Isle Royale National Park – A Superior Wilderness Experience

Isle Royale National Park offers any type of outdoor enthusiast a connection with unspoiled natural beauty. Its primitive wilderness and physical isolation transports visitors beyond human civilization into a natural world of thick forests, crystal clear lakes and rugged shorelines. It is the only national park in the State of Michigan and the only island national park in the United States.

Isle Royale National Park is located in the northwestern area of Lake Superior about 56 miles from Copper Harbor, Michigan and 25 miles east of Minnesota. While the main focus of activities in on the big island, Isle Royale, the park is actually an archipelago of over 450 islands that encompasses 132,018 acres of land. It is one of the few national parks to close during the winter due to extreme weather conditions and for the protection of visitors. The island is open to visitors from mid-April to the first of November.

Due to its isolated location, access to the park is only by boat or seaplane. Large vessels transport visitors to and from Isle Royale out of Houghton and Copper Harbor, Michigan and Grand Portage, Minnesota from approximately mid-May until the end of September. There are also seaplane and charter boat services available at these locations. Transportation fees are charged that includes a $4 per day, per person user park fee. Private boats are allowed access to, and anchorage at, the island harbors for a fee. Canoes and kayaks can also be transported on the vessels for an additional fee.

Most visitors arrive on the island at either Windigo or Rock Harbor. There are information and registration sites, campgrounds, supply stores, restrooms and potable water access at both locations. At Rock Harbor, overnight accommodations and a restaurant are available at the 60 room Rock Harbor Lodge. (Reservations required.) The major activities on the island include backpacking, camping, hiking, exploring the flora and fauna, nature photography, fishing (Michigan fishing permit required) and paddling the island’s shoreline or inland lakes.

There are over 160 miles of designated trails throughout the island with many more back-country trails available for the more experienced backpackers and campers. Easily accessible campsites can be found along the designated trails and lake shores with some offering three-sided shelters. Long-term campground stays are limited and groups are limited to a maximum of ten people. Isle Royale is managed as wilderness preserve first, so visitors are generally restricted to established trails and accessible lakes with a leave-no-trace camping policy strictly enforced.

The terrain of Isle Royale is generally rocky with steep elevations in some areas. During the spring, some trails can be extremely slippery. The island is mostly covered in a thick forest of pine and deciduous trees that are very dense in most areas. Marsh vegetation can be found in low spots and a variety of orchids and flowers are common everywhere. Due to the overwhelming thick growth of trees and vegetation throughout the island, a reliable terrain and trail map is a must for anyone hiking away from marked trails.

The park is host to a variety of mammals, birds and fish. Due to its isolated location, it has only 18 species of mammals, but no bears, deers, raccoons or wild cats. The most common mammals found are fox, red squirrels, hares and otters. Numerous species of raptors, song, and aquatic birds can be seen throughout the island and northern pike, trout, walleye and other sport fish are present in most of the inland lakes.

The most famous occupants of the island are the wolves and moose. These species are intensely studied year-round at the park because of their unique single predator/ single prey relationship in an isolated area. While it is common to see moose along the lakes and in marshes, the wolves are rarely seen by visitors. It is common, however, for visitors to come across their tracks or hear them howling at night.