Isle Royale

National Park

Isle Royale is not an easy park to visit, even for those living in its home state of Michigan. It is an island in Lake Superior, reachable only by a fairly expensive ferry or by private boat. I spent a few days there recently, and while I believe it is a spectacular place, I couldn't help but think that there are other places in the Superior North country that are just as pleasant but much easier to access and less expensive. The name of the park is pronounced "royal" as if the "e" were not present.
The terrain is very similar to the Boundary Waters-Quetico country on the mainland to the north. I expected most visitors to be traveling via canoe or kayak and was surprised to find that most campers were backpackers. The island has an extensive trail network and lovely terrain, but I've never thought much of this part of the country as a backpacking destination. Hordes of mosquitoes all summer long are the norm in the Northwoods and Isle Royale is no exception. Whenever canoeing in the Boundary Waters or Quetico I always hated the portages because of the mosquitoes and searched for campsites on small islands to avoid them. Hiking on Isle Royale keeps one amidst the mosquitoes all the time. Now and then I saw sea kayaks and believe this is far and away the best way to see this island. If I return that's the way I want to go. Canoe rentals are available but the rough water of Superior is poorly suited to canoes. Even the short trip to Raspberry Island is an adventure if the wind is blowing. We found the marina staff to be much more oriented to motorcraft than to paddlers.
Campsites looked quite nice and some included screened shelters- a fine idea! I stayed at the lodge at Rock Harbor on my visit and found it to be comparable to a $40 room on the Upper Peninsula, but for many times the price. At least the food is good. Camping is all first come, first served, but limited ferry space keeps the camper numbers down so most people seemed OK with the system.
Isle Royale is famous for a permanent population of wolves, though they are rarely seen. It also has a large moose population, which you are almost certain to see, especially if you hike near or after sunset.

Visit the official site.

Best short hike: Raspberry Island
Best long hike: Greenstone trail
Best place to sit for hours: Hike east from Rock Harbor to the end of the trail, where the photo above was taken
Read: A Superior Death, by Nevada Barr

Any comments are appreciated. Send me an e-mail!

All photography and text by Bill Dummitt (all rights reserved)
Website designed by JULI
See credits for this site.

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