This Small Midwest Community Holds Some Of The Country's Best Hidden Adventures
October 21, 2019
There’s something about a place that feels like home the moment you arrive.
Less than four hours after landing in Ironwood, Michigan, I’m standing in the middle of a black and red plaid street, surrounded by over three-hundred individuals (and dogs) wearing every shade and style of plaid you can imagine. Babies are sporting plaid onesies and pint-sized Stormy Kromer hats. Dogs are wrapped in plaid blankets. It was “Plaidurday” as they called it, and it seemed the entire community was out to play.
It’s apparent here that the chilly northern temperatures are drastically warmed by those who call it home. In the moment I stepped out on the bustling downtown block, seemingly everyone turns to introduce themselves and welcome me to the community. I frantically jotted down notes in my phone, keeping up with the dozens of recommendations by the locals. There is no such thing as a stranger in Ironwood, I quickly come to learn. Only friends and those who are soon to be friends.
Ironwood was originally founded as a mining town back in 1871. In the years since the mining boom, the town has evolved from a railroad and mining community to an outdoor adventure mecca. In my few short hours since arriving, I’ve discovered my search for adventure here won’t be a search at all. In the peak of fall colors, there’s more on my to-do list than my 48-hour limit allows.
But all things must be paused until I take care of one last detail in the quest to become a true Yooper.
I need to get a Stormy Kromer.
Ironwood is home to the famous Stormy Kromer hat & apparel factory, an icon of life in the north. Owner Bob Jacquart bought the hundred-year-old company in 2001 and brought production of the hat to Ironwood. The caps, clothing, and even belts are 100% USA and Yooper-made. He greets me at the door and gives an impromptu tour of the facility. Even as the owner, Bob’s excitement for tours & the Stormy community is unmatched. The hallways are filled with photos, from hours-old babies sporting their first Kromer to entire family photos in matching caps. Bob knows every story behind every photo.
With my Kromer on and camera ready, I look at my to-do list (which has grown exponentially since I landed mere hours ago). There’s a lot to do in a little time. I tighten my cap, ready to start my search for the perfect trifecta: adventure, bliss, and natural beauty in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Here’s what I found:
Ironwood is like Boulder, Colorado. But better.
With over 20 (and counting) miles of mountain biking trails, five ski resorts, over 100 kilometers of cross-country skiing, hiking, backcountry camping, waterfalls, and miles of Lake Superior shoreline, Ironwood is the kind of place where adventure finds you. Car rides with locals bring up casual conversations of “oh yeah, I’m on the national snowshoe racing team,” and “swimming in Lake Superior until October is totally normal!”
The intense outdoor community reminded me something of Boulder, CO. However, what separates them speaks volumes. Ironwood is welcoming, less pretentious, and focuses vastly on the quality spent outside, not the competition surrounding it.
Fueled by coffee, I spent an entire day running between trails in the Porcupine Mountains, racing to the top of Copper Peak, and jogging down waterfall trails. It’s impossible to explain everything there is to do when it comes to chasing adventure in Ironwood. So instead, I made you a checklist.
☐ Climb Copper Peak
☐ Watch Sunrise at Lake of the Clouds
☐ Camp on Lake Superior at Little Girls Point County Park
☐ Go Mountain Biking
☐ Take a Guided Kayak Tour
☐ Buy a Stormy Kromer (and one for your dog, too)
☐ Shred the Slopes at ALL FIVE Ski Resorts
☐ Visit Superior Falls
☐ Camp Backcountry in the Porcupine Mountains
☐ Take Side Road. Then Another.
☐ Visit Potawatomi & Gorge Falls
☐ Complete the Mountains of the Midwest Triathlon
☐ Take a Dip in Lake Superior
☐ Go on a Fall Color Tour
But with grand adventure, comes deserving rewards.
When I adventure, I tend to move at an eye-crossing pace. Ironwood reminds me beauty is found in the simplest moments of peace. From a moment of silence along a dirt road to a sunrise paddle among northern pines, I’m reminded to sit back and enjoy the view with good company. And the view is just a little sweeter when you kayaking guide breaks out a full breakfast spread on the beach, complete with a zesty homemade vegan brioche breakfast sandwich. That turns it from a good morning to the BEST morning.
In my hunt for ice cream, happiness, and overall Yooper bliss, I found the best ways to indulge is to eat everything and soak in the sun as much as possible. Try each of these; you’ll come back filled with rejuvenated bliss & all the best calories. The best part? You’ll burn off what you eat.
☐ 906 Creamery
☐ Beach Day on Lake Superior
☐ Cold Iron Brewing
☐ Secluded Woodland Hike
☐ Sunrise Paddle & Breakfast with Whitecap Kayak
☐ Contrast Coffee Co.
☐ Indianhead Mountain – Big Snow Resort
If there’s one thing Ironwood does best, it’s hospitality.
From the moment I arrived to my final goodbyes, Ironwood’s hospitality came second to none. I’m happy to say it skyrocketed to #1 on the list of friendliest places I’ve ever been. For me, that alone is enough for a return trip.
Before departing, I stop at Little Girls Point for a final seasonal farewell to Lake Superior. My feet brave the chilled waves for only a minute, but the water is my last contact with one of my favorite places in the world.
It’s funny, after all these years and after all these new places, I have yet to find somewhere quite like the Upper Peninsula. It’s simple yet tough. It doesn’t answer to anyone else. Yet it’s filled to the brim with kindness and a rare warm-hearted nature.
In the blink of an eye, I’m back at the airport, dreading my boarding zone to be called. I’m not ready to leave. It’s then I realize, we never are. #FindYourNorth
With a plethora of accommodations, including an extensive list of classic mom-and-pop style motels & cabins, campgrounds, and backcountry camping options, it’s easy to find the perfect fit for your adventure. Try the historic Classic Motor Inn motel or the opt-in for a backcountry permit within the Porcupine Mountains.
Begin planning your trip to Ironwood here.
Book your Stormy Kromer tour here.
Contact Whitecap Kayak for your adventure here.
And share your Ironwood adventures in the comments!
**This stay was hosted by Ironwood Tourism. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**
Soulful adventurer. Probably lost. Definitely eating ice cream.
In her late-teens, Shalee drove out of her small hometown watching the sunset behind her along the two-lane highway. Her ventures began in Michigan, where she taught herself to travel on a budget. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, budget, and outdoor travel. Learn more about her here.