Isle Royale – Serenity Among Moose & Wolves

As  its  promotional  materials  like  to  point out, Isle Royale National Park gets as many visitors in a year as Yellowstone gets in a day. Remote and untouched, Isle Royale is a  narrow  strip  of  wilderness  in  the  northwest  part  of  Lake  Superior,  2  hours  by boat  from  the  nearest  mainland  port. Extensive  hiking  trails  (165  miles/266km total)  and  myriad  inland  waterways  for canoeing and kayaking make this an ideal north-woods  getaway  for  rugged,  adventurous types.

No  cars,  nor  wheeled  vehicles  of  any kind,  are  allowed  on  Isle  Royale,  so  any getting around on the 45-mile-long, 9-mile-wide (72 × 14km) island is under the power of your own two (hiking) feet or (paddling) arms.  Isle  Royale’s  two  towns,  with  park service   information   centers,   groceries, and  boat  rentals,  lie  at  opposite  ends  of the   island:   Rock   Harbor,   where   the island’s  one  hotel  is  located  and  where ferries  from  Copper  Harbor  and  Houghton,  Michigan,  land,  is  at  the  eastern  tip; smaller Windigo, where boats from Grand Portage, Minnesota, arrive, is at the western  edge.  Between  the  two  is  a  vast  wilderness of ridges covered with spruce and fir  trees  where  you’ll  enjoy  backcountry solitude  and  perhaps  spot  a  moose  or two.  Isle  Royale’s  ecosystem  supports both eastern timber wolves and moose in a   delicate   predator-prey   relationship: When  the  population  of  one  thrives,  so does the other.

Traversing  the  interior  can  be  done solely on foot (you’ll often see troops of Boy Scouts here to earn their 50-Mile Hike merit badges)  or  as  a  sort  of  biathlon  of  hiking and  boating.  Isle  Royale’s  center  is  peppered with lakes, each with their own rocky islets, and portage routes for canoers and kayakers are clearly marked. Ryan Island, in skinny Siskiwit Lake, along the island’s southern  shore,  holds  the  odd  distinction of  being  the  largest  island  on  the  largest lake  on  the  largest  island  on  the  largest freshwater  lake  (Superior)  in  the  world. Throughout  Isle  Royale,  there  are  basic campgrounds, many with Adirondack shelters,  available  on  a  first-come,  first-served basis.  For  adventures  involving  less  commitment, you can also embark on any number of day hikes from either Rock Harbor or Windigo,  with  the  possibility  of  rangerguided interpretive walks.

Lake Superior’s weather can be notoriously  harsh  and  unpredictable,  even  on what  appears  to  be  a  mild  summer  day. Boats are strongly discouraged from venturing out to the open lake waters, where even close to shore, random squalls pose a serious threat to small craft like canoes and   kayaks.   As   testimony   of   nature’s wrath in this part of the country, a number of  larger  shipwrecks  can  be  seen  (by scuba  divers  willing  to  brave  the  chilly waters  of  Superior)  in  the  shoals  off  the western edge of Isle Royale.

To really unplug from civilization, you’ll want  to  spend  a  few  days  on  Isle  Royale. Camping  at  one  of  the  island’s  36  campsites is certainly an economical and invigorating    option,    but    considering    the potentially   inclement   weather   of   Lake Superior,  I  highly  recommend  booking accommodations at Rock Harbor Lodge. After a windy or rainy day in the outdoors, you can at least retire to the lodge’s cozy dining room, be warmed by the fireplace, and   enjoy   the   camaraderie   of   fellow islandgoers.

Note that due to severe winter weather, Isle Royale is open only from mid-April to late October.