7 Great Cities in the Upper Peninsula

upper peninsual citiesThe Upper Peninsula is a sacred place for all Michiganders. Surrounded by three lakes, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, it takes 29 percent of the Michigan territory, although settlements are not as dense as in other parts of the state. The Upper Peninsula contains only 3 percent of the total population of Michigan and since the winters are very harsh in this part of the state, conditions for agriculture are minimal. Most of the economy is based on logging and tourism. In the past, this area was widely populated with miners, but after the golden age of mining passed, everyone became focused on forest-related work. Many settlers came here from Italy, Portugal and Sweden. There is also a good portion of French Canadians, but most of population proudly claims their Finnish ancestry. There are no big population areas or urban cities in the Upper Peninsula, but ones with the greater number of residents look quite vivid.

  1.    Marquette

Marquette is the biggest city in the Upper Peninsula with a population of 21,355. The first settlers to come here were French missionaries in the 17th century, but the city’s development didn’t start until almost 200 years later when William Burt and Jacob Houghton found iron deposits. Nowadays, Marquette is the main port on Lake Superior and home to the Northern University of Michigan. The climate of the city is quite harsh, with the highest temperature in summer somewhere around 66 degrees Fahrenheit while in the winter most of the days have a temperature below 0 degrees. Residents and visitors can enjoy their free time in Presque Isle Park or on some of the beaches great for picnicking.

  1.    Sault Ste. Marie

Located along the US-Canadian border, Sault Ste. Marie is the second largest city in the Upper Peninsula. Isolated from other communities in the area, the effects are felt in the economy and everyday life. The population of the city is 14,144 people. Native Americans were the first settlers to come here over 500 years ago. This spot was their main trading center since St. Mary’s River separates territory of the United States and Canada. The first colonists who came here were from France, but after some time the British Government took over. The average temperature in the city is somewhere around 43 degrees Fahrenheit. The Main industry in the area is tourism.

  1.    Escanaba 

With its population of 12,616, Escanaba is the third-largest city in the Upper Peninsula. It is located at the banana belt, and is named after the Escanaba River that flows into the Little Bay de Noc of Lake Michigan. In the past, Escanaba was an Ojibwa village which became American settlement in the mid 19th century. It played an important role during the Civil war because of its copper, iron ore, and lumber. Even today Escanaba is one of the biggest exporters of iron ore, while the biggest employer in the area is a paper mill. The climate is similar to other cities in the area with harsh winters and high humidity.

  1.    Menominee 

With its name coming from a Native American tribe, Menominee has the population of 8,599 people. The city gained attention in the 20th century as the biggest producer of lumber in the United States. Nowadays, the economy of Menominee is based on the paper industry, auto parts, plane parts and lumber exploitation. There is not enough of a labor force for skilled workers to be prevalent. The temperature of the city is a bit milder because of its geographical position at the mouth of Green Bay.

  1.    Houghton 

One of the cities listed in “The 100 Best Small Cities”, Houghton homes 7,708 residents. The city is also a host to many winter sports events like skiing, ice hockey, and snowmobiling. The area around Houghton was a home of Native Americans long before the first French and Cornish emigrants arrived. It was rapidly settled after copper mines were started. The last of those mines was closed in the ‘60’s. The climate is harsh and the city is covered in snow for a good part of the year. Michigan Tech students will attest- in the winter months, the days can get a bit dreary.

  1.    Iron Mountain

Iron Mountain received its name from the valuable iron ore found in close vicinity. The total population of the city is 7,624, but even with such a low number, the city has a lot to offer. Visitors may enjoy The Cornish Pump, Millie Hill bat cave and one of the world’s biggest artificial ski jump resorts, Pine Mountain. Large seasonal temperature differences are usual with warm to hot summers and severely cold winters.

  1.    Ishpeming

Considered the national ski capital and the birthplace of the skiing organization of the United States, Ishpeming homes 6,470 people. Back in the day, the city crawled with miners harvesting iron ore. Today, most of the people work in the lumber industry and in winter sports. The climate changes drastically with the seasons, from warm summers to harsh winters.

  • Gustave Line says...

    In reference to Mr. Heikkala’s comment, I agree with him about small towns that were important parts of Upper Peninsula’s history will be lost to new generations. Although there are many local writers who have written about many of smaller towns, it seems that very few of their writings get anywhere beyond the local areas and it i sad.

    On May 29, 2017

  • Jake Heikala says...

    I find this interesting, but sadly it leaves out many of the smaller towns that had an important part in UP history because they are small settlement now. Just as Gus and Tereza point out about Lake Linden and Munising. there are many other small towns in the same situation. which had an important part of history, but since they are now smaller they are not even mentioned. Sadly because of this I suspect their (small towns) role in UP history will be forgotten.

    On May 29, 2017

  • Gus O. Linja says...

    How about Lake Linden, MI it was the main copper processing site for the great Calumet and Hecla mining company, located on Torch Lake

    On Nov 13, 2016

  • Tereza says...

    How about Munising for the Pictured Rocks and amazing pasties.

    On Dec 06, 2015

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