Brockway Mountain Drive
|Brockway Mountain from the east. On a clear day you can see Isle Royale 48 miles to the west.|
The highest scenic roadway between the Rockies and the Alleghenies offers glorious sunsets, soaring hawks, and a splendid view of the Keweenaw's rocky shore. Most spectacular of all Keweenaw County's Depression-era relief projects is this nine-mile road that twists and climbs to one of the peninsula's highest peaks, a thousand feet above Lake Superior. At the windswept Brockway Mountain Lookout, you're up so high that the view seems almost like a living map, occasionally punctuated by freighters rounding Keweenaw Point. Isle Royale, over 48 miles away, can be seen out of the lake on clear days.
|A nifty visitor's shop graces the top of Brockway, around which vehicles flock to enjoy the striking views both east and west.|
The mountain's western slope goes down to Lake Superior. Inland to the east, the broken edge of volcanic crust along the north-south fault line becomes an almost vertical cliff that drops down to the river valley below. Each spring, usually peaking in mid-April, hawks migrate northeast along the entire Keweenaw Peninsula. They gather by these cliffs to ride the updrafts out to the peninsula's end - a final boost before their long flight across Lake Superior. Look down for them coming from the
|Kevin Musser collection|
|As this old postcard shows, Brockway has attracted motorists for many decades.|
direction of Eagle Harbor. They concentrate at the west end of Brockway Mountain, away from its Lake Superior face.
The view from the lookout is so riveting, it's easy to forget about all the other remarkable features of this unusual road. The habitat toward the top is actually semi-alpine; the trees are stunted by the strong winds. (A windproof jacket is a good idea even in summer.) Visitors learn about the site from the elaborate rustic signs written and made by the Keweenaw Road Commission's talented signmakers. The gift shop at the summit has been known as the SKYTOP INN since its inception in 1934. It was the first gift shop in Keweenaw County. Today's unassuming building replaced the original log cabin; remains of its log fireplace can still be seen. It has a small but very well chosen array of nature-related gifts and books. When there's time, proprietor Lloyd Wescoat can field questions on natural history, good books to read, and good walks to take. A native Virginian, she has loved reading all her life. After majoring in environmental studies and political science at St. Andrew's College in North Carolina, she got a job waitressing at the Harbor Haus, fell in love with Clyde Wescoat and his home town of Copper Harbor, and has been here ever since. She has devoted more Skytop space to local-interest and children's books, now that she and Clyde sold their Brockway Inn motel and closed their shop by the former post office.
Brockway Mountain's many varied ecosystems are home to lots of wildflowers and berries as well as trillium, orchids, wild strawberries, and thimbleberries - over 700 flowers in all, including many rare and endangered species, some found nowhere else in Michigan. Blooms peak in the month of June.
Here and all over the northern Keweenaw, the land seems like a vast park. Actually, most of it is onetime mining land now owned by Champion Paper. It can be sold and developed. In return for favorable commercial forest taxes, Champion's land is legally open to the public for recreational use, including rock-gathering, mountain-biking, and berry-picking. The Michigan Nature Association has purchased 200 prime acres on Brockway Mountain.
Plan to get out and walk at several places along the drive. There are many wildflowers along the road throughout the summer and in the woods in spring. A half mile or so east of the summit, the Michigan Nature Association's Klipfel Memorial Nature Sanctuary is a popular overlook for its grand views and its covering of Alpine grasses, ground cover, and sedge. The MNA guide Walking Paths in the Keweenaw states, "From the point . . . one can watch the mist disappear from the valley shortly after sunrise. Soon the ravens rise from their overnight roost in the lowlands. Up and up they climb until they are soaring level with the mountain top." It's also fun to see the first evening stars. Another interesting overlook looks down on Copper Harbor, and Lake Fanny Hooe is 3 1/2 miles east of the summit. As far as other publicized MNA trails on Brockway Mountain, signage and directions are so confusing and trails so murky, it makes one wonder just how much the organization really wants the general public to find its natural areas.
For maximum enjoyment, devote an hour or two to the drive and stop frequently. Bring binoculars, and, if you want to hike in the forest, take along bug spray, a jacket, walking shoes, and a compass. Here at dusk, you'll witness a sunset view that's hard to match. Fall color season is even more glorious. It usually begins the second week of September and lasts into mid-October.
Drive entrances are off M-26. One is 5 miles northeast of Eagle Harbor. Another is half a mile west of Copper Harbor. The drive is not plowed in winter. The road is open from the first snow-free days of spring (that's often in late May) up to the first snowfall. It's a groomed snowmobile trail in winter. No admission fee.
Return to Copper Harbor
POINTS OF INTEREST
• The Mariner North restaurant & motel has wi-fi. 245 Gratiot/US-41. Open year round.
• Brockway Inn has wi-fi in summer. 840 Gratiot/US-41. Open Tues-Sun 8-4.
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