Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ernest Hemingway, Otto Preminger, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Jim Harrison have all found inspiration and amusement in the Upper Peninsula, but most Americans couldn't locate it if you handed them a map. That's why the Keweenaw (an Ojibwa Indian word meaning "place of the crossing"), the northern tip of the U.P., is such a great discovery. The juxtaposition of the country's largest lake and ancient rock has created a rare environment where orchids flourish, waterfalls tumble, and metals push forth from the ground. Here visitors can enjoy spectacular mountain drives, long sandy beaches, quiet lakes, Paul Bunyan-sized trees, picturesque harbor towns—and no crowds.
Lake Breeze Hwy. M-26, Eagle Harbor; 906/289-4514; doubles $69-$74. Built as a warehouse in the 1850's, this summer resort is still owned by the original family, the Raleys. It's so close to Lake Superior that sitting in the downstairs lounge, playing cards or watching loons, you almost feel as though you're on a ship. At night, a nearby lighthouse shoots beacons past the windows. Many guests have been coming for years, but even on your first night, Lake Breeze feels like a place you've relished since childhood. The comfortable rooms are simply decorated with pickled-pine paneling and bright fabrics. Eagle Harbor is a walkable town with a beach, restaurants, and shops.
Laurium Manor Inn 320 Tamarack St., Laurium; 906/337-2549; doubles $49-$129. This columned 1908 mansion, after years of neglect, is being restored to its former glory by the Sprengers. Many rooms are decorated with murals of landscape scenes; one parlor has a silver ceiling. You can also stay in the Victorian Hall across the street, another grand Sprenger-owned turn-of-the-century residence given new life as a bed-and-breakfast.
Belknap's Garnet House 238 County Rd., Kearsarge; 906/337-5607; doubles $65-$90. A Victorian painted lady formerly owned by a mining captain, this cozy four-room B&B is right on the highway. But even at the height of tourist season, as you relax in a wicker rocker on the wraparound veranda, traffic will seem a distant city memory. Closed during the winter.
Peterson's Cottages 287 Lakeshore Rd., Ontonagon; 906/884-4230; cottages $72-$255. These well-stocked, wood-paneled, rustic cottages range from one-bedrooms to a three-story A-frame. All but the last are next to the lake; many have fireplaces.
Scott's Superior Inn 277 Lakeshore Rd., Ontonagon; 906/884-4866; cabins $95-$150 for as many as four people. The Scotts rent two terrific new cedar cabins (both with fireplaces) right on the beach, near their 12-room motel.
Northern Light Inn 701 Houghton St., Ontonagon; 800/238-0018 or 906/884-4290; doubles $75-$125. Ex-Chicagoan Dianne O'Shea sees her 1903 B&B primarily as a romantic couples' getaway, particularly the top-floor suite, with its sloping pine ceilings, kidney-shaped Jacuzzi, and king-size bed. She prides herself on her breakfasts; one of her specialties is German apple pancakes.
Since the days of the 17th-century fur traders, Lake Superior has been a vital but famously treacherous shipping corridor, its bottom littered with wrecks—remember the Edmund Fitzgerald? The Keweenaw Peninsula sticks out into the middle of the lake, halfway between Duluth to the west and Sault Ste. Marie to the east. Its outline is still dotted with lighthouses, several of them—Ontonagon, Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor—open to the public. At Sand Hills, you can even spend the night. A staircase leads 101 feet to the top of the Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn (Five Mile Point Rd., Ahmeek; 906/337-1744; doubles from $125). From where a Fresnel lens once blinked its warning nightly, you can see a vast sweep of sparkling blue water punctuated by the occasional barge.
When Bill Frabotta bought this 1917 yellow brick structure in 1961, there were no paved roads leading to the derelict building, and no electricity. A portrait photographer from downstate, Frabotta spent more than 30 years dreaming of the inn he would make, drawing up plans and collecting antiques. In 1992 he sold his business, his house, and his Harley and began renovations. Now Sand Hills is one of only seven lighthouse B&B's in America (another is in Big Bay Point, 130 miles away).
The last lighthouse built on the Great Lakes, Sand Hills is larger than its 19th-century brethren, giving Frabotta plenty of room to play with. And play he did: a lover of Victorian furniture and old movies, he has turned every corner of the house, with its eight guest rooms, into the set of a gothic romance. The Laurence Olivier Room features a framed, signed portrait of the actor and 94 yards of purple velvet curtains. Two rooms have balconies overlooking the lake. Throughout, Frabotta's dramatic photographs of young actresses add atmosphere.
Frabotta and his assistant, Mary Mathews (looks like Jean Stapleton, plays piano like the phantom of the opera, and bakes croissants no Parisian would scorn), make you feel as if you've stepped into a mystery. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that Sand Hills is the site of numerous engagement, wedding, and anniversary celebrations.
Part of the appeal of Michigan's Upper Peninsula is its remoteness: Copper Harbor, the hamlet at the northern end, is just 50 miles closer to Detroit than New York City is. The Keweenaw is the upper peninsula of the Upper Peninsula, itself a misfit region that accounts for one-third of the state and shares a land border with Wisconsin. The U.P. is connected to downstate only by the Mackinac Bridge.
The best way to get to the region is by car, along Highway 41 or Route 26. Most weekend vacationers stop at the Mackinac Bridge or the Wisconsin border, and go no farther. Another hour or two of driving, and the crowds disappear like dandelion seeds in the wind. Or you can fly on Mesaba-Northwest (800/225-2525) straight into the Houghton County Airport in Hancock.