If you drive 9ish hours from Detroit, you can get to a lot of places – Washington, DC, Nashville, St. Louis. What you may not think about is heading north 9 hours to Houghton in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Houghton is a quaint city nestled in the hills at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula. When I talk about what makes great cities – walkability, great downtowns, leveraging anchor institutions – Houghton has done it all right. It makes it worth the drive north to check it out.
I went to Houghton last week for a work trip. Despite arriving around 1 a.m. I still got up early, laced up the shoes and headed out. This is a beautiful city, but it’s cold. Even in May the morning temperature was in the high 30s with a chilly breeze. But the sun was shining and the scenery made me entirely forget about the chill. It was gorgeous.
Houghton , a city of about 7,000 people, sits on the Portage Canal. I ran out the door of the hotel and into the heart of downtown. Most of the storefronts are filled with charming local restaurants and shops. I took a turn down to the waterfront and ran along the paved waterfront trail.
Water is a keep part of Michigan’s identity, and Houghton uses its waterfront brilliantly. The houses are set back across the street (beautiful homes with large decks facing the canal) and the waterfront is all public. There is the trail, picnic tables, docks, and a fantastic park with a “chutes and ladders” play structure (this thing is a kid’s dream).
|The Library - a brew pub on the Portage Canal|
The next day I turned the other direction to run through Michigan Tech’s campus. Michigan Tech is a premier engineering institution, and approximately 96 percent of their students have jobs, enroll in grad school or join the military by the time they graduate. With around 7,000 students it doubles Houghton’s population. Campus is relatively small, but it was a beautiful run past the fraternity houses and around campus.
|the boat to Isle Royale National Park on the Canal|
Houghton is a city with lots of culture –with festivals in the summer and then winter – where Houghton really hits its stride. It is a great place for skiing – both downhill and cross country as well as snowmobiling and other winter sports. It is the birthplace of professional ice hockey which pretty much makes it king of winter sports.
|Storefront in Downtown Houghton|
Each year Michigan Tech hosts Winter Carnival where visitors come to see snow sculptures built by the students. This week-long celebration is supposed to be fantastic. Winter Carnival holds the world records for the largest snowball and largest snowball fight.
Granted I visited Houghton in the summer and missed all the cool winter stuff. And if you lived in Houghton I think you’d have to invest in a treadmill or supplement your running with something else like cross country skiing.
This city is 100% worth the drive. Houghton is doing everything right – investing in its community in a way that will maintain the city as a vibrant place to live, work and play for generations.
How would I rate Houghton? A+