A challenge often passed by for the end-to-end experiences
The Feldtmann Loop is perfect for those arriving on Isle Royale from Grand Portage via the Voyageur II or from Houghton via the Seaplane who want the full experience but don’t have time for an extended stay. It can be done as a stand-alone in five days. It’s a four-day excursion but should be planned as five in the event of a thunderstorm that delays crossing the Feldtmann Ridge. It can also be combined with a cross-island itinerary taking the Greenstone Ridge Trail eastward at the Island Mine Trail Junction or taking the Minong Ridge Trail by overnighting in Washington Creek at Windigo and setting out on the Minong in the morning.
The Feldtmann Loop can also be combined with a Huginnin Cove Loop to extend to a seven- or eight-day excursion that warms up with the Huginnin Cove Loop or which takes on the big challenge first and winds down with Huginnin. This is the route we took in 2020 when we flew into Windigo on the Isle Royale Seaplanes when the ferries were canceled for the season.
The Feldtmann Loop starts from Windigo, overlooks and then crosses Grace Creek and parallels the shore of Lake Superior along Grade Harbor toward Cumberland Point, and the extends along to Feldtmann Lake. This first leg is about 9 miles, and it is not an easy hike. From Feldtmann Lake, it crosses Feldtmann Ridge, past the Feldtmann Tower, and on into Siskiwit Bay at more than 10 miles. Then it climbs up toward the Greenstone Ridge Trail, passing Island Mine and into the Island Mine campground at about 4.5 miles. On this leg you go from 650 feet and climb up to 1100 feet in a long gradual upward climb. Then you circle back into Windigo in 6.6 miles which are steadily downhill.
On the first leg of the loop, about 3 miles from Windigo, the Grace Creek overlook affords great views of Lake Superior, and off in the distance you can see Grace Creek. It’s a little daunting to think that you are going to hike all that way in a single day. From the lookout, you climb down to Grace Creek which is a pleasant meandering stream through the deciduous forest. It provides a nice place to sit in the middle of the first day’s hike to have lunch and filter water for the last half of the first day’s hike. It is so pleasant, we have lingered, enjoying the rippling current over the rocks and pebbles. If it’s warm, though, the biting flies will test your tolerance and the heft of your repellent. Leaving Grace Creek, you still have the bulk of the hike ahead of you, but it is a pleasant one meandering through the forest.
Feldtmann Lake campground has a two-night stay limit. There are 5 individual tent sites and 2 group sites. The campground is situated on the west shore of the lake, so the sun rises over this inland lake. For exquisite views of the sun setting into Lake Superior, hike the mile from the Feldtmann Lake campground down to Rainbow Cove where you will find a pleasant pebbly beach and a directly west-facing waterfront. If you make this hike in late summer, you will be tempted by the abundant thimbleberries that line both sides of much of the trail. Also in late summer, you will want to linger along the shore and take a dip in the cold waters of the lake after the long hike from Windigo.
It’s a tough hike along the Feldtmann Ridge Trail the second day, especially after the long hike on the first day. But the views from the ridge rival any on the island. Remember, you are hiking up from lake level at about 650 feet up to the height of the ridge and its apex at the tower before your long descent into Siskiwit Lake campground. The last three miles into the Siskiwit Lake campground are overgrown and can be difficult to follow.
Siskiwit Bay has a rocky shoreline, one that is difficult to walk along. However, the water views are spectacular and campfires are allowed in the community fire ring at the water. Siskiwit Bay is accessible by boaters, so your experience will be shared, especially in peak season. The dock affords additional opportunities for enjoying the lake, either for sunbathing or simply having a convenient place to filter water. Siskiwit Bay campground has a 3-night stay limit, 4 individual tent sites, 2 shelters, and 4 group sites. It’s the perfect place to take a zero day since you have already crossed the ridge to get to the campground and don’t need to bank the extra day any longer. The Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides usually don’t pass the opportunity to take a dip in the lake.
Island Mine campground is your next stop. While it is the shortest leg on this hike, it is not the easiest. There are beaver dams that have eradicated the boardwalks through the swamps and dammed up areas leaving Siskiwit Bay, so the best route is along the rocky/pebbly shoreline, which makes for difficult hiking. You continue along the shore for about 1.5 miles. In the middle, there is a creek you must cross; it’s too deep to walk across the mouth, so you walk into the swampy forest to a broad bridge over the river. Take your time here to locate and stay on the trail. Once across the bridge, you will return to the shore for short time. Once you leave the shore, the last part of this leg is a steady incline up past the ruins of Island Mine itself and then into the campground. The mine ruins are interesting to explore.
Island Mine has a 3-night stay limit, four individual sites and two groups sites. It has individual fire rings so you can enjoy the evening basking in the glow of the firelight. Some people are concerned about the availability of water at Island Mine, but the spring-fed trickle has always provided sufficient water every time we have stopped. It is a water source for which you will prefer a pump filter as the flow is not swift or deep.
From Island Mine, the trail descends 6.6 miles into the Washington Creek Campground which has a 3-night stay limit, 5 individual tent sites, 10 shelters, and 4 group sites. Perched along the shore of the slow-moving water of the creek, the campground provides ample opportunity for moose viewing throughout the day. As you occupy your campsite, listen for the sploosh followed by water running. This is the sound of a moose dunking and raising its head in the waters of the creek as he or she grazes on the underwater vegetation.
Washington Creek is one-half mile from Windigo which has the amenities of the store, the visitor’s center, the modern facilities with shower and laundry, the dock and canoe rentals. It’s a great place to relax for a day or two before returning to the mainland or moving along to another leg, such as the Huginning Loop, or combining with a cross-island hike along the Greenstone or the Minong Ridge Trails.
Done alone, the Feldtmann Ridge trail allows for experiences of all the landscapes of Isle Royale, from the deep forests, to the swampy beaver dams, to the rocky ridges and the fire towers, to the Lake Superior sunrises and sunsets, to the inland lakes, the forest brooks and streams. Even the ruins provide a particular perspective on the industry the island once supported. For a time-constricted itinerary that wants to do it all, the Feldtmann Ridge Loop is ideal.