Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park, located in Michigan in the middle of Lake Superior, is one of the least visited and most remote national parks in the United States. The fact that it is also one of the most revisited parks in the country speaks to the amazing experience that it offers backpackers, canoeists, scuba divers, fisherman and wildlife enthusiasts. Perhaps that is why CNN called it an isolated paradise in 2013. If you want to see the aurora borealis in the United States or have a chance at spotting a wolf, then Isle Royale is the park for you. There are 165 miles of hiking trails on the island untouched by cars, bikes and dogs.
Open / Close / Reopening Status of Isle Royale National Park due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Isle Royale and its surrounding islands are currently closed to all visitors. The park is typically closed annually until April 15th but a closure order was issued on April 14th under the authroity of 36 CFR 1.5(a)(1). The closure included all boating use, scuba diving in park waters, as well as anchoring and other overnight uses in Isle Royale waters within 4.5 miles of shore.
Houghton Visitor Center closed on March 18, 2020 and is scheduled to reopen May 18, 2020.
Isle Royale has announced a delayed opening date for the island of June 15, 2020. All visitor facilities, including visitor centers, campgrounds, docks, trails and campgrounds will be closed to visitors until June 15 with no services until the opening date.
There have also been changes to the Isle Royale ferrys schedule. The first outbound trip from Houghton, Michigan to Rock Harbor will occur on June 30th. All trips to Windigo on the Ranger III have been cancelled for the year. The Keweenaw Waterway cruises have also been cancelled.
Full service at Rock Harbor Lodge is anticipated to begin on Friday, June 26th.
Last Updated: May 2, 2020
Feldtmann Loop: The Feldtmann Ridge and Island Mile trails form a 23.5 mile loop in the southwest corner of Isle Royale. It is accessible by boat or seaplane at Windigo. The loop is typically done in three days and passes Feldtmann lake, Big Siskiwit River and Siskiwit Bay. It also climbs Sugar Mountain (elevation 1329ft). The campsites along the Feldtmann Loop are at Windigo/Washington Harbor, Feldtmann Lake, Siskiwit Bay and Island Mine. In the summer, the water can dry up at Island Mine.
Greenstone Ridge Trail: A 40 mile long hiking trail on the island’s spine between Windigo on the west end of the island and Lookout Louise or Rock Harbor on the east side. This trail has the greatest elevation changes on the island and backpackers hiking the length of the trail will climb Sugar Mountain, Mount Desor, Mount Siskiwit, Mount Ojibway and Mount Franklin. There is minimal water along the trail so be sure to fill up plenty of water bottles when available. As you are above the treeline, you have great views but also are exposed to the sun during the summer days.
Minong Ridge Trail: Minong is the toughest trail on Isle Royale and perhaps the hardest hike in Michigan. It stretches 28.5 miles from McCargoe Cove to Windigo on the north side of the island. It was cut to allow firefighters access to the north side of the island and left relatively undeveloped when opened up to park visitors. It is a four day hike with campsites at Todd Harbor, Little Todd Harbor and North Lake Desor.
Rock Harbor Trail: The Rock Harbor trail takes backpackers between the Rock Harbor campground and Moskey Basin campground on the south side of the island. It is a popular trail because of the number of hikers entering the island from a ferry to Rock Harbor. Along the way are the Three Mile and Daisy Farm campgrounds. It is approximately 11 miles one way to Moskey Basin with an additional 2 miles on the Lake Richie Trail to the Lake Richie campground.
Current Astronomy Chart
Courtesy of the AstroViewer night sky map.
Some Hotels and Other Lodging Options:
Rock Harbor Lodge
The only hotel on the island is Rock Harbor Lodge on the east end of Isle Royale. There are approximately 60 rooms. The 2016 rate was $231 (non-peak) and $256 (peak). Rates are double occupancy and additional people are $53-60 a night. Lakeside rooms offer a spectacular view of Lake Superior.
Another 20 cottages were added in the 1960s in a wooded area between Rock Harbor Marina dn Tobin Harbor. They are a short walk from the main lodge and offer the option to cook your own meals because they are equipped with kitchenettes. Maid service is not provided.
Rock Harbor Lodge is operated by Forever Resorts. It also operates lodging for Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and several other state and national parks. In total, they operate 65 vacation and entertainment properties in or near national parks, recreation areas and national forests in the United States, as well as an additional 20+ properties overseas in Europe and Africa.
Rock Harbor Lodge offers the Greenstone Grill and Lighthouse Restaurant as dining options. Sightseeing cruises and fishing charters leave from the marina at Rock Harbor.
Windigo Camper Cabins
Rock Harbor Lodge also takes reservations on two one room cabins located in Washington Harbor. These cabins are located in Windigo (on the opposite side of the island approximately 45 miles from Rock Harbor Lodge). They offer electrical outlets, 2 bunk beds with mattresses, a futon sofa and table/chairs. The cabins do not have indoor plumbing. The 2016 rate was $51.95 a night.
1. During the summer, the best locations at a campground fill up by mid-afternoon. Get on the trail early if you want to park your tent in a scenic spot the next day.
2. The mosquitos and other bugs are reportedly pretty bad in June and July. Don’t forget insect repellant and you may even want to bring mosquito net headgear. Since the individual shelters at Rock Harbor, Daisy and Moskey are screened in, you can expect other people will definitely be trying to get them when the bugs are bad.
3. You have to filter your water on Isle Royale (except at Rock Harbor and Windigo where there is accessible pottable water). Each of the campsites has water nearby but you need a .4 micron or better filter. You can’t rely on UV filtration as it reportedly doesn’t prevent you from getting infected by one of the bugs.
4. Try to get on the boat toward the front so that you can grab a good spot for the 6 hour journey. If you are going to sit outside for some portion of the journey, you will probably need a light jacket, sweater or fleece as the combination of cool air and breeze makes it chilly.
5. Most campsites don’t allow fires. Bring a portable propane fuel tank, plan to boil your water and eat freeze dried food for the duration of your trip.
6. Since there are only a handful of wolves on the island, you probably aren’t going to see one. Your odds are much better at Yellowstone National Park.
7. Isle Royale is one of the best locations in the country to see the aurora borealis. Don’t forget to check for the best times to look for the northern lights before you get on the boat to the island.
8. Dogs are not allowed on the island or in the surrounding waters. They risk bringing diseases on to the island.
9. Groups of 7-10 must have advance reservations. If you have more than 10 people in a group, you must split into two groups and have separate itineraries.
10. There is no overnight canoe or kayak rental on Isle Royale. If you want to boat, secure one in advance and bring it on board the boat to Isle Royale. There is an additional fee to bring a boat over from the mainland.
11. You can eat the berries if you know what you are eating. Thimbleberries were plentiful when we visited in August. There are also blueberries on the island but the berry that looks most like a blueberry from the store is not actually a blueberry – it is not edible.
12. If you are fishing, plan appropriately. You may only use artificial lures and barbless hooks on inland lakes, streams and creeks.
Minnesota: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a 1 million acre wilderness area managed by the U.S. Forest Service within Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. It is a popular area for canoeing and fishing.
Wisconsin: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a set of 21 islands and 12 miles of Wisconsin lakeshore. It is known for its sandstone sea caves and historic lighthouses.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – The colorful sandstone cliffs along Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula rise 50 to 200 feet above the lake. A boat tour of the cliffs leaves from Munising during the summer and early fall.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park – A set of waterfalls within 50,000 acres of mostly undeveloped woodlands along the Tahquamenon River. The Upper Tahquamenon Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi with a 50 foot drop at a point where the river is 200 feet across. The lower falls is a set of five smaller waterfalls located four miles below the upper falls.
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