Michigan : Safety by City
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Cue the Game of Thrones meme because “Winter is Coming” to Houghton, Michigan, in the state’s Upper Peninsula (UP).
Houghton, pronounced “Hoe-tin,” as in “I’m goin’ to Houghton,” took the #8 spot on the Most Beautiful Small Towns in America by Architectural Digest in 2022.
Visitors will love this “peninsula within a peninsula” location with Lake Superior on two sides and the Keweenaw Waterway and Portage Lake right at the city’s edge.
As a bonus, Hancock, Michigan, is right across the Portage Canal Lift Bridge.
The temperature is below 32°(F) for nearly 110 days of the year, making Houghton more of a destination for winter activities.
The bitter cold makes for better skiing in the “Midwest’s Snowiest Town.”
It’s easy to see why this is the birthplace of professional hockey since Winter is more of a personality than a season.
You also get the rugged wilderness of the UP without losing access to great amenities, shopping, dining, and warm lodges or hotels.
Adventures are available above ground, below ground, and underwater.
Getting to Houghton takes determination, but leaving is hard because you fall in love with it.
Warnings & Dangers in Houghton
OVERALL RISK: LOW
This beautiful city has low overall risk, with exceptionally low crime rates and endless things to do - especially for outdoor lovers.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Michigan Technological University is here, and that helps tourists have more local bus route options. Houghton Public Transit offers a downtown route and a commuter shuttle with a larger footprint. You can get a taxi or rideshare, and rental cars are available. You should also know how to operate a snowmobile, as certain winter times require them to get around safely.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
This is a low risk, with just four purse snatchings in the past five years. You should know how to pack smart for the wilderness, as you'll be carrying it a long distance and don't want to weigh it down with unnecessary items.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
Before you say, "I LOVE SNOW!", get ready for it to fall by the foot in Houghton. The peninsula location makes it a target for lake-effect snow, which can bring strong, blinding snow bands that drop 1-2 feet of snow in a day. The average year brings 10-16 feet of snow to the city. Flooding is also a risk, and summer can bring severe thunderstorms.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
Extremely low is the only thing I can say about that. You are truly more likely to have a bear take your poorly packed food supply in the wilderness than get robbed on the streets of Houghton. Man or beast, don't let your guard down.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
Houghton is too remote and small to be a terror target. The Department of Homeland Security issues Terrorism Advisories regularly to warn about potential risks like Lone Wolf acts. You should always stay vigilant and report anything suspicious. If I had a dollar for every time I see a news story about a mass shooting or hate crime attack with a resident saying, "I never thought it would happen in our town," I'd be rich.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
This small town has been impacted by Sextortion scams, where scammers appear to be love interests on social media chats but then get lewd photos and hold them for ransom. Don't share any intimate information or photos with people, no matter how much of a connection you think you might have with them.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk if the women know how to dress, prepare, and explore the wilderness. This isn't Vail, and the wilderness areas are much more rugged and remote.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. Check with your hotel about the risk of freezing pipes and take the necessary steps to keep clean water flowing.
Safest Places to Visit in Houghton
VisitHoughton.com is the tourism website for the city, and you can also view uptravel.com for the entire Upper Peninsula region.
Even the City of Houghton website has great information for travelers.
To learn more about Hancock and the Keweenaw Peninsula, check out VisitKeweenaw.com.
Circling downtown, you’ll find brick-paved one-way streets that take you through a charming but robust downtown with boutiques and restaurants.
Several chain hotels are in this corridor, but the Vault Hotel offers a unique experience as it’s built into a former bank and has exquisite, unique details on all floors.
The A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum is a rocking good time with some of the best collections of minerals in the country.
This also paves the way for mine tours since you’ll learn about its history at the museum.
The Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw celebrates local culture, industry, and people throughout the eras.
Grab a map of the historic downtown walking tours for a self-guided adventure that extends beyond the museum walls.
Houghton has several waterfront parks, with Chutes & Ladders Playground being a great place for the kids, a specific SUP/Kayak dock for water lovers, and Nana Nature Park on the east edge of the city, offering 100 acres of exploring during all seasons.
A safe, easy boardwalk takes you along the banks of the Pilgrim River.
Don’t miss the Chalet to learn about the plants and critters you’ll see in the park.
Cross over to Hancock to learn about the mining history in this region and tour the Quincy Mine.
The views above ground are as breathtaking as the technology below it.
While on that side of the river, check out Mont Ripley ski area, the oldest in the state.
With 24 trails and tubing hills, there’s something for every skill level, and rentals are available on-site.
Isle Royal National Park is way offshore but way too cool to miss if you have time.
The park is open from April 16 – October 31 each year, and you can get there by passenger boat or seaplane.
Since this park is so remote, check out the first-timers guide on the website or download the National Park Service (NPS) app to get all the information on your mobile device.
Places to Avoid in Houghton
Houghton and Hancock are safe cities looking at crime statistics and getting feedback from locals.
These are salt-of-the-earth people who are helpful, kind, and rugged.
You’ll need that if you’re a new winter visitor because you’ll likely slide off a road in the snow.
One thing I can’t stress enough is this – even if you like snow, it can be overwhelming here.
An all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle is mandatory, and snow tires are strongly recommended.
If you don’t feel comfortable driving in snow, you should consider how you’ll get around if a major storm hits while you are there.
Lake effect snow can lead to zero visibility.
The region is also hilly, leaving even the best cars at the mercy of icy declines.
You should review YouTube videos about winter in Houghton to see if it’s really something you want to tackle.
If that just gets you MORE excited to visit, please review the county’s emergency management plans and consider taking a wilderness survival class to prepare for the unexpected.
Also, you’ll be at least four hours from any major city, and Detroit is an 11-hour drive, with Milwaukee being a 6-7 hour drive, depending on road conditions.
This is a remote location, and you’ll have hundreds of miles of wilderness around you.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Houghton
- Houghton and Hancock have their own police departments, and the Houghton County Sheriff covers the region outside of the city boundaries but also works in conjunction with local law enforcement. Calling 911 from any location will get you to the right dispatch office. UPSET is a narcotic awareness task force covering the UP. Even though the location is remote, you’ll have plenty of law enforcement officers working to keep you safe.
- When possible, park in underground lots to limit the time scraping snow off your car. You will need a snow brush and scraper, and please remove all snow, not just the stuff covering your windshield. Large chunks of snow can blow off the vehicle while driving and blind another driver. Your hood snow could even slide up and block your windshield.
- Most of Michigan is in the Eastern Time Zone, but if you are heading south into Wisconsin, you’ll cross into one of three Michigan counties in the Central Time Zone. Gogebic and Iron are the closest counties to Houghton. Knowing this is especially important if you fly out of Milwaukee or Green Bay.
- While this region is known as Copper Country, it’s also Moose Country. Especially when driving at night on dark roads, pay attention to moose crossing signs. In June 2022, five moose were hit and killed in a week.
- Beware of wolves if you are traveling with a pet or a hunting dog. In 2022, seven dogs in Houghton County were attacked by wolves, and only one survived. Even a barking dog can signal a territory war to a wolf pack.
- You also need to be wary of Black Bears in the UP. As many as 10,000 roam the UP and will leave you alone if you don’t get in between momma and baby bears or bring unsecured food. Use bear-proof containers and bring bear spray into the wild. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources provides safety advice for all wildlife encounters.
- While you’re on the DNR website, look at the rules and requirements for fishing and hunting licenses. Hunting requires specific safety training certification. Report any poaching to the department 24 hours a day by calling or texting 1-800-292-7800.
- Bring a NOAA weather radio with you into the wild. This helps you get severe weather alerts when out of mobile phone range. You can’t afford to miss information about an incoming storm.
- If you’re coming to Houghton for one of the big annual events, you should book your room early to avoid a sell-out. With the university here and busy tourist seasons throughout the year, making reservations early is important.
- Houghton Lake is nowhere near the city of Houghton. In fact, the lake isn’t even on the UP. It’s in the center of “The Mitten” part of the state. If you’re looking for nearby lakes (other than Lake Superior), check out Boston Lake.
So... How Safe Is Houghton Really?
Crime is the least of your concern in Houghton.
The city hasn’t seen more than nine violent crimes in a year since 2014, and in 2021 just one was reported.
The few crimes that do happen are among people who know each other.
It’s the weather that catches people off guard; a winter wonderland can quickly become a winter nightmare when you realize:
- More than 200″ of fall each year
- Rarely does snow have time to melt since it’s below freezing so often, leaving 5-6 feet banks of snow around
- Roads can be impassible and dangerous, beyond anything you’ve ever seen before
- Those who don’t know how to operate a snowmobile will be at a disadvantage
You also have those wildlife concerns to worry about, so study the risks and safety steps.
Summers will be warm and pleasant, but then there are the bugs of the Upper Peninsula.
I’m not just talking about basic mosquitos and ticks (of which there are plenty).
Several fly varieties are more than just annoying – they bite, sting, and leave a painful welt.
They are most common near the Lake Superior shoreline but can invade any space from spring through late summer.
If you’re just looking for an outdoor getaway close to amenities, consider a place like Port Huron, just north of Michigan.
If you really know what you’re getting into in Houghton, you are absolutely going to have the time of your life.
How Does Houghton Compare?
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You'll need a passport and visa to get into the country; tourist visas take the longest to process. Start planning early. Since the UP is still part of Michigan, it doesn't require special paperwork. It just feels like it's a whole different country.
The U.S. Dollar is the only currency accepted here. Use credit cards for purchases as much as you can for the best fraud protection. Book reservations, campsite, attractions, and park passes in advance as much as possible.
Not to beat a dead horse here, but pack a lot of warm, insulated, high-quality winter clothing. Then pack some more. Summer visitors will still want long-sleeved and pants options, whether it's to deter the bugs or stay warm on cool days. Bring shoes with a good grip and hiking boots to protect your ankles. Snow boots are a must during winter.
Houghton County Memorial Airport is eight miles from Houghton, and it's the only commercial airline for hundreds of miles. You'll need to connect at Chicago's O'Hare airport, as that's the only destination. The next best option is Green Bay's international airport, which is four hours by car.
You REALLY need travel insurance here to protect your flight should there be a delay or cancellation, your stuff in case you are left without appropriate clothing, and your health for the wilderness activities, as health care is expensive when you have to pay out of pocket in America.
Houghton Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Michigan - Safety by City
|Sault Ste. Marie||82|