Why Hike Isle Royale?

It does something for each of us.

We all have our reasons. Many people hike Isle Royale as part of their plans to visit every US National Park. Others run the trails because it is their way to experience the outdoors. Yet others want to get away and experience the rugged off-trail backcountry experience. I go for my reasons, and Duane hikes for his.

We like an early hike each year, in early June, whether we are together or with clients. Duane is a great adventurer, so he is always taking mental notes of what is there and what has changed. He knows, for example, how many boardwalks between this point and that point on any given trail, at which miles the beaver dams are, what the condition of each aspect of the trail is. He can tell you any number of phenomenological occurrences with a vast array of exact data.

Lake Superior at Little Todd Harbor

I am not an analytical adventurer. When I work my day job, I spend a lot of mental energy analyzing and thinking critically. Isle Royale is my vacation, –guiding or not–and I spend my time letting the experience unfold. Therefore, I am in the moment, experiencing the trail immediately and via the senses. I can tell you about the feeling of the trail, the pungency of the woods, the crispness of the air, the sharpness of the rocks. My data is sensory and experiential. I know the rock, the decline into the gully, the switchback because of how my physical self takes it in and remembers it. My muscles remember.

Into a Gully
Up on the Ridge

Combined, we know the trails critically and intimately on multiple levels. When we talk about Isle Royale, Duane will supply the facts, the specifics. As I write, I am with a steady stream demands for verification of specifics, for such is his brain. I am fluid and overarching, sketching in the backdrop in broad strokes, then with specific sensations of the experience.

When I speak, I share my experience of the island. I am not connected to four beaver dams. I connect instead with the smell of the dam, the consistency of the mud, that there is birch bark or lichens along the trail, the sequence of feeling and repeated movement. I know that, once I pass the part where I want to pick the thimble berries but do not because of the cliff edge, I will come to the beaver dam where people often miss the curve left in the trail and get lost in the beaver dam to the right.

Beaver Dams

Duane will tell you that this will occur at 5.75 miles southwest of North Lake Desor Campground, heading toward Washington Creek, and he made sure the milage was accurate here.

That is not to say that Duane doesn’t feel the island. He is one who will say he is “in his happy place” when he is on Isle Royale. His happy place is analytical and physically grounded in specific detail. I will not say that it’s my happy place, not because I am not happy, but because I don’t think that way.

Duane and His Camera
The Subject

I can be happy anywhere, for I am made happy from repeated increasingly accomplished experience and rhythm. I am happy riding a bike in a 20 mile loop and up a steep hill if I do it five times each week all summer.

I can see joy in Duane’s face when we are hiking. We stop and take in the views. He tells me specifics. But he loves the campgrounds. He goes through his ritual of setting up the tent, assembling his chair, getting water, cooking dinner, and then kicking back. If there is a social gathering place, he is there taking in the views and the camaraderie of group, sharing adventures on the trail. He sees the sunset, enjoys the communal fire ring, listens for the loons and moose in the morning and evening. His gaze misses nothing.


I am inward. My hike is about finding that rhythmic pace that makes me feel good about walking. I like the rhythm. I like to climb the ridges, up and down, with consistent speed and to stand atop the peaks and open places, sweating and catching my breath. I love the feeling of the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. I like my heartbeat and the feeling of my muscles moving. I smell Lake Superior a couple miles before we get to the shore.

In camp, I will go through the same ritual of setting up, getting water, eating dinner and kicking back. I see the sunset, hear the moose and the loons, feel the chill in the evening air and the relish the setting sun. I hear/feel the lapping of the waves, and I want to sink into the cold water and be in it.

Three Mile Campground Moonrise

Of a specific hike, Duane says this:

On that particular night, I was in Three Mile Campground shelter 11 (I believe).

It started as this really strange, bright orange glow in the night sky. After the constant drizzle of the day hiking from Moskey Basin, it was refreshing to have the rain stop.

The increasing brightness caught my attention, so I dug my phone out to get some pictures, not really sure of what was its cause.

As I watched the clouds glowing, they started to move off, the clearing sky giving way to this gorgeous moonrise.

I have encountered so much natural beauty over the years while visiting Isle Royale National Park.

I hope you enjoy these photos, but the camera on my phone did not do the actual sight justice.

He sees with his eyes and his heart, and he shares the same way. This is the vision he shares with the people he guides and the people with whom he shares the island. I will take you for a swim.

Are the Bugs Bad in . . . ?

On Isle Royale

Maybe it’s buggy in June. Maybe not. In the earliest parts of June, it’s not likely to be buggy, but as the season progresses and the weather warms, the breeding season for mosquitoes and other bugs comes into full swing. Are the bugs bad in July? June, September, August? Everyone asks this question at one time or another, and later, much later, they come to realize the futility of asking in advance.

Sand Piper at South Lake Desor

Take Duane’s and my hike into Malone Bay at the end of June in 2017. We hike in late June each summer and extend through the Fourth of July. The peace of Isle Royale is preferable to the hubbub of the Independence Day holiday, especially for Duane who is a multiple tour combat vet.

In June 2017, we planned to hike from Rock Harbor into Malone Bay, hop on the Voyageur to Windigo to visit friends and then to hike back along the Greenstone Ridge Trail. (At that time, we liked doing the Minong Ridge Trail in the other direction.) We made this plan avoid having to hike back up the Ishpeming Tower out of Malone Bay, as we knew it was a climb. Instead, we planned the hike out of Windigo, the steady up to Island Mine. Regardless which way you go, you will climb the ridge.

After permitting, we had an easy hike into Three-Mile campground, so we set up camp and then scampered the couple miles up onto the ridge to catch the views from Mt. Franklin. Stunning! That evening, we enjoyed the sunset on Lake Superior. We did find the mosquitoes a little pesky, but not that bad, at least no worse than we expected. The next day, our hike past Daisy Farm an on to West Chickenbone Campground was also routine. We did need our mosquito dope as we sat out that evening, enjoying the stars and quiet, broken only by loons laughter and moose calls.

Beaver Dam in a Swampy Meadow

Hatchet Lake also had a fair amount of bugs, but nothing out of the ordinary. I chose to try my mosquito net to reduce the need to swat, but I felt choked in my own dense, moist breath. It’s not like we were being picked up and hauled away or anything, so I took it off. We just had to use the Deet, with the 100% on our clothing and the lesser strength on our exposed skin. When we packed up in the morning, we started by applying Deet to our clothing and skin and then set out toward Malone Bay.

On the ridge, there was no issue, as the baking warmth on the rocks tends to subdue the biters, and the exposure allows for wind to disburse them. It was relatively pleasant hiking for the first five miles coming off the ridge until we began our trek alongside Siskiwit Lake for the last three miles. I could hear Duane swatting and complaining behind me as we neared the water. Nearer the water, the complaints gave way to muttered expletives from time to time.

I am from the old school that says flailing draws more attention from the bugs, so I was quiet in my discomfort, and I brushed the feasting hoards from any exposed skin silently. As I brushed my hands across my face and neck, I could feel the crushing of affixed insects bodies. I did not want to think about the density of the cloud that swarmed about my head, nor did I contemplate the blood on my hands as I crushed the biting mosquitoes. Most of the rest of me was covered with clothing doused in Deet. I did discover, though, that I needed to apply Deet to my leggings as mosquitos bite right through them.

Behind me, I could hear Duane swatting. “There is a cloud over you,” he exclaimed. My brain retorted, “as if I don’t know,” but my lips remained closed.

Malone Bay Trail Marker at the Greenstone Ridge Trail Junction at the Ishpeming Tower

I did not want to turn to look at him, not because I was trying to avoid a strong retort, but because I didn’t want visible confirmation of what I knew to be the truth of the density of the swarming hoards. “Maybe they won’t know we are here if we don’t flail,” I said. My tone spoke futility.

Flailing and swearing continued behind me, so he either didn’t hear or didn’t care to respond. Clearly, he felt beating back the biters was the thing to do, although we both knew it wasn’t very effective.

From time to time, we stopped to reapply Deet, which seemed to dissuade them a little, like it was like steak sauce that they didn’t particularly like, but we were really tasty filet mignon. On that last mile, we were very nearly running toward the campground.

Shelter at Malone Bay

At the end of the Ishpeming Trail going to Malone Bay, we left the Lake Siskiwit shoreline and climbed a small hill. At the crest, we were hit by a steady, cold breeze off Lake Superior. Simultaneously, the bugs were gone. Our pace dropped to normal, and we found an open shelter facing the water.

By the time we were stopped in Malone Bay, we were out of mosquito dope and realized that we would have to resupply in Windigo. That evening, though, we enjoyed a bug-free evening in our puffy coats in the onshore breeze–without reapplying.

Filtering Water at the Malone Bay Campground

The next morning, we were pleased to catch the Voyageur and head into Windigo to spend the night, get a shower, and wash off the layers of mosquito dope before we would repeatedly apply it again as we hiked back to Rock Harbor.

On Lake Superior, Windigo turned out to be cool and pleasant, so we enjoyed time visiting with other hikers in the light breeze on the deck at the store. There are always so many hikers sharing stories and sometimes one-upping each other with tall tales. We had such a great time at least partially because the coolness and the light breeze seemed to dispel the bugs.

Voyageur II coming into Malone Bay.

In the morning, as we always do, we were up at first light to get back on the trail. We hiked quickly up the six miles, stopping occasionally to catch our breath. That evening in Island Mine, I asked Duane for the Deet wipes, as the bugs were coming out again and I wanted to enjoy sitting by the fire. Island Mine is one of the few campgrounds with individual fire rings.

“I thought you had it,” he replied.

“I thought you did.”

Our eyes met as the realization hit us both simultaneously. We did not have enough days left in our hike to go back to Windigo and climb back out, and still meet our boat in Rock Harbor.

I dug around in my pack for the mosquito net that I had tried and set aside earlier, thankful for an alternate. Shedding the leggings, I donned to my hiking pants to prevent my legs from being bit. That evening, we did enjoy the smokey fire, both for its ambiance and its contribution to repelling the bugs.

Beaver Dam on the Minong Ridge Trail

But the level of bugs is not consistent from season to season. In 2019, we did the Minong Ridge Trail over the Fourth of July holiday, and the weather was pleasantly cool. We didn’t suffer from a single bite, and the Minong Ridge Trail crosses multiple beaver dams and swamps, so there are many suitable breeding areas. However, the cool temperatures are not optimal for the life cycle of a mosquito.

I think it’s safe to say that the bugs can be bad in June and July, August and September. Bugs are bad a week or two after a rain that occurs in warm weather which allows mosquitoes and other biting insects to breed. If there isn’t a hard frost to kill them, you can be sure there will be bugs, regardless of the month. Bugs are governed by weather, not by which month it is. Now, we always go prepared for bad bugs–we are sometimes pleasantly surprised when there are few.

Check us out at Wise Old Man of Isle Royale for questions. We offer guide services to Isle Royale, but you don’t have to book with us to get answers to your questions. We are happy to help you plan for a safe and appropriately equipped hike on Isle Royale.

What’s in a Boot?

My Foot, of Course!

Let’s face it, I have wonky feet. Well, I think everyone has wonky feet. We have long toes or short toes, high arches or flat. We have lumps and twists and bulges that make our feet unique and uniquely hard to fit for comfortable hiking. On Isle Royale’s rugged trails, my feet need protection from trail impediments, and my boots need to dry quickly and simply be comfortable. I just want happy feet.

My quest for happy feet has lasted for years. In the late 1990s, I found my best boots and started a long and fruitful hiking career with them. They have been to Banff, Glacier, the Rockies, and more, each time standing up to rocks, gravel, ridges, and, well, glaciers. Since I had them for so long, I realized I needed to start looking for a replacement with equivalent comfort and durability. Of course, I didn’t expect a replacement to last 15 years, but I couldn’t help but hope for the protection and comfort that I was used to with my old boots.

Duane’s Vasques at left on the Bench; My Oboz at center on the ground at Campsite 1, Little Todd

Still, at the start of my Isle Royale hiking experiences in 2014, I chose my very, very old Vasque leather mid-high hiking boots for my first foray out that year because I loved them. My Vasques were indestructible; they were my sturdy boots, best for the worst of trails. I valued their comfort in spite of their scratches and scars. On that hike, more than once I pounded my toes on rocks and roots with no issue to my feet. Did I say I loved those boots?

But like everything–and certainly after a decade and a half–boots wear out. I had to admit that the soles were starting to lean outward with the years of hiking, and on close inspection I realized that the reason my heels were starting to feel warm was because I had worn through the padding at the back. At the end of that season–in year 15 of the life of my Vasques, my feet were no longer happy. Reluctantly, I retired the boots and began my quest for a satisfactory replacement in earnest.

Sandals Are not Great Camp Shoes

Thinking to replicate the durability, comfort, and longevity of my original boots, I bought a new pair of Vasques. They were breathable and looked very similar to my old leather ones. They were that reddish-brown color. At the outfitters, the new Vasques felt fine as I trod up and down the artificial incline that looked like a cornhole board in the shoe department. They even seemed okay when I hiked about my neighborhood and climbed the goat trail at the Sturgeon River Gorge. With my new, light and breathable Vasques, I thought I was set.

But 2015 proved to be a tough year for my feet. On the first hike with the new Vasques, they started out okay, but as they settled into their final shape, I found that the front of my foot tended to flop around in the boot, regardless of how tightly I tied them. After a few hours in them, I felt as though I were hiking with a small pair swimming fins on my feet, going flup, flup, flup with each step. I looked at Duane’s Vasques, and he had no such issue. He was touting the great fit and comfort to everyone who asked. I felt a little miserable because my feet were not happy in my boots. I wanted my old pair back.

After that first hike, I changed for a pair of Columbia hiking shoes. I went to the outfitters again, and I tried on every shoe and boot in my size in the store and settled on the Columbias. I wore them on practice hikes near my home, and they seemed okay. They weren’t great, but they did not overheat my feet, and my feet did not flop around. On the first day on Isle Royale, however, I found that I had to keep stopping to empty my shoes, especially on the overgrown areas where I was walking through brush. It was kind of awkward to find places to sit down and take my shoes off. Pine needles and twigs are really irritating in the shoe.

The Merrell Vapor Glove works for a Water Shoe, but not a good Hiking Shoe

Still looking for the right pair, on the third hike that year, I tried a pair of Oboz. I bought my customary size, which was an 8.5 M. I hiked with them locally, and they seemed fine. On the island with my full pack, however, I found that my toes touched lightly on the front of the boot. This ended up being a big pain–literally–when hiking over the rocks and roots. After the first three days, my toes were really sore. While my backpack got progressively a little lighter each day, it didn’t make a difference. My feet were unhappy, and I was glad to get the boots off each evening. My toenails felt tender, as though they were insistently being pressed into my cuticles, and the sensation became sharper and sharper over time.

I went to the island only once in 2016, and I opted for my ancient Vasques which were pulled out of retirement for this service. I did not want a repeat of the sore feet I had the previous year. The old Vasques might be heavy and hot, they might take a long time to dry, they might be leaning a little, but they still felt better on my feet than the others I tried the year before. Okay, they were heavy, and their cushioning was worn out, making them less than optimal, but they didn’t hurt my feet. That is the first and primary must-have for good boots.

8.5 M Oboz

For the first hike out in 2017, I opted for trail runners, trying to switch it up in my quest. I found a great pair of Sauconys and they worked well. They were light. They were comfortable, didn’t hurt my toes, and dried quickly after slogging through muddy spots on the trail. I was in love–and so were my feet. They tightened properly and didn’t fill with debris or flop around on my feet.

The second hike that year started out well with my happy feet. I was never so happy with how shoes fit and felt, even under the weight of my pack. Even scampering up onto ridges for the best views, shoes gripped the rocks and stayed secure. I felt good until I was hiking into Hatchet Lake campground, coming from Windigo after stops at Island mine and South Lake Desor campgrounds. As I climbed down into the Hatchet Lake campground, I scraped my foot on a jagged rock sticking up into the trail and split the side of my shoe. Obviously I saw the scrape mark on my shoe, but I didn’t really notice the extent of the damage until I trudged into the campground and my shoe wouldn’t sit properly on my foot anymore. I ended up duct taping it (that was a fashion statement), which worked for the remaining few days back into Rock Harbor.

Undaunted, after that hike, I bought another pair of trail runners–they were that comfortable!. Unfortunately, Saucony upgraded their designs, and I couldn’t buy the same style that had fit so well. When I tried the new model on, they fit like the earlier new Vasque boots–I couldn’t get them to tie securely on the front of my foot so I felt as though my feet were flopping around. And I truly wasn’t thrilled with fact that they were not as durable as hiking boots. I didn’t even try hiking in them.

For my first hike of 2018, I was beginning to feel a bit disillusioned on my quest for the perfect footwear. Yes, I know I have some wonky feet, but someone must make a boot or shoe that would work for my needs on the island. Trying to replicate the trail runner experience with a sturdier shoe, I bought two pairs of hiking shoes, one from Solomon and another from Keen, figuring I would take whichever pair worked best. I spent a lot of time hiking on the North Country Trail through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to prepare. Sections of that trail are similar to Isle Royale trails in their geography. Both pairs of the shoes seemed okay, but I opted for the Keens on the initial hike on the island because they seemed to tie better, which mattered for keeping twigs and debris out.

Crossing the Beaver Dam in Keen Hiking Shoes

It was a so-so hike with the Keens. They weren’t bad shoes, but my feet simply were not in love. On the next hike that summer, I tried the Solomons. They were okay, but my feet were not as happy as they had been with the first Saucony trail runners or with my ancient leather Vasques. Walking down the trail, I found myself thinking about my Vasques. They were from back in the day, the oxblood leather Vasque boots with the round laces, from way back when Gore-Tex was a new thing for boots. The Keens on my feet were a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, and I wanted a 10 for comfort and for durability. I should not be reminiscing about old boots with a brand new pair on my feet.

In 2019, for the first trip out, I bought a pair of Oboz in early April and really worked to break them in for hiking in July and August on Isle Royale. I liked how the first pair of 8.5s fit–without the backpack–so this time I bought a size 9, putting aside the sense that I had gargantuan feet that might actually flup, flup, flup on their own. For a hiking boot, a size 9 was the trick for me. I had the mid-high boot that kept out a lot (not all) of the trail debris, protection against rocks and roots, and blessed comfort. These criteria are top priority for me. I actually used those boots for three years. Yes, they are that durable and worth their cost. I was pleased to spend so little–one pair is certainly much less than three each year–and three years on one pair was downright cheap.

But the trail runners ruined me with their airiness, for the downside of hiking boots is that they can be really warm, so my feet overheat. In 2020, though, when Duane and I went late season during the pandemic, I was happy for the warmth of my size 9 Oboz. By the time of my first hike in 2022, though, we were hiking the ridges in peak season, so I was back in the hunt for new footwear yet again.

Size 9 Oboz with Gaiters

As Duane and I hiked the Minong Ridge Trail in over the Labor Day weekend last year, I paid attention to other woman’s feet, and I noticed three different women in trail runners that looked sturdier than my Sauconys that were split by the rock. They all had the same peachy-orange colored shoe. Did I say three different women, each of whom spontaneously shared how great their feet felt in the their trail runners? Spontaneously. Great! One even said that she ordered four pairs of them so that she would be well supplied in the event that the manufacturer upgraded their model.

So, on my first trip out on June 2, I will be wearing a pair of LA Sportiva trail runners–size 9–in the peachy-orange color. I ordered them and tried them out in the neighborhood last fall, but I didn’t get any real hiking in before the snow came, so I will make sure to trail test them prior to going to the island. I will keep you posted about how well they hold up, if my feet are protected, and if they are comfortable. When I trotted around the block and up the hill wearing them, my feet were smiling. Maybe they will be perfect, maybe not, but I have hope. For sure, they will serve their purpose for mid-season hiking. For late season, I will likely use my Oboz.

Finally, I guess there is no such thing as a perfect shoe or boot for anyone, wonky feet or not. Certainly, there is no perfect boot or shoe that works for everyone or one that works in every season. There isn’t even a boot that is consistently perfect for any one person, unless you are Duane with his perfect pair of Vasques..

Mishaps and Lessons

Over our decades of hiking Isle Royale, both as park visitors and as guides, we have learned from our mishaps and inconveniences, and we actively apply the lessons learned.

  1. Mishaps happen, so try to minimize any risks.
  2. Plan for a zero day to accommodate weather so you don’t have to hike when you shouldn’t.

Tuck and Roll

We had been hiking all day, coming from Daisy Farm and were planning to camp at West Chickenbone. The cold driving rain continued all day, a medium drumming on my rain gear as I went sliding down the hill where the portage from Chickenbone Lake to Lake Livermore crosses the trail between West and East Chickenbone Campgrounds. As I made my way down the hill, my feet slipped out, and I partly rolled and partly skidded down the greasy slope dotted with large sharp rocks.

The Trail
The intersection

Astounded by the tumble, I lay crumpled for a few moments, flexing parts to see that all worked. Duane came jolting down the hill behind me on his feet, shaken by my mishap and trying to help me get up. Of course, I was a bit grumpy. I need a moment to collect myself after an event, but Duane didn’t know that back then. He does now. Then, the rain pelted my face as I rolled to my feet and uncurled from my tucked position. It wasn’t all that much fun then, but it makes a good laugh now.

As I got back to my feet and reassembled my dignity, Duane scraped the mud from my pack and my arms and rear end. Of course, I don’t go down easy. From there, though, we trudged into West Chickenbone with the rain continuing. The only place that was dryish was the where someone had set their tent and left apparently only a short time ago. The rest was sodden. Instead of setting up there, we pushed on to McCargoe Cove and found a shelter. We ended up staying an extra day there, just hanging around and drying our gear.

It was heaven to have that extra day to account for bad weather in our itinerary.

What’s in a Name?

Rain seems to play a major part of mishaps and misadventures. Take Duane’s flirt with a thunderstorm on the Ishpeming Trail from Malone Bay. It was his fourth hike of 2022, and the whole of it was strange.

The night before the departure, when his client had cleared the TSA checkpoint, Duane left for Copper Harbor. Before he rounded the head of the bay in L’Anse, he got a call. His client’s wife had an emergency and had to cancel the excursion. Disheartened, Duane came back home, and we chatted about it. Even while he had no client, he decided to go and check out conditions on the island and shoot some video of current trail conditions, so he resumed his plan and headed to Copper Harbor for the night.

The next morning, he caught the Queen IV and set off with high energy for his excursion, even though he was solo. The crossing was uneventful, and he landed in good time and met with Rock Harbor rangers to have his first aid gear inspected and to catch up on conditions for the season.

Fog at McCargoe Cove

After the overnight in Rock Harbor Campground, when Duane was boarding his hop to Chippewa Harbor, he tried to address the captain to tell him that his client had canceled, so it would just be him. The captain, busy with boarding the boat, interrupted. “You can catch me up en route, Duane. You can board.”

The crew was loading half a dozen or more canoes bound for Malone Bay. They were portaging into Siskiwit Lake for an extended fishing trip, so they had a lot of gear and supplies.

Satisfied that he could brief the captain when they were under way, Duane boarded. He was looking forward to the hike from Chippewa harbor into Lake Richie that afternoon. As the vessel got underway, a fog drifted in, obliterating the view of the shore.

Foggy Lake Superior

As the fog lifted, Duane stepped onto the walkway going to the captain’s wheel house, but the shoreline was not right for approaching Chippewa Harbor.

“I was supposed to be dropped in Chippewa Harbor,” he said to the captain.

“What do you mean?” responded the captain. “Beth had a party of two for Chippewa Harbor, but they were a no-show. Anyway, we are past Chippewa.”

“Oh, no! Beth made the booking for me and my client. I have the confirmation right here.”

Apparently, the name on the credit card appeared on the manifest and not the names of the passengers who were listed in the reservation, so the captain did not realize that Duane was the passenger who was supposed to be dropped in Chippewa Harbor. The next available stop was Malone Bay, so Malone Bay was Duane’s starting point.

The next day was beautiful. Duane started started out at daybreak and had a leisurely hike up the Ishpeming Trail to the Ishpeming Tower at the intersection with the Greenstone Ridge Trail and on into Hatchet Lake where he enjoyed a relaxing evening.

Ishpeming Tower in the Sunshine

Around 3:00 a.m., his sleep was arrested by a close lightning strike with an almost immediate boom of thunder. By 4:00 a.m., he was filming in the tent, realizing that there was a serious issue with any Malone Bay hike planned for a six-day and five-night excursion. If he did not hike to West Chickenbone (8.1 miles) on that day, he would have to hike almost 17 miles into Daisy Farm the next day to make up for the weather day. Given that the trails are treacherous when they are slick, any rushing is not a good idea.

Spiderweb in the Rain

By 9:00 a.m., however, there was a break in the weather, so Duane packed up quickly and set out for West Chickenbone campground, 8.1 miles distant. Crossing the wet whaleback rocks as quickly as possible, he arrived by midafternoon. He ate quickly and set up the tent before the next storm was atop of him.

We know that the down day in the itinerary is essential for days like this one. Had the lightning not let up, Duane would have had to hike in the storm to be able to make his departure boat. Lesson learned.

Face Planting

Hiking out of Malone Bay is one of the most grueling trails on the island, especially as a first hike for the season. In 2021 Duane set out from Malone bay to map the last few waterfront campgrounds on the Garmin in preparation for our circumnavigation by kayak.

The hike from Malone Bay to Hatchet Lake is 13.1 miles, with a significant length going steadily uphill. Debarking at 11:00 a.m., Duane opted to stay overnight at Malone Bay and set out at first light, so he enjoyed the solitude of an empty campground.

Curious Moose watching me hiking in the rain

At dawn, he set out toward Hatchet Lake. By 9:00 a.m. he slogged along under a steady rain. By 1:00 p.m., he was climbing steadily up the slippery rocks and muddy trail to ascend up and over the Greenstone Ridge. About a half-mile before the Ishpeming Tower, he quickened his pace to get to the tower to get out of the rain. His feet came out from under him.

Splat! He landed his face on the slick whaleback so hard that he couldn’t move, his glasses smashed against his face. Shaken, he lay there for some minutes, groaning.

The rain pelted his pack. It was cold on his face. Once he sat up, he realized he was bleeding, and swabbed his face with a hanky.

Then he regained his feet and trudged up to the tower and sat out of the rain. Apparently, he looked pretty rough as a couple passing by along the Greenstone inquired, asking if they could help with anything.

Eventually, he he got up and made his way into Hatchet Lake by evening. He set up in the rain and quickly got inside to dry off before hyperthermia set in. Without a mirror, he couldn’t see the damage, but his glasses were twisted, and he had blood on his sleeves, likely from wiping his face.

Wet Tent Viewed from under the Guide Tarp

He rested the next day at Hatchet Lake, thankful for the leisure built into his itinerary that allowed him plenty of time to continue mapping the remaining lakefront campgrounds.

Three days later, after mapping Chippewa Harbor and Moskey Basin, he ran across a ranger at Daisy Farm.

“What happened? He asked, and Duane explained. “You could have hit the emergency beacon,” the ranger said.

“I could walk,” Duane replied.

Lesson reinforced: Always make sure to have an extra day so you don’t have to push through when you should wait out the weather.

Scamps: Isle Royale Foxes

Isle Royale foxes both annoy and delight. Even while they can prove to make a hiking excursion really uncomfortable by digging in your pack and eating your food or running off with one or both of your boots, I have to admit that they are the cheekiest and most entertaining bandits on the island. While the beavers are industrious and the wolves sound off eerily, the fox prances and entertains, even while it acts the pest.

Red Thief

The other year when we were camped at Three-Mile Campground, having debarked the Ranger at 4:00 at Rock Harbor. We wanted to get a little bit of a start on our itinerary and get out of the “population hub” on the island.

The day was warm, and we set up our tent quickly in the group sites. Our late arrival meant that all shelters and individual tent sites were occupied. As we set up, we noticed a red fox with black feet on the edge of the site, peeking at us from beneath an evergreen tree.

We left our food stowed and sat at the picnic table, watching the fox as it watched us. Before long, it emerged from the woods to sniff around the picnic table, apparently looking for food scraps.

Before long, a solo female hiker came into camp and set up her tent. She went off to the shore to get water, leaving her pack on the table. The fox took particular interest in her pack, and we shooed it several times while she was gone. She returned with the dirty bag from her gravity filter system and hung it from a tree. For the moment, the fox was not visible. We thought it had moved on, but we told her anyway so that she wouldn’t leave her food available to him.

She had hiked in from Moskey Basin and was tired, so she retired to her tent while her water was filtering. We heard her sleeping bag zip, and quiet snores emitted from the tent.

Once she turned in, we took a walk to the shore to filter water. We were using a pump filter, so we couldn’t just scoop three or four liters into a dirty bag. Instead, we had to remain at the shore operating the filter until we had filled our bladders and water bottles with clean water.

With hands filled with water, we navigated the rooty, rocky trail back to our campsite that was set back in the woods. As we assembled our assorted water vessels on the picnic table, we observed a darker colored fox brazenly digging in the woman’s gear with some purpose. Of course, we shooed it away, but it didn’t want to move along. Unlike the redder fox, this one seemed intent on finding whatever good tasting there was in her gear. Rattling our trekking poles finally induced it to duck into the underbrush.

Fox Checking the Gear
Fox Checking for Dinner

Satisfied that the fox had left our campsite, we dug out our cooking gear and proceeded to rehydrate our dinner. No sooner than we had opened the packages, there was the fox again, this time at the end of our picnic table, looking for scraps or whatever we might have dropped on the ground. Duane shooed it away.

Once we finished eating, we washed our dishes (the single spoon needed to eat directly from the pouch of rehydrated food). Because we don’t cook anything and only heated water in the pot, rinsing our the spoons was all that was needed. We took great care with our trash, though, as the pouches do contain food residue and can give off odor, even if we seal them closed and store them in a plastic zipper bag. Still, we keep them securely stowed in the back pouch on our packs. Our vigilance in taking care with our trash seemed to deter the pesky fox.

We place our securely closed backpacks on our camp chairs under the vestibules on either side of our tent, which we zip closed, and we tie our boots to the leg braces to at least make noise if the fox tried to run off with them in the night. If the fox is not extremely stealthy in the heist, it will shake the whole tent as the boot upends the chair with the pack and lands on the tent. This has never happened, but we would prefer it to happen rather than losing a boot to a pesky campsite fox.

As evening approached, our site partner emerged from her tent, clearly having had a good nap. As soon as she started cooking her dinner, both foxes appeared at the edge of the campsite. We observed her careful address of her dishes and meal packaging, which left no scraps to tempt the two. With her housekeeping complete, she opened her tent and brought in her book, announcing that she was going to read and settle in for the night. She secured her pack but left it with her trekking poles on the ground next to the table.

Before long, we found ourselves ready for bed, too, and settled into the tent, sheltered from the cool, damp air at nightfall, listening to the soft lap of the small waves on the shore. In the night, however, Duane was awakened by rustling. He popped out of the tent, expecting to see the fox trying to get into our gear. As he shined the light around the campsite, he saw the fox trying to get into our tent site partner’s pack once again.

Her trash was accumulated from her hike from Windigo over some five days, so it must have been irresistible to the fox in spite of her care in stowing it. Before Duane could shoo it away, the solo hiker emerged from her tent and moved her pack in with her, zipping the tent closed behind her.

I smiled as she pulled her boots and trekking poles into the tent.

The next morning, we met the redder of the two foxes on the boardwalk. It pranced toward us as we headed toward Daisy Farm, not giving way or even acting as though it cared that we thought we should use the boardwalk. It did not deviate until one of the people in our party rattled their trekking poles and another clapped their hands.

As it trotted straight towards us, I prepared to step off into the mushy ground to let it pass along the boardwalk, but the fox turned abruptly about six feet in front of us and headed straight toward the water and disappeared into the bushes.

We were pretty sure it was going to greet new arrivals coming in from Rock Harbor or those ending their excursions who were coming off the Greenstone Ridge Trail to take a dip in Lake Superior before heading into Rock Harbor for departure.

Look-at-Me and the Fox of Opportunity

Our stay at Siskiwit Lake in the year of the pandemic was made much more delightful by our encounters with two foxes. As we arrived from Feldtmann Lake, the redder of the two lay under a tree alongside the trail, almost posing for us inviting us. We called it the Look-at-Me fox. Its inviting image greeted us on our arrival and bade us farewell at departure as it smiled at us, eyes mostly closed like a coy suitor or precocious child who knows he is irresistible.

Look-at-Me Fox

We hiked in to Siskiwit Lake from Feldtmann Lake on our September 2020 excursion during the pandemic when the only way to the island was to take the seaplane. We recommend the service for its convenience and versatility, which allowed us to keep our consecutive years on the island intact.

The eleven-mile hike from Feldtmann is not all that friendly. Parts are overgrown, and it ascends and descends the Feldtmann Ridge. For the last three miles just coming into Siskiwit Lake, the trail can be tricky as it is overgrown with saplings. At this point, though, the trail goes straight, following an old road, so hikers should simply stay between the big trees.

On this excursion, Duane was hanging back to get photos, and I was ahead, pushing to get in. The weather was cool, so hiking fast helped me to stay warm. I got in a few minutes before Duane and noticed the pretty fox under the tree near the campground. It seemed to smile at me. I smiled back and greeted it. “Hi, there.”

It smiled and winked.

When Duane rolled in with the camera, he shot the photo. The fox, apparently, was waiting for its cameo, its beguiling demeanor captivating. Before long, we noticed that there were two of them, one that seemed to pose and welcome us and the other that checked into every opportunity at the campsite. Look-at-me seemed to distract us with its dynamic demeanor, and the fox of opportunity took advantage of our paying attention to the beguiling one and searched our campsite for tidbits of food.

We stayed in Siskiwit only one night, but the campsite fox gave us its full attention, likely because we were the only ones in the campground. As we set up, the fox of opportunity trotted into our site, as though he were a guest. He checked the table and sniffed at the pack. Then he checked the tent.

Fox in Siskiwit Checking Our Campsite
Fox Checking the Gear

“Scat,” Duane said, but the fox of opportunity thought a little while before heeding. Duane had to shoo him twice. I was more inclined just to observe them both, given that we didn’t have any food or good-smelling gear within reach of the curious creatures, and the two of them were indeed cute.

While we made dinner, the fox of opportunity kept a close eye on us from the edge of our tent site. I could feel its disappointment when we cleaned up and stowed everything, giving it nothing but close attention to make sure we did not drop even a scrap to tempt him to come in closer.

After dinner, we walked down to the dock to filter water and passed by the look-at-me fox still smiling and napping in the late afternoon sun, or at least appearing to nap. When we walked past, I saw it peek at us through partially closed eyes, following our progress along the path next to it.

That night, we did not have an incident with either of the foxes trying to make off with our gear, but we had taken our boots in for the night and double-bagged our trash that was tucked into our packs to ensure a minimum of smells to tempt our red campground hosts.

In the morning, we packed up quickly so that we had plenty of time to navigate the shoreline which is difficult because of the loose gravel and the creeks we had to cross. As we packed up, we were escorted down the path from the tent site to the main trail by the fox of opportunity.

As we passed by the area near the dock, the look-at-me fox followed us. Each time we stopped to look back at it, it would lie down and give us its “who me?” look. Duane captured our final view of it as it lay in the bushes watching something of interest through the trees, only a few feet from where it greeted us the day before when we arrived.

Look-at-Me-Fox Looking at Something Else

The hospitality of the two made us want to stay and hang out with them for awhile, but our short stay would not permit the zero day, so we hiked out toward Island Mine and then on to Windigo the next day for our flight back to the mainland.

Duane’s Black Socks

In the summer of 2023, Duane first met Black Socks on a guiding excursion at Windigo. He and our clients were set up in Washington Creek Campground, Shelter 9, ready for moose viewing after dinner. They were at the picnic table setting up the stoves and rehydrating dinner when Black Socks joined them. Boldly, it sat next to the table, expectant like your household spaniel for treats to be delivered. Of course, they did not share with the precocious beggar, so it went along to the next site.

The second time, Duane came through with clients, Black Socks showed up exactly the same, trotting in when food was being cooked, and disappearing when nothing was provided to him. On that trip, Duane watched as Black Socks visited each campsite consecutively, from one end of the campground to the next. He had to wonder how successful the fox’s begging was, given that it was so punctual in its rounds.

When Duane and his group hiked over to Windigo, they saw the little beggar heading up to the employee quarters, where our friend Marty captured him on video and posted the video online of the fox sitting on the front steps of his duplex. Marty and the Windigo crew called him Foxy and had enjoyed his antics through the season. It appeared to be quite young, last year’s kit, who was just on his own and learning where food comes from.

As Duane’s group sat and enjoyed their snacks on deck at the store, Black Socks stopped by the Visitor’s Center and checked out the area near the laundry/shower building, sniffing into every corner and crack. Once the group finished their snacks and headed back to the campsite, they enjoyed an escort by their little red and black friend.

Not surprisingly, Black Socks showed up to breakfast the next morning, prancing in, nose to the ground, but he was again shooed out of the campsite. His persistent begging and hanging around in camp made it clear that some people were giving in to his wily good looks.

The last Duane saw of Black Socks was at breakfast on his last morning in Windigo as his group set out to complete the Greenstone Ridge Trail. Black Socks remained in the campsite, no doubt awaiting more “generous” tenants.

The Park Rangers make sure to remind everyone not to feed the animals. If they see people as the sources of food, they will not fare well during Isle Royales brutal winters. In actuality, it is a kindness not to feed them.

Book an adventure with us at Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services. And remember, the “Wise Old Man” is sometimes a woman.

Favorite Moose Moments on ISRO

Duane and I have had some moose encounters over the years. Seeing them in the different contexts is at least one of the reasons why we visit and revisit Isle Royale. The most volatile encounters concern cows and their calves, but no moose should be taken lightly.


Thinking of the momma moose and her twins on the Greenstone Ridge Trail makes me smile. Duane and I were coming through a particularly dense forest with twisting trails that had tight curves around trees, mostly small fir trees. I lead, and Duane follows, mostly because it works best this way. We were walking at a leisurely pace and talking when I came around a corner and was in arm’s length from a cow who was followed by two calves.

Shaking Off the Water
Making for Shore

I was so startled–and so was she. I could have reached out and touched her. She could have stomped the stuffing out of me. In my shock of meeting eyes with her, images of people being stomped by angry moose popped into my mind.

My brain said “get behind a tree,” which I did. Heart pounding audibly in my ears, I about-faced and tucked behind a tree, saying to Duane, “Moose!” She about-faced and ran into the bushes, twins close behind.

I don’t believe Duane saw any of the three, so fast the encounter happened.

One Eye

Then there was the time when Duane woke me up when were in Windigo. He could hear a the sploosh of a moose in Washington Creek, and didn’t want me to miss seeing it. We both sat up and listened intently.

We were sure the moose was in the water just in front of our shelter. Duane was so excited. His new camera had night vision, so he hurriedly pulled on his pants and boots. Given it was midsummer, he didn’t bother with a shirt. He didn’t even tie his boots. He just jammed the laces inside so he wouldn’t trip on them.

There was a new moon, so the night was pitch black save the stars. No moonlight reflected on the water. The stars shone overhead, but not brightly enough to help.

I sat up in the tent, straining to hear, but I didn’t think I would see anything, so I stayed in the warmth of my sleeping bag. Quietly I heard the spring on the screen door open and close. Duane’s feet didn’t make a noise on the step.

He had grabbed up his camera from the railing and headed out the door.

I heard the sploosh of the moose’s head going into the water and then the water running as it pulled its head out.

A moment later, I heard him utter an involuntary gasp. The door opened and shut quietly. “The eye,” he whispered.

“The eye?” I asked.

“I turned on the camera, and I saw one eye.”

There was a moose in the water, but that was not the only one. Apparently, a second one stood in front of our shelter, and when Duane turned on the night vision, it was so close that he saw only the eye.

Coaxing Baby

Occasionally, Duane and I get lucky and get a shelter in Washington Creek. I think it was in 2016 when we were set up in Shelter 1, which meant we had a little walk toward the trail to Windigo. One early morning, we were walking toward the trail across from Shelter 6, and we heard the soft footfalls of moose hooves on the path.

We stopped walking, keeping our distance, never wanting to distress any moose. In the midsummer, the cow may well have a calf or two about whom she will be very defensives. The footsteps, stopped, but we waited, knowing the cow might be reticent to pass with us standing there. We stepped back a few yards, and soon the cow appeared and walked across the trail that runs from campsite to campsite, parallel to the creek. She looked our way.

We stepped back some steps and each tucked behind a tree. The cow looked our way again and turned back the way she came, but stopped only a few feet beyond the junction, just out of our vision. Strange. Still we remained behind our trees, waiting. In a few minutes, she came back across the trail and stopped again. Then she went back the way she came.

By this time, we knew she had a good reason for going back and forth. I pulled out my phone and started filming as she reemerged. Once more she turned back. After a few minutes, she crossed the trail again, pausing near Shelter 6 and heading toward the creek. A few moments later, a small calf followed.

Moose Momma
Moose Baby

From the next campsite, we saw the two descend the bank and cross the creek. Near the opposite bank, the cow stopped to graze for a few minutes while the calf stood waiting in the creek. Then mom patiently waited as the calf took a couple of tries to climb the other bank.


Duane and I have hiked the Minong Ridge Trail many times. The first time we hiked it together helped us to learn about how we like to hike. In general, we stop at every campground because each has something to offer and we don’t like to rush. After the several days to hike from Rock Harbor to Windigo, we always feel a little push on that last day, coming into Windigo. After all, it’s nice to get a pizza or one of the best microwave hamburgers in the world.

After the hikes of anywhere from seven to nine miles per day each day for four days, the twelve-plus miles on that last day to get to Windigo stretches on, but the promise of non-dehydrated food and a cold beverage helps us to press on. As we crossed the up-and-down ridges part, we were upbeat, even though we were carrying an extra liter of water each because of the longer distance on this final leg.

While crossing the beaver dams and the swampy areas, we talked about the pizza and found our pace increasing. After all, you must make it to the store by 5:00 to be able to order pizza before the store closes. We were moving pretty quickly as we passed the Junction with the East Huginnin Trail Junction, but blocking the trail in front of us was a cow. She first seemed not to notice us, grazing next to the trail. It was 4:00, and we were still at least a half hour away from Washington Creek and Windigo is a half-mile past that.

Duane spoke to the moose, “Go on, moose. We want to get a pizza.”

The moose ignored him.

Duane got louder. She still ignored him.

He got behind a tree and spoke in a very loud voice. “Move along, Moose!”

She laid her ears back, snorted, and stomped at him.

Moose not Giving Way

He stopped talking to her. I was a few trees behind him, not wanting any part of the conversation.

He stayed silent for a few minutes, till peering from behind his tree.

The next time, Duane pleaded with her to please move on because we wanted to get our pizza. “Please, Moose. We just want a pizza.” His voice was sad, almost quavering.

She ignored him again.

We waited.

After about 20 minutes, a calf stood up from beside the trail and looked our way. Together, they meandered into the woods.

At a near jog, we finished the last of the hike quickly, running down the boardwalk into the campground. We saw Campsite 15 open and shed our packs on the table. We made it to the store in time to order a pizza, but they were sold out, so we enjoyed burgers and chips.

Diet Coke is excellent when it’s cold.

Good Information Can Keep You Safe

Evaluate Your Sources

If your information source can’t pass a CRAP test, it is not a good source. Crap is an acronym for Currency, Reliability, Authority, and Purpose, and evaluating your sources of information using this analytical tool can ensure you have the right information to plan a safe excursion on Isle Royale.

Currency addresses how recently the information was made available. Information needs to be current. Trail maps from the 1970s, for example, do not show current trail configurations or distances and therefore should not considered a good source of information.

Garmin device for miles and trail maps
Mile Marker

Reliability has to do with the credibility of the information. Does it draw from facts and data, or does it depend on opinions and conjecture? A trail map from the park service or National Geographic can be considered credible.

Authority has to do with the qualifications of the source to speak on the topic. People who have hiked every trail at various times during the season under various trail conditions have a greater authority than the one-time visitor or the one who visits at the same time every year.

Purpose has to do with the reason someone is sharing their opinions. Appropriate purposes would be to keep people safe while hiking, to prepare people to make solid decisions about their preparations for hiking, and to share information that prepares people to take an excursion with a guide service. If the source is sharing sensational stories to become a trend-setter, its purpose is not appropriate.


Do Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services and this post pass a CRAP test? That is an important question to ask.

Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guide Services passes the Currency portion of the CRAP test. Our information is up to date. In the 2022 season alone, our guides hiked over 400 miles on the island, starting in June and ending in mid-September. We can speak to the variation of conditions on trails across the whole season.

Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides pass the Reliability part of the CRAP Test because they make use of information from NOAA, NPS, the National Weather Service, published CDC recommendations, National Geographic maps, contacts with ISRO park personnel, current CUA holders including transportation and concessions services, and more. We also share this information freely on our Blog, our Facebook Group, our Facebook page, our free hiking preparation courses, and on our website. We want Isle Royale visitors to have access to accurate information to prepare for their adventures.

Rugged Landscape
Minong Ridge Trail

Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides pass the Authority portion of the CRAP test. The head guide and logistics coordinator Duane first visited Isle Royale in 1983 and many times since, with multiple annual visits for the last eight years. His hiking and logistics knowledge is founded on vast military experience. Other guides have had multiple annual visits for a minimum of eight years, with broad off-island hiking in other remote wilderness areas. Further, Beth holds and earned Ph.D. and the rank of professor in Communication and Writing. Her business is to locate and vet information for accuracy and reliability and to present it in an understandable manner.

Duane on board the Queen IV
The Guides

Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides pass the Purpose portion of the CRAP test because of their vested interest in seeing people hike safely and without incident on Isle Royale. People who hire us need to have accurate information to be prepared to hike without incident. If we come across other hikers in trouble on the island, our integrity requires us to help. With a total of 54 days on the island last summer, our guides want to see people enjoying themselves instead of struggling because they did not have accurate information for planning. The fewer incidents that occur on the island, the safer we all are.

Isle Royale is a remote island in Lake Superior, some 15 miles from the Canadian shore, about 24 miles from Grand Portage, Minnesota, and 50-some miles from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Nevertheless, Isle Royale National Park is part of Michigan. Isle Royale enjoys about 20,000 to 25,000 visitors each year with some variation over time.

Isle Royale in Relation to Minnesota, Canada, and Michigan courtesy of Google Maps

You can find information about Isle Royale relatively easily. First, you can visit the park service website, which has excellent information and lots of resources. They provide plenty of information for all seasons and all modes of transportation and exploration of the island, all the rules and regulations.

The Greenstone, Isle Royale’s annual newspaper, includes a wealth of information and is a must-read for any hiker or backpacker, boater or day-tripper. Sometimes, though, so much information for so many different purposes is hard to wade through. As well, the information, while all there, is hard to apply to your own situation as you prepare for your adventure without some context or touchstones.

Many people turn to Facebook to seek out information put out by reputable sources, which is possible to find, but sorting through all the information shared by unvetted sources to discern the truth is difficult. Many well-meaning park visitors feel that they’re experts on the matter and share their impressions and opinions freely. On the Facebook groups, the chat provides a wealth of solid information, too. Isle Royale National Park and Isle Royale National Park Community are two groups that share lots of valuable information and insights.

Wise Old Man Guides go out of their way to locate and share information as quickly as possible. Their same-day posts shared information coming from Rock Harbor on the day of the Mount Franklin fire and on the event of the gale warnings that disrupted regular ferry schedules. This information helped people adjust plans prior to departure to the island and kept loved ones informed for those on the island.

Park Service Update on the Mt. Franklin Fire
Posted Ferry Schedule Adjustment at Rock Harbor

Many people know their stuff and share it prudently in the Facebook groups. Unfortunately, pseudo-experts share, too, drowning out the voices of reason. Sometimes real experts overgeneralize what they know, making broad statements that can’t possibly hold true in all cases or even in most cases. It’s on the user of information to vet it carefully.

A common problem is the overgeneralization of an experience shared by a previous park visitor of their individual visit. Other people think that repeated trips to the island give them expert status. However, if a person goes to Isle Royale in the last two weeks of August every year, then they have first-hand experience about the conditions generally on Isle Royale in the last two weeks of August each year. This person cannot speak to the conditions in May, June, July, early August or September.

Also, just because this person has found the weather generally pleasant on the five trips they took in the last two weeks of August for even several years does not mean that there will be no variation in weather this year. Weather varies every year. Average temperatures and conditions are averages and useful in general planning, but they are not not sufficient for planning a specific trip. Consider the averages for August at NationalParked.com, and you would not think a warm coat and hat is necessary, but they are. The National Weather Service is also useful.

50 degree Cool August Weather
80 degree Warm August Weather

Let me illustrate: Duane and I hiked the Minong in early August one year. The temperatures dropped into the 40s while we were hiking the ridge, and a cold, steady rain fell all day. At some points the rain turned to sleet and then back to rain. By the time we got to Little Todd, we were soaked. Had we listened to the group chat, we would have left our insulated “puffy” coats home and not worried about having a dry base layer–after all, it was August. This particular August, however, was not warm. As we hiked, the day got progressively colder until we were hiking in 40-degree temperatures.

Soaked to the skin and in boots that squished with every step, we set up the tent and got out of our wet clothes. We pack a full set of dry clothes–with base layers–in dry sacks for every hike, regardless of season. In dry clothes and sheltered in our tent, we got into our jackets and then into our sleeping bags. Within an hour, we stopped shivering and were able to enjoy a hot beverage. Had we listened to the pseudo-experts who insist that it is warm and even hot all the time in August on Isle Royale, we likely would have suffered serious consequences from hypothermia. But we didn’t listen. We prepared for the extremes we knew were possible.

Duane Staying Warm in a Puffy and a Sock Hat
A Wooded and Rocky Lake Superior Beach

The issue concerns being able to tell which participants in a Social Media group know what they are talking about. After all, some groups have 15,000+ members, so who can know each member personally? As well, many people who have visited the island once or twice feel that their experience defines everything to expect on the island, and they assert their opinions and cite their experiences as though they have hiked every trail in every season in multiple years and can speak to all possible variations or lack thereof. And when they do, they state that the island is always what they experienced.

Taking advice from a group of one- or two-time visitors can spell disaster for a novice hiker who can’t tell that 50 people asserting incorrect information does not make that information correct. It only makes the incorrect information louder than that shared by real experts who know the facts that newcomers need to learn about to stay safe.

Further, people’s preferences are often presented as facts, which confuses the new park visitors. Because I like the Minong Ridge Trail or the Feldtmann Loop does not make those the best trails on the island, and certainly not the best trails to try first. It just makes them my favorites. I understand that people don’t want to miss out on the points of interest, especially if they plan to visit only once. However, caution should be applied to taking advice on what they should do on their hike. They should plan prudently with extra time in event that they can extend their hikes rather than stressing over an overly ambitious itinerary that puts their safety and enjoyment at risk or causes them to miss their departure boats.

Abandoned Surplus Gear at the S. Desor Campground Marker
A Campsite from One of Our Guided Tours with a Tarp for Shelter

It’s not likely that a first-time hiker on Isle Royale will be happy with an itinerary that starts in Rock Harbor, does the Minong Ridge Trail and continues along the Feldtmann Loop and returns to Rock Harbor via the Greenstone Ridge Trail in 10 days. This proposed itinerary is literally a potential killer, except for an experienced trail runner who is lucky and doesn’t sprain an ankle or need a bad-weather day.

Yet this sort of itinerary is commonly proposed by new visitors seeking affirmation from Facebook group members. Many responders will affirm this awful proposition, maybe because they are maliciously laughing at the absurdity of the proposed hike or because they are as ignorant of the trail conditions and the weather extremes on the island as the person is who proposed the itinerary. Either way, the result can be disastrous. Fortunately, voices of reason will also weigh in, warning of the hazards of this itinerary for a first-timer.

A Couple of Mergansers at Daisy Farm
Duane Making Sure Everyone Is Squared Away

If you can’t hike 20 miles off island comfortably, then don’t plan more than a dozen or so miles for one day on Isle Royale. Isle Royale’s topography is not friendly, and the lack of water sources and abort options available along the ridge trails makes it dangerous to overestimate your capabilities. Solid research of the Island and assessment of your particular capabilities are essential for a successful experience backpacking on Isle Royale.

The Park Service asserts that “Safety is Your Responsibility.” We concur with this sage advice. Once you hike the island, you can make more ambitious plans for a return trip, but start with flexibility in mind on your first time out, and vet your sources of information.

Even sources that are supposed to be experts should be verified. Guide services may assert knowledge or expertise that they do not possess or “facts” that are not true.

Surprisingly, one guide service suggests that there are exit options at Todd Harbor and Little Todd Harbor on the Minong Ridge Trail, but this information is incorrect. Neither water taxis nor ferry services stop at these Lake Superior waterfront locations. On the north shore, the water taxis service as far as McCargoe Cove–weather permitting. The Voyageur II stops only at McCargoe Cove and Belle Isle on the north shore. No boat routinely serves Todd Harbor or Little Todd. Other transportation services, through 2022, were not available on Isle Royale.

The Voyageur II at Her Home in Grand Portage
The Tour Boat Sandy and Two Water Taxis at Snug Harbor

The only other boats that can regularly go to these harbors belong to the Park Service, and they come in only for park service business. Other than that, Park Service boats land at Todd and Little Todd harbors for search and rescue emergencies. They do not provide taxi services to hikers who want to “bailout.” If a person overestimates their stamina, they cannot simply choose to “bailout” of their hike by scheduling an extraction from these locations.

If the Park Service comes in to rescue and there is no emergency, they may or may not transport you by boat to the nearest dock served by a ferry or the water taxi where they will drop you. If they do transport you and alert paid transportation services to pick you up, you are responsible for the cost, which will be $71 for the Voyageur II–if there is room on its next itinerary. Because it serves the north side generally every other day in peak season, you may have to wait for more than a day for transportation to Rock Harbor. If that does not work or it causes you to miss your departure from the island, the Rangers can order a water taxi for you, but you are responsible to pay the hundreds of dollars to be transported to Rock Harbor.

No one can actually conduct all the planning for you if you are backpacking Isle Royale. There are Guide Services, but guides who have little experience on the island make mistakes and miscalculations. Again, let me illustrate.

Beth in Rain Gear on the Water Taxi with Other Boats Behind
Hidden Lake in Early Fall

Around 5:00 PM ET in early August one year, Duane and I were completing the hike into Windigo from North Lake Desor on the Minong Ridge Trail. We met a church group, with a young adult male guide leading about eight boys, appearing to between 10 and 12 years old. The guide carried two liters of water for the whole group, and they were setting out to reach the North Lake Desor Campground that evening, some 12 miles distant.

None of the children had trekking poles to assist in crossing the beaver dams. The guide said he was going to pass his walking stick back to the children as they crossed, which underscored his lack of experience with the length of the beaver dams that are crossed on the trail. You cannot pass a walking stick across 50 yards. This group started out too late in the day, did not have sufficient water, and did not have appropriate gear.

Later that evening NPS personnel were dispatched on a Search and Rescue mission to bring the group back to Windigo. Fortunately, the guide carried an emergency beacon and reached out for help when night fell and the group had not yet reached even the midpoint on the hike. All members of the group were dehydrating, and all were scared and cold, but rangers carried in water and helped the group back to Windigo safely.

Proper gear is essential, including outerwear, sleeping gear, safety gear, and more. You can see our required gear list here. This is a guide for minimum requirements if you hike with us. You may have additional items you need, but the balance between weight and gear is crucial for successful backpacking.

Gear I Take

Geared up, I am dressed for a cool-weather hike. I am wearing layers, a hat and gloves for warmth. I pack rain gear, a puffy, a change of clothes, food, and a 15-degree sleeping bag with an R4.5 pad.

On my left shoulder, affixed to the strap of my backpack is my Garmin for trail maps, distances, and an emergency beacon. I am wearing stout boots and carrying trekking poles to assist in crossing creeks and beaver dams.

My water bladder contains a liter of water for easy drinking while I am hiking, and I am carrying another liter in a Nalgene bottle on my pack.

You have to research your guide service and ensure that they are knowledgeable. Parents need to ensure that they are sending their children with guides who are knowledgeable about Isle Royale, which is not your average state park. To do that, they have to educate themselves at least a little to be aware of the obstacles on the excursion. They should also reach out to the park service for help in choosing an experienced guide service. Finally, they have to use their good sense to realize the remote nature of Isle Royale and plan accordingly.

Dead giveaways of inadequate information abound. The Simmons Beauty Rest air bed found seven miles out of Windigo on the Minong Ridge Trail is one. The suitcase being wheeled from the dock at Malone Bay is another. Heavy gear dropped on the trailside or at the campgrounds is yet another. The two men heading out with machetes and military entrenching tools who later ditched their gear and aborted their hike is yet another.

Not the Best Backpacking Gear
Simmons Beauty Rest Air Bed Abandoned on the Minong Ridge Trail

Assess your capabilities and the sources of information you are using. If your guide service suggests that you can bailout of a hike at a dock that is not served by any ferries, you need to rethink their credibility. Facebook groups that tell you only what you want to hear are not reputable sources of information. Evaluate negative responses to your ideas and make appropriate choices. Reach out to the park service prior to arriving on the island if you are unsure of your choices. Check the weather for Isle Royale, Thunder Bay, and Grand Portage daily in the week prior to departure.

Whom should you believe?

  • People with experience who don’t overstate their recommendations and who converse with you about specifics of what you are planning to do
  • Those who are endorsed by the park service and who are respected by other commercial service providers and their colleagues
  • Sources whom you can verify and corroborate with other reputable sources
  • Those who pass the believability test for credibility, reliability, authority, and timeliness

Whom should you not believe?

  • People with single trip experience or limited experience on Isle Royale who think they know about all aspects of the island
  • Those who have not visited the island or have stayed only at the lodge and day hiked
  • Those who insist their experience on a specific hike applies to your trip, regardless of the time of year or the area of the island you are hiking
  • People who become short or angry with you when you question their facts
  • People who make overblown claims or are selling something, like guide services
  • People who have opinions before they hear what you have planned or agree with you no matter what plan you have

If information sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Recognize when you need credible support and be diligent in finding it.

Feeling Good on the Feldtmann Loop

A challenge often passed by for the end-to-end experiences

The Feldtmann Loop is perfect for those arriving on Isle Royale from Grand Portage via the Voyageur II or from Houghton via the Seaplane who want the full experience but don’t have time for an extended stay. It can be done as a stand-alone in five days. It’s a four-day excursion but should be planned as five in the event of a thunderstorm that delays crossing the Feldtmann Ridge. It can also be combined with a cross-island itinerary taking the Greenstone Ridge Trail eastward at the Island Mine Trail Junction or taking the Minong Ridge Trail by overnighting in Washington Creek at Windigo and setting out on the Minong in the morning.

Our 2020 Route

The Feldtmann Loop can also be combined with a Huginnin Cove Loop to extend to a seven- or eight-day excursion that warms up with the Huginnin Cove Loop or which takes on the big challenge first and winds down with Huginnin. This is the route we took in 2020 when we flew into Windigo on the Isle Royale Seaplanes when the ferries were canceled for the season.

Grace Creek from the Lookout
Grace Harbor on Lake Superior

The Feldtmann Loop starts from Windigo, overlooks and then crosses Grace Creek and parallels the shore of Lake Superior along Grade Harbor toward Cumberland Point, and the extends along to Feldtmann Lake. This first leg is about 9 miles, and it is not an easy hike. From Feldtmann Lake, it crosses Feldtmann Ridge, past the Feldtmann Tower, and on into Siskiwit Bay at more than 10 miles. Then it climbs up toward the Greenstone Ridge Trail, passing Island Mine and into the Island Mine campground at about 4.5 miles. On this leg you go from 650 feet and climb up to 1100 feet in a long gradual upward climb. Then you circle back into Windigo in 6.6 miles which are steadily downhill.

Duane at Feldtmann Lake
Campsite at Feldtmann Lake

On the first leg of the loop, about 3 miles from Windigo, the Grace Creek overlook affords great views of Lake Superior, and off in the distance you can see Grace Creek. It’s a little daunting to think that you are going to hike all that way in a single day. From the lookout, you climb down to Grace Creek which is a pleasant meandering stream through the deciduous forest. It provides a nice place to sit in the middle of the first day’s hike to have lunch and filter water for the last half of the first day’s hike. It is so pleasant, we have lingered, enjoying the rippling current over the rocks and pebbles. If it’s warm, though, the biting flies will test your tolerance and the heft of your repellent. Leaving Grace Creek, you still have the bulk of the hike ahead of you, but it is a pleasant one meandering through the forest.

Rainbow Cove

Feldtmann Lake campground has a two-night stay limit. There are 5 individual tent sites and 2 group sites. The campground is situated on the west shore of the lake, so the sun rises over this inland lake. For exquisite views of the sun setting into Lake Superior, hike the mile from the Feldtmann Lake campground down to Rainbow Cove where you will find a pleasant pebbly beach and a directly west-facing waterfront. If you make this hike in late summer, you will be tempted by the abundant thimbleberries that line both sides of much of the trail. Also in late summer, you will want to linger along the shore and take a dip in the cold waters of the lake after the long hike from Windigo.

View along the Ridge
Feldtmann Tower

It’s a tough hike along the Feldtmann Ridge Trail the second day, especially after the long hike on the first day. But the views from the ridge rival any on the island. Remember, you are hiking up from lake level at about 650 feet up to the height of the ridge and its apex at the tower before your long descent into Siskiwit Lake campground. The last three miles into the Siskiwit Lake campground are overgrown and can be difficult to follow.

Taking a Five at the Tower
Tugs at Siskiwit Bay as Dock Was Being Rebuilt in 2020

Siskiwit Bay has a rocky shoreline, one that is difficult to walk along. However, the water views are spectacular and campfires are allowed in the community fire ring at the water. Siskiwit Bay is accessible by boaters, so your experience will be shared, especially in peak season. The dock affords additional opportunities for enjoying the lake, either for sunbathing or simply having a convenient place to filter water. Siskiwit Bay campground has a 3-night stay limit, 4 individual tent sites, 2 shelters, and 4 group sites. It’s the perfect place to take a zero day since you have already crossed the ridge to get to the campground and don’t need to bank the extra day any longer. The Wise Old Man of Isle Royale Guides usually don’t pass the opportunity to take a dip in the lake.

Siskiwit Bay
Enjoying the View

Island Mine campground is your next stop. While it is the shortest leg on this hike, it is not the easiest. There are beaver dams that have eradicated the boardwalks through the swamps and dammed up areas leaving Siskiwit Bay, so the best route is along the rocky/pebbly shoreline, which makes for difficult hiking. You continue along the shore for about 1.5 miles. In the middle, there is a creek you must cross; it’s too deep to walk across the mouth, so you walk into the swampy forest to a broad bridge over the river. Take your time here to locate and stay on the trail. Once across the bridge, you will return to the shore for short time. Once you leave the shore, the last part of this leg is a steady incline up past the ruins of Island Mine itself and then into the campground. The mine ruins are interesting to explore.

Dry Shallow Hand-Dug Well at Island Mine Ruins
Island Mine Artifact

Island Mine has a 3-night stay limit, four individual sites and two groups sites. It has individual fire rings so you can enjoy the evening basking in the glow of the firelight. Some people are concerned about the availability of water at Island Mine, but the spring-fed trickle has always provided sufficient water every time we have stopped. It is a water source for which you will prefer a pump filter as the flow is not swift or deep.

Visitor near Island Mine
The Cycle of Life

From Island Mine, the trail descends 6.6 miles into the Washington Creek Campground which has a 3-night stay limit, 5 individual tent sites, 10 shelters, and 4 group sites. Perched along the shore of the slow-moving water of the creek, the campground provides ample opportunity for moose viewing throughout the day. As you occupy your campsite, listen for the sploosh followed by water running. This is the sound of a moose dunking and raising its head in the waters of the creek as he or she grazes on the underwater vegetation.

Siskiwit Bay Denizen
Trickling Stream along the Trail

Washington Creek is one-half mile from Windigo which has the amenities of the store, the visitor’s center, the modern facilities with shower and laundry, the dock and canoe rentals. It’s a great place to relax for a day or two before returning to the mainland or moving along to another leg, such as the Huginning Loop, or combining with a cross-island hike along the Greenstone or the Minong Ridge Trails.

Campsite 2 at Washington Creek Campground
Portage Lake Lift Bridge, Houghton, from an Isle Royale Seaplane

Done alone, the Feldtmann Ridge trail allows for experiences of all the landscapes of Isle Royale, from the deep forests, to the swampy beaver dams, to the rocky ridges and the fire towers, to the Lake Superior sunrises and sunsets, to the inland lakes, the forest brooks and streams. Even the ruins provide a particular perspective on the industry the island once supported. For a time-constricted itinerary that wants to do it all, the Feldtmann Ridge Loop is ideal.

Base camping, inter-island hopping, & accessible experiences

Ideas for visiting Isle Royale without backpacking

When we think of Isle Royale, backpacking, kayaking, and boating come to mind, but not all people want, or are not able, to backpack in order to experience the beauty of this national park. Campground hopping can be a perfect option. It requires a sufficient amount of time and gear, but it doesn’t require backpacking from campground to campground. You can choose from a variety of campgrounds that are accessible on Lake Superior and that the Voyageur II visits, but plan in advance and make reservations–the Voyager II only makes stops that are scheduled in advance.

Queen IV home in Copper Harbor
Seahunter III at Windigo

Let’s start by catching the Queen IV to Rock Harbor and spend a single night in the campground. On your first night on the island, you can take a stroll out to Scoville Point, have a burger in the restaurant, and keep an eye out for Bruce the Moose on main street in the evening. The next morning, you want to catch the Voyageur II for your first stop at Daisy Farm.

View of Ranger III at Rock Harbor dock in Snug Harbor
Moose in downtown Rock Harbor

Daisy Farm offers a three-night stay, and it provides access to the Mount Ojibway as well as offering close access for a day hike over to Moskey Basin at four miles one way. There is also an opportunity to hike over to Three Mile and Susy’s Cave, or not. The Dock at Daisy Farm offers a great place to fish or to dive off, for those who can take a dip in the frigid water of Lake Superior. Since the beaver dams took over a prominent part of Daisy Farm, it’s likely to observe them swimming at the dock.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Crystal clear Lake Superior water at Daisy Farm

From Daisy Farm, coordinate a hop to Chippewa Harbor which has a three-night stay. There is Lake Mason a short hike from the campground. The Johnson Schoolhouse is a half-mile from the group sites on the way to the ridge from which you can see Lake Superior and overlook Lake Mason. There’s a smidge of cell signal from the ridge, so you can likely text your family. While you’re in Chippewa Harbor, you can fish from the dock. There are shipwrecks you can view if you have a portable kayak. It’s just a short paddle.

View toward Lake Superior from Chippewa Harbor dock
View of Lake Superior from ridge at Chippewa Harbor

Next you can hop to Malone Bay for up to three nights. You can splash in the waterfall, visit the visitor center, and hike over to Siskiwit Lake. Enjoy the raspberries and the thimbleberries. Hike out to the beaver dams toward the Ishpeming Tower. There, I saw a beaver chewing bark from a stick as though it were eating a cob of corn. This is a favorite of Wise Old Man Guide Services for its water views.

Voyager III coming in to dock at Malone Bay
Filtering water at Malone Bay’s rocky shore

After Malone Bay, you stop at Windigo for another few days. You can get a shower at Windigo, or you can take an off-island adventure by hopping over to Grand Portage for a night in the lodge and then hop back to Windigo. There, day hike out to Grace Creek Lookout, about 2.5 miles out on the Feldtmann Lake Trail. You can day hike out and back to Hugginin Cove (10 miles round trip), and you can also hike out toward North Lake Desor on the Minong Ridge Trail. Spend your evenings in the Washington Creek Campground to watch for moose that graze in the creek. Our best moose viewing on the island has been there.

Moose in Washington Creek campground at Windigo
Waterfront at Windigo from Washington Creek campground

Another campground visited by the Voyageur is McCargoe Cove also with a three-night stay limit. It is the first stop made by the Voyageur II once it leaves Windigo. McCargoe Cove has beautiful sunrises. There are six shelters, three individual tent sites, and three group sites. You can hike to the Minong Mine, fish off the dock, and just bask in the sun. The community fire ring affords great companionship as you visit with other campers who are taking a break from the trail or just passing through.

McCargoe Cove sunrise
McCargoe Cove dock

After McCargoe is the gem of gems, inaccessible to hikers unless they schedule with the Voyageur II. Belle Isle once housed a flourishing hotel with amenities. Its remnants are still visible in a fireplace, a stone stairway, and what appears to have been a patio of some sort. There is a sheltered beach for swimming, a lookout for sun bathing, and plenty of water for fishing. There is a dock where boaters often dock. There is a five-night stay limit at Belle Isle, and if you have a kayak, you have access to the fingers and can spend your days floating among the islands and enjoying the flat water.

Belle Isle gravel beach
Belle Isle view toward the beach

Leaving Belle Isle, you can catch your last hop into Rock Harbor for a final night on the island. Enjoy a burger and a beverage, shop at the island store. Stop at the Visitor’s Center, and attend a presentation at the auditorium. Book yourself into the hotel for a night and enjoy a shower and a soft bed.

Most people don’t have 22 plus days to take this leisurely and extended vacation on the island, but if you do, this might be the summer of a lifetime. If you don’t have all that time, pick and choose among the hops to meet your needs.

Scheduling is important as is coordinating the stay limits and the ferry schedule. As you hop, remember that the Voyageur II traverses from Grand Portage to Windigo and clockwise along the north side of the island on to Rock Harbor on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays. It returns to Windigo from Rock Harbor along the south shore on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. The Voyageur stays in port on Friday. The Seahunter III can help with planning entry and exit from Windigo to Top Hat Marina in Grand Portage, but those are the only two ports it services.

Rock Harbor Store and Visitors Center
Ranger III on the dock at Snug Harbor

Let’s consider a few potential itineraries to see how they play out with the coordination of the boats and the stay limits.

Here’s a McCargoe Cove-Rock Harbor-Chippewa Harbor-Washington Creek itinerary: Let’s start from Grand Portage and take the Voyageur II to McCargoe Cove on Wednesday. In this case, you can stay three nights at McCargoe because the ferry won’t come back by until Saturday. (It doesn’t travel on Friday.) On Saturday, you catch the Voyageur II for Rock Harbor and stay overnight in the campground, which is ADA compliant. Take the opportunity for a hot shower and do your laundry. (Make sure to bring quarters for the driers as the store won’t give you cash from your card and there is not ATM, at least not at this point.) Have dinner at the restaurant, and enjoy the company of other travelers.

On Sunday, take the Voyageur to Chippewa Harbor to enjoy fishing in Lake Mason, view the Johnson schoolhouse, and climb up the ridge (if you wish) to view Lake Superior and the countryside surrounding Chippewa Harbor. There’s a smidge of cell service, so text you friends. Chippewa Harbor has standup grills in the event that you catch a fish and want to cook it. On Tuesday, catch the Voyageur II again for Windigo where you can stay for three nights in the Washington Creek campground, which ADA compliant. Get a shower, visit the store, and eat a pizza or a microwave burger on the patio with other adventurers.

From Windigo, you can book the final leg to Grand Portage on the Voyageur II on Wednesday or Thursday, or on its sister boat, the Seahunter III, on Friday between June 7 and September 2. You can’t stay the full three nights unless you can book your return on the Seahunter III as the Voyageur II does not sail on Friday.

Johnson Schoolhouse at Chippewa Harbor
Rocky shore at McCargoe Cove

A Washington Creek-Rock Harbor-Washington Creek or a Rock Harbor-Washington Creek Rock Harbor ADA compliant excursion is possible as well. You can start and terminate from either end of the island. Remember, only Rock Harbor and Windigo are accessible.

For a six-day five night stay originating from Copper Harbor, you take the Queen IV and get your first night in Rock Harbor. You take the Voyager II the next morning to Windigo to spend three nights in the Washington Creek campground. Then you return via the north side of the island and stay overnight in Rock Harbor for a next-day departure.

For a seven-day six-night stay originating from Grand Portage, you take the Voyageur II from Hat Point Marina in Grand Portage to Windigo and spend three nights in Washington Creek campground. On the third day, take the Voyageur to Rock Harbor for a night, and then take the Voyageur II back to Hat Point Marina at Grand Portage. When booking, you need to make sure that you are choosing departure dates that allow for you to make the connection in Rock Harbor where you can only stay one night. You can only depart from Rock Harbor on Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday. (The Seahunter III does not go to Rock Harbor. She is a day-trip boat that ferries between Grand Portage and Windigo only.)

ADA Compliance

  • It is recommended to arrange with the park for an accessible shelter in advance of your stay. Only Rock Harbor and Windigo are accessible.
  • There is a step up into the shelters, so you cannot bring a wheelchair into the ADA shelter in Windigo at the moment of this publication, but there is a shelter with a ramp in Rock Harbor.
  • You must climb a hill to access the Visitors Center and the store in Windigo.
  • Both Windigo and Rock Harbor have accessible outhouses at the campgrounds in addition to the accessible shower/laundry/bathroom buildings. The modern facilities are a distance from the campgrounds, so you should expect to use the accessible outhouse.
  • If you are planning to take an service dog, there is a process which you must complete to secure permission from the Park Service prior to booking. The ferries may wish to see your official approval from IRNP prior to allowing you to board. This policy is in place because dogs carry diseases to which wolves are particularly susceptible. Only approved service dogs with appropriate documentation are permitted to board.
Seaplane Landing at Windigo

A longer excursion can be accomplished by incorporating Belle Isle into the Itinerary and including either either Chippewa Harbor or Malone Bay. If you start from Grand Portage to Windigo on Monday via the Voyageur II and continue to Belle Isle, you can stay five nights in Belle Isle, and catch the Saturday boat for Rock Harbor to spend the night. Sunday, you can opt for Chippewa Harbor or Malone Bay for two nights, and then on Tuesday hop back into Windigo for three nights and depart the island via the Seahunter III or stay two nights and depart via the Voyageur II.

To do this itinerary from Rock Harbor, it looks a little different. You take the Queen IV from Copper Harbor on Monday, and stay overnight in Rock Harbor to catch the Voyageur II on Tuesday for Chippewa Harbor or Malone Bay for two nights. You have to take the Voyageur into Windigo on Thursday and stay two nights. Then you can the Voyageur again on Saturday for Belle Isle where you can stay four nights and catch the Voyageur II on Wednesday to overnight in Rock Harbor for Thursday departure on the Queen IV.

Antler sheds at Windigo sign
Kayaks at the beach on Belle Isle

Remember, whichever excursion you take, you have to coordinate among the ferries’ schedules to and from the island and for inter-island hops, and also with campground stay limits. The ferries’ schedules are more plentiful during peak season, so if you are early or late season, the coordination is more difficult. However, visiting Isle Royale is not impossible even if you are not comfortable with hiking and don’t want to spend your days and nights in the lodge or a camper cottage. With careful planning, you can experience the remote beauty of the island without hiking. While we are not medical experts or care aides, Wise Old Man of Isle Royale guides can help with the logistics and can even lead your excursion.

What about Malone Bay?

This trail creates options.

Malone Bay is located at the end of the Ishpeming trail which you access from the Greenstone Ridge Trail at the Ishpeming Point or by Voyageur II if you come by boat. It is a favorite of fishermen who dock with their own vessels. It is also popular with people traveling by canoe or kayak because they can get there through the inland lakes and waterways, and it provides close access to Lake Superior for fishing. For hikers, Malone Bay is interesting because it opens up many different ideas about how to experience Isle Royale.

The three-night stay limit also supports base camping from Malone Bay. It has five shelters and two group sites, but no individual tent sites. The group sites have fire rings and the shelters have stand-up grills. Malone Bay also has a waterfall, halfway between the ranger quarters near the dock and the campground. The campground abounds with raspberries and thimbleberries, too. From the shore, the Menagerie Lighthouse is visible, so you’ll want a zoom lens for your camera or binoculars for best viewing.

Menagerie Lighthouse
View from the Greenstone Ridge

As I said, there are a few ways to experience Malone Bay. Let’s look at what opens up when we explore each. First, you can hike into Malone Bay via the Ishpeming Trail. Start in Rock Harbor, go to Daisy Farm and then West Chickenbone Lake. Then stop at Hatchett Lake. From Hatchett Lake to Malone Bay, you climb out of Hatchett Lake and up to the Ishpeming Tower. Then you descend into Malone Bay. Regardless of what the maps say, Duane and I hiked the route and it is 13.1 miles from Hatchett Lake to the campground at Malone Bay. To verify, Duane did it again, and it was the same. Then he took a different route by taking the Voyageur II into Malone Bay and hiking out to Hatchett Lake, and it was 13.1 miles as recorded by his Garmin. It was 13.1 miles by my Garmin as well.

Fishing at Hatchett Lake
Ishpeming Tower at Ishpeming & Greenstone Ridge Trail Junction

I stress the distance because there is no place to get water between Hatchett Lake and the Malone Bay campground, unless you want to filter out of a beaver pond four miles out of Malone Bay. Also, you can see Siskowit Lake and walk along the shoreline cliff for about the last three miles, but you can’t get to the water. There is bridge that goes over a muddy stream in a swampy area a half-mile after the beaver pond, but there doesn’t appear to be a point to access it without wading thigh-deep in mud. We invite comments from anyone who has further insight on this stream. In any case, the distance and the lack of access to water add to the strenuousness of the hike, especially after climbing out of Hatchett Lake and along the ridge to the tower prior to descending into Malone Bay.

Beaver Dam 4 miles from Malone Bay Campground
Shelter at Malone Bay

Climbing out of Malone Bay can be a challenge, too. It is 8.1 miles up to the Ishpeming Tower at the Greenstone Ridge Trail, so after the hike in, you might choose to hop out to Windigo via the Voyageur II. From there, other options open up. You can hike back to Rock Harbor via the Greenstone Ridge Trail or opt to hike back via the Minong Ridge Trail. You can also do a Feldtmann Loop prior to progressing back to Rock Harbor by picking up the Greenstone Ridge Trail at the Island Mine Junction. Yet another option is to hop again via the Voyageur II to McCargoe Cove and from there hike back into Rock Harbor.

Voyageur II coming into dock at Malone Bay
Lake Superior in the background of a Little Todd Campsite

If you want to hike out of Malone Bay, you have two choices. You will hike the 8.1 miles up from from the Malone Bay Campground to the Ishpeming Tower. If you go left on the Greenstone Ridge Trail, you go to South Lake Desor Campground, for a total milage of approximately 11.5 miles toward Windigo. From there, you would hike to Island Mine six miles distant or straight into Windigo for a total of 12 miles. If you go right at the Ishpeming Tower, you head back to Hatchett Lake for that total of 13.1 miles. Then you can choose to go to Todd Harbor, only four miles, or continue an additional 7 miles to get to McCargoe Cove. From there, the east end is available.

13.1 miles from Malone Bay to Hatchett Lake
Moose in the Mist

If you climb out of Malone Bay and end up at Hatchett Lake, you can proceed the next day to Todd Harbor which is four miles and head an additional seven miles to Little Todd Harbor on the Minong Ridge Trail, instead of heading east toward McCargoe Cove. After Little Todd, you continue westward to North Lake Desor, which traverses arguably the six most grueling miles on the island, along the Minong Ridge Trail. Last is the 13 miles from North Desor into Washington Creek campground at Windigo where you can hop back to Rock Harbor via the Voyageur II or think of even more hiking options.

McCargoe Cove
8.1 Miles from the Ishpeming Tower to Malone Bay

In summer 2022, Duane hiked out of Malone Bay and into Hatchett Lake campground and shared the highlights on video. On this excursion, he ended up getting over the ridge and into Hatchett Lake just prior to a thunder storm. The next morning, he hunkered down in his tent with lightning flashing, illuminating the sky, as the rain pelted his tent. He had an extremely late start on the eight miles into West Chickenbone Lake campground.

The ways to do Malone Bay are many. The three-night stay limit allows for time to enjoy the views of Lake Superior and Siskiwit Lake as well as time to splash in the waterfall. It also creates avenues for thinking about itineraries that expand on the customary ways to experience the Greenstone or the Minong Ridge Trails. In all of these, though, the Voyageur II is the vehicle to accommodate the distances in a limited timeframe.

To Solo or not to Solo

What’s the difference?

The choice of going it alone or going with friends or a guide is one that requires some thought, one that has consequences for all of the choices you make when you set out on an adventure. Last year, I hiked the Minong Ridge Trail twice in the same season, once alone and once with Duane; having company (or not) impacts planning and execution.

North Lake Desor
North Lake Desor

There are variations in preferences among any two hikers, and Duane and I are no different. We don’t eat alike. We don’t hike alike, and we are not oriented as people alike. I am not a talker. He is. I am not a stopper. He is. I snack during the hike. He wants to eat at the end, so he saves all food until then. These have the most obvious impacts on the experience. The biggest impacts, though, start with needs and therefore the planning, so let’s start there.

When I planned for my solo hike, my whole focus was on keeping my pack weight down while taking on gear that I would not normally take by myself. When I hike with Duane, we share the load. He takes the tent, and I take the water filter and sometimes the cooking kit. He takes the first aid kit. I take a couple bandages and some antacids tablets. I take shampoo, which is liquid (and heavy).

Duane Setting up the Tent
We Stopped at Little Todd

To go solo, I had to take on another four pounds of gear that I do not carry when I hike with Duane, so I had to make room for it in my pack. I need my phone for photos, and my Garmin has to work, so I had to take extra batteries. But I can’t carry a pack of 30 pounds and hike 13 miles on Isle Royale. Yes, I can carry that weight and hike on less rugged trails, but on parts of the Minong Ridge Trail, I average 1 to 1.5 miles per hour. Sometimes, I can get up to 3.5 to 4 mph, but those are in short stretches, between the rugged ascents and descents. From Little Todd to North Desor, the trail is difficult, and the going is slow.

What are the negotiables? Type of food. Stove and pot. Type of water filter. Camp shoes. The type of shampoo. The luxuries: a chair.

What are the non-negotiables? Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, one change of clothes, puffy, rain jacket, gloves, sock hat, Garmin, first aid kit, water filter and treatment, cup and spoon, bug dope, toilet paper, trowel, headlamp and trekking poles.

I did not take camp shoes on my solo because I hiked one seven-mile day that would not start until after 2:30 PM when I got off the boat and two thirteens, each that would start at 7:00 AM. By the time I would get into camp to set up my tent and get dinner, I would be ready to filter water and sit at the shore, watching the sunset. The decision to leave them was easy.