A Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride in Autumn

To Keweenaw and Beyond

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran West Bluff
On the northern tip of Keweenaw Peninsula, West Bluff provides a sweeping view of Lake Superior and Copper Harbor, Michigan – a great spot to stop along this Michigan Upper Peninsula motorcycle ride. Photos by the author and Craig Moll.

As a resident of Minnesota with incurable wanderlust, I’ve visited Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a few times, including doing the 1,300‑mile Lake Superior Circle Tour twice. But one area of the Upper Peninsula – known locally as the “U.P.” – I had yet to explore is the Keweenaw Peninsula, a 150‑mile‑long wedge of land that looks like a long dorsal fin jutting into Lake Superior. Before Old Man Winter brought an end to the riding season, my friend Craig and I squeezed in a mid‑October ride, making a big loop around the U.P. where we enjoyed the area’s rich history, unparalleled scenery, and excellent motorcycling roads.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran REVER map

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

We met up just east of Minneapolis in Hudson, Wisconsin, on a cool, clear autumn day. Craig was on his KTM 890 Adventure, and I was on my Harley‑Davidson Pan American, which I call “Dirt Glide.” With no rain in the forecast, we were excited to hit the road.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran Lake Superior
Lake Superior, which is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest by volume, forms the northern shoreline of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

We crossed into Michigan on U.S. Route 2 and continued northeast on M‑28 to Lake Gogebic, the state’s largest inland lake. The long, finger‑shaped lake is a popular spot for outdoor activities year‑round. It has 13,380 acres of good fishing water, and there are plenty of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, hunting, camping, and winter sports. Surrounded by vast hardwood forests, it’s a great place to see fall colors. It also gets an annual snowfall of nearly 300 inches and has an excellent snowmobile trail system.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Chuck Cochran and Craig Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Chuck and Craig at Sand Point on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

For motorcyclists, a loop around Lake Gogebic is an enjoyable scenic ride. M‑64 hugs the western shore, and East Shore Road hugs the other side, and there are parks, lodges, and dining options dotted along the nearly 40‑mile route. At the lake’s northern end at the junction of M‑28 and M‑64 is Bergland, which has places to eat, drink, and stay, as well as a museum highlighting the local history of mining, logging, and sports.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran U.S. Route 41
U.S. Route 41 runs the length of the Keneewaw Peninsula, from Baraga to Copper Harbor. In the fall, the changing leaves create a tunnel of color. Photo credit Danita Delimont / Adobe Stock.

After enjoying the scenery of the lake, we continued up M‑64 to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan’s largest state park and home of the Lake of the Clouds. Covering 60,000 acres with 35,000 acres of old‑growth forest, the park has waterfalls, rivers and streams, hiking trails, a campground, and miles of scenic Lake Superior shoreline.

Our ride up to the Lake of the Clouds scenic overlook was rewarded with a kaleidoscope of fall colors and scenery that lives up to the lake’s name. After a few photos, we were back on the bikes and followed M‑64 along the southern shore of Lake Superior to Ontonagon, where we turned inland on M‑38 to M‑26, which runs up the center of the Keweenaw Peninsula, also known as the Copper Country region.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran Lake of the Clouds
Located in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park along the shore of Lake Superior, Lake of the Clouds is idyllic.

At Houghton, we crossed the Portage Lake Lift Bridge and continued north on U.S. Route 41. With the sun fading, we rode to our overnight destination at the AmericInn in Calumet. The hotel is within walking distance of restaurants, stores, and the Keweenaw National Historic Park, which showcases the area’s 7,000‑year history of copper mining.

See all of Rider‘s Midwest U.S. motorcycle rides here.

We wandered through Calumet, a small town that was in the heart of Michigan’s copper mining industry. Its historic downtown has gift shops, galleries, coffee houses, saloons, and restaurants. We made our way to the Michigan House Cafe & Red Jacket Brewing Co., which is in the former Hotel Michigan that was opened by Bosch Brewing in 1905. Today, it’s a restaurant and brewpub, and the Oatmeal Express stout was the perfect choice for a fall evening.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran Eagle River
In the mid-1800s, Eagle River was a thriving mining town on the north shore of the Keneewaw Peninsula. We enjoyed a scenic shoreline ride on M-26 from there to Copper Harbor.

The next morning, we availed ourselves of the AmericInn’s complimentary breakfast and trudged out to our frost‑covered bikes. We continued riding on U.S. 41 in a northeasterly direction to Phoenix, where we turned due north on M‑26, which curves its way along the Lake Superior shore, offering amazing views and passing through nature and wildlife sanctuaries.

Before the town of Copper Harbor, we turned on to Brockway Mountain Drive, which gradually climbs up and over an eroded volcanic prominence that rises 720 feet above Lake Superior’s waterline. At West Bluff, we stopped to admire an unbelievable vista of the big lake to the north and the fall‑colored forest to the south. 

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran Cinder Pond Marina
Cinder Pond Marina is part of the charming waterfront in Marquette.

We cruised back downhill to Copper Harbor, Michigan’s northernmost town, which overlooks its namesake port near the outer tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Surrounded by Lake Superior, its microclimate is cool in the summer and relatively mild in the winter. Copper Harbor has a fascinating history, and the town is a great base camp for exploring the peninsula or a launching point for trips to Grand Isle National Park.

After gassing up, we headed south on U.S. 41 and then Gay Lac La Belle Road to the Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve and the southern shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula. We stopped for lunch in Houghton, which is located on the Keweenaw Waterway that cuts across the peninsula and was once at the epicenter of the region’s copper industry.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran Lower Harbor Ore Dock
The massive concrete-and-steel Lower Harbor Ore Dock is one of the most iconic landmarks in Marquette. Photo credit ehrlif / Adobe Stock.

We rode south on U.S. 41, which runs along the western shore of Portage Lake and then Keweenaw Bay to L’Anse, where we returned to the mainland of the U.P. We followed U.S. 41 east to Marquette, a Lake Superior port city known for shipping iron ore from the Marquette Iron Range. With a population of 20,000 and home to Northern Michigan University, Marquette is the largest city on the U.P. We pulled into the Hampton Inn Marquette/Waterfront, which lives up to its name with an amazing view of sailboats and other vessels carving up the bay. Being a lively college town, Marquette has numerous bars and restaurants to choose from. We had dinner at the historic Vierling Restaurant & Marquette Harbor Brewery, named after Martin Vierling, who built the building in 1883 and ran a “gentlemen’s saloon” at the location until Prohibition. Renovated and reopened in the 1980s, the establishment has a historic wooden bar with large windows overlooking the harbor. 

Firing up the bikes the next morning, we rode east on M‑28 to Munising and then on H‑58 for a few miles to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We rode up to Sand Point, which has nice views across the water to Grand Island, a national recreation area.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran Whitefish Point
More ships have been lost in the vicinity of Whitefish Point, also known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes,” than anywhere else on Lake Superior.

The road to Munising and Sand Point was good, but the winding curves of H‑58 rivaled some of the best roads we’ve ever ridden, with extensive twists and turns carved through the forest and along the Lake Superior shore. We continued east to M‑123 to visit Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which covers 50,000 acres. The Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River and is about 200 feet across and drops 50 feet. The Lower Falls are a series of smaller falls cascading in many directions.

East of the park, we made our way up to Whitefish Point, which is known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes” and home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. There have been 550 known shipwrecks in the area, and at least 200 of them are off Whitefish Point, including the famous SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975 and was memorialized in a popular song by Gordon Lightfoot.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran Fayette State Park
On the southern, Lake Michigan side of the Upper Peninsula, Fayette State Park is a restored 19th century iron-smelting village with 22 historic buildings, a museum, and a visitor center.

We made our way to the southern side of the U.P. on the northern shore of Lake Michigan, where we spent the night in Manistique, a recreational mecca for boating, fishing, camping, and snowmobiling. In the morning, we rode south on the Garden Peninsula to Fayette State Park, which overlooks Big Bay De Noc and was home to one of the U.P.’s most productive iron‑smelting operations during the 19th century. When the iron market declined, the Jackson Iron Company shuttered its operation in 1891.

Our return route west on U.S. 2 took us to Iron Mountain, home of the Pine Mountain Ski Jump and the annual Continental Cup, one of the world’s best ski jumping events.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls State Park has 35-plus miles of trails and multiple viewpoints for the Upper and Lower falls.

Next we wanted to check out an interesting phenomenon called the Paulding Light, a mysterious light that appears at the end of a deadend road in a valley located between the towns of Pauling and Watersmeet off U.S. Route 45. The light has been reported since the 1960s, and various legends claim the light is the result of paranormal activity, the ghost of either a railroad brakeman who died in a train collision, a murdered mail courier, or a Native American dancing on powerlines.

Craig and I arrived at the location at dusk and waited for the light. At first we saw nothing, and then…wait…what’s that? Sure enough, a faint light appeared off in the distance above the tree line. Off and on it went, so we decided to pursue this mystery for ourselves. We rode down a steep, sandy, rock‑strewn powerline road to a narrow, rickety bridge that crossed a creek. As I hit the partially rotted bridge, I thought, Pan Am, don’t fail me now! Charging up the hill on the other side, we attempted to find the source of the light but to no avail. In 2010, students at Michigan Tech said they solved the mystery, claiming the Paulding Light is caused by headlights on a faraway highway. I like the ghost stories better.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Cochran
One of our favorite parts of touring around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was the many roadside waterfalls, creeks, and overlooks where we could stop and take a few quiet moments to appreciate nature’s beauty.

The next day, we returned home. It’s always bittersweet when a fun motorcycle trip comes to an end, but the great thing about exploring a new area is knowing we can always come back for more. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula offers seemingly endless opportunities for riding and recreation, with a rich vein of history that runs through the area like its deep deposits of copper and iron.

See all of Rider‘s motorcycle rides here.

Michigan Upper Peninsula Motorcycle Ride Resources


  1. Very nicely done!! Glad you enjoyed the U.P., born raised in Marquette and have been riding motorcycles since the mid 70’s.

  2. Awesome job I too have rode a lot of upper Michigan was too all the places you were at and then some. It is beautiful plan on riding some this year. Nothing better than seeing the country on a motorcycle keep traveling and enjoying and sharing. 👍😊

  3. Glad you had a nice trip! For the readers, it’s Isle Royale National Park from either Copper Harbor or Houghton, and Grand Island National Recreation Area outside of Munising, which is also home to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s kind of confusing to be sure!

  4. Nice article! I have spent a couple weeklong bike trips in the UP and enjoyed the roads and the lovely sights along the way. It is worth mentioning that motels and restaurants are very biker-friendly. Many motels offer buckets and rags for those who want to give their bike a good wash.
    I agree with the author that H58 between Grand Marais and Manistique is a marvelous road with one curve after the other. I recall riding that road with friends, getting to the end after almost 50 miles and wanting to turn around and ride it again.
    I would also mention that


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