Three small towns to discover in the U.P.

There's no doubt the spectacular landscape of the U.P. draws many visitors. They come to hike, backpack, mountain bike, fish, boat and paddle.

Tucked away among the rivers, woods, and hills are small towns with charms of their own. They're rich in history, stories, and local culture. Many serve as staging areas for a host of outdoor adventures. 

We’d like to tell you a bit more about three small towns that we find unique, amazing, and well worth a visit.

Norway – An outdoor treasure

With access to whitewater rafting, tubing, fishing, rock climbing, biking and hiking, Norway is an outdoor recreation mecca.

“Not only is rafting through Piers Gorge a thrilling adventure, but the scenery on the Menominee River is beautiful,” says Dale Guarniere, who runs Kosir’s Whitewater Rafting. “The Menominee River offers a thrilling adventure for both novice and skilled rafters.”

A town of 2,774, Norway is nestled in a wooded wilderness about 10 miles east of Iron Mountain, near the Michigan-Wisconsin border. It was founded in 1891 when a post office called Norway was established. The town was named for the surrounding forest of Norway pines

“Norway is the city of trails,” says Dan Stoltman, Norway's city manager. "With more than 30 miles of mountain bike trails and direct access to motorized trails, Norway is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.”

Rural Insights, a research and information source for Michigan's Upper Peninsula, says, “Getting out into nature in Norway is as simple as stepping out your door. A growing network of interconnected parks, trails, lakes, and rivers encircle the city and make access to year-round recreational opportunities fast and easy.” 

A bandshell on the main street brings people downtown. It's the site of a Music in the Park summer series, an open-air market, and the City Band.

“People from all over visit Norway Spring, an artesian well, to fill their bottles and jugs for a taste of the best water around," Stoltman says.

Norway honors the rich history of the Scandinavian people who founded it. Viking ship replicas mark the town entrances. In October, a Leif Erikson Festival celebrates the Viking who allegedly sailed off course and landed in North America in the 11th century.  He is generally believed to be the first European to reach the North American continent, nearly four centuries before Christopher Columbus. 

The festival features Viking reenactments, Scandinavian specialties in local restaurants, a Viking parade, music and crafts booths, and much more. It culminates in a torchlight parade around Hanbury Lake and a flaming Viking boat pyre, set ablaze as it is launched into the water. 

Gladstone – A fisherman’s paradise

A town of just over 5,000, Gladstone is located 10 miles north of Escanaba on the picturesque shores of Little Bay de Noc. The city sits on a small projection into Little Bay de Noc, which opens into Green Bay on Lake Michigan. First settled in 1877, Gladstone's original name was Minnewasca. 

Gladstone is known for its fishing. Anglers know that Little Bay de Noc is one of the best places to catch walleye. Muskie and bass. The weedy shallows of the bay are loaded with hungry, hard-biting muskies, and bass like to hide in weed beds and under docks. The Bay de Noc Great Lakes Sport Fishermen Club sponsors public fishing tournaments. 

Delta Dawn Charters operates fishing charters out of three ports in the central U.P., including Gladstone. There, fishermen can catch trophy walleye in the fall. 

“You get nice walleye all season long, and big ones come in in the fall,” says Captain Bill Myers, who leads the charters.

In winter, ice fishing is great for walleye, northern pike, and perch. ”There are a good number of smallmouth bass you can get in the bay,” he adds. “What makes it a great place to fish is you can find a good place to fish regardless of the weather, and if you want to venture out into the bay, you can fish for salmon or trout.”

Reid Roeske, owner of Furious Fishing Charters in Gladstone, says, “Little Bay de Noc is unique because there are so many different kinds of fish to catch there.” He takes up to six anglers at a time on his 27-foot Sailfish in search of walleye, Northern pike, chinook salmon, and muskie.

“They enjoy the scenic area; they enjoy the restaurants, and of course, they enjoy the fishing,” he says. 

Freshwater Tavern is a favorite with his charter customers, because of its unusual, locally sourced menu and its Catch and Cook program, which allows anglers to bring their fresh catch to the restaurant and have it cooked for them right there. 

”Freshwater Tavern offers a one-of-a-kind food and beverage menu, unlike any other in the U.P.,” says Jessica Elrod, who markets the restaurant and the Terrace Bay Hotel, both owned by Jarred and Jennifer Drown. “Each item is hand-crafted and created by our in-house chef.” 

Overlooking Lake Michigan, Freshwater Tavern’s unique menu includes fried brussel sprout chips, bison meatloaf, and locally grown beef tenderloin marinated in a Korean barbeque sauce, cooked with roasted peppers, mushrooms, fried spinach, and scallions and served over lemongrass rice.
Gladstone’s parks are legendary. The town’s main park is Van Cleve, home to the Kids Kingdom playground, a skateboarding park, a baseball field, a basketball court, and a fitness trail. Visitors also love the white sand beach with a water slide and a harbor with boat ramps and a fish cleaning station. The park hosts a concert series in the summer.

L’Anse – Waterfall wonderland

L’Anse is a village in Baraga County, tucked into a curve of Keweenaw Bay and filled with waterfalls, hiking trails, quaint shops and restaurants.

“People come to L'Anse to enjoy our downtown and waterfront park, splash pad, marina and Keweenaw Bay,” says village manager Bob LaFave. “L'Anse is a great jumping-off point to many waterfalls and to Mt. Arvon, Michigan's highest point.” 

L’Anse was long home to the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwa, who called it Gichi-wiikwedong. Later, French colonists established a fur trading post there, naming it L’Anse, which means “the cove” or “the bay” in French. The modern-day village grew around this French trading post.

In 1896, the village burned to the ground, leaving many homeless. 
Today, L’Anse’s population is 1,874, according to the 2020 census. The northern third of the village is on the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community reservation. 

Outdoor wonders in L’Anse include Falls River Falls, a long series of cascading falls that span Falls River, a five-mile-long stream that flows into Keweenaw Bay. From the site of an old power station, Falls River drops close to 150 feet over a mile and a half. Falls River Falls is the overall name of the group of lower cascades.

Just outside L'Anse is Middle Falls Nature Preserve. Middle Falls is the main drop here, a grouping of individual plunges, slides, and cascades. A convenient bench high on a bank serves as a great spot to watch this waterfall, although the rocks and ledges are numerous enough to walk up the river next to the individual drops. 

A footpath from the L’Anse Marina takes explorers up past Lower Falls and Middle Falls to U.S. Route 41.

Shops and eateries pepper L’Anse’s walkable main street. The Village Gift Shop and Café feature unique items by Michigan artists, including art made from local stones and copper ore, wood-turned bowls, vases, clocks, fused glass, quilts and silhouettes cut from corrugated roofing metal. 

“Our store and cafe are built around a unique cooperative business model,” says Bill Steinhardt, who, along with his wife, Payne, are the store owners. The gift store charges artists and craftsmen $1 a day for rent. If they are willing to spend 16 hours a month helping run the store, they get to keep 90 percent of their sales. 

Their café next door has a shared-use kitchen and shared retail sales. The Steinhardts charge $2 a day rent, plus a 20 percent commission on food sold.
“We are a business incubator and encourage food entrepreneurs to start their own businesses in our space and launch themselves into the community,” Steinhardt

Another nearby attraction is Bishop Baraga Shrine. On U.S. Route 41 between L'Anse and Baraga stands a giant copper figure astride a silvery cloud, rising some 60 feet above the bluff overlooking Keweenaw Bay. The statue pays tribute to one of the earliest and most beloved pioneers of the Keweenaw, Frederic Baraga, known as the Snowshoe Priest for the long treks he had to make to visit his far-flung parishioners. 

The last of his missions was in the village of L'Anse, which had been the site of an earlier Jesuit mission founded in the late 1600s. He remained in L'Anse from 1843 and was consecrated as the first Bishop of the Upper Peninsula in 1853.

Jennifer Donovan is a reporter with more than 40 years of experience on daily newspapers, magazines and university writing and editing. She is retired as director of news and media relations at Michigan Technological University and lives in Houghton.
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