Due to the popularity of recent movies and books, grand adventures of long distance hiking, such as the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, have had an increase in appeal. Getting out and backpacking into the true wilderness, as a way to test one’s physical and mental abilities, is becoming attractive to everyday people who are looking for epic adventures.
For many, the opportunity to become unplugged, self-reliant and to
re-discover the beauty of nature is an irresistible siren’s call.
But what if you don’t have months of time to devote to such a quest? Or you’re a first-timer wanting to try something a little less grand before you venture off into a full-blown trek? Where can you go that will give you a taste of the experience without having to invest huge amounts of time and resources?
A perfect place to consider might be Isle Royale National Park.
- Located in the waters of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is the smallest of the United States national parks.
- About 45 miles in length and only 9 miles across at its widest point, it is accessible only by boat or seaplane.
- The park is open from April 15 until October 31 every year.
Because of this, Isle Royale receives fewer visitors in one year than Yellowstone Park receives in one day! The closest ferry point to the island is located about 600 miles from East Peoria’s Bass Pro Shops, in Copper Harbor MI. A three hour ferry ride will then bring you to the island.
- Isle Royale has been a backpacker paradise since it was established in 1931.
- The park has 165 miles of hiking trails and 36 different campgrounds.
- There are two major hubs in the park, each located at either end of the island; Windigo on the southwest and Rock Harbor on the northeast.
- This is where you acquire your backcountry/camping permit. Permits are free but are required for everyone who plans to stay overnight at the park (groups of seven or more are required to get a group permit in advance).
- A user fee of $4.00 per person (for anyone over age 11) per day is also required and should be paid for in advance of your visit.
- There are campsites located at both Windigo and Rock Harbor (there is even a lodge at Rock Harbor) and both sites have a small stores that sell food, gifts and a few backpacking supplies if you have forgotten or need to replace some essential items.
Your true wilderness adventure begins once you head away from either of the two hubs. Grab your map, don your backpack and make sure you have everything you’ll need for the number of days you will be on the trail (food, clothing, tent, sleeping bag, etc.…).
There are many trails that crisscross the island, and campgrounds are never very far from one another. The famous Greenstone trail runs the length of the island, from Windigo to Rock Harbor, along the high ridgeline that bisects the park. It offers spectacular scenery and has easy access to campgrounds via side trails.
Other trails run along the island shoreline next to the cold waters of Lake Superior, connecting one campground with the next. Still other trails are in the interior and will take you to campgrounds that are located on the edge of the many beautiful inland lakes contained within Isle Royale. The small size of the island, along with its many well marked and easy to follow trails, make the chances of getting lost for any length of time unlikely. While some trails are flat and smooth; others are rocky and elevated and will require hikers to be in good physical shape.
When moving from campground to campground you can expect to do a minimum of 3 miles per day with 6 – 12 miles per day being more likely. How much of the island you elect to explore is entirely up to you and will depend on how fast you want to move and how much time you have to spend. A typical week long stay will afford those in decent hiking shape a chance to explore roughly half of the island, or more if you really want to push it. In addition to hiking from campsite to campsite, you can also elect to catch the island ferry boat from various campsites located along the shoreline of Lake Superior. For a fee the ferry will transport you around the island allowing you to be dropped off at any of the other campsites or ports it visits.
Campgrounds throughout the island are very basic with usually 6 – 8 individual sites. Some sites also have separate areas for large group camping (these are reserved in advance). Each campground has tent sites, a water source and outhouses. Some campgrounds have a number of small shelters available, on a first come first serve basis. The shelters allow you to spend the night without having to pitch your tent. Picnic tables can be found at some of the campsites and a select few allow campfires (within designated campfire rings only).
The island contains lots of pine and birch forest as well as some swampy areas and rock outcroppings. Many different animals call Isle Royale home but it’s most famous for its moose and wolf populations. Moose sighting are fairly common during your visit but it is only the lucky few who get the opportunity to catch a fleeting glimpse of the wolves. A delicate balance exists between these two species for keeping the populations of one another in check, something you can learn more about during your visit. There are no bears on the island but many other small animals will require you to make sure you keep your food safely tucked away when not eating it.
Visitors to the park in August can treat themselves to wild berries such as blueberries, raspberries, and thimbleberries that grow readily along the trail and in the campsites. Water on the island is abundant but does require filtering and at various times of the year insects pests (mosquitos, blackflies) can reach very uncomfortable levels. Fishing is allowed on Isle Royale and a Michigan fishing license is required for anyone 18 years or older wishing to fish in the waters of Lake Superior. No license is necessary to fish the island’s interior lakes and ponds.
Now is the time to start:
For the backpacking novice, or for those who have plenty of experience and just want to get away from it all for a brief period of time, Isle Royale National Park can be a perfect choice. Fabulous scenery, no crowds, well maintained trails and campsites, fascinating wildlife, and an excellent opportunity to test one’s mettle make this little park one that is certain to be a memorable visit. Now is a great time of year to start planning your trip and getting all the necessary permits, passes and reservations you’ll need and don’t forget to visit the National Park Service Isle Royale website soon to help you learn more about this fascinating island.
Put your best foot forward at Isle Royale by first visiting your local Bass Pro Shop. We have all the equipment you’ll need to make sure you have a successful adventure. Whether it’s the putting you into the proper hiking shoes or finding you the best backpack, we have the experts who have been there and done that and can help you make the right choices. Our camping department carries a full line of backpacking supplies, everything from lightweight tents, backpacker stoves, freeze dried foods, maps, compasses, first aid kits and all the other essentials you need for wherever you want to venture. Stop by soon, we love to talk adventure!
Learn about more great outdoor/camping places, visit Bruce's other blogs:
- Springtime Camping at Starved Rock State Park
- Colmara County Park - a County Park with Tremendous Camping Opportunities
- The many reasons to camp at Peninsula State Park – Door County Wisconsin
- Turkey Run State Park – A great weekend escape!