Lake Vistas and Lush Forests
There’s a long running debate about which is “best” trail on Isle royale, and each trail has its charms. The Greenstone Ridge Trail boasts the greatest variation in elevation and in views available on the island. We attest that the Greenstone Ridge Trail views are some of the best on the island, replete with surprises through its length. We start the Greenstone from Windigo at Washington Creek Campground and share the views on the way to Rock Harbor.
The moose viewing a Washington Creek is the most frequent, consistent, and accessible on the island, but it isn’t the only place where moose abound. Departing Windigo/Washington Creek and heading toward to Island Mine, the trail is a steady uphill for six miles. On the way, the trail progressively narrows, boardwalks reduce from two-boards to one, and the climb gets steeper and steeper. On the way up, hike quietly and watch out for moose. They are not only grazing in Washington Creek. They occupy the forest on your ascent to the ridge. You may also see them grazing in the inland lakes and all along your hike through the forests. In the spring, they have young which make the cows the most dangerous animals on the island during spring and summer.
Once you scale Sugar Mountain at 1362 feet, the first stop is the Island Mine Campground, an airy and open campground just off the ridge at the junction with the Feldtman Loop Trail. The spread out campground is encircled by leafy trees for a lush forest ambiance. A tiny spring-fed creek near the campground provides water as it emerges from deep in the rocks. The spaciousness of the sites gives a feeling of receptiveness to the life that abounds in the forest that surrounds the site.
Climbing out of Island Mine, you begin the trek along the ridge crests and down precipitously to the waterfronts on the shores of inland lakes only to ascend again to the ridge. The contrasts stun the senses. Barren rock decorated with hemlock bushes, skeletons of dried evergreen trees, and plush spires of spruce emerging from cliff edges alternate with sandy or rocky waters’ edges where minnows dart and ducks swim. Sandhill cranes raise their colts amid the varied landscapes.
Out of Island Mine, the trail winds next to Mt. Desor, the highest point on the island at 1394 feet. While your legs will feel the elevation as you tread the soft dirt path, the view is one of the deciduous trees that surround you. This view will give way, from time to time, to the vistas from the exposed bedrock of the ridge itself as you approach and finally descend into Lake Desor. On its south shore, Lake Desor provides the best beach on the island with a sandy bottom and warm water, with harmless ribbon leeches. Here, waterfowl abound, including sandpipers, king fishers, mergansers, loons, herring gulls, and more. There are squirrels and fox. Dragonflies.
From the level of the South Lake Desor Campground, the trail ascends back to the rocky spine of the island toward Ishpeming Point. The views open to the north and south, water in both directions, Sleeping Giant to the north, a seeming eternity of water extends past the barrier islands to the south. Flowers peek out unexpectedly from the ground cover beneath the trees in the lush forest between the bouts of exposed rock.
The climb down into Hatchet Lake has its charms. On the way down, one is apt to sit on the edge of the carved out trail to take a five. No need to rush. Trekking poles matter here, especially to brace to prevent overaccelerating on your way down or losing footing on slippery or loose rocks. The rest at the shore is worth the effort, though. Some hate the climb out, scrambling up the the switchbacks, slipping out, propelling oneself up on trekking poles. The lake itself has a rocky shoreline.
Given that Hatchet Lake is the only designated water source between West Chickenbone Lake and South Desor, it’s nearly certain you will see it. A couple of sketchy beaver ponds between South Desor and Hatchet and an unreliable creek between Hatchet and Chickenbone Lake are the only other waters sources aside from Hatchet Lake. On the shore of the west end of Chickenbone Lake, you are nestled at lake level against the water as the trail rounds the lake. Some campsites embrace the water. Others are cocooned amidst the trees of the mixed forest, ringed by raspberry and thimbleberry bushes.
The makeup of the forest changes as you progress. At times, you hike through pine, spruce and other evergreen forests. At others, you are in cedar swamps. At yet others, the forest seems populated by maple trees or birch stands, providing a shaded forest floor that cools in contrast to the beating heat of the ridges. Some swamps are cedar filled. Others, sometimes created by beaver dams, are home to alder brush.
Lowland swamps and beaver dams surround the end of Chickenbone Lake, obscuring the trail going to the East Chickenbone junction. From here, you go either left to East Chickenbone and on to McCargoe Cove, connecting with the Minong Ridge Trail, or right to ascend the ridge again as you approach Mount Ojibway. Back on the Greenstone Ridge, the views open again to the same spectacular vistas. At the Ojibway Tower, hikers stop off to relax, baking in the sun or seeking shelter under the iron structure that, years ago, was manned by rangers, but now houses three Isle Royale webcams capturing views from its vantage point atop the ridge.
Departing the tower, the trail drops into Daisy Farm, the population center and crossroads for people coming into and departing the island from Rock Harbor and for those who are heading toward Moskey Basin and Chippewa Harbor in one direction or Lane Cove in the other. As well, Daisy Farm is the first campground out of Rock Harbor that has a multiple day stay limit where those who overestimated their hiking capabilities stop to recover and readjust their itineraries to meet their needs.
Regardless of which trails you hike, the views are extraordinary. The landscapes are varied and surprising. From one apex perched atop the exposed rock, you see Canada, and then you descend into lush forests to relax, splashing your feet in the warmish water of an inland lake. Flowers are blooming, ferns unfurl, loons laugh, and the eerie voice of wolves echo across the ridges.
And there you are again on the Rock Harbor Trail to complete the trek back to your ferry. Canadian geese and ducks abound, as do moose. These two are twin calves that currently reside at Rock Harbor where they are safe from the predatory wolves. The cow indeed is a smart mother. Within the confines of this campground “Bruce the Moose” is legendary, and a day hike out to Scoville Point will likely see him grazing along the way.