The historic Fort Wilkins is a Michigan state park located at the tip of Keweenaw Peninsula, in the Upper Peninsula, on the Lake Superior shoreline. And if you look at the map below and see that the park is located almost at the tip of the desolate wilderness peninsula, you will understand why I called it the most remote of Michigan state parks.
However, even though it is located in such a remote and desolate place, away from major highways, it doesn’t mean that it is not popular. The park’s campground is fairly full throughout the summer. And there are reasons for it. Many people find the park setting beautiful with the natural location between Lake Superior and Lake Fanny Hooe. Also, to my surprise, despite how full it gets, it is very quiet. Finally, add to that all the activities and attractions of the area, and you get the picture.
The park’s grounds encompass 700 acres including the historic Fort Wilkins, day-use facilities, campground as well as Copper Harbor Lighthouse (built in 1866).
Fort Wilkins is a historic park because it preserves the restored 1844 military army outpost.
Historic Fort Wilkins
A Little History
Originally, the Keweenaw Peninsula was home to the Ojibwe First Nation. In 1836, the Upper Peninsula was officially ceded from the Native American Chippewa tribes to the United States.
Copper Harbor came to focus after the discovery of copper deposits in 1830’s. Soon, the Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company was formed and began excavating. As a result, in the 1840’s the “copper rush” began and that brought a number of fortune-seekers to the area. At this point the U.S. government became worried about potential disorderly conduct among the growing population and decided to place a military outpost in the area. Consequently, in 1844, Fort Wilkins was established. The army troops stationed there were to help with local law enforcement and protecting peace between miners and the local tribes. But at the end, the fort proved to be unnecessary. The Chippewa people accepted the new population, and the miners happened to be, in general, law-abiding.
Fort Wilkins Today
The historic Fort Wilkins consists of 21 buildings. You can visit the men’s housing, the officers quarters, workshops, bakery, blacksmith shop and more.
Twelve of the buildings are original construction from 1844. The other ones have been rebuilt following archaeological excavations.
The visitors are allowed to go into the buildings and look at exhibits and learn about the soldiers daily life up there in the mid-1800’s (see the pictures).
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park is open daily 8:30 a.m. to dusk from mid-May through mid-October.
To enter the Fort Wilkins State Park you need a Recreation Passport for vehicle entry. More information on how to obtain your Michigan Recreation Passport can be found by visiting the MICHIGAN RECREATION PASSPORT web page.
Fort Wilkins Campground
The park’s campground has 159 campsites and they are organized into two loops:
- East with campsites #1 – 81
- West with campsites #101 – 179.
Each site in the east loop has the 20/30-amp service available.
The west loop has nine 50-amp pull-through sites.
It is a modern campground with restrooms located one in each loop (despite the M-DNR website description stating that the modern restrooms and showers are only in the east loop!).
There are also laundry facilities located near the restrooms, and kids’ playgrounds located near each loop.
The park also has two cabins and a group campground.
The campsite are relatively small, and densely packed, but are often separated from each other by trees and vegetation. Many people consider Fort Wilkins one of the quietest places they have ever stayed at. The sites, unfortunately, because of frequent use in season, are mostly dirt with a little grass. Currently (April 2023), there is a message on park’s official website, stating that the park management is trying to address the issue by closing some sites from time to time, for grass restoration.
The sites in the west loop from #140 and up are paved and level.
The campground does not have lakeshore sites, so everyone has access to Lake Fanny Hooe.
The park gets crowded during the Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day weekends. And they’re often nearly full most weekends of the summer.
According to the M-DNR website, the wi-fi is available at both loops and at the park store. It is especially important because the cell coverage is problematic in the park.
Souvenirs, snacks and beverages are available at the concessions store operated by the park’s friends group.
Other Area Attractions
- Copper Harbor Lighthouse (Copper Harbor Rear Range Lighthouse) – one of the first lighthouses on Lake Superior built in 1866. Unfortunately, can be seen only by the boat tour (see below).
- Manganese Falls. You can find more info here.
- Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary – “The Estivant Pines is the largest tract of old-growth Eastern White Pines preserved in Michigan. It contains hundreds of 300-500 year old white pines measuring anywhere from 3 to 5 feet in diameter!” More info about visiting Estivant Pines can be found here.
- Brockway Mountain – Brockway Mountain Drive which is a 9-mile scenic road in Copper Harbor with amazing views of Lake Superior from up to 1,300 feet above sea level.
- Delaware Mine Tours – The Delaware Mine is an authentic mine that operated from 1847 until 1887, during the country’s first major mining boom. The mine can be toured from June to October. There are guided and self-guided tours offered. Find more info here.
- Mountain biking trails – Keweenaw Adventure Company runs a mountain bike shuttle to the top of Brockway Mountain. You can obtain a day pass that will take you and your bike to the summit so you can enjoy riding down as many times as you like… Mountain biking is available on trails south and southwest of Lake Fanny Hooe. More info is available here.
- Biking trails – Two miles of hard packed gravel trail between the park and Copper Harbor. Cycling is also permitted on all state park paved roads.
- Hiking trails – Running around the park, roughly parallel to the park boundary is a 2 ½ -mile trail that provides great views of Lake Fanny Hooe and Lake Superior.
- Fishing – Excellent walleye and splake fishing in Lake Fanny Hooe and excellent splake fishing in Copper Harbor.
- Boating – There is a boat launch providing access to Lake Fanny Hooe.
- Kayaking/Canoeing – you can kayak/canoe on Lake Fanny Hooe and in Copper Harbor. More information about kayaking/canoeing in Copper Harbor and rentals can be found here.
- Agate hunting on the beach. More info here.
- Boat tours – Copper Harbor Lighthouse Boat Tours are available from Memorial Day through mid-June. More info available here. There are also a day trips to Isle Royale. You can find more information here.
- MDNR – Fort Wilkins Historic State Park
- Fort Wilkins Natural History Association
- MTB Project – MTB Trails near Fort Wilkins
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If you are interested in reading more about the area, here is my post about Copper Harbor: Visiting Copper Harbor in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula