Sitting in the western area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Iron County has a long and varied history. It is one of the oldest counties in the state, established in 1885. The county covers 749,440 acres of land and 44.67 square miles of surface water. This forested county is home to just under twelve thousand year round residents. People come here from across the globe to hunt and fish in the fall, snowmobile and cross country ski in the winter, hike and camp in the spring, and enjoy the water in the summer.
Before settlement by Europeans the area was the hunting and fishing grounds of the Ojibwa Indians who migrated from the New England area. White settlers quickly realized that the land had iron deposits, hence the name of the county after it was pulled from Ely township, Marquette County.
Because of the long history in this county there’s a certain flavor here that cannot be found anyplace else. From the long forgotten ghost towns and remains of railways, mines, and other relics of the past to the remaining vibrant communities that boast as centers of year round activities for the modern outdoor buff, Iron County has a lot to offer.
One thing you will notice when you visit here is as that there are a lot of small lakes, over 400 of them mostly in the northern areas of the county, and a number of rivers that wind through this hilly, forested, terrain. These hills are the product of glacial deposits that overly the rich iron ore of the Menominee range. The rivers, Brule River valley to the south, Iron River valley to the west, and the eastern Paint River Basin imprint on the character of the land here, providing many opportunities from hydro-power generation to boating, fishing, and swimming options.
The population lives in scattered communities, dominated by a wilderness character that comes from the vast forests here. The western third is part of the Ottawa National forest, while much of the northern half are owned by forest management companies. You will not find many farms here except in the lower southern area of the county because of the short growing season. The majority of the population lives in the south along U.S. 2. there are eight communities altogether, Iron River, Stambaugh, Caspian, Gaastra and Mineral Hills make up one cluster, while Crystal Falls, Alpha, and Amasa make up the other with the last community holding the distinction as being the only one in the northern half of the county.
When you make your way through Iron County you will be struck with the contrast between the vibrant communities and the vast and only marginally tamed wilderness. The area is known for its forests and lakes, and the history of the location whispers through the wind, often startling the modern camper or hiker with a hidden reminder of bygone eras, be it arrowheads, blocked mine shafts, or railroad lines long forgotten. One might even chance upon a ghost town here.