straight, into a bit of a headwind. However, as I got

close to Houghton the Canal turned and I caught a nice

tailwind that pushed me back to the starting point.

The Canal is pleasantly scenic but heavily settled and

finding a campsite would be difficult.

The final tailwind was a fitting end to a surprisingly

easy trip. That evening I satisfied my taste for beer

at the Keweenaw Brewing Company and then spied an

all-you-can-eat buffet at a Chinese restaurant. When

I walked in I’m sure the proprietor took one look at

my skinny self and foresaw a fat profit. I’m afraid I

disappointed him. 4-5 full plates of Chinese food

never tasted so good!

Feel free to contact me if you would like more

information about the KP. While the KP is not as well

known as either the Apostle Islands or the Pictured

Rocks, in many ways it offers a less crowded and more

varied paddling environment. Give it a try some time.

Keweenaw Circumnavigation
I live in Hancock, right across Portage Lake from Houghton and will add that the City of Hancock operates a campground on Portage Lake about two miles to the west of Houghton.

I think the other posts have well described the paddling opportunities here. Lovely and interesting shoreline but finding camping spots in the northwest corner can be a challenge due to private development. There is a rather long stretch of shoreline around the mouth of the Gratiot River undeveloped in a string of land trust/preserves abuting a Keweenaw County Park that can do for a camping spot between Eagle River and McLain State Park.

Map of the Water Trail
Sam from Keweenaw Adventure Company

has a great map of the route.

Here is a link to his company:

List of Possible Campsites

– Last Updated: Dec-25-05 3:51 PM EST –

One of the things holding back the Keweenaw Water Trail seems to be the lack of information about locations for overnight camping around the long peninsula. If things are a bit lacking there, it can be chalked up to the relative newness of the water trail. I can offer a few locations of public land from personal knowledge where paddlers can pitch a tent overnight or wait out a blow. This isn't an exhaustive list and there are some large gaps which hopefully someone else can fill in. I haven't circumnavigated the peninsula myself, but I have paddled the tip area and Manitou Island. I'll go anti-clockwise beginning at the South Entry of the Portage Canal.

1. South Entry of Portage Canal - There is a small public park on the east side of the entry around the breakwall. Overnight car camping is not allowed here, but a kayaker won't be bothered by the sheriff if they set up late and leave early.

2. Rabbit Bay - There is a section of Copper Country State Forest along the shore midway between the villages of Jacobsville and Rabbit Bay on the north half of Section 4 and south half of Section 33. It's state forest land, so pick your own campsite and stay multiple days if you like.

3. Village of Betsie - There is a small public roadside-lakeside rest area called Burnette Park just northeast of Betsie and about a mile northeast of the mouth of the Big Betsie River. Like the previous site, there is no overnight car camping available, but a kayaker can overnight it if they are out early.

4. Bete Gris Bay - There is public land between the entry to Lac La Belle and the village of Bete Gris. It's basically a long sandy beach. As before, no overnight car camping is allowed, but a kayaker should be able to do well. Land to the south of the entry and the private lighthouse was recently purchased for a preserve. I do not know the size of the area, but this is another overnight opportunity.

5. Mouth of the Montreal River - This land and much of the lakeshore of the tip beyond was recently purchased by the state and is managed as state forest, so it's pick your own site. A popular place to camp is the west side of the mouth of the Montreal River. If you have the time to paddle leisurely from time to time, remember to bring along some fishing gear and troll a small silver spoon to supplement your diet with a rainbow trout fresh from the lake.

6. Keystone Bay - There is a sandy beach and woods along much of Keystone Bay. There is a small private inholding along the west side of the bay, but anywhere around and east of where the two-track trail enters is free and clear state forest land to pick your own site.

7. High Rock Bay - This is more of the continuation of state forest land recently purchased by the state. It's a popular spot to camp and I would guess the best approach might be to land around the north side of the bay and point. If your back can take it, you could put your tent up on the small concrete rocket launching pad near the shore in that area. Maybe you'll dream of UFOs.

8. Manitou Island - For the truly adventurous willing to hang it out there, the most secluded camping available around the peninsula, if not the entire south shore, is across the 3 mile open water crossing to Manitou Island. It's all public land, mostly federal forest land with a mile of Copper Country State Forest along the middle of the north shore. I can only vouch for the satisfaction of camping in Fisherman's Bay. Bow Wow! If having an entire island to yourself on a holiday weekend is your thing, this is your best shot.

9. Copper Harbor - As "paddlingnettjb" mentions above, Porters Island on the west side of the harbor entrance is public land, but it may be managed under state park rules making it an overnight stop at most. Alternatively, Hunter's Point adjacent to the island has long been visited by the public and is finally being purchased to preserve public access. You can also track down the harbormaster who can show you where to store the kayaks and hike up the road to Fort Wilkins State Park's campground or find room & board in the village of Copper Harbor. ( )

10. Agate Harbor - There is another small roadside-lakeside park along Agate Harbor frequented by -surprise- agate pickers. There is no overnight car camping allowed, but it will do in a pinch for kayaking only because I do not know what the accomodations are like 4 1/2 miles further west in the village of Eagle Harbor, a worthy locale deserving of further investigation.

11. Mouth of the Gratiot River - This area was recently purchased to preserve public access, as "YooperOnLake" mentions above. Remember to bring your trout flies and head upstream; you may be able to enhance the gourmet pleasure of your ramen noodles.

12. North Entry of Portage Canal - McLain State Park sits along the northeast side of the entry and is one place to camp although campsite reservation may be advisable. I believe most of the campsites are located along the shore outside the breakwall. There is also a township campground called North Canal Township Park on the southwest side of the entry on the Lake Superior shore.

13, Hancock - The City of Hancock operates a small campground near their beach and boat ramp facilities on the west side of town. The best place to land is the boat ramp and hike up the access road to the registration office near the main road. I won't bother mentioning other spots in the cities of Hancock and Houghton because you're left with your choice of hotels, not campgrounds. ( )

I've left some big gaps along the lakeshore where I am unaware of places to camp. Hopefully someone else can fill in those gaps, but I'd wing it before opting out because of that. I wouldn't sweat getting stuck on someone's private shoreline. The folks up there really aren't like the shoreline owners, say, on Lake Michigan who wail and moan about beachwalkers. Obviously an excursion will not use all the sites I've listed, but it's best to have many options to suit paddlers of different ability and days of varying weather which can crumble the best laid itineraries.