Isle Royale Hike in mid-June 2022

Boarding the Queen IV in Copper Harbor

On June 11, 2022, I arrived at the Queen IV dock at 7:00 AM and checked in with Miranda at the office. I was excited for my first trip out for the year, even though the forecast was for cold and rain. I felt prepared with my cold-weather gear. Captain Ben and the crew were ready for us to board as you can see above. There is a companion video here.

I had on my bush hat to protect from rain, but I had my sock hat stashed in my pocket in case it was really cold. Under my rain coat, I had on my puffy, a button-up shirt, a tee-shirt, and a base layer as the crossing promised to be cold, and I planned to spend at least some time out on deck to enjoy the fresh air and lake views. I also wanted to be sure to be warm enough in the event that I needed to stand out on deck if it got wavy.

We arrived in Rock Harbor at 11:30 after an uneventful crossing to a relatively nice day, a little cool, but not that cold. I stayed in Shelter 6 as I had a hop planned to Chippewa Harbor for the next day. Looking forward to the first hike of the year, I was asleep early, woke early, and had coffee with plenty of time to be at the dock well in advance of departure. The morning was cold and rainy.

It was so cold that I sat in the cabin of the Voyageur II on the way to Chippewa Harbor. Those who know me realize how unusual this is. Normally, I sit out back, watching the wake and receding view behind. Captain Matt piloted, and Kevin was the deck hand. We departed the dock at 9:00 AM and had another uneventful hop to our destination. At the dock in Chippewa, I was the only one getting off the boat, and I soon discovered that I was on the only one in the campground.

Because of the rain I did not want to hike very far, and certainly not to the ridge as the trail would be slick and treacherous, so I hunkered down in Shelter 3 for a long cold day. The rain did not abate all day, and the high temperature was 45 degrees. After a thoughtful afternoon and evening of listening to the falling water and rustling trees in the wind, I enjoyed a dehydrated meal and hoped for drier weather for my hike toward West Chickenbone campground. The last temperature reading I saw before sleeping was 35 degrees, significantly colder than what I had seen the year before in June on my Malone Bay hike.

Rainy Day at Chippewa Harbor
Muddy Trail out of Chippewa Harbor

As I packed up, I dreaded the thought of the hike in the cold rain, but I hoped optimistically for clearing and a little sun. I watched the sky lighten as I sipped my coffee, but the rain did not stop. The hike would be soggy in the rain and the sodden vegetation. On my way toward Chickenbone, I met a couple and a solo hiker who were happy to hear that shelters were available in Chippewa. Opposite of my hopes, the day got worse. As I got to the West Chickenbone campground, the rain let loose into downpour, and I sought shelter under some broad leaf trees. As I stood there, a fellow hiker sloshed up and paused. “There are open shelters in McCargoe Cove,” he said, moving on. I hollered after him, “there are open ones in Chippewa Harbor, too.”

Given that I was soaked and chilled, there was no point to stand under the trees, so I moved on to warm with the heat of hiking. Arriving at McCargoe Cove to find myself alone again, I had my choice of shelters. I have never seen the island so empty of people and so many open shelters.

Moose in the Mist
Loons
More Loons

At McCargoe, I stopped at Shelter 7 where I could see down the path to the dock. I set up the tent and changed into a complete dry set of clothes to stave off hypothermia. One cannot hike all day in the rain with the high temperature at 45 degrees and not get chilled. In dry clothes, I lay in my tent for awhile to warm up. My 15-degree sleeping bag was perfect for the task, and before long I was toasty warm.

Once I got outside, I realized there was a couple of kayakers in another shelter. They had gotten dropped there by the Voyageur II and planned to paddle to Belle Isle and explore the fingers. When the National Park Service volunteer came into the dock in the morning, he recommended they leave right away that morning to get to Belle Isle as there was a storm coming, and by afternoon there would be waves of seven feet on the lake. Hearing that, the paddlers departed quickly.

Dock at McCargoe Cove
Kayakers Disappeared into the Fog

I watched them paddle away from the dock as I relaxed with my coffee. The sun pretended that it might peek out, but the grey was refusing to give way. Eventually, I made my way to the dock, taking the opportunity to get a picture of the loons and the moose through the misty morning.

Within a couple of hours, I heard them approach the dock again. Apparently, the waves were already fierce on the lake, and they decided to return to the safety of the Cove for another night. Their good sense prevailed. They caught the Voyageur II the next day to Belle Isle.

At lunch, I made a Mountain House and began to contemplate my own conundrum. If the weather did not improve, I would have to hike 8.2 miles to Daisy Farm in the rain. If I stayed put for a second night in the shelter at McCargoe Cove, the next day, I would have to hike 12.6 miles to Three Mile Campground, leaving the 3 miles for the morning I had to catch my boat.

Belle Isle Dock

Or I would have to go 15.3 miles to Rock Harbor with no stress on the morning of the boat. With no hint of let-up in the rain, it would be likely that I would arrive in either Three Mile or Rock Harbor to a full campground, so I would have to set up wet in a tent site in the 45-degree weather.

Waves and Fog at McCargoe Cove Entry

I thought about hitchhiking, but there is no guarantee that the Voyageur II would come into McCargoe Cove as it is an optional stop that is scheduled on demand. Given it was so early in the season and because of the awful weather, I thought they might not come in. They are guaranteed only when a drop-off or pick-up is scheduled.

As Head Guide for Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services, however, I thought of a better plan. I used my Garmin satellite communicator and called our mainland office in L’Anse, and Beth reached out to Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation out of Grand Portage and booked me a hop. She sent my confirmation to the Garmin, and I was good to go.

In the morning, the kayakers and I were waiting at the dock as the Voyageur II chugged in. We must have beamed at the crew, for they exuberantly welcomed us. In a haze of fog, we left the safety of the cove into the open lake as the rain fell softly. We all stayed inside the cabin to stay as dry as we could, me knowing that we would arrive so late in Rock Harbor that it would be unlikely that I would get a shelter.

Voyageur II”s Wake, Leaving McCargoe Cove
Tarp Set-Up

On the way, I met a couple of canoeists who were off to Chippewa Harbor the next day on a canoe trip through the inland lakes. That evening, I shared Tent Site 16 with them. They had a nice tarp set-up that allowed us to cook and eat dinner out of the rain.

Before we disembarked, the captain shared the fact that the Voyageur II would depart Rock Harbor the next day an hour early to avoid the gale that was predicted. Of course, this did not bode well for my departure on the Queen IV the next day.

There was no word posted regarding the Queen IV that evening, so I was hopeful when we packed up and headed down to the Rock Harbor dock in the morning, still in the rain. Not ten minutes after we got there, the announcement came that the Queen IV was postponed until Friday, so I set out to find a shelter. With the 49 passengers who were scheduled to depart on Thursday and those who would arrive throughout the day to catch the Friday boat, Rock Harbor was going to be stretched to capacity.

Sign posted in front of Rock Harbor Visitors Center
Multiple Tents in a Rock Harbor Shelter

In fact, some people from the Lodge had to be reaccommodated in shelters as their bookings had passed and the rooms were scheduled to other lodgers. The Rangers graciously helped the dislocated to find gear and space where they could.

I ended up with a father and son in my shelter. To the right of me was a father and two children who shared with a solo hiker. To the left of me were the dislocated lodgers welcomed by another couple.

In the morning, Captains Ben and John loaded and unloaded passengers with mathematical precision. In under an hour, they docked, unloaded and reloaded gear as smooth as could be, with National Park staff shepherding passengers to keep the disembarking in line to their orientation and the departing passengers in orderly access to the boarding point. Still with high seas, we cast lines and headed toward Copper Harbor, with maximum haste as the Queen IV and her crew had a second round trip on that afternoon to make up for the one canceled on Thursday. I was thankful for their expertise and professionalism.

My First Sunny Day at Departure

And then it was sunny. As I stood aboard the Queen IV, the sun in my eyes, I reflected on my excellent adventure. Yes, I got rained on; yes, it was cold; yes, we shared shelters and commiserated about hikes missed or experiences not had, but this was simply another face of opportunity presented by Isle Royale and the wonderful people who work and visit there. I will be back again soon.

Isle Royale as We Pull Away

Kayaking on Keweenaw Bay in Lake Superior

Setting Out

On June 5, 2022, Duane and I got out for the third time this year in our kayaks. We had been out a couple weeks earlier when it was warmer, circling around the entire area known as L’Anse Bay, basically from the water plant in L’Anse, across to the Ojibwa Campground in Baraga and around the head of the bay and back to the water plant. I’d guess it would be about 9 or 10 miles, depending on how close one hugged the shoreline.

The water was glass calm and the weather was warm, so we were out in rash guards and wetsuit bottoms, in spite of the cold water. Of course, we had on our PFDs. I was practicing with my new Greenland paddle, using techniques from a paddling program I was exploring, bending forward as I leaned to impact turning, bracing, and the like. The paddle felt remarkably different, and it allowed different movements. Interesting.

Duane

I was gearing up for the next lessons, which were sculling and what my program was calling the “old man roll,” which felt about my speed. After about four hours of paddling, though, we had had enough. The sun was setting. We went out the next weekend in somewhat choppy water.

Because of the cold wind, we didn’t try to do too much, just a little warm-up maneuvering in the waves. We had ordered new dry suits, so we were not in any rush to get out in the cold water. Satisfied with his day, Duane was on shore, and I still took some turns in the water.

In Our Dry Suits, Me on Tiptoes and Duane Scooched Down
Deadhead

In my practice turns in the choppy waves, I was extending the paddle, just like in the videos, feeling really good about my progress. After about 30 or 40 turns, I was about to be done, making one last tight curve in close to shore to turn back to the landing spot, but I hit a wave oddly and missed my brace. I’m not even sure I tried to brace as it happened so quickly. But I was upside down at an odd angle. I have never capsized unintentionally, so I did not have a ready course of action in mind, which delayed my response. Not good!

By the time I managed to get turned around to pull the front of the spray skirt loose, I was disoriented and needing a breath. I had tucked junk under the straps at the front so I had trouble getting it loose. Pulling hard and kicking, I managed to free myself, but not without a good scare. I came up gasping, but I had not taken in a big drink. Right side up, I hung on my boat and breathed.

Waves Picking Up

When we finally got going on June 5 in the cold weather, I felt a bit reticent, needing to regain some confidence. I can self rescue with a paddle float and the cowboy maneuver, but I am still working on avoiding the wet exit. We are working on assisted rescue techniques, if only the water would warm. We also carry Garmin Explorer Pluses for navigation and safety. Still, I was little tentative as we started.

Underwater Structures
Duane’s Boat Bouncing through a Wave

On this lake, there are hazards–frigid water, deadheads, floating snags like fishing nets, rocks protruding from the bottom, boulders just below the surface, unexpected high wind and waves, fog rolling in to obliterate one’s view, boaters who can’t see kayaks, kayaks that aren’t visible on radar, etc.. It is no place for the unprepared, those without PFDs, or ones who fail to heed warnings from the Coast Guard or National Weather Service.

Duane and I have a deal when we paddle: Anytime, no matter what, if one of us is uncomfortable, we go to shore, whether that is to bunch the adventure entirely or simply to get our bearings. We spend a lot of time on the water paddling, and I spend a lot of time in the water swimming. When Lake Superior jangles my nerves, or his, we take a five. We also communicate on the water, and we wait for and help each other when necessary.

Me Going over a Rocky Bottom
Duane in Front

On June 5th, the lake was choppy, but we stayed together throughout. When I watched the video segments that Duane shot, I was surprised at how many times he checked to see that I was there. It was rather touching because I don’t really notice when I am focused on paddling. When the waves came up to the higher end of the forecast at calm to two feet, I needed a break, so we took it.

Surfing on Keweenaw Bay along the Pequaming Shoreline

When I felt better, we got back into the waves for a fast paddle home. Leaving Pequaming, we surfed the waves along the shore from First Sand Beach, past the Township Park and the water plant, back into L’Anse Bay. By then, I was back in my comfort zone, confident that I can indeed operate my boat, avoid the obstacles, and paddle safely. This coming week, we are again practicing exiting and reentry in open water, and I will continue my work with the Greenland paddle. It was a good day overall.

You can see our video of the day here: https://youtu.be/eWY_C9C9nSs

Clothes for Hiking IRNP

Isle Royale Average High and Low Temperatures, and Daylight Hours

Clothing you bring to hike Isle Royale National Park needs to meet the diverse conditions on the island, including preparing for variations by season and terrain. We also talk about optional clothing items, bathing suits, for example, or a towel, and some style choice differences. Our Garb course addresses all aspects of clothing in a lot more depth, so do check it out here. You will be prompted to create a login to check it out. The courses are free.

We put clothing choices in a perspective that keeps overall pack weight in mind while addressing weather. As we expressed in Backpacks, Gear and Weight Course everything you put in your pack effects its total weight, and ends up on your back.

Check the Forecast

Now even though the long term average for September is high 63 degrees and low 50 degrees Fahrenheit, this is only average. On our September 2020 trip, we experienced highs in the mid 50s and nighttime lows in the mid 20s. The averages can be a guide, but look to actual current forecasts for Grand Portage, MN , Thunder Bay, Canada and Copper Harbor, MI. for a little more idea to what you may encounter weather wise. Many people we know who go in late May/ early June, talk of finding snow and ice left from the previous winter.

Clothing is weather specific

There are several weather forecast locations that I find to be good for giving you a basic idea of what to expect for your adventure. They are Grand Portage, MN, Copper Harbor, MI and Thunder Bay, Canada. Just prior to departure, I look at the past week and the future forecasts and take the worst/coldest one and pack for that kind of weather.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera

Rain

Always bring rain gear. Even if it doesn’t rain, your rain gear is a great warmth-saving, wind-breaking, outerwear, worth it’s weight in your pack. Rain gear is not heavy at all. 

A complete change of dry clothes is essential for your safety. On Isle Royale, the temperatures can drop unexpectedly to the point where hypothermia is an issue. In an all-day, cold rain, a person can become completely soaked through. To protect from hypothermia, you must get dry and warm quickly.

If your budget does not allow for purchasing Dry Sacks, use gallon heavy duty freezer bags to ensure you maintain a complete set of dry clothes.

The same goes for your sleeping bag. Being able to get out of cold wet clothes, into dry clothes and a dry sleeping bag to warm up could be the difference between life and death in the backcountry of Isle Royale.

Heat–daytime highs

Temperatures can climb upper 80s on some of the ridges while hiking. This doesn’t mean it is the norm, but it happens frequently. Within our layers, though, we both have shorts.

Cold–nighttime lows

The coldest temperatures we have experienced were the third week of September 2020. Two nights consecutively (one in Feldtmann Lake and Siskiwit Bay)were in the mid 20s at night. Now we packed for this extreme and were well prepared with lightweight down backpacking  jackets and an extra base layer each. These items were in addition to our hats and gloves. 

Duane’s Minimum Clothing Items

All his clothing are synthetic or wool wick-away type fabric, including one pair of convertible pants, a long sleeve button up shirt, one tee-shirt, 3 pairs of underwear and 3 pairs of socks, These items fit into a 6 Liter Dry Sack and weigh 2 lbs. 10 oz. total including the bag.

On his person are a pair of socks and underwear, tee-shirt, long sleeve button up shirt and a pair of convertible pants. This allows for a change of clothes so that he can rinse a set and have them dry while wearing the other set.

Convertible pant
Raincoat, hat and gloves

He also takes a Black Diamond Stormline Stretch Rain Shell, a sock hat and gloves. They all pack into the jacket’s pocket and weigh 15 ounces. He also takes a synthetic base layer top & bottom, which weigh 11 oz.

He also brings a three-season down coat.

Beth’s Minimum Clothing Items

The Layering Idea

Like Duane, I layer my clothing, choosing season-specific layers to meet my needs. Remember, almost any month on Isle Royale can require at least a cool-weather coat and almost any month can also tempt one to take a bathing suit. 

Socks

Generally, I like midrise hiking boots, with which I will take three pairs of ankle-high (not knee-high) merino wool or wool-blend socks in addition to the pair I have on my feet. If the weather is cold or tends to dip down in temperatures in the evening, I will change out one pair of the ankle-high socks for calf-high ones to wear with pants or hiking tights. If it’s really cold, I will also take a silk sock liner to wear under the high socks if need be. 

Underwear

I take a couple of sports bras and lightweight underwear. I can alternate bras, wearing one and washing the other. I pack 3 pairs of synthetic underwear.

Base Layer

I tend to feel colder than Duane; therefore, I need to have more layers than he uses. I take an under-base silk layer, both top and bottom, as well as a synthetic base layer top. I don’t take a bottom base layer in addition to the silk because I take long-legged hiking tights which double as a base layer under my hiking pants. 

Silk Base Layer top

The second base layer of silk is much lighter than any other, but it is not as warm as wool or synthetic. I take it as a second base layer to be worn under the synthetic for cold weather.

Notice that the silk base layer is so thin you can see through it. Nevertheless, it adds warmth that I need without the bulk and the weight under my firs base layer.

Shirts

I take two tank tops and two roll-up sleeve, vented, water resistant hiking shirts in cold weather and only one in warmer weather. I wear one set for the crossing and one set is in my pack.

A new study led by the University of Washington has shown that mosquitoes have color preference. They seem to not be attracted to the color blue, so I wear blue. I don’t know if it makes a difference, but I am willing to give it a shot–anything to reduce the potential for being a target of mosquitoes.

Pants

I have found that zip-off leg, quick-dry hiking pants that work fine. The rolled-leg type collect debris, so I avoid them. In cold weather, I also take one pair of long-legged hiking tights because I find them more comfortable than the hiking pants. 

Capris Tights
Full-length Tights

The capris-length tights are my go-to choice in warm weather because they are comfortable. If it’s warmer, I take two pairs of capris and the convertible pants. If it’s going to be cool, I take one pair capris, one long-legged tights, and the convertible pants. 

Outerwear

I take two kinds of coats, a raincoat/windbreaker and an ultralight down jacket. If it is not getting colder than into the 60-degree range at night, which is very warm, I will only need the raincoat/windbreaker. If the weather promises to be in the 50-degree range, I will take the down coat and the raincoat, making sure that the raincoat will go over the down coat. 

Eveningwear on the Island

Hat & Gloves

I always take a knit hat and water-resistant gloves as well as a baseball cap. The knit hat can be for wearing in a cool evening as well as for sleeping if it is really cold. The baseball cap can be used to keep the sun out of my eyes. It also makes me less self-conscious about hair that isn’t washed as often as I’d like.  

Optional 

The inland lakes will offer a nice way to rinse off. Even Lake Superior is a possibility, although it is frigid. If you have the body for it, choose the bikini–it weighs the least. If you want the one-piece, weigh your choices, literally weigh them. The fabrics that bathing suits are made of tend to be really heavy, so you may have to search to find one that works for you.  You can choose not to take a bathing suit and swim in your clothes, which also helps with getting things rinsed. 

Note: there are ribbon leaches in the inland lakes which may hitch a ride on you. They are not dangerous, and you can just pull them off if they get on you. Still, the more clothes you have on you in the water, the less skin is available for them to hitch a ride. 

Forget the towel. You don’t need the extra weight. The microfiber towels don’t dry anything, and terry towels are too heavy. If you must have something to dry with, take a hanky, which is very light, will help dry you off a bit, and it will dry quickly itself.

Cold Weather Adjustments

Notice that there is very little difference between warm weather and cold weather gear, which is because of the possible temperature extremes throughout the hiking season. Don’t bet that it won’t get cold or that it won’t rain. Plan that it will.

In cold weather, change out hiking gloves for more substantial ones. Consider taking hand warmers. Add a sleeping bag liner, and consider adding a down sleeping hood. Leave camp crocks home and use trail runners instead, or just stick with your hiking footwear and forego a camp shoe. It goes without saying that you won’t need the bathing suit.

Other necessities

Don’t forget sunblock if you are fair and bug dope (30% Deet for direct application; 100% Deet for clothing). You can opt for mosquito netting, but it is uncomfortable in the heat.

Note: Stable flies (the flies that bite on Isle Royale) are not deterred by insect repellent. You will need long sleeves and long pants to protect against them–if they are present, so don’t skip the convertible pants and long-sleeved shirt. Mosquitoes and stable flies can bite through most hiking tights.

Booking, Rules & Itineraries

Where to start

How exciting! You have have made the commitment to visit Isle Royale. Let’s get started to help you have a wonderful time and an excellent adventure by preparing you for the challenges you will encounter.

You have a lot of planning ahead of you, from getting your passes, to booking transportation, to getting the lay of the land, to understanding the topography and climate of Isle Royale, to choosing your gear, to planning your route, and finally to setting off on your great adventure. 

What is Isle Royale?

Isle Royale is an isolated island situated in Lake Superior. Four hours by ferry from Copper Harbor, six hours by ship from the Isle Royale National Park Headquarters in Houghton, Michigan, and two hours by ferry from Grand Portage, Minnesota. Thirty to forty minutes by Seaplane from both Grand Marais, MN, and Hancock, MI.

It is a pristine wilderness inhabited by wolves, moose, fox, beaver, squirrel, and other wildlife, a variety of water fowl, including loons, mergansers, ducks, herring gulls, and more. It is haunting and unspoiled, home of lighthouses, shipwrecks, abandoned mines, harkening back to days prior to the creation of the park. It is the location of the longest wolf study engaged anywhere, and it is a microcosm of unspoiled wilderness, preserved by its isolation and the protections afforded by its status as a wilderness area. 

Remote Isle Royale

Gaining Access

To visit the park, you will need a park pass. For backpacking, that means that you will have to pay a fee of $7 per day per person (this actually applies to all visitors, not just backpackers.), use your Federal Recreation Pass, or purchase an Isle Royale National Park Season Pass. 

All Federal Recreation Passes are accepted, so your Annual, Military, Senior, Access, and Volunteer passes will be recognized, allowing a fee waiver for the pass holder and up to three adults traveling with the pass holder, for a total of four. Children 15 and under do not count against the total 4 adults per season pass. Passes must be presented at check in to the park as they have no system to verify your pass ownership.

Park passes can be purchased online at Pay.gov.  You can also purchase a park pass in person or over the phone via the Houghton Visitor Center

Camping Permits

Camping Permits are required for all overnight stays at campgrounds, cross-country sites, docks, or at anchor. 

Of course, individuals often hike Isle Royale alone, but the rules for small-party camping and individuals are the same. 

Permit Displayed on Tent

Group Camping is defined as seven (7) or more people. Advanced reservations are required for any group or organization, including families and friends traveling together, bringing seven or more people to the Island. For more information, visit here: https://www.nps.gov/isro/planyourvisit/group-camping-introduction.htm

Small-Party Camping is defined as six (6) or fewer people. 

All small party campsites contain either tents sites or a three-sided shelter. Shelters and tents sites for individual small parties are available first come, first served. Expect crowded campsites from mid-July through

mid-September. Expect to have conversations about sharing a tent pad and shelter space. Shelters may not be reserved and may not be used solely for cooking or gear storage. To minimize damage to vegetation, tents and hammocks may not be erected outside of shelters; tents may be used inside shelters. 

Off-Trail Camping

Off-Trail Camping means camping outside of established campsites and trails. 

Campers must stay in established campsites unless off-trail (cross-country) arrangements are made when permitting. Terrain and vegetation make off-trail hiking and camping difficult. 

Your Itinerary

When you file for your permit, park service personnel give you an orientation to the backcounty after which you will file an itinerary. This itinerary serves as a starting point for locating you in case there is emergency communication from the mainland or if you fail to turn up at your destination. 

1. If there is an emergency contact coming from the mainland, the itinerary is the starting point for the park service search for you. 

2. If you do not meet your means departure, the transportation company will alert the park service. If you are significantly delayed, they will use your itinerary to begin a search for you, but they DO NOT necessarily send out a search party, if they have reason to believe there is a safety concern search party may be dispatched, but not guaranteed; therefore, your itinerary should be reasonably accurate. Many things such as weather can delay a search and rescue party if deemed necessary, do not expect the N.P.S. to send a boat to pick you up because you are tired or have a sprained ankle. One season in Daisy Farm an individual had a visibly Swollen ankle, the Ranger offered to radio for a Water Taxi, (at the persons own expense, but that was all they could offer). After hearing the cost of the Water Taxi, the individual decided they could walk themselves.

Expectations

To plan your itinerary, you should use your number of days on the island, the stay limits at each campground, and a frank assessment of your hiking abilities in extreme conditions to guide you. 

If you are experienced in extreme and rugged conditions, you will know your own pace and can plan accordingly. If you are a modestly experienced hiker in extreme conditions, you can expect to hike at the rate of 1.5 to 2.5 miles per hour, which means that you can reasonably expect to arrive at Daisy Farm in time to set up camp if you arrive in Rock Harbor on the Queen IV at noon. If you come into Rock Harbor on the Voyageur II or the Ranger III, you might want to plan a stop at Three Mile, just to have time to enjoy the sunset. 

You want to have an adventure, but not a forced march, so take enough time off to have at least a week on the island.

Coordinating Hiking and Hops

To maximize what you can see on a limited schedule you can  coordinate inter-island hops with the Voyageur II to be able to see all the places you want to see, even if it’s not possible to hike to every one. 

By carefully coordinating your arrival and departure dates with the Voyageur II’s circumnavigation schedule,  and your hiking capabilities, you could land in Rock Harbor, hike to Malone Bay, catch a hop to Washington Creek and visit Windigo for a night, and hike back to Rock Harbor along the Greenstone Trail or along the Minong Trail. To accomplish such a plan, you need a map of the island and the distances between campgrounds both of which are available in the Greenstoneand the schedule for your own proposed transportation and schedule of the Voyageur II’s route. You can reach out to the folks running the Voyageur II here

Scheduling Resupplies

To keep your weight down, which allows you to hike faster and with greater range because of a lighter pack, you can consider scheduling a resupply drop with the Voyageur II, which for a minimal fee will drop your package at any of the following docks along their schedule if you coordinate with them ahead of time:

  • Windigo
  • McCargoe Cove
  • Rock Harbor
  • Daisy Farm
  • Chippewa Harbor 
  • Malone Bay
Voyageur II
Standing at the Dock in Rock Harbor

For this to work, you have to coordinate your route to coincide with the Voyager II’s published schedule, which is available on their website, here, and, as I said, in the Greenstone

Caveats

One caution: Novice hikers think that they can go further than they actually can. Therefore, plan into your schedule some “zero” days so that you have time to catch up if you find you have over-estimated your rate of travel or in the event that you have an injury that requires you to rest before pushing on. 

Remember, the ferries won’t wait for you, so you must be sure to meet any scheduled transportation at the appointed time or be prepared for face the consequences. Specifically, if the Voyageur II does not have a planned stop at Chippewa Harbor, they will not stop at that dock, so you will have to schedule in advance. 

And by the same token, if you miss your scheduled boat, you cannot assume there is room for you on the next boat as, in peak season, boats are often full, even for inter-island hops. 

Rules & Regulations

There are rules and regulations associated with Isle Royale as with any public place. This lesson covers the guidelines published in the National Park Service’s newspaper, Greenstone. These regulations are designed to protect Isle Royale and to keep park visitors safe. 

While many may seem intrusive and even silly to those who don’t realize the conditions and circumstances surrounding visiting this National Park, they are implemented for important reasons. In this free course, we address the rules and regulations and the reasons that undergird them. 

Leave No Trace

Isle Royale National Park ascribes to the Leave No Trace principles. They explicitly share information about these principles in the Greenstone. They request that visitors “do their part to preserve and protect the park’s wilderness character for use and enjoyment by present and future generations” (p. 5). 

The seven leave no trace principles are developed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Be sure to visit their website, they can be located at https://lnt.org/about/

  • Principle One: Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Principle Two: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Principle Three: Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Principle Four: Leave What You Find
  • Principle Five: Minimize Campfire Impact
  • Principle Six: Respect Wildlife
  • Principle Seven: Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Transportation Services

Transportation to Isle Royale is available from four carriers with five points of departure either by ferry or by seaplane.

Ferry Services

There are three ferry services. 

1.) National Park Service

Ranger III

Ranger III is the National Park Service boat operated from the Isle Royale Park Service Headquarters in Houghton, Michigan, on the Portage Canal. Find information on the Ranger III here.  Ranger III has the benefit of being run by the Park Service, and visitors to the island undergo their orientation in transit. Hikers also complete their paperwork for their camping permits while on board. Parking is available on NPS property in Houghton, and hotels are available nearby if you are driving from a distance and need accommodation before and/or after you trip.

2.) Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Line, Inc. (GPIRTL)

The Sea Hunter III and the Voyageur II are operated from Grand Portage, Minnesota, in the arrow head region, adjacent to the Canadian border. You can book your passage here. The trip to the Island is approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.  Parking is available at the dock site for a fee. One hotel, the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, is located in Grand Portage, about a mile from the dock, and additional motel and hotel accommodations are available in Lutsen and Grand Marais, Minnesota, 40 and 45 minutes, respectively, from the dock. 

Sea Hunter III

3.) Isle Royale Line, Inc. 

Isle Royale Queen IV

Queen IV operates out of Copper Harbor, Michigan, at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Book the Queen IV here. Its passage to Isle Royale takes 3.5 hours. 

Parking is available near the dock for a fee. Several motels, campgrounds, and lodging options are available in Copper Harbor, adjacent to and within a few miles of the dock. 

Sea Plane Service

Isle Royale Seaplanes runs several planes out of both Hancock, Michigan, and Grand Marais, Minnesota. You can book their services here. Passage to the Island via the Seaplanes takes 30 to 40 minutes, depending on wind conditions. 

Parking is available at the dock for a fee, and hotels, motels, and camping is available in the surrounding communities of Houghton and Hancock, MI, and in and around Grand Marias, MN. 

Sea Plane

Whichever transportation you take, be sure to take into account the circumstances of these remote points of departure to the even more remote island. You may have to arrange a hotel stay in a very small town to be able to arrive early enough at the dock to meet your boat or plane. The remote communities have limited lodging and transportation, so be prepared to book well in advance.

Points of departure to Isle Royale National Park

Planning for Your Needs

Once you have your boat(s) or plane booked, you can think about planning for your needs. See our previous blog for help with it.

Planning for Needs on Isle Royale

Visiting Isle Royale National Park takes some planning. You start with selecting dates and arranging transportation. The limited seats available on transportation to and from the island, so this is your first order of business. In our free Getting Started course, you can learn about transportation, rules and regulations, permits, itineraries and inter-island hops.

Once you have decided on your itinerary, you are ready to think about all the things you are going to need while you are on the island. Here, we are sharing an overview of what you will need, and we provide direct links to our free courses to help you examine each topic in more detail. Remember the courses are free, and they provide you with needed information and connections to help you to make sound decisions for yourself about what you will need for your particular backpacking itinerary.

Overview of Gear

Of course, you need to plan your gear, including your clothing and footwear, food, water, sleeping system and shelter, and your pack to carry what you need. You also need an understanding of the context of the island itself, including the lack of or limited communication. You also need to think about Safety and First Aid. 

Ready to Load the Pack
A Luxury Item for sure

Hydration

There is potable water at spigots in Rock Harbor and Windigo, during regular season. Early or late season visitors may find the water spigots not on. Always plan to filter and treat water on Isle Royale. Given that there is a one-night limit at Rock Harbor and a three-night limit at Windigo, you will need to have a very short trip or bring and use a filtering system and water treatments to meet CDC requirements. At all other campgrounds other than the two mentioned, you will need to filter and treat water to avoid acquiring parasites or viruses. IRNP provides specific guidance in terms of water filtering and hazards which you can access here

Filtering Water
Backpack Reservoir

Wise Old Man Hydration course: We provide a course in Hydration which addresses the recommendations of the IRPS and also discusses common filtering systems and what you need to do to meet the recommendations of the CDC as well as common water hazards to address. This course also addresses how much water you can expect to need and how to plan for meeting your water needs in light of your planned itinerary.  

Clothing

Isle Royale can vary in temperature, depending on the time of year visited, from highs in the 80-degree range to lows in the 20-degree range Fahrenheit. Within a given day, temperatures will likely not vary more than 40 degrees, but you need to plan your clothing to meet the weather forecast for the time of your visit to have appropriate clothing layers to keep you warm in the cold and which can be removed as temperatures climb in the heat of the day or with your change of terrain, with ridges being very warm and the coastline being much cooler.   

Cold Weather Gear at Evening
Tee-shirt in the Midday

Wise Old Man Clothing and Footwear course:  We offer a course in planning for your clothing needs which addresses the options available and mistakes to avoid to keep you warm enough. We do so with clear reference to your needs for keeping the overall weight of your pack to a manageable level. 

Sleeping and Shelter

As you plan for your comfort, you will want to think about your needs for shelter in some form (tent, tarp or hammock) as only some campsites along the shore of Lake Superior have shelters which fill on a first-come, first-served basis. The shelters may well be full when you arrive, so you must pack a tent or a suitable shelter for your safety and comfort overnight. In addition, you will need a sleep system to ensure you are warm and comfortable for sound sleep so that you are fresh and able to meet the challenges of each new day of your adventure. Sleep systems include the clothing you wear to sleep, the sleeping pad, and the sleeping bag. Options for each vary broadly and ratings conform to commonly agreed upon industry standards. These can be sought out on your own, or you can enroll in our course.

Sleeping Bag & Pad
Base Layer
Tent with Rain Fly

Wise Old Man Shelter and Sleeping course: We address the rating system and review the available sleeping pads and bags and base layers. We also review the pros and cons of each type of shelter in relation to your overall pack weight and preferences to help you make decisions about your needs in an informed manner. 

Safety and Communication 

Isle Royale is a remote island in Lake Superior. It has limited access to medical care and a limited stock of materials to address your own first aid, health, and safety needs. Therefore, you need to bring a well-stocked first-aid kit and any additional materials you know you are likely to need. For example, if you have allergies to particular plants or insects, you need to bring your own therapeutics because these are very unlikely to be available on Isle Royale. 

First Aid Kit
Communication Device

As a part of safety, communication is also significantly limited. You cannot call your physician–or any physician–if you don’t provide satellite communication for yourself. Cell service and wifi are not available on Isle Royale outside the services provided to the guests staying at the Rock Harbor Lodge. In the backcountry, there is no reliable communication outside the satellite phone or tracking device. On some of the ridges, spotty cell service (sufficient for texting) is sometimes available, but it generally originates from Canadian cell service providers, so you should ensure that your cell service includes roaming from Canadian sources or you may find yourself with a large bill once you return from the Island. In some cases, these charges can be in the hundreds of dollars. 

Wise Old Man Safety and Communication courseWe discuss the specifics of communication and safety on the Island in our course on this topic, including communication services that work and support for thinking through your needs for first aid. 

Backpacks, Gear, and Weight

All of your needs must be met by what you can fit into your pack. That includes everything. In this course, we talk about the trade-offs that you will need to consider when planning for a pack that is manageable while meeting your basic needs. While there are general guidelines for what weights a backpacker can carry, hikers need to think carefully about their own specific needs, the requirements of remote backpacking, and their capabilities to carry a pack and still enjoy the challenge. Feeling as though you are a pack mule does not make for the most pleasant experience. 

Somewhere on the Greenstone Ridge Trail
Duane Taking Five

Wise Old Man Backpacks, Gear, and Weight course: We offer practical advice for balancing your needs against your comfort in terms of overall manageability of your pack with thoughtful advice for helping you to make the determination for what is best for you. While we don’t have a single answer that fits for everyone, we can help you through the process of making solid choices to meet your own needs.

In a Nutshell

Once you have your itinerary and your passage booked, take some time to plan for the specifics that you will need. Our free courses walk you through the options for choosing what you will need. If you have questions, join our Facebook group at Wise Old Man of Isle Royale and ask away. We are happy to do our best to point in toward resources to help you to make appropriate decisions that meet your individual needs.

Sheltering on Isle Royale

Marmot Limelight 2 Person Tent

Shelter is Not an Option–it’s a necessity!

Shelter of some sort is a necessity on Isle Royale. You need shelter from cold, wind, and rain. 

Rain storms can come quickly and last for a few days. Temperatures can get really cold, with temperatures dipping into the 20s or even the teens. In many of the backcountry campgrounds, the only shelter or structure at all is an outhouse, and you can’t stay in there for long without someone else needing to use it. 

Planning to sleep under the stars is not only foolhardy–it’s downright dangerous. Without shelter, no sleeping bag can keep you warm on a 30-degree night, and certainly not a sodden sleeping bag.

Three-Sided Shelter in Chippewa Harbor

Considering Options

You cannot plan to get a three-sided park shelter every night, or even on any given night. Not all campgrounds have shelters, and there are always more campers than shelters available. Shelters are on a first-come, first-served basis, and no one is required to share. With that in mind, everyone needs to provide their own shelter.

Options for shelter include covered hammocks, tarps, and tents–staked tents, free-standing tents, and ultra-light tents that use trekking poles.

For further information about the force created in anchoring a hammock, just click here. Using the Hammock Hang Calculator, you can compute the magnitude of force on the anchors due to the angle of at which you hang the hammock. So, again choose wisely.

Questions to Ascertain Your Shelter Needs

Here are some questions to consider when choosing your shelter.

  • How big do we need, one-, two-, or three-person?
  • Am I going to have to carry it alone, or can my group carry parts?
  • How heavy can I carry? How much of my weight do I want to allocate to my shelter and sleep system? 
  • What’s my budget, as the lighter the weight, the higher the cost?

Make Your Choice Based on Preferences and Needs

  •  Will your trip be primarily along the shores where you may set your tent up inside a shelter? If so, you may choose to take a free-standing tent.
  • Is your tent rated for three seasons? If it is not, you may need warmer sleeping gear.
  • Is it labeled free standing? If it is not free standing, it will have to be staked down to achieve it’s full shape. Therefore, you will not be able to set up in a shelter.
  • Does it have poles or do you supply trekking poles to make it work? If it needs trekking poles, make sure to take them. Also realize that you will not be able to use it in a shelter.
  • How many people does it fit? Can it accommodate all in your party with ample space? Your options are to have multiple small tents or one larger one. And the most important question of all, in my opinion, how much does it weigh?
  • If you have a larger tent, you may wish to share the parts among your group to distribute the weight across multiple people’s packs.
  • Do you want to have vestibules where you can stash your pack in case of rain? If so, you will need to check carefully when you are reviewing your options so that you select one that has one or two vestibules, depending on the number of people sharing the tent. 

Hammock Regulations and the Force Calculator 

Also, keep in mind there are strict rules about hammock use. The hammocks are forbidden from use inside and outside of shelters (except under special circumstances under 2022 rules they may be used outside a shelter). They can only be used inside the limits of established tent sites. So keep this in mind if you are considering a hammock. These rules are in place to protect both you and the National Park Service. The pounds of ‘Shear Force’ exerted on the ends of hammocks can be hundreds and possibly thousands of pounds. So, hanging a hammock could potentially pull the shelter wall down. Remember, this caution also applies to trees. In the hammock section we share a story of some young women who had trouble with a tree coming down under force. 

Hammock I
Another Hammock Type

Be aware, if you choose this method of shelter, that Isle Royale has specific dos and don’ts associated with hammock use. For example, you may not secure a hammock in a shelter, and you should suspend your hammock on live trees and not on standing dead trees that may give way and fall onto you while you sleep or let loose your hammock onto the ground. 

For further information about the force created in anchoring a hammock, just click here. Using the Hammock Hang Calculator, you can compute the magnitude of force on the anchors due to the angle of at which you hang the hammock. So, again choose wisely.

Tarps

On the continuum from least to most protection provided by shelters, tarps provide the least protection, but they allow for the closest connection with the natural environment. Below is a minimalist camping tarp setup.

Tarp Campsite

This photo was taken by our friend, Jon Prain, of his own campsite. He prefers the minimalist tarp setup when camping on Isle Royale because it allows him a direct experience of the natural environment with which he comes to the island to commune.

Jon is an Isle Royale veteran who’s been to the island over a dozen times. Although he loves the lightweight nature of this setup, he hates having to pack everything up into his pack even when he just needs to use the outhouse. Because the tarp does not provide a sealed off space, it does not provide security from the critters that would run off with his snacks and nuts were he to leave them unattended even for a short time. 

Other obvious draw backs include, unlike a tent, the fact that there is no real protection from wind or blowing rain, and unless you have some other type of bug netting, there is little protection from bugs. 

Free Standing or Stake Down Tents
Obviously our tent (pictured above) is free standing. We first started out with an arrowhead shaped tent that had to be staked down and out to achieve it’s full size. Below is a picture of that tent.

This particular tent was nice, and it actually weighed in at 4.25 lbs. The free standing one weighs 5.5 lbs. There were several factors that made us decide that the heavier one was better suited for our needs. First, with the arrowhead tent, you had to basically crawl backwards into it, inevitably elbowing each other in the head. The free standing tent had separate doors on each side, making entry and exiting much nicer. There is a vestibule at each entryway with this tent under which we can place our backpacks to shelter them during wet weather as well. 

Trekking Pole Tent

There are also tents that use trekking poles to hold them up (pictured below). By using the trekking poles in lieu of tent poles, overall pack weight is reduced. These tents, however, cannot be set up in a shelter because they require staking to set up. 

Eventually, we found an ultralight that combines the benefits of being freestanding and having two vestibules with being very, very light–2 pounds and 10 ounces. We have shelter for all campgrounds, when we get a wooden shelter and when we don’t.

Free-standing Big Agnes Copper Spur Platinum 2P – set up in a shelter
Outside view of the shelter

Remember, the wooden shelters are not always warm because of the wind going under and through them. Sometimes, a tent on the ground is warmer than a tent set up in a shelter. However, they are much preferred in the event of rain.

As you plan, consider your needs for space, warmth, weight, protection, convenience, safety, and cost. These are the determiners, and only you have the answer to the question of what is right for you. Remember that your success in backpacking rests on the balance of pack weight and meeting your needs. Be mindful of weight.

For further help with backpacking on Isle Royale, check out our free courses at courses.wiseoldmanofisle.com.

Chippewa Harbor to Rock Harbor

Dock View at Chippewa Harbor

An itinerary to hike from Chippewa Harbor to Rock Harbor can be a moderate hike within the capability of beginners. It is a six-day and five night excursion. The longest span between campgrounds is 6 miles, but the days in the north country are long in the summer, creating more than 16 hours of daylight to hike those 6 miles, which is very doable. You can do the hike independently or join us as you wish.

We offer this hike in a tailorable itinerary in June and also at a leisurely pace for photographers in July at Guide Services here: https://wiseoldmanofisleroyale.com/guide-services/.

The Chippewa Harbor to Rock Harbor hike is one of our favorites because of its leisurely pace, which allows for time to explore attractions on the way. We get to tour along the coast of the island by ferry for spectacular views of the rugged shore from the boat and then hike back along the bays and shorelines, through the forests and over the rocky escarpments for stunning views of the water. To join our hike, reach out to us via Guide Services from the menu.

For this excursion, we stay overnight in Copper Harbor to depart on the Queen IV in the morning, landing in Rock Harbor at approximately 11:30 ET. At Rock Harbor, we take in the Park Service safety briefing and set up tents in the campground, leaving the rest of the afternoon for exploring independently or as a group.

The group can hike to Scoville Point via the Stoll Trail (views below).

Weather permitting, individuals may choose to rent watercraft at their own expense (not included in the package) from the marina:

  • a kayak or canoe for a half-day paddle in Tobin Harbor
  • a small motorboat to visit the Edison Fishery and the Rock Harbor Lighthouse
Rental Boats at the Marina
Inside the Edison Fishery

The next morning, we board the Voyageur II and depart at 9:00 AM ET, traveling past the Park Headquarters on Mott Island, with a possible stop at Daisy Farm, then across the harbor and through the Middle Islands Passage, past the Rock Harbor Lighthouse, around the peninsula where Mount Saginaw stands, along the southern shore of Isle Royale past Mine and Saginaw Points, and into Chippewa Harbor.

Chippewa Harbor is the base camp for day hiking to the Johnson Schoolhouse, the ridge that overlooks Chippewa Harbor, Lake Superior, Lake Mason, and Lake Theresa. Chippewa Harbor has four shelters, two individuals tents sites and one group site. It is one of the few campgrounds with standing grills at the shelters and campfire rings at the tent sites. The tent sites are a short hike from the dock area along the trail that leads to the schoolhouse and the ridge.

Johnson Schoolhouse
Lake Mason Viewed from the Ridge

The hike from Chippewa Harbor to Moskey Basin is 6.2 miles. It meanders through the forest and over smoothly worn exposed rocks on the Indian Portage Trail alongside the river that connects Lake Richie with Chippewa Harbor. We have opportunity to stop at Lake Richie for lunch. The campground is perched on the shore of the lake. Oddly, this lake has had some of the earliest algae blooms of the season in 2021, and it is wise to scrutinize the water prior to using it for drinking or wading. Filtering does not remove toxins caused by algae blooms, so their presence renders the water unusable.

Mallard
Swimmer at Moskey Basin

From Lake Richie, it is 2.3 miles on the Lake Richie Trail to Moskey Basin. The campground at Moskey sits at the base of the basin that extends westward from Daisy Farm, sheltering loons, Mergansers, Mallards, and other waterfowl. Within the basin, beaver sometimes paddle about from their new dam at Daisy Farm to the sheltered environs within the basin.

It’s a short 3.9 miles from Moskey Basin to Daisy Farm on a small ridge away from the water on the Rock Harbor Trail, which intersects with the Daisy Farm Trail and the Mount Ojibway Trail. With the short hike from Moskey Basin, there is plenty of time to set up camp at Daisy Farm and day hike the 1.7 miles to Mount Ojibway Tower, 3.4 miles round trip, for views from and of the tower.

Ojibway Tower
View from Mount Ojibway

At Daisy Farm, you will see how the beaver activity has impacted the campground with their beaver dam flooding the area and splitting the campground in two. While this act of nature caused the park service to reroute trails, it has also provided grazing opportunities for moose within the campground itself. Daisy Farm does have 16 shelters, 6 individual tent sites, and 3 group tent sites. On our last excursion, there were two moose grazing near the swollen river within the campground, a few feet from our shelter.

Following the path along the water from the dock at Daisy Farm will lead away from the campground to the Ranger Residence. Taking the Daisy Farm Trail directly toward the Greenstone Ridge Trail leads to the handicapped outhouse to provide access to those with limited mobility.

Trail Routed Past the Beaver Dam
Dock at Daisy Farm

Lake Superior waters at Daisy Farm are lovely and appear inviting with their clarity that reveals the rock- and sand-covered bottom. After a long hike, the frigid waters refresh as they steal the breath of bathers who dive from the dock. Generally, bathers jump in twice because that’s as much of the cold as they can endure. Even in August, the water at Daisy Farm is not warm. Still, the dock will be lined with thawing but refreshed bathers soaking in the sun.

From Daisy Farm, the Rock Harbor Trail extends 4.4 miles along the mixed swampy and rocky shoreline, past the Mount Franklin Trail, to Three Mile Campground. Three Mile is surprisingly beautiful. Its shore is rugged, and it provides access to Lake Superior for swimming or wading. There are 8 shelters, 4 individual tent sites, and 3 group tent sites. Two of the shelters are on the waterfront, one of which has an old dock that allows for sun bathing and swimming.

Rocky Shore at Three Mile Campground
Moonrise at Three Mile Campground

Three Mile Campground provides a jumping off point to scale Mount Franklin via the Mount Franklin Trail for a 2.5 mile one-way hike and a 5-mile total. The other option for viewing both Mount Ojibway and Mount Franklin is to scale the Mount Ojibway Trail from Daisy Farm, taking the Greenstone Ridge Trail to Mount Franklin, and descending the Mount Franklin Trail past the Tobin Harbor junction and onto the Rock Harbor Trail into Three Mile Campground. This loop totals 6.7 miles, as opposed to 4.4 miles directly on the Rock Harbor Trail between Daisy Farm and Three Mile. Taking the Greenstone Ridge Trail also affords stunning views of both the north and south shores of the island.

Rock Formation at Mount Franklin
View from Mount Franklin

From Three Mile Campground, the Rock Harbor Trail is a rocky three-mile hike along the shoreline. While there are no real elevation changes, the trail is a rugged one. From Three Mile Campground, Susy’s Cave is approximately half way to Rock Harbor on the Rock Harbor Trail. From Susy’s Cave, we can cut over a short 0.2 miles to the Tobin Harbor Trail which is an alternate route into Rock Harbor. Either trail from Susy’s Cave to Rock Harbor is the same distance to the destination.

Tobin Harbor is the home of Merganser ducks, loons, and other water creatures. Isle Royale Sea Planes land in Tobin Harbor, and rental kayaks for use within the shelter of the harbor are located there. The rental cottages offered by the Rock Harbor Lodge overlook Tobin Harbor.

Rock Harbor Visitors Center
Rock Harbor Lodge Office with Kayaks in Foreground

Many hikers choose to hike directly from Daisy Farm into Rock Harbor for the final night in “town” where they can get a shower, eat at the restaurant or grill, and visit with other hikers and share stories and images of their adventures on the island. It is also one last opportunity to view a moose, as the elusive Bruce the Moose treks through the downtown in the evening.

Early Season Bruce Prior to Full Rack by Head Guide Duane
Bruce in Full Rack by Jonathan Ringdahl of Ringdahl Photography

Whichever route taken into Rock Harbor, the gift shops at the Rock Harbor store, the Visitors Center, and the Lighthouse Restaurant at the Rock Harbor Lodge are places to stop to purchase your Isle Royale mementos. The Queen IV casts lines at 2:45 PM ET, with boarding starting at 1:00 PM ET for gear storage. Its best to bring a snack and beverage on board, too, for the journey home.

The Chippewa Harbor to Rock Harbor hike is one with many options to create a memorable adventure that includes close views of the island by water and close views of the water from the land. It allows for viewing broad vistas, landscapes, wildlife and their habitats. It allows for multiple options and mid-hike adjustments to tailor the journey as it unfolds.

Day 12: Grace Island to Windigo

Two Kayaks and the Sea Plane Landing

We left Grace Island on Day 12 early in the morning as we wanted to get to Windigo prior to the arrival of backpackers who would come in throughout the day for departure to Grand Portage the next morning. Our aim was to get a shelter, so we could get a shower and the best microwave cheeseburger on the island, and relax on the deck at the Windigo store. We did not want to spend too much time dealing with tents and the like. The companion video is here: https://youtu.be/99dveP4ErrU.

As we paddled away from the shore at Grace Island, the Voyager II rounded the corner at the sunken America at the end of Washington Harbor on its way out into Lake Superior to pass along the north shore to McCargoe Cove, past Belle Isle, and around Blake Point and Scoville Point into Rock Harbor and finally to its dock at Snug Harbor where it would rest overnight. We love that boat, and we were scheduled to take it back to Grand Portage when the time came.

A Sailboat at Anchor in Washington Harbor
The Seaplane Landing

The day was lovely for the short, less than two-hour paddle, with light clouds and a blue sky. With no particular rush, we paddled rhythmically along the north shore of Beaver Island and past a sailboat at anchor. We took the north shore to stay out of the sea plane landing strip, and we made a good call as we heard the low whirr of the propellors of the sea plane.

Sea Plane Taxiing
Sea Plane at Dock

The plane circled and lined up for landing, buzzing overhead, then approaching from our right and south of us, landing and taxiing to the dock where it tied up and let off its passengers.

As we paddled, we thought about what we had learned and what we want to do differently next time. There was time to reflect as we had a few days before our boat was scheduled to depart, but we headed in for the shower and the company. Ilene at the store, Marty who leads Maintenance, Ranger Jenna, and Sean in Law Enforcement, and the others–we looked forward to saying hi to all the folks who work on the Windigo end who make us feel so much at home. And did I mention the cheeseburger?

One of the first lessons we learned was that we do not need to paddle so quickly. Go slow. Take time. Meet people. See sites. Yes, you need weather days built in, but it’s important not to press on all the time. We had set aside 16 days, but we were coming into Windigo already on Day 12. We would have had time to explore Wright Island and Hay Bay. We could have taken an extra day at Belle Isle to explore the fingers. I will take time, next time, to take more photos, so stay tuned in late summer 2022 as I share our second circumnavigation.

The New Store at Windigo (Still not open)
Familiar to all who have been.

In our kayaks, we came to rest, past the main dock, on the boat launch in front of the new store that is being constructed, but which is still not yet open, and near the boat gas dock. We pulled up, unloaded our overnight gear, and headed to the Washington Creek Campground, about a half mile from the main structures at Windigo. We got the first shelter we came to, and there he was, large as life, a bull moose grazing in Washington Creek.

Moose View One
Moose View Two

In a few minutes, we were ready to dig out a change of clothes and head toward the store to buy our shower tokens and rent the towels–the first shower since Rock Harbor. On the way, we passed the LCM Angelique landing craft used by the park service for carrying heavy equipment and supplies. On this day, whatever her larger cargo was, it had already been unloaded, only a Bobcat remained, looking tiny on deck, Angelique’s loading ramp down and waiting.

LCM Angelique at Dock
LCM Angelique at the Entrance of Grace Harbor

LCM Angelique is integral to maintenance on the Island. We passed her one year in the open lake midway between Houghton and Rock Harbor when we took the Ranger to the Island. Later, we realized the craft was operated sometimes by Marty, IRNP’s Director of Maintenance on the Windigo end.

Passing the new and unfinished store, just past the LCM Angelique, we stopped at the public restrooms and checked the showers and laundry room at the next building, overlooking the harbor, before proceeding to the Visitor’s Center. We wanted to stop and share our wolf print information with the rangers before heading up to the store. The Visitors Center houses artifacts from the island, including a wolf mount and a moose skeleton as well as the lens from the Rock of Ages Lighthouse.

Wolf mount in the Windigo Visitors Center
Moose skeleton in the Windigo Visitors Center

The Ranger on duty viewed the prints we had captured in photo and asked us to share them by emailing them to the IRNP information email address for cataloging with other wolf data. Our good deed done we headed up to visit Ilene at the store and hoped we would have a minute to visit with Marty and others.

Oh, yes, and the cheeseburgers. Having chatted with Ilene, we sat on the deck with our cheeseburgers and Pringles, feeling good about our low-cal choice for diet soda. The cheeseburgers are the kind you get at a gas station, heated in a microwave. Duane thinks they are delicious at the end of the paddle. I do, too, although this time I enjoyed the delectable egg burrito. It’s not particularly the cheeseburger. I think it’s the fact that the food is warm, has structure, and is not eaten with a spoon, unlike the dehydrated meals that are our lightweight staple.

As we ate, our reflection continued. Duane wanted to devise a way to rig two cameras to create differing perspectives while he is paddling so that he can take shots of the shoreline and directly in front of him. I also want to invest in a GoPro so that I can contribute to the video footage we are able to capture in addition to our still shots with Duane’s Nikon and my phone.

Windigo Dock
Windigo Icon, lol

For subjects, we want to include more of the bays and the rugged shorelines. We want to look for a couple of old settlement areas we have heard about, one on the south shore that supported Island Mine, as well as another fishery on the north shore near Belle Isle. There are some features near the Keyhole that we want to explore and we want to get the Keyhole on film.

We want to take some day hikes to the peaks and pinnacles at various location, to film, for example, the arches along the north shore that a fellow kayaker told us about. We also want to check the Menagerie lighthouse if we have the wave conditions to do so.

Rock of Ages Original Lens
Duane on the Dock

No sooner than we finished our cheeseburgers/burrito, the Sea Hunter III pulled up to the dock, and Duane and I met eyes over the cans of diet Coke. We had not thought about the availability of space on the boat that serves primarily the day hikers. With little fuss, we packed up our trash and headed down to the dock. We met Paula there, and she confirmed space. Good thing we did not set up our tent. We headed back to the shelter, packed up our gear, and carried our boats down to the dock. Au revoir, Isle Royale, for this year, but as I write this, next season is just around the corner. Keep watch for the account of our second circumnavigation in late summer. Yes, there will be posts before then, so check in often.

If you want us to capture images of something in particular on the second circumnavigation, please put your suggestions in comments so that we can be sure to try to make it to those attractions. Perhaps there is something we ought to explore that we don’t know about, or maybe there is a treasure that deserves more attention than it is getting. I appreciate the feedback.

Malone Bay: Intermediate-Advanced

Voyageur II coming into Malone Bay Dock

The hike from Malone Bay to Rock Harbor in six days and five nights is an advanced itinerary. This hike can also be done as an intermediate hike, with shorter distances after the first grueling hike up Ishpeming Point to the Greenstone Ridge Trail and down into Hatchet Lake. As an intermediate hike, the itinerary takes nine days and eight nights and allows for many more sites and experiences. If you want to join a hike with us, click on Guide Services in the menu.

On either itinerary, this hike requires a ferry hop to the Malone Bay dock via the Voyageur II. On Day One, arrival is at 11:30 AM Saturday morning in Rock Harbor on the Isle Queen IV, for an overnight stay to catch the Voyageur II at 8:00 AM for a Sunday morning departure on Day Two, arriving at approximately 11:30 AM in Malone Bay, depending on the Voyageur’s scheduled stops.

The group can hike to Siskiwit Falls for exploring and a stop at the Malone Bay Visitors Center and Ranger station, if it is occupied, on the afternoon of Day Two.

A Shelter at Malone Bay
Filtering Water with an MSR Miniworks EX

On Day Three in the Advanced and Intermediate Hikes the 12.3 mile hike out of Malone Bay to Hatchel Lake, passing the Ishpeming tower, begins. The trail follows alongside Siskiwit Lake for almost four miles. In midsummer, hikers on this stretch will need mosquito repellant and perhaps netting.

Leaving the shore, the trail rises from about 625 feet to 1377 feet, about 750 feet in another four miles. On this section, the route meanders through forests and over rocks, sometimes cool and shaded, and other times exposed on baking rocks in the afternoon sun. At best, it is a mixed trail experience. If it rains, the rocks can be slippery and treacherous.

Hatchet Lake

At Ishpeming point, the hike takes the Greenstone Ridge Trail for approximately five miles to the Hatchet Lake campground. From the Greenstone Ridge Trail, the hike descends 250 feet in a half-mile, a steep grade to drop into the first en route campsite at Hatchet Lake.

Advanced Hike – Days Six and Five Nights

On the Advanced Hike, on Day Four, you will take the Greenstone Ridge Trail from Hatchet Lake to the West Chickenbone Lake Junction and south on the Indian Portage Trail to Lake Ritchie, for a daily total of 11.1 miles. You will scale the ridge and descend again, over humpbacks and escarpments. Lake Richie has four tent sites and two groups sites only. There are no shelters.

On Day Five, the hike progresses on the Lake Richie Trail to the Rock Harbor Trail, through Daisy Farm, and on to Three Mile Campground for the night, for a total of 10.2 miles over rocky escarpments and boulders, boardwalks and swamps. At Three Mile, the Lake Superior beach is readily available to soak sore feet and to wash off trail grime.

Waterfront View at Shelter at Three-Mile
Moonrise at Three-Mile

On Day Six, hikers take the Rock Harbor Trail, stopping at Susy’s Cave, and continuing along the Tobin Harbor Trail to Rock Harbor. There is time still to visit the Visitors Center, the Rock Harbor Store, and the Rock Harbor Lodge Gift Shop for souvenirs. There is will be a short time available for hikers to have lunch at the Greenstone Grill prior to boarding.

Beth, at Rock Harbor
Duane, emerging from the Forest

Intermediate Hike – Nine Days and Eight Nights

On Day Four, the intermediate hike traverses 2.5 miles of the Hatchet Lake Trail to the Minong Trail for another 1.6 miles on to Todd Harbor for the night. This hike crosses some marshy areas and a few small ridges, crossing some boardwalks that may be soggy. The trail is generally forested. Todd Harbor has only one shelter, but there are five individual campsites and three groups sites. The water is sheltered from the open expanse of Lake Superior so it may be pleasant to wade or even swim, but be wary of swimmer’s itch and towel off. The sunsets on Todd Harbor can be exquisite. Moose and otter both enjoy the sheltered shore.

Swimmer at Todd Harbor
From the Dock at Todd Harbor

On Day Five, the intermediate hike continues along the Minong Ridge Trail for 6.7 miles to McCargoe Cove, passing the Minong Mine site (on the Historical Registry), about three-fourths of a mile from McCargoe Cove. From Todd Harbor, this trail climbs steadily until it crests the ridge, where it stays until descending into MCCargo Cove. While this cove is sheltered from the open lake, the water is rarely warm. The cold water proves inviting for many to jump off the dock and wash off trail dust and grime. McCargoe Cove has six shelters, three individual tent sites, and three group sites. Sunrises here are awesome, and many anglers land northern pike and whitefish at the dock.

Bedrock and Kayaks at McCargoe
Border Patrol at McCargoe Cove

On Day Six, the intermediate hikers progress from McCargoe Cove 6.7 miles on the Indian Portage Trail to the Lake Richie Trail and 2.1 miles on to Moskey Basin. The trail from MarCargoe follows the shore of Chickenbone Lake, through the West Chicken Campground, and abruptly climbs up and over the Greenstone Ridge, descending downward past Lake Livermore and Lake LeSage to arrive at Lake Richie.

At Lake Richie, the trail skirts the shoreline, via the Lake Richie Trail, over a few rock escarpments to the Rock Harbor Trail into Moskey Basin. Moskey Basin itself extends westward from Rock Harbor, where at Daisy Farm it extends, a shallow bay, sheltered on three sides by rock formations. Like McCargoe Cove, Moskey Basin witnesses magnificent sunrises. It is one of the must-see stops on the island. Moskey Basin has 6 shelters, 2 individual tent sites and 2 groups sites. The shelters are perched on rock ledges on the shore, providing great views of the rising sun.

Dock at Moskey Basin
Moskey Basin Water View

On Day Seven, this intermediate hike continues on the Rock Harbor Trail through Daisy Farm and on to Three-mile Campground. This trail hugs the rugged shoreline, meandering over and around boulders, abruptly changing direction and crossing board walks over beaver dams and swamps. Crossing the exposed escarpments that seem to disappear into nowhere can be difficult if the cairns have been knocked over, so hikers need to be mindful of staying on trail to avoid having to backtrack. Only three miles from rock harbor, the Three-Mile Campground has 8 shelters as well as 4 individual sites and 3 group sites. There is a small dock as well as an accessible beach to access Lake Superior for a soothing swim.

Ranger III passing by Three-Mile
Foggy Harbor at Morning

On Day Eight, the hike progresses the three miles from Three Mile Campground into Rock Harbor, with a quick stop at Susy’s Cave. At Rock Harbor, hikers can enjoy an evening of visiting at the Greenstone Grill, taking a stroll along the Stoll Trail, out to Scoville point, and spending an evening of relaxing under the stars. They might even choose to purchase a shower token and a towel for the first hot shower in a week, prior to dinner.

Rock Harbor Marina
The Sandy Tour Boat and Water Taxis at Rock Harbor

On Day Nine, hikers have time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the Greenstone Grill, and ensure they have purchased the mementos they desire from the gift shop. They assemble at the dock to prepare to board the Queen IV at 1:00 PM, having the guide snap the final photos of them leaving the island.

Advanced or Intermediate hiking depends on individual needs.

Whichever you choose, be sure that you plan to meet your needs and your abilities as a hiker. There is always the tension between how far you want to hike and how you want to enjoy what you find when you get there. If every day is spent going as fast and as far as you can, there is little time to notice the lady slippers, or moose, or camp fox, or red squirrels.

Otter at Todd Harbor
Bees on Flowers

Greenstone Ridge Trail

Six Miles to Go from Windigo to Island Mine, All Uphill

The Greenstone Ridge Trail is sometimes called the Green tunnel because it crosses so many forested areas across the spine of the main island. The island is some 45 miles long, so the trail is of similar distance, traversing the Greenstone Ridge from Windigo to the Hidden Lake Dock. Many people choose to hike the Greenstone Ridge Trail from Windigo to Rock Harbor, get dinner at the hotel and then take the Voyageur II back to Windigo. Those starting in Rock Harbor hop to Windigo and hike back. The diligent hike to Windigo on the Greenstone Ridge Trail and hike back along the Minong Ridge Trail. To join a hike with us, click Guide Services in the Menu.

From Windigo, the Greenstone Ridge Trail is a six-mile plus uphill hike to the first campground along the route at Island Mine. Island Mine is perched onside a spring-fed creek a half mile off the main trail. This creek slows to a trickle during the summer and serves as the water source for the campground. Island Mine has a fire ring at each campsite, and it is a jump-off point to explore the ruins at the mine site which is about a mile from the the campground.

Island Mine Ruins
Hiking on toward Lake Desor
A Moose We Encountered along the Trail
A Sandpiper on the Beach at Lake Desor

South Lake Desor campground is the next stop along the trail heading east from Windigo toward Rock Harbor. From Island Mine, you ascend about four miles to crest Mount Desor, the highest point on the island at 1394 feet. The trail descends another couple of miles into campground, to the sandy shores where swimming is the preferred activity. This lake has ribbon leaches which do not affix to the skin. They merely cling and catch ride and can be pulled off without issue.

The tent sites at South Lake Desor Campground are sandy, with thimbleberry and raspberry bushes for delicious snacking in mid to late summer.

Each of the tent sites have logs arranged for seating, and the group sites border the lake most closely for the best swimming opportunities.

South Lake Desor Beach
Beavers Work on Harvesting a Tree

On the inland lakes, fox, hare, and other wildlife are plentiful. It is not uncommon to see the work of beavers alongside the trail, both as they fell trees for their dams. There are active dams between Windigo and Island Mine and, as of 2020, an inactive dam between Island Mine and South Lake Desor. Active dams are also seen at other points along the way.

Active Dam Prior to Island Mine
Inactive Dam Prior to Hatchet Lake
Lake Superior View with North Shore Islands

The trail from South Desor to Hatchet Lake ascends the spine of the island, providing views both of Lake Superior and offshore islands to the north and Siskiwit Lake and Lake Superior’s Malone Bay to the South.

The ridge has been likened to a grey whale’s back as the bedrock is exposed at higher elevations, and the path weaves in and out of the trees and across the open spaces atop the ridge.

Hatchet Lake requires a descent of a half mile off the Greenstone Ridge to the beautiful clear water where many hikers enjoy fishing. The campground extends along the shores of the lake with secluded tent sites among the tall trees. The shores are rocky and steep, not well-suited for swimming.

Pike and whitefish are plentiful, but fishing is done with barbless hooks and artificial bait. Brook trout must be released to support the rebound of the native population.

Fishing at Hatchet Lake
Approaching Chickenbone Lake

From Hatchet Lake, the Greenstone Ridge Trail ascends upward again, providing views of Lake Superior and the next stop at Chickenbone Lake, a bit more than 7 miles from Hatchet Lake.

The rock ledges and ridges are moss-covered with trees clinging to their rugged surfaces. Very often, the trail winds among the boulders and cliffs, meandering along the ridge as it heads to the north and east.

Malone Bay Trail Marker
Rocky Outcropping along the Trail

At the Ishpeming Tower, between South Lake Desor and Hatchet Lake, is the trail junction to Malone Bay. Each time we have come through this junction point, we have done so in the rain.

The Tower itself has become overgrown with trees so that it no longer provides a view of the surrounding landscape. In fact, one is startled to come across the tower as it emerges in the green tunnel before you.