Finding Yourself on the Greenstone

Five Reasons to Hike the Main Spine of Isle Royale

The Greenstone Ridge Trail traverses the island from end to end. Starting at the Hidden Lake Dock in the east and progressing to Windigo on the western end of the island, the Greenstone Ridge Trail affords the quintessential experience of Isle Royale.

Hidden Lake
Moose Grazing in a Pool at a Beaver Dam

While there are dozens of reasons for why you would want to hike the Greenstone Ridge Trail from end to end, here are my top five.

First, the hike is doable. While all of Isle Royale is filled with rocks and roots, this hike is moderate/intermediate. It requires planning and preparation, but most backpackers can manage it. To traverse the full length of the trail, you must take a water taxi to Hidden Lake Dock. The trip is weather-dependent, so many people miss that first section as the taxi can only transport out of Rock Harbor in calm waters. If the taxi can’t run, then you simply start your hike from Rock Harbor along the Rock Harbor Trail into Daisy Farm and then ascend the ridge to West Chickenbone Lake. If you don’t go to Daisy Farm, you can choose to go to Lane Cove. Or you can stop off at Three Mile and carry on to West Chickenbone. There are many ways to get where you are going.

Monument Rock prior to the 2021 Horne Fire
Greenstone Ridge Trail from Hidden Lake

Second, the trail provides the highlights of the island. Starting at Hidden Lake, you get a good sense of Lake Superior, and ascend the ridge quickly for the grand views of the archipelago with the scattering of smaller islands surrounding the larger island as you make your way across. If you can’t start at Hidden Lake, you can traverse the shore of Lake Superior for the first seven miles before ascending the ridge to the same views of the surrounding vistas, at times to the north to Canada and at other times to the south toward the smaller islands and the open water of Lake Superior to the south. It fills you with awe.

Third, the heights of the island with its grand views are interspersed with descents to the interior lakes to water sources and campsites on pristine inland lakes where moose and loons abound along with fox and beaver as well as sandhill cranes, great blue heron, king fishers, mergansers, and other water fowl abound. Hatchet Lake smells like fresh water, Lake Desor like pine needles. You can bathe in the waters, fish in them, or simply absorb their beauty from your vantage point along the shore.

Dragonfly at rest on a Dry Log

Fourth, the tranquility of the island fills your soul as you breathe the fresh air and exert yourself in the hike. Whether the sun shines or the clouds open upon you in torrents, your closeness to the earth connects and grounds you in ways that you cannot experience with cell service, excessive chatter, and vehicular traffic. As you place one foot in front of the other on the rugged path which sometimes disappears along the rocks, you tread along the bedrock and step over juniper bushes. Blueberries and thimble berries taste exquisite as you nibble them. Winter greens are delicious.

Fifth, you can find yourself among the rocks and ridges. When you take away the noise of the world, its demands and needs, when you stand there yourself, faced with the challenges you placed before yourself by taking up the 46 miles from end to end, you discover who you are. You dig in. You bear down. You develop buoyancy. Against the backdrop of a hundred years old pines and the chatter of squirrels warning of your presence, you come to know yourself.

Birch Trees at Hatchet Lake
Loon at Lake Desor

After West Chickenbone Lake, you visit Hatchet Lake and South Lake Desor. You pass the apex of the Island at Mount Desor and then stop at Island Mine on the way to Windigo. You can visit the ruins near the campground at Island Mine and even visit the cemetery before you head down the last six miles to complete your journey. Still, you will reach your destination long before you get to the Washington Creek Campground.

Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides specialize in hikes for people who want to discover the world of awe that unfolds before them as they challenge themselves to connect with the physical world in real and tactile ways. We help people fill their souls with the music of nature as they make their way in this pristine wilderness. We don’t go fast. We go deep into the spirit of the place and breathe it until we are one with it. Check out our scheduled 2023 itineraries. Or let’s work together to find dates that work.

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