Some vacation destinations invite you to imagine what the landscape looked like decades or centuries ago, relying on your imagination. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we know there is no better way to describe it to you than to invite you to immerse yourself. Before we were a tourism destination, thousands of Europeans and Americans flocked to the U.P. for a different reason — the promising future of mining. With word of our abundant iron and copper mines, many left their homes and settled across our peninsula with prosperity and wealth on their horizon. Or so they hoped.
America’s first mining boom in particular began as prospectors and speculators rushed to mine deposits of native copper along the Keweenaw Peninsula, the northwestern most point of the U.P. The iron ore and copper these workers mined built our railroads, bridges, skyscrapers, tools, utensils and Civil War, WWI and WWII weapons. There were dozens of mines in the industry’s heydey. Today, you’re invited to visit a few! Check out these Upper Peninsula mine tours, walk through the same tunnels that mine workers did and see the rock formations left behind from decades of digging.
While many of the original mines were closed or repurposed over the last several decades, these mines have opened their adits and invite you down into their history.
Iron Mountain Iron Mine
The Iron Mountain Iron Mine is a historic mine located in Vulcan. It was one of the most productive iron mines in the U.P., producing over 21 million tons of iron ore during its lifetime. Today, visitors can take a tour of the mine and learn about its history and the process of iron mining. The tour begins with a ride on a tramcar that takes visitors down into the mine. Once underground, visitors can explore various levels of the mine, including the hoist house and the underground shafts. Its rich history dates back to the mid-1800s, when it was the Norway Mine, operated by the Norway Iron Company. In 1945, the mine closed due to declining iron prices and rising costs. The 1950s brought a group of investors who purchased the abandoned mine and eventually restored many of its buildings and equipment, offering a look inside to the public through tours.
Guided tours take you 2,600 feet through drifts and tunnels to 400 feet below the earth’s surface. Be awed by the amazing rock formations in the large underground lighted caverns. At the end of your tour, enjoy a miner’s lunch, a traditional Cornish pasty.
Cliffs Shaft Museum
Housed in the former Cliffs Shaft Mine, this Ishpeming museum tells the story of what was once one of the world’s largest iron ore mines from 1867-1967. Visitors can explore the hoist house, machine shop and blacksmith shop. You’ll also learn about the daily lives of the miners and their families, geology in our region and the history of iron mining in Michigan. Take a guided tour of the tunnels that miners walked through to the base of C-Shaft. Tours include a ride down 22 stories below ground in the mine shaft on an authentic mine train, a demonstration of drilling techniques used by miners and a look at past and present headgear. You can also take your photo near a 170-ton iron ore truck with 12-foot-high tires or inside a 30-ton shovel bucket!
Painesdale Mine and Shaft Inc. is dedicated to preserving the Champion #4 Shaft House in Painesdale, which operated for nearly 65 years before closing in 1967. Champion #4 Shaft House was built in 1902 as part of the Copper Range Mining Company mines that ran from Atlantic Mine to Painesdale.
Visitors who arrange tours get to see the inside of the shaft house, the hoist house and the captain's office. Upon entering this mine, it will seem as though the mining boom never ended. Rather, it looks like you’ve stepped back in time and found the mine just after the whistle blew signaling the end of the day. Miners aren’t returning tomorrow, it is just mostly untouched. Some buildings have been restored to keep them intact; however, what you see here is mostly the same view workers got on their way in each day.
Keweenaw National Historical Park
Keweenaw National Historical Park offers several different tours of historic copper mines in the area and other heritage sites.
Adventure Mining Company
Visitors to Adventure Mining Company, near Greenland, will learn about the copper mine’s rich history dating back to the late 1800s. Originally known as the Mystery Mine, it was operated by Adventure Copper Company. This mine produced over 11 million pounds of native copper during its lifetime! It is highly regarded as one of the Keweenaw Peninsula’s most productive copper mines. The mine operated until 1920, and reopened for tours in the 1980s. Today, it is actually still open for mining operations in addition to tours. Adventure Mining Company also offers gemstone mining activities, where visitors can search for their own gems in a sluice box. Little ones and adults alike will enjoy taking home the treasures they’ve dug up.
For 99 years the Quincy Mine in Hancock had an impressive string of dividends, earning it the nickname "Old Reliable.” The Quincy Mine has a fascinating history that dates back to the mid-1800s. The mine was named after Josiah Quincy, Jr., a Boston lawyer and politician who was an early investor in the mine. He and the mine employed thousands of workers over the years and played a significant role in the local economy. Quincy Mine operated until 1945, closed and then reopened in the 1970s.
Today, it is a major tourist attraction in the Keweenaw, featuring two-hour, guided tours of the underground workings, the No. 2 shaft house, the world's largest steam powered hoist — which serviced the No. 2 shaft to a vertical depth of 6,200 feet. They also get to ride the Midwest's only cog-rail tram. Shorter, surface-only tours are also available.
The mine is open from the end of April to mid-June on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and then every day starting in mid-June to late October. Off-season tours are available on-demand. Reservations are highly recommended. The walking tour is an in-depth session on geology, history, technology and engineering — or any topic in which you may have a special interest!
Delaware Copper Mine
The Delaware Copper Mine is located in Mohawk. Although copper was only mined there from 1847 to 1887, it has made its name as a popular attraction for Keweenaw visitors! The tour will take you down the stairs to Shaft No. 1 to the first level, at a depth of 110 feet, where you'll see pure veins of copper exposed in the mine walls along with other geologic interests. Involved in the very first copper boom, this mine is a great insight into what mining looked like in the 1800s in the U.P.
Above ground, browse the gift shop and museum, or take the walking trails to the mine ruins, saw mill, large antique engine display and train collection. Stop by the zoo to visit the miniature deer, or search the rock piles of souvenir copper.
Other mining history
While they aren’t mine tours, you can learn a great deal of our mining history with artifacts and hands-on exhibits from the following destinations, too!
Caledonia Copper Mine: Dig for your own rocks and minerals, and bring home your finds. Hunt through a pile for copper specimens, quartz, calcite, feldspar and epidote. Silver and datolite are a little harder to find but not impossible.
Plan your stay!
Don’t just go where you can see history, go where you can feel it. Trace the footsteps of our legends back in time and you’ll be fascinated by what you find. Book your stay, and spend several days uncovering our mining past.