The realm of the old Copper Empire sprawls across a deceptively large area of land, its remnants scattered across all corners of the peninsula. Old ruins of mines and mills can be found almost anywhere, some buried deep in the wilderness while others can be found right along the roadside. As immense as the Copper Empire once was, its remnants seen even more prevalent. Its quite the exhaustive inventory, and for those only visiting the Copper Country for a short time – seeing everything is hardly possible. Luckily after ten years of exploring the old Copper Empire, CCE has done most of the sight-seeing for you.
Yet the real magic of the Keweenaw is in exploring these abandoned places yourself, walking in the shadow of massive stone walls or peering up at soaring concrete stacks rising high above your head. To come across a piece of man’s legacy seemingly buried and forgotten deep in what was just moments before nothing more then another beautiful wilderness setting is a surreal experience – something both mesmerizing and haunting at the same time. It is these tangible moments of exploration – real and in person – that make the Keweenaw such an intriguing place.
For those hoping to experience these ruins in person, however, quickly find the size and scope of the Keweenaw overwhelming. They often find themselves driving far and wide in search of great ruins, or spending far too much time at more “tourist” inspired places that do little to haunt or mesmerize. To help those wandering souls discover the true Copper Country allure, CCE has put together a list of the peninsula’s most iconic and awe-inspiring ruins that exemplify the Copper Country’s mystic allure. Best yet these places are all open to the public, with little or no bushwhacking required. Its the ultimate Copper Empire ruin guide.
10. The Arnold Mine – Eagle River
Though nothing spectacular by any means, the old remains of the Arnold Mine make up for that by accessibility. Located on land owned by the Society of St. John, otherwise known as the “Jampot Monks”, the ruins have been painstakingly cleared of brush and trees and now lie in full view within the tranquil shade of a hardwood forest. As such its a rather impressive sight, one that is also extremely rare for such an old ruin. Bet yet a convenient hiking path runs right up to the ruin’s front door, making access incredibly easy for most anyone.
DIRECTIONS: The Arnold Mine sits along Jacob’s Creek, just east of Eagle River. From Phoenix, take US41 north for about 2.5 miles. Turn left onto the first paved road (Eagle Harbor Cut-Off Road) and follow it for just over a mile. After the road curves to the right and crosses Jacob’s Creek turn onto the first dirt road on the left – blocked a short distance down its length by a gate. Park here and take the marked trail to the ruins.
9. The Clark Stack – Copper Harbor
Perhaps the most beautiful smoke stack to be found anywhere, this free standing pile of crimson rubble stone is a diamond in the rough. Adding to the stack’s appeal is its surprise presence so far from civilization, located at the far end of a rugged wilderness road deep in the forest outside of Copper Harbor. It stands like a tombstone to the Keweenaw’s industrialized past – now reclaimed by the natural world it once displaced. Even though I’ve seen this stack dozens of time, first glimpse of its maroon bulk through the trees gives me goosebumps each time.
DIRECTIONS: The Clark Mine sits at the end of a wilderness road heading south-east of Copper Harbor. From along US41 in Copper Harbor, turn south onto Manganese Road (at the corner of the visitors center). Follow this road up the hill for about a mile and a quarter. When the road splits, take the left branch for another quarter of a mile. When the road splits a second time, take the left branch. Follow this all the way to its end, until you see a sign marking the mine on the left.
8. The Gay Sands – Gay
The Gay Sands are a wonder to behold, a remarkable landscape that can only be fully appreciated by standing within its vast dominion. The sands’ sheer scope is awe-inspiring, a testament to man’s ability to irrevocable transform his environment. It’s also hauntingly beautiful in its own way, a desolate land framed by the sparkling blue of Lake Superior and the lush greenery of the neighboring forest. Walking the sands are like walking through some desolate post apocalyptic world. At one end massive cliffs crash down to the lake, while at the other the vast ruins of the Mohawk and Wolverine Mills litter the forest edge capped off by a soaring concrete stack.
DIRECTIONS: The Mohawk Mill stamp sands fan out into Lake Superior from the small community of Gay. From along US41 in Mohawk, turn east onto Fulton Road at the Mohawk School Yard Park. Continue along this road for 12 miles until you reach the community of Gay. Turn right onto the first road you come to (Main Street), drive two blocks then turn left onto Gay-Lac La Belle Road. As you leave town the ATV trail will cross the road just past the smokestack on the right.
7. The Ahmeek Mill – Tamarack City
Its location right alongside the highway gives it a great deal of visibility, but no matter where the remains of the old Ahmeek Mill happen to have been located they would still be a remarkably impressive sight. While most stamps mills were built along hillsides, the Ahmeek was built free-standing, resulting in a massive and soaring structure that once rose a half dozen stories into the air. Thus the mill’s ruins are now equally as impressive, consisting of a series of massive concrete pedestals soaring high into the air. Atop one still stands the iron skeleton of an old steam stamp – the only one still in existence in all the Keweenaw. Most incredible of all is that the mill’s remains sit in plain view right alongside a public park, making for some easy viewing.
DIRECTIONS: The mill and park sit right along M26 in Tamarack City.
6. Central Powder House – Central
What makes this old powder house so impressive has nothing to do with size or scale, but instead has everything to do with location. Nestled within a squat rocky canyon, the old rock walls of the old Central Powder House appear like some type of lost Mayan temple lying shrouded in the surrounding foliage. The building’s brick-framed front door further adds to the intrigue, giving the impression one is about to enter an old medieval dungeon.
DIRECTIONS: The Central Powder House sits up in the forest just to the north of Central. From Phoenix, follow US41 north for 4.2 miles until you come to the road to Central (Main Street) marked by a large sign. Turn left and follow the road up the hill past the town and up into the woods. A marked trail to the powder house sits on the left of the road.
5. Quincy No.7 Boiler House – Hancock
When it comes to Copper Country ruins, a no more dense and richer collection can be found then what can be explored at the old Quincy Mine outside of Hancock. There are an incredible amount of old mine ruins to be found there, including the massive No.2 steam hoist itself. While all are impressive, my favorite has always been the beautiful gray and crimson colored structure seen above – a building known today as the No.7 Boiler House. Besides its sheer size and scope – a walk inside its soaring walls is a must – the building is also an incredible piece of architecture thanks to its poor rock construction and sandstone accents.
DIRECTIONS: The Quincy Boiler house stand near the iconic No.2 rock house, just north of Hancock. From Hancock head north along US41 up the hill. The ruins sit on the right side of the highway, just before the soaring No.2 rock house.
4. Delaware Surface Plant – Delaware
Though this ruin is the only one on our list requiring a fee to view, its well worth the effort. The Delaware Mine spent an incredible amount of money on its infrastructure – creating a surface plant that was the envy of a region. Incredibly many of these massive structures still stand, the largest and most impressive of all being this combination boiler and hoist house now found on the mine tour’s property. Its soaring walls – some over three stories tall – and sheer bulk is a sight to behold, accented further by a forest of white birch growing within its sprawling innards.
DIRECTIONS: The Delaware Mine sits just off of US41, about ten miles north of Phoenix. The road will be marked by a large Mine Tour sign where you will turn left. Follow this dirt road a short distance and through a stop sign – continuing straight up the hill to the mine site.
3. The Dredge – Mason
A half century ago this old mining dredge sunk to the bottom of Torch Lake just a few feet from shore – the same spot it can still be found yet today. Perhaps one of the most photographed ruins of the Copper Country, this half sunken derilect has become the region’s most iconic symbol of industrial decline. The wreck also has a great deal of photogenic charm, thanks to its rusting hulk being framed by the blue waters of the surrounding lake and green tapestry of the lakeshore. Though the wreck is not open to the public, it can easily be viewed and photographed from both the neighboring land and water.
DIRECTIONS: The Quincy Dredge sits along the shore of Torch Lake just north of Mason. From Hancock follow M26 towards Lake Linden for six miles until you pass Mason. The dredge will be on the right.
2. Steel Dam – Redridge
This rusting hulk of steel and concrete is not only a copper country landmark, its also an engineering marvel. One of only three ever built in the western hemisphere and the largest of its type to ever grace the earth, the old Redridge Steel Dam is a sight every Copper Country visitor must see for themselves. It’s impressive from almost any angle, but from its damp and dingy bowels the old structure is awe-inspiring, as its massive soaring skeleton rises high above your head and blocks out the sun. The neighboring falls over another old dam – this one made of wood – is an extra bonus for explorers.
DIRECTIONS: The Redridge Dam sits along the Salmon-Trout river along the west shore of the peninsula. From Houghton head south along M26, turning right onto Houghton Canal Road a quarter mile from the bridge. Follow this road for 4.5 miles until arriving at Schmidt’s Corner and Liminga Road. Turn left onto Liminga road and follow it for another six miles to the small town of Redridge. The dam will be visible on the left while crossing the river. Turn left onto the first dirt road past the dam to view a historical marker. Continue on foot along the road to its end to view the dam from it’s upstream side.
1. Cliff Surface Plant – Phoenix
There really is no competition when it comes to iconic and must-see Copper Country ruins. Besides being one of the region’s most famous and productive, the ruins of the old Cliff Mine have been tourist attractions since the dawn of the automobile. To take a stroll through the woods here and find yourself suddenly face to face with a soaring stone smokestack or a massive rubble wall blocking your path is an awe-inspiring experience not to be missed. Adding to the experience is the knowledge that these ruins have been here for over a century and a half, untouched by the passage of time or progress.
DIRECTIONS:The Cliff Mine sits along the base of the Cliff Range, along Cliff road north just south of Phoenix. After leaving Ahmeek along US41 turn left onto Cliff Drive. Follow Cliff Drive for 6.2 miles until you see a large rock pile cascading down from the cliffs. The mine is on the left just under that cascade.