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.