Six Best Choices
Base camping on Isle Royale allows for a slower and more peaceful experience than backpacking. There are six excellent choices for base camping on the main island, Including Daisy Farm, Moskey Basin, Chippewa Harbor, Malone Bay, Windigo/Washington Creek, and McCargoe Cove. Regardless of your entry point, you will need to coordinate hops on the Voyageur II or the Water Taxi in order to access your base camp and then to return to your departure point from the island unless you base camp in Washington Creek Campground in Windigo a point from which you can enter and depart the park via Grand Portage, Minnesota.
Daisy Farm is accessed by hopping from Rock Harbor on the Water Taxi or on the Voyager II. It is situated on Lake Superior but sheltered in Rock Harbor. Because Rock Harbor has a one-night stay limit, you have to coordinate carefully to make sure you don’t miss your boat if you choose the Voyageur II, which is more cost friendly. To depart Daisy Farm on the Voyageur II, you need to hop into Windigo and catch the Voyageur II the next day, or you can schedule with the Water Taxi, being mindful that the Water Taxi will not sail in bad weather. On the overnight stay in Windigo’s Washington Creek campground, you can visit the store, do laundry, and get a shower.
Daisy Farm is a social crossroads. People coming in from the Greenstone and the Minong often stop over in Daisy Farm. People heading onto the Greenstone traverse through Daisy Farm as well. It is also a stopping off point for people who find that they do not want to maintain the ambitious plans they started out with and prefer to day hike out of Daisy Farm instead of carrying their gear any further. Daisy Farm is the first leisure stay out of Rock Harbor, where you can just take a day to regroup.
Daisy Farm has 16 shelters, 6 individual tent sites, and 3 group sites. It also has a dock, which is popular with the fisherman, and on Wednesdays and Saturdays (weather permitting) the Petersons share their moose and wolf presentation. A ranger is often stationed in Daisy Farm.
If you day hike from Daisy Farm, you can visit the Mt. Ojibway tower on the Greenstone Ridge via the Ojibway Trail, or you can continue on the Rock Harbor Trail to Moskey Basin. Fishing from the Daisy Farm dock also is popular.
Moskey Basin has spectacular views of the length of Rock Harbor. The waterfront shelters enjoy wonderful sunrise views. It has 6 shelters, 2 individual sites, and 2 group sites with a three-night stay limit. The campsites at this campground are highly sought after, and the stay limit makes it difficult to acquire one. Even if you don’t, you can enjoy the water views from the dock. This is a popular destination for dingy renters from Rock Harbor because it is so pretty and an easy boat ride from Rock Harbor, weather permitting.
You must use the Water taxi to get to Moskey Basin, as the Voyageur II does not visit this dock. From Moskey Basin, you can day hike to Lakes Richie, LaSage, and Livermore as all are close by. Bring your fishing pole and artificial barbless bait to comply with island rules if you plan a fishing excursion from Moskey Basin.
Chippewa Harbor is a more secluded destination that also has a three-day stay limit. It is not as populated as some of the other campsites because it is at the end of a dead-end trail, but Chippewa Harbor has 4 shelters, 2 individual tent sites and a single group site. Nearby points of interest include the Johnson Schoolhouse, Lake Mason, and a splendid view of Lake Superior from a ridge that rises past the groups site.
Chippewa Harbor is served by the Voyageur II and Water Taxi. To depart, you either schedule a Water Taxi or you have to catch the Voyageur II into Windigo to spend the night in Washington Creek to return via the Voyageur to Rock Harbor the following day. This affords a visit the Windigo Store where you can purchase food and mementos. You can also get a shower and do laundry. Moose viewing is always possible in Washington Creek.
Malone Bay, like Chippewa Harbor, is remote, and situated on the shore of Lake Superior. It is popular with the boaters, but backpackers are less likely to visit as it is at the end of an 8-mile hike from the Greenstone Ridge down the Ishpeming Trail. Backpackers tend to eschew the hike back out, as the ascent to the ridge is strenuous, and the nearest campground is Hatchet Lake or South Lake Desor, making a hike into or out of Malone Bay a grueling day.
Malone Bay has 4 shelters, no individual tent sites, and two groups sites. Because of its popularity with boaters, you may find it difficult to get a shelter because of the stay limits. However, it is not unusual for boaters to share their catch, cooked outdoors on the standing grills, with individual hikers. Malone Bay campground has a waterfall nearby, and it also has a dock and a visitor’s center that is not staffed. There are ranger quarters that are staffed intermittently.
From Malone Bay, it is only a short walk to reach Siskiwit Lake, the largest inland lake on the island, a popular fishing spot for kayakers and canoeists. Consider taking yours. Malone Bay is the farthest to the south and west served by the Water Taxi, it is also served by the Voyaguer II heading from Rock Harbor to Windigo.
McCargoe Cove is excellent for base camping with its three-night stay limit and 6 shelters, 3 individual tent sites, and 3 group sites. McCargoe Cove is the farthest north and west the Water Taxi goes, and it is served by the Voyaguer II on its east bound trip from Windigo to Rock Harbor. On the north side, McCargoe Cove is known for its fishing. Across the cove from the dock is a loon nesting area where bird watching is optimum. It has a community fire ring where hikers and boaters alike enjoy gathering and sharing stories.
McCargoe Cove also offers access to the historical Minong Mine, and on a 14-mile day hike you can visit Todd Harbor, which is shallow and presents opportunities for swimming. Of course, you can swim in McCargoe Cove, but the water is deep and cold throughout the summer.
Windigo/Washington Creek is a great place to base camp. It offers access to the Greenstone, Minong, and Feldtmann Ridge trails as well as the Huginning Cove loop, utilizing the Huginnin East and West Trails. It has a three-night stay limit, and you can sandwich three nights at Huginnin between two stays at Washington Creek for nine days in heaven with only 8 to 10 miles of hiking. Check out my previous post for more information on a Windigo base camping adventure.
Lake Superior Campgrounds that don’t support base camping: Campgrounds with single-night stay limits, such as Rock Harbor, Three-Mile and Lane Cove, won’t work for base camping. As well, only those campgrounds served by a ferry or the water taxi can work. That removes favorites, such as Rock Harbor, Three-Mile, Lane Cove, Todd Harbor, and Little Todd Harbor from the list. However, base camping allows those who don’t want to backpack the opportunity to enjoy this gem of an island on their own terms.