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Copper Harbor, Michigan

Keweenaw Rocket Range

The site where Michigan launched its first rocket into space lies abandoned in the dense woods along Lake Superior. 

Secluded within a thicket of trees along Lake Superior is a bit of an unexpected sight. A plaque built upon a concrete square is almost hidden among the tangles of lush greenery, preserving a piece of history sure to delight any aircraft enthusiasts who stumble upon it.

The plaque celebrates the woodland’s little-known contributions to atmospheric exploration. The first rocket from Michigan to actually enter space was launched there on January 29, 1971, as the plaque commemorates. 

NASA only used this somewhat hidden launch site from 1964 to 1971. During that brief span, the agency shot Nike Apache rockets and Arcas zooming into the atmosphere. It sent rockets soaring high above the trees to collect data about electron density, solar X-rays, energetic electron precipitation, and other scientific measurements.

Now abandoned for decades, campfire-building hikers and mountain bikers are the only ones who visit the overlooked site. It’s a bit of a trek to get to, as the roads are rough and the woods thick with vegetation. The views of Lake Superior and Manitou Island, as well as this small dose of forgotten history, make the trip worth it.

Know Before You Go

The road to this site is rough, so you may want to take a beat-up 4WD or a snowmobile in the winter. Go down Rocket Range Road, past Schlatter Lake, to the far eastern shore of the Keweenaw.Alternatively, you can get there using one of the best mountain bike trails in the state. Start at the Point Trail (phase 2) trail head on Mandan Road. You should stop at the Keewenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor to pick up a trail map and rent a bike if you need.