Isle Royale National Park

Location: Michigan

Park Tally: 26/59

Orientation: Isle Royale National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States but statistically the most revisited. Located on a secluded island in the middle of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is a wildly beautiful place just begging to be explored. Adventure enthusiasts visit the park to kayak, camp and traverse the rugged landscape. The only means of transportation is by foot, kayak, boat or seaplane, making the island extremely peaceful and undeveloped.

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Access to Isle Royale is typically via Rock Harbor or Windigo and most visitors enter the park on ferries/cruises from Copper Harbor, Houghton or Grand Portage. Though, some visitors do enter the park via private boats or sea planes. Options for accommodation include the Rock Harbor Lodge, Windigo Camper Cabins or camping in the backcountry. There are some established backcountry campgrounds that provide shelters and boat docks, plus some primitive campgrounds that require longer hikes and more seclusion. Isle Royale really is the best place to get “off the beaten path”.

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Most iconic view:  Isle Royale has a path that traverses the entire length of the island – the Greenstone Ridge Trail. The 42.2-mile trek has many off-shoots to campsites and the rocky coast. Mount Ojibway (1133 feet) is along the Greenstone Ridge Trail and has an iconic lookout tower with incredible panoramic views. Hikers can see Isle Royale and Lake Superior in every direction, as well as views of Canada in the distance.

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Accessible activity: Rock Harbor Lodge provides scenic boat tours and guided hikes to various points of interest within the park. The locations change on a daily basis and include tours to Passage Island, Edisen fishery, Raspberry Island, and Hidden Lake. A popular short hike from the Lodge is the 4.2-mile Stoll Trail, which leads to the picturesque far eastern point of Isle Royale.

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For the adventurous: A backpacking adventure in the wilderness of Isle Royale is the perfect option for those looking for a challenge and solitude. We opted to spend 2 nights/3 days exploring the backcountry, including a night each at Lane Cove and Daisy Farm campsites. The 21-mile trek starting and finishing in Rock Harbor led us to secluded lakes, peaceful coastal inlets and high up on the Greenstone Ridge. We also bumped into Moose, frogs, snakes, squirrels, loons and a few too many bugs!

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Best photo opportunities: Given Isle Royale’s position on Lake Superior, the best location for sunrise photography is the southeast side of the island, and the most picturesque for sunset is the northwest side. Mount Ojibway’s central and elevated location would make it an ideal spot for sunrise or sunset shooting.

Photographers and astro-buffs also flock to Isle Royale for epic dark skies and chance to view the Aurora Borealis. Early and late in the season usually provides the darkest skies and highest chance of witnessing magical dancing lights. We had the opposite effect when we were in the park as our first night fell on the summer solstice, which meant only a few hours of complete darkness!

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Quick facts

  • Isle Royale was formally established as a National Park in 1940.
  • Although Isle Royale is one of the least visited parks (25,000 visitors in 2016), it remains the most revisited national park in the United States.
  • Isle Royale is the only national park in the United States that is closed entirely during the winter season, due to formidable winter conditions and extreme isolation.
  • The park is located in the middle of Lake Superior – the world’s second largest freshwater lake.
  • Wildlife that inhabit Isle Royale include moose, wolves, beavers, loons, ducks, foxes, hares and squirrels.
  • There are approximately 1600 moose on the island and the population is rapidly growing due to a decline in wolf numbers.
  • The park currently has only 2 wolves living on the island, who are actually brother and sister. The National Park Service is currently deciding the best solution for the dwindling numbers, with choices including introducing more wolves or simply letting the population die out naturally.

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