When the hip outdoor sporting magazine Outside listed Houghton (Hoe-ton) among America’s “next wave of dream towns,” you knew times were a-changin’. Ho-where? Well, turns out Outside may have something here.
Houghton—and the adjacent city of Hancock—not only offers great sporting diversions, it boasts a quirky ethnic flair, streets lined with beautifully preserved early-1900 buildings, and a university to add a dollop of culture and liveliness. If you find old mining ruins intriguing instead of ugly, then the Houghton and Hancock area is downright pretty, too.
Houghton (population 7,000) and Hancock (population 4,300) face each other across the Portage Waterway, with homes and churches tumbling down steep 500-foot bluffs. (Especially on the Hancock side, streets can be downright unnerving, rivaling those in San Francisco for pitch.) The Portage Waterway effectively slices the Keweenaw in two, a 21-mile passage that saves boaters the 100-mile-trip around the peninsula.
A unique lift bridge spans the waterway to link Houghton and Hancock, its huge center section rising like an elevator to let water traffic pass. Today, the Portage Waterway largely serves pleasure boaters and the 125-foot Ranger III, the ferry that transports hikers to Isle Royale National Park , 70 miles northwest. Houghton and Hancock are considered the gateways to the Keweenaw  and to Isle Royale—but visitors just whizzing through will miss an appealing slice of the region.
You can conduct your own historic walking tour of Houghton by strolling down Shelden Avenue, the city’s main street. Tall facades of red brick and red sandstone line the street, like the Douglass House Hotel (517 Shelden Ave.), built in 1860 as a luxury hotel and dining establishment for travelers through the Portage Waterway.
An addition in 1899 provided the lavish building you see today. The Finnish-American Heritage Center (601 Quincy St., 906/487-7367, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, free) maintains a gallery open to the public that features Finnish artists, as well as archives of the area’s Finnish settlement.