13 Things To See and Do on the Iron County Heritage Trail
Michigan is home to more than 20 scenic byways, and five of those are designated as State Historic Byways. In addition to the byways that follow US-12, Center Avenue (Bay City), Marshall’s Territorial Road, and Monroe St. (Monroe), the Iron County Heritage Trail is one of those byways. Covering 36 miles between Crystal Falls and Iron River on US-2 (with multiple side trips in the surrounding area), this byway tells the story of how logging and iron ore mining shaped the region. Today we take a look at 13 Things to See and Do on the Iron County Heritage Trail, a guide to historic sites and outdoor recreation that the entire family can enjoy!
Iron County Courthouse (2 S 6th St., Crystal Falls) – The impossible-to-miss landmark at the top of the hill in Crystal Falls is the Iron County Courthouse. Built in 1890, it is “characteristic of the Romanesque revival period, it features a high pitched roof, high windows, deeply arched doorways, and exterior ornamentation.”
Harbor House Museum (17 N. 4th St., Crystal Falls) – Also in Crystal Falls is the Harbour House Museum, a home built in 1900 that features wrap-around porches on both levels. Visitors will find the first floor furnished as it would have been at the turn of the century, and a second floor with five exhibit room: “five exhibit rooms – a Mining/Logging/Railroad exhibit honors the building of the city and surrounding area; a Ladies Room features the contributions of women in the community; the Children’s Room provides hands-on sharing of toys and items from the past; the Sports Room highlights the accomplishments of community and school athletes; and a Veterans Room showcases those who dedicated their lives to the country.” Find out more about this museum (including covid-related updates to hours of operation) at https://www.crystalfallsmuseum-harbourhouse.org/.
Mansfield Mine Location (M-69 east of Crystal Falls; north on Mansfield Cutoff Rd.) – The road back to the Mansfield Pioneer Church has a stone memorial to the 27 men that lost their life when there was a mine collapse here in 1893.
Mansfield Pioneer Church (M-69 east of Crystal Falls; north on Mansfield Cutoff Rd.) – This late 1800s church was restored in 1987 and is now open so visitors can see what church was like when there was a settlement here. There aren’t many great examples of surviving log structures like this, but this byway has quite a few!
Amasa Museum (208 Pine St., Amasa) – A short trip north on U.S. 141 takes byway visitors to the small town of Amasa, where the old township hall has been restored as a museum. “Visitors to the Museum will find displays of mining and logging activities which were important to the foundation and growth of Amasa, a major hub for logging and transportation in the early 1900’s. Find out more at https://www.facebook.com/Amasa-Museum-111317465609483/.
Fortune Pond (roughly 1/2 mile north of U.S. 2 on New Bristol Rd.) – Fortune Pond is what remains of an open pit mining operation that has filled in with water. This is a popular fishing spot known for its rainbow trout and brook trout, and it is also a popular training site for scuba divers.
Bewabic State Park (720 Idlewild Rd., west of Crystal Falls) – One of our favorite Upper Peninsula campgrounds is at Bewabic State Park. There are around 130 sites, most of which are wooded and very quiet/private. the park also has a great beach, hiking trails, a tennis court, playground, picnic areas, and many buildings that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Check out our Photo Gallery: Bewabic State Park to see more of what this great state park has to offer.
Larson Roadside Park (four miles east of Iron River) – On US-2 travelers will find what is believed to be the first roadside park in the nation. A Michigan historical marker at Larson Roadside Park tells the story: “In 1918 the Iron County Board of Supervisors approved the recommendation of the road commission, through its engineer-manager, Herbert F. Larson, to purchase this 320-acre tract of roadside virgin timber and to dedicate it as a forest preserve. The following year Iron County established Michigan’s first roadside park and picnic tables. This was quite likely America’s first such facility. Since then similar parks have been provided by most states for the comfort and enjoyment of the traveling motorist.”
Apple Blossom Trail (Nanaimo Park, 900 4th Ave., Iron River) – The Apple Blossom Trail is a three-mile trail running from Caspian to Iron River. Following an old railroad track it also stays close to the Iron River and passes nine mine sites.
Young Recreational Complex (159 Youngs Ln., Iron River) – The area’s premiere golf course is the main draw here, but Young’s complex also offers a restaurant, aquatics center, mountain biking trails (open in winter too), cross country ski and snowshoe trails, easy access to snowmobile trails, and plenty of options for hiking and kayaking. This is truly a four-season attraction worth checking out! Find out more at https://www.experienceyoungs.com/golf/.
Iron County Historical Museum (100 Brady Ave., Caspian) – If we had to pick just one stop on this byway, the Iron County Historical Museum would be it. The “Log Cabin capital of Michigan” has an impressive collection of restored log buildings. Other exhibits include the Mining Memorial Hall, Lee Leblanc Art Gallery, the Pioneer School, Heritage Hall, the Carrie Jacobs Bond House, and many outdoor mining exhibits. Located at the site of the Caspian Mine, this complex is open from May to October each year. Find out more at https://ironcountymuseum.org/.
Pentoga Park (County Road 630) – Located on the shore of Chicaugon Lake, Pentoga Park has a campground, beach, outdoor sports facilities, picnic areas, and more. It is also the site of a former Indian village and a preserved burial ground.
Alpha Historic Buildings Complex (County Road 424) – Southwest of Crystal Falls is the small village of Alpha, which is home to a fantastic collection of historic buildings. The Porter School, Alpha Township Hall, water tower, and First National Bank building (now a museum) are all part of the “historic circle” here.
We have not yet been able to visit the Lake Ottawa Recreation Area and the Mile Post Zero/Treaty Tree, but from what we have read both would be great additions to this tour. We’ve been through this area many times in the past, and will definitely be back soon to do more exploring.