We are open for reservations for 2024 with one Chippewa Harbor, one Greenstone Ridge, one Daisy Farm Loop, and one Minong Ridge excursion on the books for 2024.
TheChippewa Harbor excursion is scheduled for the 14th to the 20th of June 2024. We are at a hotel in Copper Harbor on the night of the 14th and depart on the Queen IV on June 15th. On the evening of the 15th, we hike out to Scoville Point via the Stoll Trail. We catch a hop to Chippewa Harbor on the 16th and day hike in Chippewa Harbor and over to Lake Mason. On the 17th, we traverse the Indian Portage Trail to Lake Richie and take the Lake Richie Trail to Moskey Basin where we awake to an awesome sunrise over the water. From Moskey Basin, we hike the Rock Harbor Trail to Daisy Farm where we can enjoy visiting with others at the dock. From Daisy Farm, we go up to the Ojibway Tower for spectacular views toward the north to Canada and southward over Lake Superior. From the tower, we hike on the ridge over to Mount Franklin and down into Three-Mile Campground for the night of the 19th. Then we hike into Rock Harbor on the final day for shopping, lunch at the Greenstone Grill, and boarding slightly after 2:00 PM. If we start early from Three-Mile, we may have time to hike out toward Scoville Point.
The challenging Greenstone Ridge excursion is scheduled from June 28 to July 8, 2024. On the 28th, we are at a hotel in Copper Harbor for departure on the Queen IV on the 29th. On the evening of the 29th, we hike out to Scoville Point via the Stoll Trail. On the 30th, we catch the Voyageur II to Windigo for evening moose watching in Washington Creek. July 1, we hike to Island Mine for the night. That evening, we can hike over to the Island Mine Ruins. On the 2nd, we hike past the highest point on the island at Mt. Desor and camp at the South Lake Desor Campground. On the 3rd, we will stop by the Ishpeming Point fire tower on the route to Hatchet Lake. We spend the 4th of July in solitude at West Chickenbone Lake Campground. From Chickenbone, we hike into Daisy Farm with an optional side trip to the Ojibway Fire Tower. From Daisy Farm, we take the short hike into Three-Mile with an optional day hike up to the Mt. Franklin Lookout. We spend the night of the 7th in Rock Harbor for a July 8 return to Copper Harbor on Queen IV. Again, with an early start from Three-Mile, we may have time to complete a day hike to Scoville Point.
If a shorter excursion is your thing, we have a Daisy Farm Loop from August 15 to 19, 2024. We spend the night in Copper Harbor on the 15th, and take the Queen IV to Rock Harbor on the 16th and proceed directly to Three-Mile Campground with a stop at Susy’s Cave. On the 17th, we hike to Daisy Farm to catch the Wolf-Moose presentation if available. On the 18th, we hike up to the Ojibway Tower, over to the Mt. Franklin Lookout, and back down to Three-Mile Campground where we have time to wade in Lake Superior. On the 19th, we hike back into Rock Harbor. We can take an optional hike out toward Scoville Pt., returning in time for boarding shortly after 2:00.
The final scheduled hike is a strenuous Minong Ridge Trail excursion from August 30 to September 9, 2024. On the 30th of August, we are at a hotel in Copper Harbor for departure on the Queen IV on the 31st. On the evening of the 31st, we hike out to Scoville Point via the Stoll Trail. On the 1st, we catch the Voyageur II to Windigo with evening moose watching in Washington Creek. On the 2nd, we complete the longest and most difficult leg of the hike from Washington Creek to North Lake Desor Campground. On the 3rd, we cross the steep elevation changes between Lake Desor and Little Todd Harbor. On the 4th, we complete one of the most pleasant sections of the trail into Todd Harbor. From Todd Harbor, we hike into McCargoe Cove to enjoy a pleasant evening with the option of a campfire in the community fire ring. We schedule a zero day at McCargoe Cove to set aside for bad weather with an optional hike to the Minong Mine. On the 7th, we will hike into Daisy Farm and spend the evening on the dock or swimming in Lake Superior. From Daisy Farm, we hike into Three-Mile Campground and take an optional day hike up to Mt. Franklin. On September 9th, we hike into Rock Harbor for lunch and shopping prior to boarding for the return trip just after 2:00 PM.
There is one other Daisy Farm Loop that can be scheduled on demand, but only one, so if you have a plan, reach out before any flexibility is gone. We love, love, love to hike Isle Royale, and we feel good about supporting hikers in safe excursions across this rugged island.
We can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 906-201-1588. Return customers receive a coupon for $150 off any booking. Because Queen IV’s booking is not open at this publishing, email to reserve your spot with us. We will contact you when we can process your reservation so that you can complete your booking via our website. Remember, if you want to hike, we can help, regardless of whether you book with us. Isle Royale is our thing.
Many of us operate on a tight timeline and wring every last bit of adventure from our short vacations and long weekends. Despite others’ preferences to enjoy Isle Royale for weeks or even a month each summer, some want to see the high points without overstressing. We have some options for the short timers.
Day visits and overnight excursions can be arranged with destinations to Windigo or to Rock Harbor departing from Grand Portage or Grand Marais, Minnesota, or from Houghton, Hancock, or Copper Harbor, Michigan.
The choice for departure rests on your closest access to a ferry or the seaplane and on your timeframe. The ferries run out of Copper Harbor and Houghton, Michigan, and Grand Portage, Minnesota. The seaplanes run out of Hancock, Michigan, and Grand Marais, Minnesota. When choosing your means of transportation, make sure to check schedules to ensure that what you want is available. Schedules vary by time of year as well as by service.
Upon arrival, you will also have use and/or backpacking fees and orientation which will take up some of your on-island time. While these don’t impact an overnight excursion that much, they do effect a single-day itinerary, Upon arrival at either port of entry, you will need to be oriented and prove you have paid your day-use fee, which is completed at pay.gov prior to arrival, or you must pay there on island.
Wheels of any sort are not allowed on the island, so be prepared to carry the gear and supplies you bring in an appropriate bag or backpack.
Owned by the Park Service,The Ranger III can only be used for overnight excursions because it always stays overnight at the dock before making the return. It makes only three passenger trips into Windigo once in June, July, and August each year, with twice weekly routes into Rock Harbor from the end of May through early September, but only one trip per week into Rock Harbor on the weeks that it goes to Windigo. Check destinations in the planning process.
The Isle Royale Queen IV runs on certain dayseach week and departs only from Copper Harbor and docks only in Rock Harbor. In peak season during July and August, it runs six days each week, but only five days each week in June and generally two days each week in May and September. Because of its frequent schedule, it can be used for day trips or overnights. Check its schedule for planning.
Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Lines operates the Voyageur II and the Sea Hunter III, both of which depart from Grand Portage, Minnesota, and stop in Windigo. The Sea Hunter III is used for day hikers who enter and depart the island on the same day via Windigo. The Voyageur II circumnavigates the island, departing Grand Portage on particular days with the first stop at Windigo and subsequent stops along the north shore on the way to dock overnight at Rock Harbor. It returns making stops along the south shore of the island with the final stop in Windigo on the way back to Grand Portage. The Voyageur II can be used for overnight excursions in Windigo because of its schedule. While it goes to Rock Harbor, it arrives at about 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time and departs at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time, leaving a shorter window for hiking, similar to what the Ranger III affords when it docks at Rock Harbor. You get more time on island by spending the night in Windigo when you use the Voyageur II.
Isle Royale Sea Planes has a user-friendly schedule for day hikers and overnight excursions. You can get dropped off at either end of the island and get picked up later the same day or on the subsequent day. With two points of departure from the mainland and two destinations, at well as inter-island hops, it offers a lot of flexibility for planning an individual trip or as part of a larger excursion.
When spending a night on the island, be sure to bring toilet paper as the outhouses in the campgrounds are not supplied with it. The flush toilets in Rock Harbor and Windigo are supplied, but they are a distance from the campgrounds.
The Ranger III provides for an excursion that prioritizes the process. It departs from Houghton, Michigan, and takes 6 hours to arriveat the island, so you have most time on the boat to explore the boat itself, enjoy the views from the deck and/or the observation deck, and visit with your traveling companions. Outbound or inbound from any destination, the Ranger III departs at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Lodging is plentiful in the Houghton/Hancock area to facilitate your departure. The Ranger III’s cafe closed during the pandemic and has not reopened, so you must bring your own food and beverages for consumption during the crossing. Once you arrive, you have one evening on the island, which can allow for tenting overnight and spending the evening hiking, moose-watching, or simply hanging out with others and enjoying the ambiance of the wilderness.
Arriving in Rock Harbor using the Ranger III, there is enough time to complete both the Stoll Trail and the Susy’s Cave Loop for the fast hiker and plenty of choices for those not that fast. Once you get set up in the campground, you have plenty of time to choose what to do. For non-hikers, there is plenty of time to dine at the Lodge restaurant or the Greenstone Grill and stroll leisurely about Rock Harbor to take in the ranger programs or visit the artist in residence.
Using the Ranger III to arrive in Windigo, you have time enough to hike out to and back from Huginnin Cove. While you could potentially spend the night at Huginnin, it would create the stress of having to be up at daybreak to return to Windigo in time for departure. Grace Creek overlook and out and back hikes for a couple of miles on each the Minong or the Greenstone Ridge trails are also hiking options. You can check out the Windigo store as well.
Whichever end you visit, be sure to purchase food and beverages for the passage back to Houghton as there Ranger III doesn’t provide food or beverage, as per its website.
The Isle Royale Queen VI provides service from Copper Harbor, Michigan. The Queen VI departs the dock in Copper Harbor at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time, so you will need to arrange lodging the night before at an establishment in Copper Harbor. There are a few choices: The King Copper, Mariner North, Fanny Hooe Resort, Minnetonka, or the Bella Vista. Each of these are motels locally owned and operated. You can also choose to camp out at Fort Wilkins State Park. Once you park your car and get boarding passes in the morning, you might have a minute or two to get some coffee at Jamsen’s Fish Market and Bakery which is right on the dock.
Even on a day trip, be sure to bring a day pack for supplies, snacks, water, and rain gear in the event of rain. You don’t want to cut short a hike for the lack of water or to forego one because of falling water, so think about your needs and comfort as you prepare. Even if you don’t plan to hike, bring a rain coat with a hood so that you have protection to and from the dock and for walking around in the event of rain.
The Queen IV arrives in Rock Harbor about 3.5 to 4 hours after departure, arriving between 11:30 a.m. and noon. Of course, you must be oriented and address your use fees with rangers. After these activities, you will have about two and a half hours on island. Boarding for departure begins at about 2:15 p.m. to cast lines at 2:40 p.m. Eastern Time.
There are a few options for completing a hike in that time, depending on your speed and experience, from leisure strolls to strenuous hiking. You may choose low-key options of viewing sites within Rock Harbor, such as the artist-in-residence displays, or spending an hour of your time paddling in Tobin Harbor in a rental canoe or tandem kayak, weather permitting.
Remember to take water with you on any of the several hikes or activities you choose. You can buy it from the store or bring a couple of Nalgene or Smart Water Bottles for transporting the water on your hike. A day pack will make transporting it and a few snacks easier. Only Rock Harbor and Windigo and their respective campgrounds have spigots to fetch potable water. All other water on the island needs to be filtered through a .4 micron filter at minimum. For day hikes, make sure to fill your bottles before heading out.
On a day hike arriving on the Queen IV, you can head out to Susy’s Cave on the Rock Harbor Trail and return on the Tobin Harbor trail for a three-mile loop in all. The trail is rocky and uneven, so use trekking poles to ensure that you don’t slip and twist an ankle, but you should have enough time to make the hike if you keep a reasonable pace. Remember, the terrain makes it difficult to maintain your footing, so be prepared and hike with caution. Once you get back to Rock Harbor, you should have time to get a to-go item from the Greenstone Grill or buy snack food from the Rock Harbor store for the boat ride home. There are snacks and beverages for sale on the Queen IV as well.
For a day hike while remaining close to Rock Harbor, when arriving on the Queen IV, you can complete part of the Stoll Trail heading toward Scoville Point. On the leg going out, choose the waterfront hike to see the beautiful, rugged shoreline, and return via the forest loop that will bring you back along Tobin Harbor and past the Smithwick Mines. This option should leave you time to buy a to-go lunch from the Greenstone Grill. If you are fast, you can do the entire hike to Scoville Point, but you will need to be very mindful of the time. The full hike to the point is about five miles, so many people will find that distance too much in the short time. Gauge what you can do safely and don’t miss your boat.
Bring trekking poles to facilitate hiking safely on the uneven surfaces and choose well-broken-in boots or hiking shoes to ensure blisters won’t hinder your experience.
The Sea Hunter III provides access to Isle Royale from Grand Portage, Minnesota, going into Windigo. Owned by Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Lines, the Sea Hunter III departs from Grand Portage at 8:30 Central Time several days each week, arrives at 10:00 a.m., and returns at 3:00 p.m. Using the Sea Hunter allows you 4 hours on island which can be spent hiking, canoeing, moose watching, or enjoying the view from a cozy bench or a seat at the Windigo store. The most convenient hotel is the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, located a mile or two from the departure dock. It is the only lodging in Grand Portage, but options abound in Grand Marais and other communities nearby, which will require about a half-hour or 45-minute ride to the boat on the morning of departure.
Taking the Sea Hunter III into Windigo, you have several options for day hikes, depending on the ambiance you seek. You can hike out to Grace Creek Lookout which is about 5 miles round trip on the Feldtmann Loop Trail. Another option is to hike out on the Greenstone Ridge Trail toward Island Mine for a couple of miles. You will have a steep climb on the way out, but the return will prove enjoyable by contrast. Alternately, you can take the Minong Ridge Trail to the lookout over the first beaver dam, which is about 6 miles round trip. If you are a trail runner, you can take the West Huginnin Cove Trail out and back for an 8 mile route. Taking the West Huginnin out and the East Huginnin back will extend you to about 10 miles, which will likelyrequire you to run the entire way.
Bring a down puffy and rain gear in case of cool or inclement weather. In early or late season, take a sock hat and gloves as well. A light hoodie to wear under your puffy might be prudent as well, especially for moments when you are stationary and watching for moose or other wildlife.
Other options for a Windigo excursion, arriving by the Sea Hunter III, include a leisurely walk through the Washington Creek Campground to sit on the bench overlooking the creek itself in hopes of seeing moose coming to graze in the slow-moving waters. From there, you can stroll back to the Windigo store for snacks or lunch. If you prefer not hike, you have plenty of time–weather permitting–to rent a canoe or a tandem kayak for a paddle in Washington Harbor or out to Beaver Island. You would still have time to get lunch and shop in the store.
It bears repeating: If you are camping overnight at any campground, bring toilet paper. The park service does not stock toilet paper in the campground out houses.
If you can manage an overnight stay, several options open up for you. Taking the Queen IV, the Ranger III, the Voyageur II, or the Sea Plane, you can plan to stay in Rock Harbor or Three-Mile Campground. Taking the Sea Hunter III, the Voyageur II, the Ranger III, or the Isle Royale Sea Planes into Windigo, the options are to stay at Washington Creek Campground in Windigo or the Huginnin Cove Campground.
Staying overnight in Rock Harbor, you would set up your tent in the campground on the first day and make the 5-mile round trip hike out to Scoville Point, rather than cutting it off at the shorter loop. On the longer loop, you will have opportunity to walk along the rocky and cragged shore heading out, and on the way back enjoy the quiet, lush woodland where you might see a moose, a fox or even a wolf. Be sure the check out the Smithwick mines as you return to the settled area of Rock Harbor.
For overnight excursions, bring a tent, insulated sleeping pad, 15-degree sleeping bag, and don’t forget a breakfast drink, camping cup, camp stove, pot, and fuel. It can be beautiful to enjoy a warm bowl of oatmeal in the cool, pristine morning. Bring the oatmeal, a bowl, and a spoon.
Dinner can be in the campground with your own backpacking meals, or you can stop at the Greenstone Grill or the Restaurant in Rock Harbor. If you choose backpacking meals, be prepared and bring utensils and a backpacking stove to cook them. The other option for an evening meal is to purchase cheese and meats along with some crackers or other snacks from the store. Whatever you choose, you will enjoy the peace and quiet of the evening, watching the constellations in the night sky overhead. A wolf may howl in the night. Surely, you will hear the loons.
Fires are only allowed in fire rings in designated campgrounds. Rock Harbor, Windigo, and Huginnin Cove do not have fire rings. Charcoal grills are not allowed. Bring a camp stove and a pot.
On the second day in Rock Harbor, you can make the hike out to Susy’s Cave on the Rock Harbor Trail and come back along the Tobin Harbor Trail. Early risers might be on the trail in sufficient time to scale Mount Franklin and get back in time to grab a snack at the store before boarding for the return trip on the Queen IV. The Mount Franklin hike is very much worth the early rise and the push to pull it off. If you use the Ranger III or the Voyageur II, you won’t have time to scale Mount Franklin because of the early departure. In fact, you will need to be up at daybreak to make the hike to Susy’s Cave and directly back to Rock Harbor in time for boarding. Don’t dally because you will need to stop at the store for snacks and beverages for the boat ride home. If you take the sea plane, you can plan an evening departure, which allows plenty of time to hike to Mount Franklin and for other activities.
If you stay overnight and camp outside Rock Harbor or Windigo, you will need to add a water filter to your gear. Many use the Sawyer Squeeze for short excursions, but you can also try a 2- or 4-liter Platypus Gravity Filter which generates clean water quickly and is extremely light. Spigots at Windigo and Rock Harbor and their campgrounds provide potable water. Water from any other source must be filtered and treated.
Another option for a Rock Harbor arrival is to hike to Three-Mile Campground for your overnight stay. Once you get set up, you should have time to day-hike up to Mount Franklin for its awesome views of the Canadian shoreline, returning to Three-Mile for a dip in the frigid waters of Lake Superior from the dock at the campground. Less busy than Rock Harbor, this campground affords for stargazing and night photography from the dock.
On the return from Three-Mile to Rock Harbor in the morning, you can stop by Susy’s Cave and head on over to the Tobin Harbor Trail to hike along the calm waters of that bay. If you start early enough and use the Queen IV or the Sea Plane for transportation, you should have time for the short loop on the trail out to Scoville Point and still be able to grab something to go from either the grill or the store prior to departure. If you take the Ranger III or the Voyageur II, however, you will have to be up very early in Three-Mile to have time to stop at the store for snacks and beverages for the ride home as boarding is prior to the 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time departure. You will not have time for Scoville Point.
If you choose to stay in 3-Mile or Huginnin Cove Campgrounds, you must not forget the water filter or the water bottles. You will also need to add a dinner plan and a breakfast choice so that you are appropriately hydrated and nourished for your adventure.
On an overnight excursion with an arrival in Windigo, the most pleasant and quiet option is to hike out to Huginnin Cove to spend the night on the shore. The campground sits right on the water for pleasant wading or simply being soothed by the rhythmic lapping of gentle waves from your seat on a log or a camp chair that you bring with you. As night falls, the stars will pierce the dark sky overhead, a million pinholes from heaven. Rise early to enjoy steaming coffee in the emerging warmth of the dawn, and hike back in plenty of time to shop, enjoy lunch, and catch the boat.
Plan carefully for a fun and exciting adventure to experience in your own timeframe the most you can of the island. You won’t regret it. If you need help, reach out. Whether or not you book with Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services, we can help you plan.
If you need support for hiking, Wise Old Man of Isle Royale guides can lead you on either the day trips or overnight stays. You only need to reach out to make arrangements, keeping in mind that we operate from Michigan. If you feel comfortable going it alone, that’s great. You can still reach out to chat about options and needs.
If you are not fully geared-up and are departing from Houghton, Hancock, or Copper Harbor, you can rent our gear. We have full gear packages as well as individual items that can fill out whatever you are missing to complete the set-up for your excursion.
We can be reached at 906-201-1588 by phone or email@example.com by email.
As we all know, a low pack weight matters when backpacking, especially when an excursion extends beyond a long weekend. The lighter the pack, the more pleasant the hike. Of course, the moments spent not hiking are also important. Without appropriate gear, a backpacker risks discomfort, dehydration or heat exhaustion as well hypo- or hyperthermia. Discomfort will not make for enjoyable relaxation. To support having a great time backpacking and relaxing on Isle Royale, I have collected the best, lightest gear to suit my needs with limited trade-offs.
Remember, the lightest gear is not necessarily the best. The lightest and best is the gear that provides for what it is designed and weighs as little as possible.
Let’s talk light tents. Single-wall tents weigh the least, especially when they use trekking poles to set up. These are lighter than my freestanding or semi-free-standing double-wall tents. Why I choose the semi-freestanding is for weight and because it is a double-wall, meaning that it does not capture and deposit moisture inside the tent. Why does this matter? If the tent deposits moisture inside, I get wet, and I risk losing loft in my sleeping bag when it gets wet, which can lead to hypothermia on excursions in the early and late season. Moisture also increases pack weight unless I am willing to wait up to a couple hours for the tent–and potentially longer for my sleeping bag–to dry, depending on conditions. Whether freestanding or not, double-wall tents are worth the extra weight.
As with the tent, the lightest sleeping pad may not be the best choice. Again for early and late season excursions, I need a minimum of an R-4 rating to ensure that cold doesn’t infiltrate my bag from underneath. Sleeping bag ratings are only accurate when employing a properly insulated pad and when wearing a base layer and socks. An insulated pad can increase base weight by a pound, but it is an extra pound worth carrying. Nothing can ruin an excursion more quickly than lack of sleep due to cold, so the insulated pad is worth the extra weight.
So where can you shave weight? Acquiring lightweight gear is where to start.
Let’s talk stoves. A Jet Boil pot and stove weighs in at 16 ounces without a fuel canister. We had an Optimus pot with a wind-guard stove and feet that weighed 14 oz. Recently, Duane purchased a Fire Maple stove which weighs 1.5 ounces and paired it with a Toaks 750 ml pot for a total of 5.5 ounces. I paired my Fire Maple stove with a 500 ml pot for a total weight of 3.5 ounces, 12.5 ounces less than the Jet Boil and 10.5 ounces less than the Optimus setup. It was a good start.
Water filters and storage are also areas to shave weight. Always the lightest, the Sawyer Squeeze is not recommended except as a backup filter because of how cumbersome it is to use and the high potential for contaminating the clean water with droplets from outside the dirty bag during the filtering process. The MSR Miniworks EX pump weighs 18 ounces. A 4-liter gravity setup weighs 15 ounces, a difference of 3 ounces, but my Platypus system can generate 4 liters of clean water in short order. Further, trading out two standard Nalgene bottles with a screw cap (6 oz) for two Smart Water bottles (1.5 oz) saves 9 ounces. Using the Platypus and Smart Water bottles saves 12 ounces.
Make trades carefully and be aware of the consequences of the compromises.
It is possible to reduce weight by choosing a lighter pack, but that has significant tradeoffs. The lighter packs can be less comfortable and less durable. Both my Osprey Ariel and Aura weigh similarly at about 5 lbs. I also have an REI Flash 55 that weighs 2 pounds. The Osprey packs’ Airscape Suspension structure allows for airflow between the pack and my back. REI’s ventilated back panel is not as effective, so I tend to sweat more using the Flash 55. As well, it is 10 liters smaller than the 65-liter Osprey packs, so it’s suitable only for shorter excursions.
Finally, the lighter-weight construction of the REI pack makes it less durable. I have accidentally ripped off the sternum strap from two Flash 55 packs. The first I sent back because I thought it was defective. On the second one, I replaced the sternum strap with an independent strap that I wrap around and through the front straps of the shoulder harness. It’s cumbersome, but it works. Here, the jury is out. If you MUST drop three pounds, I recommend the Flash 55, but I carry the extra three pounds when I can afford the weight.
All trade-offs are not equal. I base choices on specific hikes and my specific needs.
Food is also an area to drop weight, but sufficient nutrition is required to hike well. That said, choosing dehydrated meals is the easiest solution. If you want protein rich options, consider Packit Gourmet or Next Mile Meals. These weigh much less than packages of tuna or peanut butter. Of course, hiking requires ready energy as well, so having some more carb-rich options can also be important. Peak Refuel is protein-rich with a fair amount of carbs. Mountain House, Alpine Aire, Backpacker’s Pantry, and others are carb-heavy.
Packing only dehydrated meals is not sufficient, though, so I consider the weight and density of alternates. I find that I hike best with a protein-rich meal, a protein snack, carb support like a snack bar or granola, a small sweet, hydration support, and coffee. I don’t need two meals per day. Instead, I need a meal and variety of snacks to eat throughout the day. In all, I take about 2,000 calories per day, less than what is recommended, but more than I originally took.
Food packaging offers opportunities for shaving weight, but there are risks. Some people transfer dehydrated meals to Ziplock bags, taking a bowl to support the Ziplock containing the meal being rehydrated. Others have had their Ziplock bags come open, creating a mishmash in the bottom of the dry sack. They have not said much positive about a mixed meal of Pad Thai, Chicken Alfredo, and Chili Mac with Strawberry Granola. Measuring out the mixture and deciding on the amount of water for rehydration is also challenging. Others trim the tops off the dehydrated meal packaging, again at some risk. If you repackage, be sure to nestle the rebagged individual Ziplocks into a larger Ziplock and pack them tightly into a dry bag to limit their movement and thereby the propensity to accidentally come open.
Still, staying with finger food and dehydrated meals limits the need for plates and bowls, which in turn eliminates the need for cleaning products for dishes. Limiting meals that need cooking reduces the need for fuel. In sum, reduced weight meals, fewer utensils, fewer cleaning products and less fuel all reduce pack weight.
I try to think outside the box as well. Or to think inside the pot to enhance the variety of food I take. Crackers, for example, offer welcome crunch to soft rehydrated meals, but saltines generally get crushed. To keep them whole, I store them in a Ziplock in my pot or cup. Tortillas also offer variety and don’t get crushed. Maximizing variety by utilizing hidden storage areas that already exist adds interest without added weight.
Limit toiletries and luxury items. Duplicate items in your group only when necessary.
I take one Chapstick, not two, and a small sunblock container, not a large. I rinse my hands more, and trade the large hand sanitizer for a smaller bottle. I leave the towel and take a hanky. I take a blow-up seat cushion and leave the chair. I use shampoo packets or dry sheets and insect repellent wipes, not a tube or an aerosol can. I have traded my brush for a small comb and squeeze out toothpaste I won’t need. While I think I need make-up, I never use it, so that is also left out. I keep tweezers, nail clippers, bandages, and moleskin.
However, I don’t leave behind the base layer or the puffy or the sock hat. I use a down puffy, not synthetic. I don’t leave the rain gear or my gloves. I take a light hoodie, and leave the sweatshirt. I take a full change of clothes and some extra socks and underwear, but skip daily changes. No one should take an axe or a bowie knife–there’s nothing to cut. Instead, I bring a tiny multitool. Bear spray is not necessary and not allowed. I use a piezo instead of a lighter and take small cannisters of fuel for shorter excursions. When I hike with Duane, we share gear. With groups, we don’t need 5 stoves and 5 pots, but we make sure to have sufficient fuel and back-up water filters of various types within the group.
Keep in mind that the goal is balance. If you feel deprived or cold, you won’t have any fun. If you feel like a pack mule, you also won’t have any fun. Strive for balance.
My gear choices include a very tiny stove and a tiny pot with a small canister of fuel and Smart Water bottles, along with the Flash 55. My tent weighs 2 lbs. 6 oz. with a footprint, and my R-4.5 sleeping pad weighs 12 oz. because I ordered the petite. I chose the mummy bag, not the hour-glass, to shave weight. My rechargeable headlamp is 1.5 oz. When I guide, my tarp weighs 11 oz. with stakes and rope. My food weighs well less than a pound per day, and I don’t feel deprived. I have weight room for my GoPro, my phone, a battery pack, and when necessary an iPad as well as my Garmin inReach+. I am connected.
The choices I make represent my values and needs, which include seeing and capturing the beauty that surrounds me, being safe during any excursion, and staying connected with my ongoing work, including fielding questions from potential clients when I am in the field. Before I leave for the Island, I pack my backpack and climb the steepest trail near me which I call the goat trail, like mountain goat. When I can do that trail, my pack is good.
When I think about how I want to spend my sixties and seventies and after, it is certainly not sitting behind a desk or in a physician’s office getting diagnoses and medical treatments to ward off the results of sitting too much. Of course, maintaining health into one’s senior years does require addressing issues to prevent having to engage in the more invasive aspects of healthcare later. I work to balance strenuous exercise with relaxation in a relationship that I hope extends my ability to truly enjoy life.
When I turned 60, I have to admit, I was not enamored with the number, but I also found myself thinking more deeply about what I really wanted to do with my life. Like any other 60-year-old, I looked at others around me, thinking about how they enjoyed their lives and how they see themselves going forward. Many live actively, prioritizing doing and not watching others do. Others have health issues that curtail their daily activities, reminding me of how lucky I have been and underscoring how important it is to engage in the kinds of activities that I want to continue enjoying well into my senior years. To truly live, I must stay active.
The times I backpacked or hiked difficult trails bolster my sense of being capable, and they scaffold my knowledge that being active and strong creates the foundation for continuing to do so. Back when I was 45, I learned a few lessons about how to sustain health. Having spent so many years sitting behind a computer engaged in writing and research, I was feeling fat and uncomfortable, 30 lbs. heavier than I am now with blood pressure that bordered on needing medication. Were my vitals that poor at this time, I believe my physician would want to prescribe something to bring my numbers into a normal range.
At that time, though, my son challenged me to take up a popular bodybuilding program, urging me that I could do it. Frankly, I was not sure that I could. Still, I gave P90X a try. At first, I could do one or two of the exercises in each of the routines making up the program, but I stuck with it, echoing daily Tony Horton’s refrain, “just keep pressing play; just keep pressing play.” The tiny women in the videos barked my hide, to use an old term, but I persevered anyway, and I found incremental success, improving from one rep, to two, to five, to ten, to twenty, to keeping up with the pros. After about a year, I could do most of the exercises at the same rate as Tony and the others, and my blood pressure dropped from 145/90 to 108/70.
Other changes were more visible and in some ways more satisfying. Because I was building muscle, my weight did not drop as much as I wanted right away, but it did drop significantly and remained off over time. Most impressive was the change in my shape. My spine was straighter, my middle firmer, my back pain ceased, and I dropped four sizes in clothes.
These successes formed a foundation for daring to take up a lot of other challenges, one of which is to be able to bike for 20 miles every day during the summer and to snowshoe and cross country ski as often as possible in the winter months. Each of these activities brings together muscular and cardio strength in ways that support my stamina and endurance. And they support my competitive spirit which allows me to push my own limits and challenge others to exceed theirs, too. Ask Duane.
While these activities give me a floor of strength, none of them compares to the demands of running a guide service with Duane and actually backpacking Isle Royale.
Isle Royale requires a deep stamina to be able to traverse rugged terrain with sufficient endurance to carry 30 to 40 pounds for several hours over multiple and consecutive days. Sure, some of the legs of each excursion can be shorter, three or four hours of continuous hiking, but many hikes can extend between five and eight hours, or more, of carrying heavy packs, interspersed with taking breaks to rest, hydrate, and nourish myself so that I can pick up the pack and hike on. This duration requires me to dig down and persevere, and this level of endurance is not only about my personal fitness and ability. It is about my drive and mental stamina to make my 60+ years-old body continue and even thrive.
The stamina requires a can-do focus both physically and mentally. Further, for me, there must be a joy in it. If I am going to engage that level of exertion, I must acquire a feel-good in return that involves physical, mental, and aesthetic recompense. How I feel matters, but what I think and the free space to do it in are central.
The basic payback of endorphins comes naturally from working out hard for a sustained period of time over the long term. Because I have biked, snowshoed, skied, and swum to the level of acquiring that hormonal boost at every workout, this payback follows naturally during and following the activity of hiking. Without that base of fitness, the endorphins, and thereby their feel-good boost, would not be available. When I talk about the repeated movements that take on fluidity and routine, I am talking about this mastery of the thing that yields the physical reward from the strenuous activity.
The aesthetics of Upper Michigan and Isle Royale speak to me personally as well. I belong here. The vast expanses visible from the ridges on Isle Royale, both to the north and the south, mesmerize as diamonds sparkle across the open water, reflecting the brightness of the sun and of my own relationship with this space. I breath in the scents of purity, the mist off the water, the bliss of blooms coming to life in spring, the pungency of fall leaves and decomposing organic matter in swampy areas and beaver ponds, the bouquet of pine boughs all through the year.
I taste the sour of the chokecherries, the tart of the pin cherries, the tang of the apples, the sweet-tart of the thimbleberries, the sweetness of the sugar plums. The strawberries are tiny smears of sweet; blueberries are even smaller smears and blue. The earth’s tastes burst forth.
The Lake Superior shoreline with its pebbly beaches and rocky cliffs engages my senses. The scent of the freshwater ocean permeates my being. I am one with the water as I immerse in its icy depths from which all life must truly come.
Still, for all the energy generated and expended, for all that teems with exquisiteness and flavor, the space it affords matters most. In that space, my mind is free to contemplate whatever comes to fore, to follow avenues for thinking that open when I am no longer bound by the discipline required by my day job.
As I hike, I daydream and contemplate. My thoughts are liberated to entertain the novel, the unbounded, the fanciful. As my movements repeat and I climb or trudge or scamper, my brain soars, liberated in the recurring and comforting movements. At those moments, thoughts are born. Knowledge coalesces. I discover what cannot be revealed by using a concentrated laser focus. What I learn is revealed by letting go.
As I hike Isle Royale, I am filled with energy. Amid a group of backpackers, the drive flows from myself, sending energy outward, and I hope it infuses others’ experiences in a way that lingers. I share the views, the tastes, the smells, the sounds, and the blessed peace. We prepare and hike together, and surely the memory of it should sustain long after the experience is over.
In practical terms, though, my energy is patient. New backpackers who are unsure of how to set up a tent or operate a stove get support as they first attempt these tasks. Those who doubt their ability to hike six or ten miles, or more, learn how to moderate their pace to be sure they make it to the next campground by having the right gear, an appropriate pace, enough water, sufficient nourishment, and time to rest along the way.
City dwellers discover the beauty of the small things that surround them, blueberries, lady slippers, varieties of lichens, bunchberries in bloom, fungi in many colors and shapes, beaver lodges and ponds, trees, including spruce, cedar, and pine, as well as maples, birch, aspen, alder, oak, and others, each with its own shape and scent. Together, we breathe in the pungency of the forest dampness and the cool mist of the freshwater ocean that surrounds Isle Royale. Eyes that would see only sidewalks learn to follow the faint trail markings over the exposed and rocky ridges.
For the competitors, I offer the challenges of the longer trails, the Minong or Greenstone Ridge trails, the Feldtmann or the hike out of Malone Bay into Chippewa Harbor and on into Rock Harbor. It’s possible to tuck the Feldtmann Loop on the end of the Greenstone or Minong. We can also hike out the Greenstone and take the Minong Ridge Trail back after a resupply in Windigo. These long trails demand endurance and stamina, the right food in sufficient quantities, the right light gear, and a plan for the long haul to preempt injury. We moderate so we neither under- or over-shoot the mark. The sustained effort results in the rush of success.
At the end of each long day, I draw the overworked and overstressed toward a dock to see the sunset and the stars emerge or to a fire ring where we nurse a small blaze in the dusk. We listen to loons echoing across the near shore or hear the trickle of spring nearby that oozes from a crack in the rock upstream. Sitting together with them, I see the weight of work lift from their shoulders and the solitude of the island surround them in its embrace. They fairly glow.
To those weary of others’ demands and unceasing chatter, I offer peace. I speak silence, letting the spaces and vistas of the island share their quiet stories. From the rocky faces over which the trail crosses, we find wordless comfort in the scrape of heel and boot. The screeches of herring gulls and grey jays sound across the campsite without a demand for response, and we relax. Our eyes meet, approving of communion that does not need words.
To my hiking companions, I give the best I have of my energy, knowledge, patience, strength, moderation, challenge, and conversation, and sometimes, most importantly, my silence. I wish for them infusion with the peace of the natural world that permeates Isle Royale.
At the end of the day as I relax and immerse myself slowly in the frigid water of Lake Superior, dropping my own body temperature as I do, my thoughts rest for a moment with the aspirations we have for our hike, but soon they fly toward fleeting and nebulous ideas that exist on the fringes of conscious thought. I reach for them. I find space for myself in the larger notions of the universe. I am one with myself and it. Then I am home. I hope others who hike with me are home, too, at least for the times we share this island together.
Of Backpacking Isle Royale through the Lens of Another’s Eyes
From the 9th through the 15 of September, Michelle, Duane, and I backpacked Isle Royale to some new realizations. As with all hikes, Duane and I had expectations and routines, but each person who hikes with us offers new insights simply because of their unique perspective and focus regarding what they want to see and experience. Each person who visits Isle Royale creates an adventure of their own and views the island through the lens of their own expectations.
That lens influences the tint of the lenses through which Duane and I view that hallowed ground. Michelle’s lens was one informed by a quest to see a moose. Previously, she had been to Alaska to view moose, at least in part, but she was the only one in her group who seemed to just miss each opportunity to see one.
This early fall–with temperatures in the mid-thirties at night–we felt the change in the air, the island waning past full bloom toward the closing of the season. The shifting seasons frosted the leaves of thimbleberry bushes, accelerated those berries on the ripe side of maturity and stunted the blossoming of the rawest of berries that will eventually dry up on the bush.
Nearby, the chokecherries, so sour and tart in late August, now tasted of fermentation, as though they were creating a dry, deep red wine on the branch. The late season sugar plums were crusted raisins on the branch. Juniper berries at their fullest hinted at the full body of gin they might distill, perhaps an ice variety as they are frosted with each dawn.
Our schedule had us land in Rock Harbor and catch a hop on the Voyageur II to Chippewa Harbor. From there, we would hike our way back to Rock Harbor to catch our departure boat. Because we had extra time, we took side trips to Lake Richie and chose to go up to the Ojibway Tower and over to Mt. Franklin, rather than staying along the shore from Daisy Farm to Three Mile Campground. There was no rush.
The rodents abounded on this trip, perhaps more so because of Michelle’s notice of them. As we continued her quest to view a moose, in jest she asked the critters we passed if indeed they had seen Bullwinkle or any of his moose friends as they went about their squirrel business. They did not reply, of course, continuing to eat mushrooms and pine cones as well as other vegetation in the forest. She inquired, too, of the grey jays who prospected for booty and of the king fishers we watched dive into Lake Mason.
On our planned route, we hiked slowly, scanning the underbrush for moose that might be foraging the forest floor while Duane sprinted ahead to find our campsite for the coming evening. Michelle and I noted orchids, berries, apple trees, and other vegetation as we continued our methodical hike that afforded consistent opportunities to scan for moose.
As we scoured the shores at Chippewa Harbor with penetrating vision, we saw a family of otters swimming along the far shore. They seem to reside under the dock.
While we sat and observed our surroundings at Lake Mason one afternoon, awaiting a grazing moose, we watched flying creatures. There were dragon flies and grasshoppers, cedar waxwings and king fishers, as well as eagles, herring gulls, peregrine falcons, and goshawks. There were crows and ravens. In lieu of seeing a moose, we watched a king fisher peer into the still water and dive again and again to emerge with minnows in its beak. Its splash interrupted the placid scene momentarily.
Later, at the far end of Lake Richie, we saw a trumpeter swan floating in the water and eating from the sandy lake floor. When it realized we were watching, it emitted a flurry of wing beats as it arose from the water and settled to feed again at the far end of the lake.
Sand hill cranes rattled throughout the day, arranging themselves for their imminent departure from the island that fall. Canadian geese flocked up and flew practice flight patterns, while the mergansers shepherded their remaining chicks along the shoreline. Loons called plaintively from here and there on the lake.
Throughout the trip, black and red foxes entertained us. At Daisy Farm, we saw one red fox prancing nearby. It marked a tuft of mature grass at a juncture in the trail with its scent. Doglike, it roughed up the ground with his hind feet and urinated on a particular clump of grass. Awhile later, the second red fox sniffed the clump and rubbed his face in it; as though to eradicate the odor of the first, he, too, roughed up the ground and urinated on the same clump. Then he rolled in it with some vigor. He repeated the ritual of roughing the grass and urinating again prior to another vigorous bout of rolling. Then it sprang to its feet and flounced off, tail bouncing straight out behind it.
The black fox flounced with as much aplomb as the red, but its focus was to search for food, both at every picnic table–empty or not–and amid the weeds and grass alongside the trail. As we watched, it focused intently on a specific bush, apparently waiting for a squirrel or mouse to reveal itself. Its tail was tipped in white. As others approached, he trotted toward us. We froze in place, cameras filming, as he flounced on by. He was so close that we could see the individual and very white teeth in his mouth as he hurried past.
On one trail, the muddy sections were obliterated by wolf prints heading in both directions. They were so clear, we could see the impression of the claws on each toe. On his early trek through, Duane noted them, taking particular care not to step on them so that they were preserved for Michelle and I who followed a little behind. At our slightly slower pace, we noted the prints and glanced about periodically, and a little apprehensively, but still hoping to see the wolves who created them, as we progressed on our quest to see a moose.
Were these prints the result of wolves traveling in groups, or were the wolves simply going solo and often on this muddy trail in mid-September, we wondered. Then, as we stepped gingerly around yet another patch of wolf prints, we saw it.
We turned a corner and about 20 feet from us, a single grey wolf trotted toward us with its eyes on the trail in front of it.
Startled, I stopped in my tracks. It kept coming, intent on its object; whatever it was, I did not know.
“Ooooh, ooooh,” I murmured. It was 15 feet in front of me.
At 12 feet away, it raised its eyes to meet mine, startled, too. Later, Michelle noted that the wolf and I both looked surprised to encounter one another.
For a moment, the adult grey wolf appeared to think about what it should do. It was ten feet away. Then it stepped to my left, off the trail. It paused in indecision. I did, too, watching it.
I noted its blue ear tag.
The wolf retreated the way it came and disappeared behind a bush further to my left, making its way around us and on to where it was going. We did not manage to get our phones out in time for photos.
Michelle and I exchanged glances. We continued a few feet down the trail and then decided to sit for a moment in the event that another grey wolf intent on its destination would pass by our resting spot on the trunk of a birch tree on the side of the trail.
Michelle did not ask the wolf if it had seen a moose. I imagine she didn’t want it to have seen one. Even the thought suggested an unsettling image.
At Moskey Basin, we filmed a beaver eating small ground cover near the shelter. Once it had eaten its fill, it cut off and collected together a bunch of branches from a thimbleberry bush and made off with them in its mouth, its flat tail extending behind as it swam toward its hut.
From Chippewa Harbor, to Lake Richie, to Moskey Basin, to Daisy Farm, to the Ojibway Tower and Mt. Franklin, to Three Mile campground, we searched for moose and saw none. We hiked 30 miles seeing all manner of wildlife, but nary a moose.
On the second to the last day, we arose at dawn to meet the Voyageur II at Rock Harbor prior to its departure. We were fetching the resupply box we’d sent to reduce pack weight for the start of the hike. We also added extra supplies in the event our passage back to Copper Harbor via the Queen IV was delayed due to weather.
As we set out, the air was crisp with cold, and bright stars were sprinkled liberally across the dark sky. We hiked at a reasonable pace in our headlamps, keeping close watch right and left for that elusive moose.
A mile out of Three Mile Campground, Duane saw a small bull; Michelle and I heard its grunt, but we did not see it. Does a grunt count as “seeing” a moose? We hoped that this encounter would not be the only one Michelle had with the object of her quest.
To extend the possibility of actually seeing a moose, Michelle slowed her pace. We continued, as we had for several days, hiking slowly and scanning the woods. Duane got a little ahead because we had slowed our pace.
At about a mile and a half from Rock Harbor, Michelle and I rounded a curve in the trail to discover Duane motioning to us. There stood the cow and her two calves grazing just off the trail. Michelle pulled out her camera and filmed them as they grazed unperturbed. We stood for several minutes while Duane continued on to retrieve our resupply box.
Once the three moose disappeared from our view, Michelle and I resumed our trek into Rock Harbor to discover Duane’s pack dropped near a campsite marker. We stopped and prepared to set up camp as Duane reappeared with the resupply box.
With no need to hurry in setting up, Michelle hiked out with a day pack to see if she could find the cow and her twin calves on their way into Rock Harbor. We suspected that the cow was headed toward the peninsula behind the Lodge where she had sheltered with her young throughout the summer.
Michelle found them on the Tobin Harbor Trail. At first, she saw only the twin calves. One was walking directly toward her with its ears flopping about like a snowshoe hare, so she backed away. Then she saw the cow to her right. She took cover behind a tree and continued to film. The cow continued to graze unperturbed by Michelle’s presence.
After a couple hours, Michelle returned to camp with extended video of the cow and her calves. Not only did she fulfill her own goals for the trip, she topped them by making a thorough record of that success.
Through the excursion, Michelle accomplished her goals and more for seeing that elusive moose. In doing so, she fulfilled Duane’s and my expectations for the excursion. What she saw for the first time, Duane and I saw anew. As each of us emerged from the darkness into the frosty dawn, stargazing and reflecting, each one was made different by the adventure we had shared together.
Hiking Isle Royale is a great experience at any time of year, but Lara, Jennifer, and I had an exquisite experience with the cool weather in late August this year. We arrived on the Queen IV at Rock Harbor, caught a hop on the Voyageur II to Chippewa Harbor and hiked back to Rock Harbor via the Rock Harbor Trail with one diversion from Daisy Farm up to the Greenstone Ridge Trail to view the Ojibway Tower and across to the lookout at Mt. Franklin, finally dropping back into 3 Mile Campground.
The excursion was six days and five nights, longer than what is needed for a simple Daisy Farm Loop, but not long enough to traverse the length of the island. Thus, the hop to Chippewa Harbor was a great compromise. It afforded Jennifer, an experienced backpacker, the challenge of a five-day hike over the rocks and roots of Isle Royale while allowing Lara, an avid runner and adventurer, a moderate excursion for her first backpacking experience.
As with all outings, we started out with a couple of Zoom meetings to ensure proper gear and preparation, but we were all strangers at the start. We met in Copper Harbor the night prior to departure aboard the Queen IV, reviewed safety protocols and weighed in our packs, making last-minute tweaks to keep weights manageable.
On the morning of departure, a small craft warning was in place with waves on Lakes Superior between 6 and 10 feet; with an abundance of caution, the captain delayed our departure from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM. To pass the afternoon, the ladies explored Copper Harbor, enjoying lunch at the Mariner North.
Once we departed, Captain Craig Funke navigated the wavy seas expertly while crew member Amy attended to passengers, handing out Dramamine and plastic bags as requested and needed. Captain Ben Kilpela’s cheerful smile assured passengers that all was well on board the Queen IV. A group of adventurers stood out on the back deck throughout the crossing as the waves still reached four feet, rocking the vessel.
About the vessel, passengers lolled in their chairs from Dramamine or kept their eyes on the horizon, willing back their nausea. Others chatted in their separate groups, murmuring about their plans for the next days. Linkages had not yet formed across groups and goals had not yet been shared with others. We were separate people with common goals, but we had not yet connected with one another.
Fortunately, the waves abated as the trip progressed, and we motored into a calm Rock Harbor by early evening where Lara, Jennifer, and I spent the first night set up in tent site 13, tucked deep into the pines in the campground at Rock Harbor. Prior to darkness setting in, we stretched our legs by hiking out on the half loop on the Stoll Trail toward Scoville Point. The late hour, though, kept us from reaching the trail terminus at Scoville Point.
We enjoyed our first dinner together, dehydrated meals–chicken risotto, chicken alfredo, and deli roast beef–each trying a new brand or a new dish. In headlamps, the group mastered the challenges inherent in the assembly of new stoves and use of new gear. We assembled tents and blew up sleeping pads, spread out sleeping bags, and located pillows and sleeping gear. The evening was a hubbub of activity in our site and in the ones surrounding us.
The next morning, we continued our journey on to the starting point of our hike. After boarding the Voyageur II, we departed the dock just prior to 9:00 AM Eastern, dropped a few backpackers at Daisy Farm, and headed through Middle Islands Passage, past the Rock Harbor Lighthouse, and on toward our destination. We landed in Chippewa Harbor just past 10:00 AM, and quickly ascertained that we wanted to get started on our excursion to Moskey Basin as we had spent the previous day waiting for departure or sitting in the boat for the four-hour crossing.
Before departing Chippewa Harbor, however, we dropped our packs and walked up to the Johnson Schoolhouse, exploring its tiny structure and surrounding area. Both ladies were astounded by the tiny size of the school, surmising that only a few students might have attended the school at one time. From the schoolhouse, we hiked up to the ridge to view Lake Superior to the south, the harbor in front of us, and to the east Lake Mason. Both Lara and Jennifer took the time to text friends and family from the ridge. I did, too, sending smoochy faces to Duane.
We set out to Moskey Basin a little before noon, excited to find our trail legs and get into the groove of hiking. I kept a watchful eye on the group as we crossed over boardwalks that spanned swampy areas and beaver ponds and navigated the rocky, rooty trail that led to our first destination. Our average speed was nearly 2.5 mph.
Moskey Basin was lovely as always, and we were fortunate to find Shelter 3 open so late in the day. We arrived at the end of our 6.2-mile hike in the mid-afternoon, without issue, and set up our tents inside the shelter to keep warm over the cool night. Loons and moose calls echoed across the water in the late afternoon.
Next to us was another hiker who was returning to the island after a 20-year absence. He reclined against his pack, stretched long as the evening as loons laughed in front of us. Soon, he and Jennifer were exchanging stories of past hiking excursions, his to Isle Royale and hers to Machu Pichu in Peru and other destinations. He was off to complete the Greenstone, but he was going next to McCargoe Cove. After a lively evening of chatter, we all were ready to wash up for sleep.
Rain was forecast for the next day, so we wanted to find a shelter in Daisy Farm for the next evening and night. I set an alarm to ensure we started early enough to be able to have a chance to secure a shelter. After about thirty minutes, our neighbor came out again and asked if there were shelters at McCargoe Cove. Yes, I said. There are six. I smiled. So did he.
As with every morning after, we were up at 6:30. While we packed up, we did not see our neighbor, and sounds of sleep emanated from his shelter. Quietly, we were on the trail shortly after 8:00, each nourished by a cup of coffee and a breakfast bar. We traversed the rocky and uneven trail with an average speed of slightly more than 2 miles per hour.
Along the way, we met backpackers on route to the Greenstone Ridge via the Indian Portage Trail and day hikers from Daisy Farm enjoying an easy outing to this low ridge that affords an elevated view of the long harbor that extends from Moskey Basin to Rock Harbor. In the process, we met a minimum of three women-only hiking groups and three or four family groups or couples. The diversity of hikers warmed my heart. By 1:30 that afternoon, we were setting up in Shelter 1 at Daisy Farm.
Once in Daisy Farm, Jennifer and I went to the dock to filter water. Then we set up camp and had a snack for lunch. Always the explorer, Lara discovered the trail to the Ojibway Tower, the beaver dam and what lay beyond, and the ranger residence to the west of the campsite, a quaint structure with solar panels as a source of power. While I took a short swim, both ladies took the opportunity to visit with others on the dock.
There, they met a couple of powerhouse women who had managed to carry 45-pound packs from Rock Harbor to Daisy Farm on the day that we arrived. Like us, they come in on the delayed boat from Copper Harbor. On that same day, they hiked directly to Daisy Farm, arriving after 10:00 PM with headlamps. Because of the heavy pack weight, one of the two women bruised her arm when putting on and removing her pack, the red-black bruising visible below the short sleeve of her tee-shirt. At the end of the first day, they dug out their luxury items, a flask of whiskey and a pint of bourbon. Affectionately, they became known to us as the “whiskey ladies.” Even while we felt for them in their struggles with those heavy packs, we also admired their stamina, for it is no small feat to port 45 pounds for 7.2 miles, the distance from Rock Harbor to Daisy Farm.
Leaving Daisy Farm, we decided to ascend the Greenstone Ridge to the Ojibway Tower. The trail to the tower passes over a couple hills and across a couple boardwalks that span a creek and a swampy area. As we crested one hill, we walked up on a cow moose.
She stood looking at us with her ears forward. Still, we backed away so that we might not cause her to change her mind and lay her ears back. She passed into the woods across the trail and disappeared. A few paces along, we saw her through the trees. She looked out at us patiently while we zoomed in with our cameras to take photos.
All along on Isle Royale, the trails cross over or go around impediments. Those ascending to the Greenstone Ridge use boardwalks to traverse swamps and beaver ponds. With the lack of water due to draught and predation of beavers by wolves since their reintroduction, many swampy areas are low, so the boardwalks seem to tower over the low water beneath them, creating an illusion of extended height. Three feet and more of the vertical supports of one of the boardwalks were visible as we made our way across and on toward the Ojibway Tower.
Both Jennifer and Lara ascended the tower as high as they could go while I stayed on the ground to capture them on film. They took photos to the north and south, capturing both Canada and extended views of Lake Superior, respectively. We met Michael who day hiked toward Mt. Franklin with us. Like the “whiskey ladies,” Michael had hiked to Daisy Farm directly from the boat in Rock Harbor. Apparently, he and his friend John were also on the Friday boat out of Copper Harbor. Michael went on ahead of us toward Mt. Franklin.
From the tower, we made the hike to Mt. Franklin, stopping at a number of lookouts to take photos and text friends. On our way, we met Michael again on his way back down to Daisy Farm. At Mt. Franklin, we we enjoyed lunch. We visited with day hikers from the Rock Harbor Lodge who had taken the Sandy tour boat to Hidden Lake Dock, climbed up to Lookout Louise, and hiked over to Mount Franklin for one of the best views on the island.
From the top of Mt. Franklin, Jennifer and Lara exclaimed at the views looking toward Canada. Finally, we hiked .3 miles toward the junction to the Mt. Franklin Trail. While we considered hiking into Lane Cove, we chose to proceed to 3 Mile campground. We had hiked a lot and were ready to end our 7.2-mile day with a waterfront tent site on the Rock Harbor side of the peninsula, so we descended the steep trail to the junction with the Rock Harbor Trail just outside the campground.
Given that we did not arrive until 3:00 PM, we were not surprised that the shelters were filled, but we were pleasantly surprised by the beauty we found at tents site 9. That evening, we found ourselves relaxing at the picnic table, but the temperatures dipped as the shadows lengthened. To preserve the time for visiting, we climbed onto the rocks between site 9 and shelter 10, catching the last hour of sunlight.
Eventually, we were driven from the rocks by the cool air of dusk. The temperatures dropped that night into the low 50s or upper 40s. We did not have a thermometer to verify, however. That night, we all slept in our base layers and outer clothes as well as our puffy coats, hats and gloves–this even in our 15-degree sleeping bags. Still, from our campsite on the shore the sunrise was extraordinary.
From 3-Mile Campground, we continued into Rock Harbor. We knew that the Ranger III and the Queen IV had both been delayed a day, so we started early in hopes of acquiring a recently vacated shelter before others arrived to occupy them. We were pleased to land in Shelter 6 and set up quickly.
We enjoyed visiting with other hikers as we had dinner at the Greenstone Grill. It was amazing how good a simple burger tasted after a few days of dehydrated meals. At the grill, we also ran across the day-hikers from the Mount Franklin lookout.
Prior to the regularly scheduled departure at 2:45 on the Queen IV, the three of us hiked out to Scoville Point to complete the journey we had started on the day of our arrival. There, we ran across Michael and a number of day hikers again at the end of Scoville Point. We all took each other’s photos and hiked together back to Rock Harbor, taking the forested loop that passes by the Smithwick Mine where Michael and Jennifer saw two red foxes.
Back in Rock Harbor, we lunched at the Greenstone Grill before returning to our shelter to pack up. We dropped our packs at the dock and took the last few minutes to purchase snacks for the ride at the Rock Harbor Store. To our delight, we found the “whiskey ladies” in line just a few feet behind us in line. By the time we handed up our packs and boarded, we found ourselves sitting with the ladies and Michael as well as Michael’s friend John who had struggled during the hike and ended up renting a boat with an outboard motor instead of doing a lot of backpacking.
In spite of the hubbub of boarding, we also met some day-trippers, a couple in their early 70s, who came out to enjoy the day on the boat and a nice meal at the grill. It reinforced our awareness that there are many ways to experience this beautiful gem of an island. At adjoining tables shared among our larger group, Jennifer, Lara, and I found ourselves amid a din of voices, all sharing the successes of our current adventures and aspirations for next excursions on the island.
What started out with a group of strangers ended up, I hope, as an adventure among and with friends.
Probably the most fun hike for me is one where newcomers to the sport of backpacking join me for a first hike on Isle Royale and exceed their own expectations–and have a great time doing it. This past weekend Lynn and Gil did just that. They jumped in, got geared up, and mastered the skills that created the possibilities for their great adventure.
For a couple of weeks prior to departure, we chatted over Zoom, and they put together their gear, food, and personal items to meet their needs and not exceed comfortable hiking weight limits. For reference, they used our recommended gear list. When we got to the island, they had exactly what they needed and nothing more. We know this because, at the end of the hike, Gil had one extra protein bar and Lynn had one spare dehydrated meal. They did not have extra clothes, nor did they need clothes that they didn’t take. They were warm day and night, protected from rain, and slept in comfort.
Our route was a good choice for first-time backpackers who want to start out learning to backpack on this rugged, isolated, and demanding island, Isle Royale National Park. We chose to do a loop that started from Rock Harbor and extended to Daisy Farm with the option to go up to the Ojibway Tower, over to Mt. Franklin and back down into Three Mile for the return to Rock Harbor. This proposed itinerary allows us to modify the ridge portion to be completed as a day hike from Daisy Farm, rather than hiking with a pack up to the ridge, in the event that the packs felt too heavy.
Our first night was spent in Rock Harbor, and we set out to Daisy Farm at 8:00 the next morning, climbing over rocks and treading boardwalks over marshy areas. In an hour and a half, we were resting at the picnic table on the big rock at Three Mile campground, eating snacks and enjoying the exquisite view across the harbor toward the barrier islands. We hiked into Daisy Farm a couple hours later, where they first experienced a plunge into the cold harbor to wash off the trail grime prior to the next day’s hike up the Ridge.
Along the trail to the Ojibway Tower, we climbed over a small ridge to descend into a valley where we crossed over a swampy area on a boardwalk, climbed again for a short way, and descended to cross over another swampy area on a longer boardwalk to the east and south of Lake Ojibway. Then we began our ascent to the apex of the Greenstone Ridge. On the left of the trail, Lynn identified Lake Ojibway which she had seen on the map as we planned the hike.
While the 550 feet ascent in 1.7 miles from Daisy Farm to the Ridge at Ojibway Tower can be a struggle for some, Lynn and Gil, who are very fit, managed the climb to the ridge with no difficulty. Their enjoyment of the views from the Tower was evident as they climbed to the highest level accessible to the public.
Reaching the Tower provided a sense of triumph, and the trail across the top of the Greenstone Ridge afforded excellent views. From the top of the Ojibway Tower, Lynn and Gil again observed the barrier islands along the south shore of Isle Royale and beyond to the vast expanse of Lake Superior. Leaving the tower, we hiked eastward along the ridge toward the Mt. Franklin lookout.
As we hiked across the ridge, we ate sugar plums and thimble berries, tasted the tart chokecherries, and identified all the berries not to eat, including those growing in the juniper bushes right next to the tiny blueberries that burst with exquisite sweetness on the tongue.
From the Mount Franklin lookout, we viewed Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, across the expanse of northern Lake Superior as well as Amygdaloid Island, Belle Isle, and the other islands along the north shore. By this time, Gil and Lynn’s satisfaction was evident, and I am sure that mine was, too.
As we hiked, the serene beauty of Isle Royale permeated our beings. Each evening, we bathed in the frigid waters of Lake Superior and basked in the sounds of loons and other shore birds. In the day, we heard the rattling cries of the sandhill cranes in flight overhead. Mergansers and mallards quacked as they paddled along the shore as we hiked by.
All throughout the hike, we watched the trail sides and marshy areas for that elusive moose, to no avail. By the time we logged those last, happy miles into Rock Harbor, we had forgotten that we had not seen a moose and were content with the experiences we had enjoyed.
At Rock Harbor, we rested our packs in the line for boarding the Queen IV, and we set off to enjoy cold beverages and burgers at the Greenstone Grill. Prior to boarding, we stopped by and visited the store and savored ice cream bars. Then there they were–the cow and calves who spent their summer days in the sanctuary of the peninsula behind the Rock Harbor Lodge, safe from the predation of wolves and a treat for human eyes as they crossed in front of the grill to retire for a midday’s nap in the protecting woods.
Each excursion starts with planning and preparation that we hope ends in a successful adventure and a store of memories to last a lifetime for those who venture into this wilderness paradise with us. Our goal is to facilitate the best experience with the utmost possible safety on this remote island. In the end, we want all who hike with us to know the connection with the earth and its landscapes and inhabitants as vitally and alive as we do.
We hope they experience the heights of the ridges, the exquisite views, the refreshing dips into Lake Superior, and even the tastes of the natural fruits of this awesome place. Upon return to catch the ferry, all faces should reflect that deeply held satisfaction that radiates from within.
Duane, Gregg, and Michael have been hiking across the Minong Ridge Trail for the last few days, and we all know that trail is my favorite. You can be sure that I am wishing I were there with them, crossing the beaver dams between Washington Creek and North Lake Desor, trudging up and down the ridge repeatedly between Desor and Little Todd, and enjoying the narrow trail atop the wooded ridge between Little Todd and Todd Harbor. I love that hike!
They started from Windigo/Washington Creek, which lets them keep their zero day banked, and it put them past the roughest parts in the first two days. The beaver dams were drier than usual this year, making them easier to cross and easier not to lose the trail. The single creek to get water on the Minong Ridge Trail, near the Little Todd junction, still flows at this point. For the ambitious, it is possible to hike past Little Todd (saving the 1.5 miles in and out to the Lake Superior shore), and get water at that creek, continuing either to North Desor or Todd Harbor, depending on the direction you take to complete the trail. Of course, in late summer, the creek sometimes dries up, so you should not count on it as a water source.
As they progress across the island, they keep sending photos, either by FB Messenger, or by simple text, from the ridge when they have a little cell service. (Remember to have Canada in your plan if you use your phone from the ridge or your bill will be shocking). All the images here come directly from them as they hike. While they had a little rain on one day, the trail has been ideal most of the time, with a light breeze and partly cloudy skies. The campgrounds are busy, but people are amiable, sharing as needed. I can smell the fresh water as I look at the lake in the images they share.
As with all hikers, these three have different propensities. Gregg is a power hiker with whom many people have trouble keeping pace. He’s a brute, I say affectionately. He is 6′ 4″ or taller, and he hikes like a mountain man, moving at a good pace with his loaded pack, a chair, and a two-person tent to spread out in comfort at the end of the day. Gregg sprints ahead of the two others each morning, while the older guys keep a more steady and measured pace.
With Michael and Duane, the focus is on the experience of the trail. They keep a moderate pace. Yes, they have full packs, but their joy is in the process, the stopping and savoring the adventure along the way. As much as Gregg loves the challenge of covering ground, these two relish the contemplation of the ground they cover, the view, the potential for future hikes, and any other idea that comes up as they traverse the island.
They send pictures without captions, and I piece together where they are. From various lookout points, the images come first from Gregg. I see the rugged trail and inland lakes, and especially views of Sleeping Giant. An hour or so later, the second perspective arrives on that esteemed provincial park, or the inland lakes, or the rocky trail, only with a couple different faces in front.
Look at their faces though. They all look happy, and I am happy for them. They are reaching their goals. Michael wants to finish the trail which he has done sections of before. Once that’s done, he has goals for some other trails. Duane wants to make sure they all stay safe because that’s his main priority, but he loves the hike for the views and the campgrounds. Gregg wants to see all there is to see of the trail and all it passes or nears, the mines, the lookouts, the lakes. He has enjoyed taking a dip in each of the lakes, including Superior.
Today (Aug. 11), they are stuck in McCargoe Cove with cold rain. It’s good they banked their zero day so that they don’t have to hike in the rain today. It’s best to stay off the ridge in the rain, for the rocks can be slippery. On the ridge, there is no shelter from lightning or hail, which might threaten. For them tonight, thunderstorms are forecast early with rain overnight.
While they are hiking the Minong, I am preparing for a Daisy Farm Loop and a couple Chippewa Harbor hikes yet this fall. I do have availability in the September 8-15 Chippewa Harbor hike for this fall if anyone is interested. I am also setting up next year’s schedule where I plan to offer one Minong Ridge hike, one Chippewa Harbor, and a few Daisy Loops, and not all will be women-only.
Duane’s itinerary will include some really creative hikes: The Feldtmann tacked on a Greenstone Ridge, Malone Bay and Chippewa Harbor in a single hike, as well as another Minong Ridge and Greenstone excursions. We also think we might have a third guide for at least one excursion next year.
The Minong Ridge Trail extends from Washington Creekto McCargoe Cove, but you generally hike on into Rock Harbor (or out from Rock Harbor, depending on the direction you take) unless you catch the Voyageur II to or from MCCargoe. It is an awesome trail for an experienced backpacker and not for the novice. It’s a good goal for a second or third solo on the island or a second guided excursion. However these three–Gregg, Michael and Duane–do it, you can be sure I wish I were there.
How does one get started backpacking? Duane always says, “just book a boat.” Yes, just book a boat. If you need more help, book a guide. Then buy a backpack and a good pair of boots.
When you book with Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services, we match you with a guide that can help you define and achieve your goals. Prior to booking, we discuss your hiking experience and help you choose an excursion geared for your success, starting with assessing your objectives and your capabilities for your excursion. We measure your preparedness and make recommendations to ensure that you have the stamina and gear you need to be ready for a successful hike.
Once you book, we review the gear list and consult by email, phone, and Zoom to ensure that you have necessities and help you to select luxury items that make your hike the experience of a lifetime without overtaxing your stamina in having to carry the gear. Your guide provides feedback as you select the needed gear. We also provide loaner gear if you do not wish to purchase all needed items right away, especially for new hikers who are on their first few excursions. As you prepare for your excursion, we provide recommendations for training and encourage hiking in full gear while wearing the footwear you expect to use on the island. You need to have fully broken in footwear prior to departure.
About four weeks prior to departure, we meet and chat by Zoom. At that meeting, we fine tune your gear and review the specifics of your needs, including pack weight, food and clothing needs. We discuss important choices and options, ensuring that your planning takes into account unforeseen issues, such as weather events and environmental conditions, that might crop up and also to preempt common packing issues that new hikers encounter.
On the eve of departure, guides meet with you to review safety guidelines, conduct final pack weigh-ins, and review any last-minute details. If pack weights are excessive, guides assist you in making prudent choices for reducing weight without sacrificing safety and comfort. They understand that desire to add last-minute items, and help you decide what is unnecessary to the hike.
On island, our guides are experts in trail routes and current conditions. They are aware of obstacles and detours around them so that everyone enjoys a successful hike as safely as possible. They stay abreast of developing weather conditions and move hikers out of harm’s way. In the event of emergency, they carry a safety beacon to summon help and alert park first responders of any incidents. During the hike, guides provide security and moral support for the whole team while they traverse the island together. Guides assist backpackers in fulfilling their dreams for a rugged island experience under their skilled and watchful support.
Isle Royale is not an easy place to hike, so we help you determine which hike will work for you, whether that is beginner, intermediate, advanced, or one that allows you to adjust on the fly–pick the number of days and we can make an itinerary that flexes as you flex. On the Daisy Farm Loop for example, we can include the Mount Franklin to Mount Ojibway route as part of the excursion with full packs, or we can set up camp and day hike to Mt. Franklin from Three Mile and to the Ojibway Tower from Daisy Farm. Day hikes require carrying only some water and a snack, which makes them more pleasant than climbing the elevations in full gear.
Other Loops and cross-island hikes are possible at all levels and are tailored to the individual hiker or hikers in a group. For advanced hikers, we can even combine loops and cross-island hikes for comprehensive island experiences, for example tacking the Feldtmann Loop onto a Minong or Greenstone cross-island hike. We book based on hiker experience and capability, and we like to creatively design unique excursions that work to meet your goals and expectations.
As we age, we face the inevitable judgments about our abilities to engage in vital activities, yet these activities are necessary for us to remain vital in our senior years. The pointed commentary comes at us from all sides, from healthcare professionals, to those who mean well but don’t understand the importance of staying active to retain our fitness, to those who have given up on themselves. Frankly, I’m tired of it, and I’m not giving in.
The other day, Duane was at his annual physical. He had his medication adjusted because his anti-inflammatory was not working effectively so his knees were aching when he backpacked. As he sat in the exam room, the nurse came in to take his vitals, weight, blood pressure, blood oxygen, pulse, the usual. Over the last few years, he had lost 42 pounds and kept if off for over two years. Duane was ecstatic. The nurse said, “you should just give up backpacking. You’re too old.”His doctor said that the hiking is what’s working for Duane. Hiking is keeping him young.
I routinely share our posts and videos about backpacking with my friends, well, all over Facebook. Of course, our work shares the fact that backpacking is tough. It is also exhilarating. Backpacking asks me to monitor how my body is working. It makes me live up to my expectations for working that hard–and for feeling that good. To be able to backpack, I have to work out a lot. Generally, I ride my bike for 90 minutes a day, going between 20 and 24 miles, depending on how good my knees feel. If I can bike up the hill, I do, for a total of 22 miles. If not, I ride to a beach and back along the waterfront for 20 miles. I post images from my bike rides, mostly bald eagles, sunrises, and sandhill cranes.
Sometimes, I day hike or backpack locally. Other times, I do more formal workouts, such as martial arts or other programs, especially during the winter when it’s not suitable for biking and maybe too blustery for skiing or snowshoeing. These activities ensure that I am in condition to hike. Recently, I invited my high school girlfriend who does some of the same activities if she would like to backpack with me. She said, “I’m too old to hike.”
I take an anti-inflammatory for my knees. When I bike and hike every day, my muscles are strong, and my knees feel much better than when I don’t exercise. This year, when I stepped on the scale and weighed 15 pounds less than I expected, I was ecstatic. This summer I am leading several of the hikes we have planned. I wish I had more time off from “real” work to do more of this other work that makes me feel so good in such a different way. Don’t get me wrong, I love helping working adults meet their life goals by shepherding them through courses I teach at university. I also love feeling myself get stronger as I prepare for and carry out my hiking plans each year. I am not too old to hike.
Backpacking is not just work–it is effort expended that results in the kinds of rewards that make life meaningful. Sure, there are 13- or 14-mile hikes. Trails can scale ridges tangled with roots and strewn with rocks, but the views go on forever, well, at least to Canada. Mostly, though, Isle Royale hikes are between 5 and 9 miles with 12 to 14 hours each day to do them.
We plan the trips so that are doable for the specific people hiking them. Beginners start with 21 miles in 4 days. The pace can be at one mile an hour or less, and sometimes it is. Built in are day hikes to add another 10 miles if the hikers wish. There is an optional route that changes the 21 miles to 25. Even the longest hikes can be broken into manageable pieces, but planning must account for the actual hikers’ levels of fitness and hiking experience on similar terrain.
To backpack, you need solid research, strength of will, stamina, accurate self-assessment, and real practice with your gear. You need good gear and sound planning with alternates in the event that you want to do more or wish to do less than what the itinerary says. You need a sense of adventure and a desire to do the work that is required to be fit and capable for the excursion you plan. Keep in mind, too, that there is no rush to be too old to hike.
In 2022, I set out to prove that women can solo the Minong and senior women can, too. For a long time, the Minong Ridge Trail has been my favorite trail on the island, partly because of its mystique, but also because of its terrain. Only 10 days prior to my 63rd birthday, I soloed the Minong Ridge Trail on Isle Royale in three days because I could. A month later, I completed it again with Duane in four days, which is a much more reasonable pace.
The Minong is slightly lower in altitude than the Greenstone Ridge Trail, but it has steep ascents and descents in rapid succession in certain segments that intensify its difficulty. In other sections, swamps and beaver dams provide hazards to the uninitiated who can get lost in unmarked areas or confused by moose paths that obliterate the trail. In addition to the ruggedness, however, there is beauty in the exceptional beaches and spectacular views. Two of the beaches are located on Lake Superior at Todd and Little Todd Harbors, one on the inland lake at North Desor, and another along the pristine McCargoe Cove. Through its length, the Minong Ridge avails incredible views of Canada. It has spotty cell service from Canada, usable by those with international plans. Don’t if you don’t have such a plan–it’s expensive.
The Minong Ridge Trail is the most difficult on Isle Royale. While other trails are also difficult, the Minong accounts for the most Search and Rescue operations because the trail is less evident and less traversed to be made more evident than many of the others, and the hazards occur distant from sources of help.
These features contribute to its fabled status, which only part of why I took up the challenge of soloing it in my 60s. The other part has to do with overcoming the dismissive attitudes of those who discount senior women out of hand, the nay-sayers whose eyes pass right over senior women, even when women speak directly to them–because the nay-sayers don’t recognize the power senior women represent or the capability they possess.
Traditionally, people have been conditioned to think that women enjoy activities that highlight ease and comfort (think of hotels, spas, and resorts), rather than emphasizing physical endurance, adventure, and challenge, such as what is experienced in backpacking on Isle Royale where amenities are nonexistent. Sometimes, women don’t think that the wild outdoors are places they could enjoy. Yes, some women do think of themselves as viable outdoors women, but they are generally the exception, not the rule. My point is to break through and help women to imagine themselves in the backcountry, backpacking, challenging themselves, and meeting or exceeding those challenges.
Further, I want women to know themselves as strong, vital, and engaged in exceeding in the challenges they choose to take up–intellectually and physically. After all, women are strong. Women are capable. Woman are exceeding boundaries. That’s why women are clamoring for avenues to challenge themselves and prove that they can do whatever they choose to do.
This Wednesday, I turn 64, and I will solo the Minong Ridge Trail again at 65. I can’t this summer because of my work schedule, but I have a women’s-only hikes of the Minong Ridge Trail planned for 2024. I also have breakout hikes where beginning women backpackers can try the adventure to see if it is something in which they want to excel.
If you want to pre-register for a breakout or a longer hike, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know which month (June, July, August) you would like to join a women-only hike. Remember that the Wise Old Man is sometimes a woman and Wise Old Man of Isle Royale is owned by a woman.
Filtering & Treating–Alerts, Toxins, and Avoidance
Windigo and Rock Harbor are the only two areas on Isle Royale where water can be obtained from spigots and does not need to be filtered or treated. Every other area, inland or on Lake Superior, requires filtering and/or treating. In addition, sources may become unusable as the season progresses due to algal blooms and drought conditions.
Backcountry campgrounds along Lake Superior will use that lake as the designated water source. These include Three-Mile, Daisy Farm, Moskey Basin, Chippewa Harbor, Malone Bay, Siskiwit Bay, Huginnin Cove, Little Todd Harbor, Todd Harbor, McCargoe Cove, and Lane Cove. All campgrounds on smaller islands in Lake Superior will filter from Lake Superior as well. Clearly, this source does not dry up in drought conditions, but some enclosed harbors with shallow water, such as Todd Harbor, can be contaminated with Swimmer’s Itch, rendering the water not advisable to swim in, but this contaminant is removed from drinking and cooking water by filtering with the recommended .4 or smaller micron filter. Filtering from Lake Superior can be hampered by waves which make it difficult to mechanically operate a filter that uses a hose apparatus. Wading into the water to fill a dirty bag for your gravity filter can also be difficult in waves or cold temperatures in early season. Having more than one method for filtering is recommended.
Interior campgrounds are located along the shores of inland lakes which are the designated water sources. While these sources are generally reliable, Lake Richie and Chickenbone Lake, have experienced algal blooms that make the water unusable for any purpose. The algal blooms release toxins into the water that can neither be filtered nor treated to remove the toxins. Water that appears slimy, thick, or like pea soup, should be avoided. Drinking water contaminated with algal blooms can be fatal. Do not swim in water containing algal blooms. While the Park Service makes every effort to post alerts and warn the public of algal blooms, these contaminants can pop up quickly and may take a day or so to be reported, checked, and posted. Be vigilant of potential contaminants and report them when you see them so that they can be investigated and park visitors alerted of them upon arrival to the island. Never drink water from a source that appears to be contaminated with algal blooms.
The Island Mine water source is a tiny spring-fed rivulet that emerges from the rocks. This small stream is never plentiful, nor have we ever seen it less than the trickle that it is. The water must be filtered like any other. As a flowing tiny stream, it is not prone to algal blooms, but it is not suitable for filling a dirty bag for use with a gravity filter. Best use would recommend a filter with a hose to extend into the tiny pools in the stream.
A few small streams that established trails cross over exist, but these streams are not designated water sources and should not be counted on. These include one near the Little Todd trail marker on the Minong Ridge Trail, one flows between Chickenbone Lake and Lake Livermore between East and West Chickenbone Lake campgrounds, and Grace Creek which crosses the Feldtmann Ridge Trail four miles or so out of Windigo going toward Feldtmann Lake. Creeks not designated as water sources by the NPS cannot be relied on as water sources. While Grace Creek, to our knowledge, has never dried up, the small creeks near Little Todd and connecting Lake Livermore and Chickenbone have dried up in mid- to late-season, making them not reliable. Backpackers who count on small streams to acquire water place themselves at risk of dehydration at certain points in the season and in years with low rainfall.
In essence, paying attention to water concerns will help you stay safe and properly hydrated. Be aware of the challenges of each water source and pay attention at permitting to the current water concerns. On trail, all water must be filtered and treated to reduce the chances of acquiring a waterborne illness. Avoid posted hazards and be alert to possible emerging concerns, such as algal blooms. Ensure that you have gear sufficient to carry three liters of water. Most often, two liters will suffice, but in hot conditions on ridge trails in peak season or on sections of more than eight miles between water sources, three liters may be needed. Depend only on designated sources. The intermittent streams are not designated as water sources because they cannot be counted on. Be vigilant to emerging threats, prepare with appropriate treatments and filters, and ensure that you carry enough water to remain properly hydrated throughout your hike.
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.
It’s daunting to arrive on Isle Royale with no experience. You don’t know the terrain, the challenges, or how to plan for your needs, and the environment is remote which creates additional challenges. Wise Old Man guides can help.
Six things you need to know:
First, temperatures vary greatly between day and night, on the shore and on the ridge, regardless of the month of your visit. Therefore, you need a puffy jacket, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a base layer, warm socks, gloves, a hat, a three-season sleeping bag, a minimum of an R3 insulated sleeping pad, and a shelter along with shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, a couple of changes of socks and underwear. Prepare for the extremes, and check weather for Isle Royale, Thunder Bay, and Grand Portage just prior to departure and make tweaks to your gear as needed. Do not skip the rain gear and one full change of clothing in the event that you get wet. Hyke and Bike, available on Amazon, makes a zero-degree bag that weighs in at about 3 pounds and is not extremely pricy. We use them as they are lighter than some of the better known brands at a significantly lower cost. In the pictures below, notice the difference in temperatures in 48 hours and how Duane is dressed.
Second, you need a minimum of a .4 micron water filter and purification tablets to sufficiently purify your drinking water. Only the spigots at Windigo and Rock Harbor have potable water, and you cannot carry enough water with you if you are planning to traverse the island, so you will need to purify and carry water over long distances. We recommend a minimum of two liters for any hike between campgrounds on the Greenstone Ridge Trail. Parts of the Feldtmann Ridge Trail and the Minong Ridge Trail will require an individual to start out with three liters because of the heat on the ridges and the distance between water sources. If your hike extends beyond 11 or 12 miles, take three liters. The microscopic impurities in the water can prove to be threats to your health. If there is an algal bloom, the water cannot be made safe for drinking, so avoid water that is cloudy, thick-looking, or pea-soupy, and do not filter from it or swim in it.
Third, stay on the trail and be alert to false moose paths that can lead you astray. If you become lost, backtrack the way you came to reconnect with the trail because the rugged countryside has cliffs, swamps, and other hazards that you would prefer to avoid. Be alert to trail markings in the form of cairns, human footpaths, and worn trails. On some paths, the brush will be as tall as or taller than you, especially in late season on the Minong, Feldtmann, or Ishpeming Trails. Your feet will feel the indentation of the thousands of feet that have passed that way, and you can see the trail at your feet if you push back the brush. Take a satellite GPS or similar device or a compass and map that you know how to use. There are a few patches of intermittent cell service out of Canada from the ridges, but roaming charges are exorbitant, and service is too spotty to be relied on. Remember, the trail is a trail, so be alert. Look for and follow the trail. An SOS beacon for use in emergency is a good idea. If you don’t want the cost, consider renting one from your local REI store.
Fourth, you need to bring your own shelter as you cannot count on getting a three-sided shelter at any of the campgrounds. The wooden screen-front shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and there are not shelters at every campground. Those who arrive first are not obligated to share, so be sure to have an appropriate backpacking tent with you. Ultralight tents are ideal but pricy. You can find lightweight ones by Clostnature that will not cost your left arm.
Five, the trails are rugged, so have appropriate gear. You need to think of footwear and trail conditions that require assistive walking sticks. For footwear, some people use trail runners, and others choose hiking boots. Regardless of which you choose, make sure they are sturdy enough to stand up to pounding on rocks and roots across rugged trails. Make sure, too, that they are well broken in. Do not use new boots as the blisters will ruin your adventure. As well, bring trekking poles to aid in balance across narrow boardwalks and across the tops of beaver dams. The last thing you want to do is fall into a swamp filled with bugs and sticks sharpened by beaver chewing. Some of the swamps and beaver dams are truly noxious.
Six, bring a variety of dehydrated food that you have tried before so that you know you will like it. Also, be sure to think about the weight of your food. Dehydrated meals are a great choice, and a camping stove with cannister fuel is a good choice. There are other choices, but you want a tried-and-true option if this is your first trip. You don’t want to find yourself with a twig stove in the rain or spilling your white gas from your 1970s college backpacking gear and have to eat your food cold. You also cannot be rid of garbage on the island, so if your food has a lot of packaging, you will have to carry it until you depart and can dispose of it on the mainland. We usually bring one dehydrated meal, something light for breakfast along with our coffee, and a snack bar and nuts for lunch per day. Don’t worry about not having enough to eat. If you don’t eat 12 snack bars a day at home, you certainly won’t need that many on the island.
Remember, your preparation and cool-headedness are your best tools, so prepare, plan, and do your homework so that you arrive on the island with the right gear and reasonable expectations for the adventure. Bring toilet paper, and be prepared to carry it out (bring a ziplock for this and all garbage to contain the odors). Remember, you don’t need to book with us to get help. You can reach out by phone at 906-201-1588, by email at email@example.com, or via messenger on Facebook. We are happy to provide support and advice to make sure you have your best adventure because you have done your research.
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.
When I have had a particularly engaged year with too much work which comes with great satisfaction from the devotion of too much energy to the success of others, I stop. I simply stop. At summer, I stop. Some say, “to smell the roses.” But that’s not what I do. The act of smelling is too much and not enough all at once, and my heart cries out for spaces less peopled and water more fresh, for climbs to great vistas and worlds that speak truths out loud.
In the absolute quiet from human noise, I sit in the sun. On a baking rock, I look outward over the lake and inward into my own self. The waves sploosh on the shore, or crash, or ssppsshhh. I hear. The breeze blows whisps of hair across my lips and eyes. I hear. I lay myself down to see insects in the sand, porting forth tidbits of debris, housebuilding I assume, and shreds of flowers or seeds, edibles I assume.
Sometimes I bring a book as though to read, but I don’t read it. It lies next to me on the towel, and I listen to the flow of water and the energy of wind. Birds float silent on wings, and I watch from between half-closed eyelids. I could lie here all day in the sun in my sunblock, but eventually the toasting needs respite in the waves, and I unsprawl and recoil to regain my feet. Rising, I tread the uncomfortable pebbles into the shore, sinking grateful into coolness that embraces the parts that have given too much elsewhere.
The buoyant water holds me, and I push against it fishlike to propel myself forth, all submerged beneath the nostrils breathing in god’s (or the gods’) air. And I roll like a great whale, supine and then prone again, the undulation of face up and face down refreshing. The sun diamonds the surface and shadows my shape beneath, along the sand and rock of the bottom. I am held and sustained until the coolness creeps into my bones, and I emerge to recline again face up to the heat on the shore with my book that I don’t read.
And I drink long the water of life as I climb up the ridge for a view of the vista to the north, the giant in repose, and then leftward, westward, the sun retiring. I seat myself for the presentation of yellows to pinks that streak the water toward me, a golden road westward across the azure expanse. And just about the time I believe it to be perfect, I hear the small zzzzz of a mosquito, and I make my way off the precipice to my tent to listen to the night creatures, the tree frog and the owl, the rustle of fox. And the rest of the singing insects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ten Reasons to Basecamp at Washington Creek Campground at Windigo
Not everyone who goes to Isle Royale wants to backpack, and–let’s face it–lots of people can’t afford to stay at the lodge or the camper cabins. The alternative is to base camp, but where?
There are many options which I addressed in another post, but the most user-friendly choice is to basecamp at Windigo. There are ten reasons why Windigo is a great choice for basecamping and dayhiking:
One:Washington Creek has a three-night stay limit, as opposed to Rock Harbor’s one-night limit. This means that you can enjoy the ambiance of Isle Royale without having to carry your gear from campsite to campsite if you spend three nights in Washington Creek Campground. Just set up in a campsite and plan for days hikes instead of packing up and carrying gear daily.
Two:Windigo has modern facilities, so for a fee you can shower and do laundry as needed. You don’t need to feel all that “rustic” even though you are camped out. There are also flush toilets, which means that you don’t have to use the outhouse if you don’t want to, but you should bring toilet paper as the park may not supply it, even though the toilets flush.
Three: The Windigo store has food and camping supplies, so if you forget something, you can usually find a suitable alternative. You can also have soda, juice, beer, or wine at the store, or you can take it to go to your campsite. The store also carries a limited stock of food, candy, gifts, and mementos. The store rents kayaks and canoes that can be used to paddle Washington Harbor, allowing access to Beaver Island and up past the campground at Washington Creek.
Four: The Windigo Visitor’s Center has maps, books, gifts and mementos as well. They are also staffed with rangers and volunteers that can answer your questions. There are also displays of artifacts, included a taxidermied wolf and the original lens from the Rock of Ages Lighthouse which has been automated.
Five: Day hiking is optimum from Washington Creek. You have access to the Feldtmann Ridge trail, the Greenstone Ridge Trail, the Minong Ridge Trail, and the Huginnin Cove Trail. While you would only go a mile or two out on most of the trails if you were not interested in backpacking, you could dayhike out and back to Huginnin Cove if you can manage 5 to 6 miles with a daypack with water and a snack for lunch.
Six: Moose watching is optimum at Washington Creek campground where the moose love to graze the vegetation in the bottom of the creek in relative safety from wolves in the populated campground. While it is never guaranteed that a moose will visit while you are there, it is one of the best places to put yourself in one of the best places to catch a view a moose or even a cow and new calf.
Seven: Transportation to and from Windigo is plentiful. From Grand Portage, Minnesota, you can book on the Voyageur II or the Seahunter III via Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Lines. The boat trip is also the shortest, about an hour an a half, for those who may not want to spend four or six hours on Lake Superior, which is required to take a ferry from Michigan. Windigo is also served by the Isle Royale Seaplanes from Houghton, Michigan, and Grand Marais, Minnesota, so there are options for transportation.
Eight: Campsites are plentiful. There are 5 individual tent sites, 10 shelters, and 4 group sites at Washington Creek Campground, available on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition, there are two camper cabins in Windigo that can be reserved in advance by contacting the Rock Harbor Lodge, but these are almost always sold out.
Nine: Both the Washington Creek Campground and Windigo have water spigots. While you have to bring a water container, you don’t have to filter water at the campground. (You will have to take enough water from the spigot for dayhiking if you don’t have a filter, and most hikes from Washington Creek will not have water to filter within three miles, except for Huginnin Cove. Remember, if you don’t get it from the spigot, you must filter your water.)
Ten: Windigo has a designated handicapped shelter that can be reserved by people with mobility limitations. Rock Harbor also has a handicapped shelter. Call the park headquarters in Houghton for more information.
Isle Royale is a great place to hike and backpack, and it’s not only for the young. Backpacking is about endurance and preparation, not speed. Our national parks are for all of us, seniors included.
You should check with your healthcare provider to make sure you are in good physical health. If you have health conditions, heed doctor’s advice for planning your hike or even going at all. With the okay from your health care provider, let’s talk about getting out to Isle Royale National Park.