This Small Midwest Community Holds Some Of The Country's Best Hidden Adventures

October 21, 2019

ironwood mi

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.

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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.

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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 mi

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.

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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


ironwood mi

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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.

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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

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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


 ironwood mi

Plan Your Trip to Ironwood

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.**

Outdoor travel blog

At any given moment, Shalee is either lost, hunting for ice cream, or obsessively planning her next adventure.

Born and raised in rural Michigan, she began exploring the shores of Great Lakes as a teen, often sleeping in her car to save money. Eventually, her urge to explore pushed beyond her Midwest borders. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, outdoor, and sustainable tourism. Her pack now includes two spunky hiking cats and her partner, Josh. Learn more about her here.

Join the Adventure

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  1. Candy Whitmore on October 21, 2019 at 8:12 PM

    What a wonderful article and beautiful pictures. It made me want to go there.

  2. Rick Miller on October 24, 2019 at 10:11 AM

    Ironwood is where my father was born and I spent a week every summer of my youth visiting my grandparents farm. I treasure each trip back, especially now that dad is gone. Rich in history, friendly people, awesome pasties, adventure, natural beauty. What more could one ask for?

  3. Rick Laajala on October 24, 2019 at 11:13 AM

    You went to Ironwood and didn’t have a pasty at Joe’s pasty shop?

    • Patricia Hagstrom Thibault on October 30, 2019 at 6:47 AM

      I second that! Joe’s has the best, authentic pasties I’ve had in YEARS! Reminiscent of my Grandma, Clarice Hagstrom’s, homemade. She was a lifelong resident of Ironwood, and we would visit her every summer when I was growing up. I’m surprised the author didn’t mention the “Big Indian” statue. I still go to see it everytime I’m there 🙂

  4. Fred Alleva on October 24, 2019 at 5:43 PM

    I grew up in Ironwood and graduated from Luther L Wright HS. I will continue to make my annual trek to my hometown. (This year I was there twice, although I live in AZ.) Still own about an acre of property there just to have the dirt to keep my roots planted. There is no getting over the beauty of the area and the “Midwest Nice” attitude of the locals. There is a tremendous number of things to see and do and I still revel in visiting and never tire of seeing some of the same things over and over. Everyone should take a trip there to enjoy the outdoors as well as the great indoors such as the historic Ironwood Theater with its rich history. Oh, and don’t forget to wear your plaid and eat a pasty. Doesn’t matter what your favorite pasty is…..just get it and savor each bite. (Preferably with ketchup).

  5. Mike on October 24, 2019 at 7:52 PM

    I live in Minneapolis, but make it to Ironwood a few times every year. My dad was born in Bessemmer and raised in Ironwood and Hurley, and took me to Ironwood the first time when I was 4. I have a picture somewhere of me, my brother and sister all sitting on one of Hiawatha’s moccasins. I’m hoping to retire up there.

  6. Pamela Mack on October 25, 2019 at 6:10 AM

    My husband Senator Joseph Mack represented the UPPER PENINSULA for 33 years in the Mi Senate. He was born and raised in Ironwood Mi, and Ironwood remained our home until his death. He was responsible for purchasing Copper Peak from Kewaunee Land and also Chairman of the Mi appropriations committee which funded the building of Gogebic Community College. His beloved people and the remarkable beauty of God’s Country were his inspiration. Thank you for this lovely article.

  7. Bobbi Sturkol on October 25, 2019 at 7:29 AM

    My hubby and I were in the Plaiderday crowd! So fun!!

  8. Cathy Wainio on October 25, 2019 at 9:27 AM

    Very nice article, however, Ironwood is on the far west end of the Upper Peninsula, and much of the adventured described here are NOT located in Ironwood. The stretch across the entire Western End of the Upper Peninsula, many in Ontonagon County. The Ottawa National Forest encompasses a vast amount of public land, almost a million acres.. There are well over 580 miles of ATV / multiuse trails managed and maintained by MI-TRALE, a non-profit group of great volunteers, who now have a map app to enhance your experience. GERTA manages trails in the Ironwood area. There is also snowmobiling, horse back riding, water trails and more. I have lived here all my life and cannot say more than; my vacation is in my back yard. This is God’s country.

  9. JT Sather on October 25, 2019 at 8:05 PM

    I grew up in Hurley as a youngster. I was gone for thirty years, and Now I’ve been back in da Yoop for the last eight. There’s no place i’d rather be. Nothing beats the northwoods.

  10. Nichole Berryman on October 26, 2019 at 12:46 PM

    This is my home! I grew up in Bessemer, MI, went to college in Marquette, MI. I have since moved away to Minneapolis, MN. I miss the UP everyday. It feels like home…no matter what part I’m in. You should take a trip to Marquette (and the surrounding areas) too, it is my absolute favorite place. It has the beautiful nature plus a nice downtown with good food and drinks. It is lacking on the ski hills though…but go in the summer or fall and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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