If you want to scale the spine of Isle Royale National Park, you want to hike the Greenstone Ridge Trail. It meanders along the ridge from Rock Harbor (technically from Hidden Lake Dock) to the Washington Creek Campground. It is of medium difficulty, and takes you from the civilization center of Rock Harbor on the shores of Lake Superior, up and down the Greenstone Ridge and past several inland lakes, right to the shores of Lake Superior at Washington Harbor.
While there are any number of opportunities to use the Greenstone Ridge Trail to get to other points on the island, for example out to Chippewa Harbor or toward Lane Cove or Malone Bay, it is the primary means to hike the length of the island. It also provides an exit from the Minong Ridge Trail for those who choose to go from Todd Harbor to Hatchet Lake, instead of going to Little Todd or North Desor.
There are a few ways to do the Greenstone. You can do it as part of a Greenstone-Minong Ridge Loop, starting and ending in either Windigo or Rock Harbor. You can also do the Greenstone in one direction utilizing the Voyageur II for an inter-island hop. Many people at an intermediate skill level and with limited time on the island choose the hop because it requires ten days total, with eight days for hiking with a zero day for bad weather and one day for your hop. Last year, after Duane spent the day in the tent waiting out a thunder storm and then having to hike twice the distance the next day, the need for a weather day was reinforced. Check the video at about 13 minutes to see the thunderstorm that reiterated the point. If you don’t take the weather day (or if the weather doesn’t take a day), you will have an extra day for sightseeing.
On a ten-day and nine-night itinerary, intermediate-skill hikers do the Greenstone Ridge Trail in a single direction. You can start from Rock Harbor and progress to Washington Creek. However, you will need to schedule an inter-island hop to get back to your starting point. Hiking toward the hop is not recommended because any impediment can cause you to miss the hop, which causes you to miss your departure boat. If you come from Grand Portage via the Voyageur II, you can debark at Rock Harbor and hike toward tour departure boat with your planned zero day in reserve.
If your boat comes into Rock Harbor, as our excursions do, you overnight there and hike the Stoll trail on the first day. There is also opportunity to check for alerts at the Visitor’s Center and to get acclimated to the island before setting out on the trail. If you are lucky, you might spy Bruce the Moose in “downtown” Rock Harbor.
The next day, catch your hop to Windigo and stay overnight for moose watching in Washington Creek. The next day, start with the long uphill trek to Island Mine. While it is only 6 miles, it feels longer because of the steady incline. Duane shares the Queen IV boat ride and the first day here. People often start from Windigo with the intention to hike into South Lake Desor, but by the time they get to Island Mine, they are more than ready to stop. Duane recorded portions of the hike here. After that leg, the rest of the way should feel better. The long hike from South Desor to Hatchet Lake is in the neighborhood of 9 miles and can also be a challenge, but it is very doable for an intermediate hiker.
Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services recommends stopping at Island Mine because it has much to offer. Situated a half-mile off the Greenstone Ridge Trail, going toward Siskiwit Bay, it is one of the non-lakefront campgrounds with a trickling brook as your water source. Many people worry that the trickle will stop, but we have never seen Island Mine dry. It is always a trickle. Island Mine has individual fire rings at each campsite, so you can have the feel of a campfire on your adventure. A mile and a quarter out of Island Mine towards Siskiwit Bay you will come across tailing piles. Watch for a trail toward the east that will take you to the ruins from the mine. Island Mine is one of the most peaceful campgrounds because many people choose to pass it by. In early or late season when the mosquitoes are minimal, this campground is idyllic.
From Island Mine, you climb back up to the Greenstone Ridge Trail, and head toward South Lake Desor campground, which is about six miles away, as Duane shares here. You will progress up Mt. Desor, the highest point on the island at 1394 feet. The high point is not marked, but you will feel a decline once you pass it, but you ascend again shortly, as you do across all the ridges on the island. About 2 miles west of South Desor, there were be a big rock ledge on the south side of the trail which you can easily climb. Then looking north, you have a spectacular view of the Canadian shoreline where you see Sleeping Giant in repose.
Once you start into the South Lake Desor campground, you descend on a long steady drop. This feels great until you realize that you have to climb out the next day. South Lake Desor has the nicest beach on an inland lake on the island. The group sites are situated along the shore, with a sandy beach in front in full view of the summer sun. It will likely be evening by the time you arrive, but be prepared for a dip in the warm water. Yes, there may be ribbon leeches, but these are hitchhikers, not blood suckers, so just pluck them off if you begrudge them a ride. Last summer, we swam for a couple of hours and never saw a leech. It feels grand after being grimy for a couple days.
Hatchett Lake is about nine miles distant from South Lake Desor. The trail weaves through forests and past beaver dams with the occasional lookout to climb for views of the spectacular vistas from the ridge. As you progress eastward, you should notice that the trees that make up the forest through which you are walking change. You will see maple forests, birch forests, cedar groves, and stands of spruce and pine. Duane shares the general trail conditions and features here.
Heading northeast toward Hatchett Lake, you will stop to view the tower at Ishpeming Point. This tower is remarkable because there is nothing to see. The forest around it obliterates its view. The tower, though, is the junction point for the Ishpeming Trail which descends about eight miles into Malone Bay. (Stay tuned for that blog.) If you walk a couple hundred yards down the Ishpeming Trail, you will find a comfortable ridge to relax and view the valley below. We like to stop and relax there before continuing on to Hatchet Lake. As you approach, the trail descends sharply and footing can be an issue.
Hatchett Lake is picturesque with a rock-lined with a muddy bottom. I went fishing there and didn’t catch a thing. Of course, you should not use my lack of success as a reason not to try. I did see others catching fish.
Progressing from Hatchet Lake to West Chickenbone Lake Campground, you will hike about nine miles on the ridge which provides some nice views from time to time. Then you drop down a large switchback, cross the “valley of the bugs,” as Duane calls it, and cross a mucky river before getting to the campground at West Chickenbone Lake. This is Duane’s overview.
West Chickenbone Lake campground is about 8 miles from Daisy Farm, more if you take the Ojibway Trail to view to the tower. Duane shares some footage of this trail from August 2022 and from July 2022 here. About 5 miles out of West Chickenbone Lake is a recent beaver dam that is causing people a bit of consternation, at least in 2021 and 2022. In 2022, a boardwalk and rock-lined trail was under construction, but not yet complete, to traverse the swampy area with the beaver dam. Coming from West Chicken, you approach on a rock-lined trail. At the end of the trail, look toward your 11 o’clock for the boardwalk. You’ll probably get a little muddy, but hopefully it won’t have rained too much. Duane shares footage from
About a half-mile prior to the Daisy Farm-Greenstone Ridge Trail junction is a signed lookout with a fantastic view, which you should check out. After that, there are two trails that drop from the Greenstone Ridge Trail into Daisy Farm. You could choose the Daisy Farm Trail for the quickest route, or you can continue to the Mt. Ojibwa Trail, 1.5 miles past the Daisy Farm Trail, to see the Ojibway Tower at 1.7 miles out of Daisy Farm and then take the Mt. Ojibway Trail into Daisy Farm.
From Daisy Farm going toward Rock Harbor, there are a few routes to choose from. You can take either the Rock Harbor Trail into Three Mile and on to Rock Harbor, or you can take the Ojibway trail back up to the Greenstone Trail and come down the Mount Franklin Trail into Three Mile then take either the Tobin Harbor Trail or the Rock Harbor Trail from Three Mile into Rock Harbor. There is a running debate about which is easiest to take to Rock Harbor. Some people prefer the Rock Harbor Trail because it has fewer ankle-twisting hazards and is almost 3/4s of a mile shorter than the Tobin Harbor Trail with its rocks and roots. The Rock Harbor Trail has different impediments, Its giant rock escarpments can be tough to navigate versus the rocks and roots on the Tobin Harbor Trail. So it’s generally six of these or half a dozen of those. Either way you choose, we recommend a brief stop to view Susy’s Cave halfway between Three Mile and Rock Harbor.
Back in Rock Harbor, you will enjoy the modern amenities. You can take a shower (under $10), do laundry (about $10) and stop for dinner at the restaurant or grill. You an also find snacks and souvenirs at the Lodge Gift shop, the Rock Harbor Store, and the Visitor’s Center.
Reach out to us at Wise Old Man of Isle Royale if you want help planning your itinerary or want to discuss the possibility of a guided hike, reach out to us at Wise Old Man of Isle Royale via our contact button, by phone at 9o6-2o1-1588, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.