In the never-ending quest for reduced screen-time, fresh air, and family fun, we hit the road on an early fall afternoon to explore one of the Keweenaw’s most beloved “ghost towns”: Freda, MI. While not a traditional ghost town (people still live in Freda), its really accessible and has a great mix of history and outdoor adventure. Plus, there are some beautiful scenic spots we love exploring on the way like Redridge Dam and Covered Road.
Keweenaw Planning Tips
Before you begin this adventure, here’s a few things we learned along the way. It’ll make your trip stress-free and memorable (in a good way):
- Plan your Route: Be sure to take a good look at travel route and become familiar with which roads you plan to take. Cell coverage can be spotty in parts of the Keweenaw and once you leave the Houghton area to head west, your phone may not have a connection. We tried to change our route along the way and ran into a little trouble.
- Wear a Good Pair of Hiking Shoes: You’ll need a good set of hiking shoes with solid tread to reach a few of our recommended destinations. Sliding on your backside down a path may sound fun, but maybe that’s not your style. We wore our old tennis shoes and did a fair amount of sliding going down some of the steeper paths.
- Drinks and Snacks: You won’t find a convenient store or restaurant along this route so bring something to drink and snack or two. We were able to do this trip in about three hours and were glad we planned ahead.
Freda Ghost Town Web Map
Maps make everything more fun! Check out this map of our Freda adventure to see where we explored.
Covered Road: A Scenic Drive
Their are a few different back roads you can take to get to Freda, but do yourself a favor and head down Covered Road. It’ll add a few minutes to the trip, but this scenic drive is well worth it. This dirt road is maintained well enough for any vehicle but take it slow as it is a bit narrow for two-car traffic.
As you drive along, you’ll notice that the boughs of the trees reach over the road creating a cathedral effect (hence the name) for 2-3 miles. Despite the dense canopy cover, the forests are relatively free of undergrowth so the scenery is very picturesque. There are plenty of turnouts to park your car and take photos, so there’s no need to park in the middle of the road like we did.
*A quick amendment to the planning section above: Along Covered Road we stumbled upon Grego Farm which sales local seasonal vegetables and fruit. We planned on stopping on the way back, but got a little lost and missed it. We’ll be sure to check this out later this fall.
Exploring the Redridge Dam Waterfall
When you come out on the north end of Covered Road, take a left and you’ll enter the small community of Redridge. This is also considered a “ghost town” that we’ll explore another day. As you leave the community, you’ll see a sandy turnout to your left. We pulled over here to do a little waterfall exploration of the Redridge Dam: a historic dam built in 1901.
A couple of things to note: there’s no signage here so it was a little difficult to navigate event for pro local explorers like us :). The trails are a little tricky to navigate because of the tree roots and steepness.
The path from the parking area will take you a short ways along the Salmon Trout River and up to the steel dam landmark. Over the years, many a visitors has used spray-paint to colorfully tag the massive walls. We were impressed by a few budding artists.
There were several small footpaths to choose from, but we eventually found one that looked more well-worn than others in order to get to the opposite side of the dam. Heading up and then down through a narrow trail of reeds and brush, we can out to an incredible view of the steel and concrete works and the original mesh of timber and stone that still hold back Salmon Trout River.
As we came upon the river, we noticed a couple of visitors fishing and several past bonfire sites. The original dam creates a human-made waterfall as the river spills over the rock and timber. The expansive river and tree-lined landscapes were really offered a peaceful view and we stayed awhile to take it all in.
Ghost Town of Freda
We moved on from Redridge and headed west toward Freda to reach our ghost town destination. Make your way toward the original smoke stack of the Freda stamp mill, which dominates the landscape, to find the visitor parking area. Respect the “no trespassing” and “no littering” signs to keep this historic location accessible to visitors.
History of Freda’s Champion Mill
At its peak, the community of Freda had around 500 residents, but it is sparsely populated today. Freda was owned and maintained by the Champion Mining Company and largely existed to serve the large Champion Copper Mill, which processed copper-bearing rock from the nearby Champion Mines. With the mill’s closure 1967, much of the population left.
The mill processed copper-bearing rock using five large stamps which crushed the minerals into pieces. Water from Lake Superior was added, and the pieces were pulverized by iron balls. A slurry solution resulted containing forty percent copper or more. This was hauled by rail to the smelter in Houghton to create copper ingots.
The Champion Mill Ruins
From the parking area we took a very steep foot path down to the ruins. Tread carefully to avoid a spill. Once at the bottom we were able to walk among the concrete ruins. You’ll feel the immense scale of the mill’s operations as you explore the grounds. The remains have the feel of a large, open amphitheater. We were tempted to try out our vocals but opted not to out of respect to the residents.
The concrete foundations and smoke stack are all that remain from the mill. Everything of value (iron, steel, etc.) was salvaged after its closing. But plenty of interesting relics remained, and we had fun trying to guess the purposes of various structures. Plus the views of Lake Superior were just incredible.
Lake Superior – Sandstone & Beach Glass
On the far side of the ruins toward the smoke stack, we found a trail down to Lake Superior. The beach is black with bits of stamp sand deposited from the mill’s operations. This crushed aggregate material runs the shoreline.
Two things immediately stood out: Incredible access to towering sandstone cliffs and troves of Lake Superior tumbled beach glass. The sandstone walls glistened with dew making the hues of red, white and gray stand out in stark contrast. It had a “Pictured Rocks” vibe that made for a great photo backdrop and a mini-climbing adventure.
Another highlight of the visit was a small, human-made waterfall from the mill’s former operation. A concrete channel funneled water down to the beach creating a rushing flow over the sandstone walls. While only about a seven foot drop, it was a great find.
To our amazement, scattered all along the shore, was bits of beach glass. We had no trouble spotting chunks of this Lake Superior treasure as we explored the beach. We theorized the source of glass came from a combination of the storm from the night before, the relatively recent closure of the mill, and the popularity of the site for local over-night campers. No matter the reason, we were able to find dozens of pieces in all shapes and colors. After about thirty minutes of beach combing, we had our fill and trekked back to the parking area.
About the Authors
Brad Barnett is the Executive Director of the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau. Eleanor Barnett is a nine year old (soon to be 10) beach glass enthusiast.