Hancock & Houghton, Michigan: Two Downtowns


Since they’re the two biggest cities on the Keweenaw Peninsula, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll make Hancock and Houghton, Michigan your base of operations for at least a day or two.  That’s a great idea since the two towns and the surrounding area offers a lot to see and do.


Hancock and Houghton, Michigan are located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Houghton is on the south shore of the Keweenaw Waterway, Hancock is on the northern side, and the two are connected by the Portage Lake Lift Bridge — the only road that connects the two sides.

My Visit

I arrived in Houghton, Michigan at the end of Day Four of my trip, and quickly discovered what happens when the Portage Lake Lift Bridge is raised.  Downtown Houghton turned into a massive traffic jam — and of course, my hotel was in Hancock, on the other side of the bridge.  Once I figured out that there was just one way across, I sat patiently and waited for traffic to start flowing again.

That night was terribly rainy.  After checking into my hotel, I thought I’d walk around Hancock for a bit, but I ended up drenched and quickly gave up on that idea.  I decided to try again in the morning if the skies cleared.  Much to my amazement…

… there was barely a cloud in the sky at sunrise.  My hotel was just a few blocks away from the Hancock waterfront.  I started at Porvoo Park and took the boardwalk over to the Ramada hotel, where a pier provided an amazing viewpoint for the lift bridge…

… placing the rising sun directly between its two towers.  Of course, as the seasons change, the sun will rise in different places, so don’t be surprised if it’s slightly different during your visit.  No matter what, it’s an excellent place to start a day on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The Portage Lake Lift Bridge was built in 1959.  It is the heaviest and widest double-decked vertical lift bridge in the world.  When it was built, rail traffic used the lower level, and cars used the top.  Now, there are no trains on the Keweenaw Peninsula, so during the summer months the bridge is raised to the middle position, which allows vehicles to travel on the lower level, and smaller boats can pass underneath.  In the winter, once the lake freezes, the bridge is lowered and cars use the upper deck, while snowmobiles use the lower deck.

I spent three nights in Hancock and Houghton, Michigan.  Early on Day Seven, just as I was ready to leave town, the bridge once again caught my eye — this time from the Houghton side.  A parking area near Chutes and Ladders Park provided this view of the bridge, with fog rolling out, revealing a glass-like surface on Portage Lake.

Looking over towards Hancock, the lake provided a great reflection of the trees, which were finally starting to show some fall colors.  I’d guess that the best of the fall colors hit the Keweenaw around the second week of October in 2017 — I was about one week early.

Hancock, Michigan

I didn’t see much of Hancock on that first night in town, thanks to the rain, but I tried again a couple of nights later.  I discovered a few brilliant neon lights, like the one hanging over the door at Nutini’s Supper Club.

The Bleachers Sports Bar also had some nice, old-fashioned incandescent chasing lights, although the neon wasn’t burning.

Nearby, you’ll also find the Hancock Town Hall and Fire Hall on Quincy Street.  It was completed in January, 1899.

Houghton, Michigan

On the south side of Portage Lake, Houghton, Michigan is also worth exploring on foot.  Most businesses are lined up along Sheldon Avenue, which is also US 41 — the road I was stuck on, in the rain, waiting for the bridge on my first night in town.

The Lode Theater was built in 1940 and operated until 2010.

The impressive Douglass House overlooks Sheldon Avenue, across the street from the Lode.  The current structure dates back to 1899 (although the hotel opened in 1860 in another structure, that later burned).   Douglass House has now been converted from a hotel to an apartment complex, but the historic first-floor saloon and restaurant are still there.

A walk around Houghton, Michigan reveals the remnants of beautiful old storefronts…

… and a few ghost signs.

The stretch of downtown businesses comes to an end when Sheldon Avenue turns onto the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.  M-26, the other scenic route to the top of the Keweenaw, also crosses the bridge.  Stay on this side of the lake, and M-26 takes you into Houghton’s strip-mall and big-box business district.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive from Calumet to Hancock and Houghton, Michigan:

The Bottom Line

Hancock and Houghton, Michigan are rich in history and provide everything you need for a few days of visiting the Keweenaw.  You should find time to walk around both towns and try to get up at least once and watch the sunrise behind the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.

No comments

You might also enjoy this...