Getting to Isle Royale: Ferry Options from Michigan and Minnesota

Isle Royale Ferry Options

There are four options to get to the island if you don’t own a boat capable of crossing Lake Superior. Boats depart from two cities in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and one from Minnesota. You can also get to the park by seaplane.

The seaplane is operated by Isle Royale Seaplanes. It departs from Houghton County Airport and lands on the water in Windigo or Rock Harbor. The flight takes about 35 minutes and a round trip ticket costs $310. Flights are typically available from May 19th to September 23rd or so (excluding Wednesdays)

The shortest ferry trips are from Grand Portage, Minnesota. The Voyageur II will drop off and pick up passengers on the island at Windigo, Rock Harbor, and various points in between (McCargoe Cove, Belle Isle, Daisy Farm, Chippewa Harbor and Malone Bay). It docks for the night at Rock Harbor after traversing the north end of the island. The next day it traverses the south side of the island before returning to Grand Portage.

The Seahunter III typically operates daily from mid-June through Labor Day between Grand Portage and Windigo. It offers both a day trip rate ($67 for a four hour layover on the island) and a camping rate ($71 for an adult one way).

The Isle Royale Line operates the Isle Royale Queen IV out of Copper Harbor, Michigan. The passenger ferry makes the trip back and forth in the same day. It departs Copper Harbor at 8 AM and departs Isle Royale at 2:45 pm. It takes 3.5 hours to make the 55 mile crossing. The round trip fare for an adult in 2016 was $124-136 depending on whether it was peak or off-peak season. The benefit of taking this ferry compared to the Ranger III is that you have a later departure from the national park. If you take the Ranger III, you will need to sleep the final night at either Rock Harbor (near the dock) or Three Mile Island (with a very, very early hike).

The National Park Service operates the Ranger III ferry out of downtown Houghton, Michigan. The Ranger III is the largest moving piece of equipment owned and operated by the National Park Service. It offers passenger service from the end of May through early September for up to 128 passengers per voyage. The trip from Houghton is approximately 6 hours and the boat returns the next day. Houghton departure days are Tuesdays and Fridays with the boat traveling northwest from Portage Lake to Lake Superior. It returns from Rock Harbor on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The boat departs at 9 AM (definitely get there early) and arrives around 3 PM. Breakfast and lunch are available on board. An excellent collection of board games is also available. The one way cost for an adult is between $53 and $63 per person (depending on whether it is the busy season). Reservations are available by email, fax, mail or over the telephone. Parking at the facility in Houghton is available for free with this option.