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Discovering Isle Royale: Guide to A Pristine Wilderness Retreat

Isle Royale

by Robert Trudeau

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale, a hidden gem located in Lake Superior, beckons explorers and nature enthusiasts alike.

One of the least visited national parks, this untouched wilderness, a designated National Park, stands as a testament to nature’s enduring beauty.

I had the pleasure of taking a trip to Isle Royale this summer, and I’d love to share our travel itinerary to help other travelers! My dad and I have spent an August week on the rocky shores of the island for several summers, both hiking popular trails and canoeing to some lesser-known locations.

Click Here for the Interactive Isle Royale National Park Map

Map of Isle Royale National Park
Use this park map to plan your visit

Visiting Isle Royale

Whether you’re planning a day trip, weekend getaway or longer exploration of the Keweenaw County north woods on Isle Royale, this designated wilderness area is a must on your pure Michigan bucket list. If you’re an avid hiker or a first-time visitor, this guide will illuminate what makes Isle Royale such a unique destination. Spend the day on the hiking trails, exploring the inland lakes in canoes or kayaks or on one of the Rock Harbor fishing charters.

However you choose to spend your time on Isle Royale, you’re sure to have memory-making experiences. Use this Isle Royale travel planning guide for your trip to the island!

Welcome to Isle Royale National Park, a national historic treasure. National parks have always been a place for friends and family to enjoy natural parks. If you’re visited national parks before, you know they are place where people can get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy what nature has to offer, whether that be wildlife or the stillness and tranquility that nature offers.

Sunset at Isle Royale
Sunset at Isle Royale by Robert Trudeau

Did You Know?
Isle Royale National Park is an international biosphere reserve. A biosphere reserve is an internationally recognized areas where management seeks to achieve sustainable use of natural resources while ensuring conservation of its biological diversity.

Planning Your Trip to Isle Royale: What You Need to Know for Your Visit to Isle Royale

Visiting Isle Royale National Park is a truly unique experience, perfect for those seeking solitude, wilderness, and a genuine escape from the modern world. If you’re planning a trip, be sure to reserve any necessary permits or accommodation in advance, and always check the National Park Service website for the most up-to-date information and entrance fees.

Rock Harbor Lighthouse on Isle Royale
Rock Harbor Lighthouse on Isle Royale

A Brief Overview of Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park, located in Western Upper Michigan on the border of Canada, spans over 450 square miles of pristine wilderness. Comprising more than 400 smaller islands, it’s a sanctuary for wildlife, offering visitors a chance to reconnect with nature. Most people take a boat and wind up in either Windigo or Rock Harbor.

Why Visit Isle Royale?

Isle Royale National Park is a remote island located in the northwest corner of Lake Superior, between the U.S. state of Michigan and Canada. It’s a unique and intriguing destination known for its rugged wilderness, diverse wildlife, and the tranquility that comes from its isolation. Here are some favorite activities on Isle Royale!

Monument Rock at Isle Royale National Park
Monument Rock at Isle Royale National Park by Robert Trudeau

Best Things to Do and See on Isle Royale

Breathtaking Hikes

Popular trails like Greenstone Ridge and Stoll Trail promise panoramic views and rich biodiversity. Halfway through our canoeing trip we stopped to hike up to Lookout Louise, which is about a mile and a half uphill hike. The trailhead is only accessible via kayak or canoe, but this lookout promises a spectacular view worth the trip.

Along the way you’ll find Monument Rock, an ancient pillar that stands above the rest of the surrounding rock.

Another memorable hike from our past trips is the path from Daisy Farm to Mount Franklin, which is a much longer hike, but promises the highest panoramic views of the entire island. This is a popular destination for hikers who want to begin their trip in Rock Harbor.

The hiking around Rock Harbor is particularly nice for newer hikers. As the path traverses’ wetlands, boardwalks have been carefully built to assist hikers on their way.

Greenstone Ridge Trail is a 40-mile trail that runs the entire length of the island. The Greenstone Ridge Trail hike can take from five to eight days to complete with a vertical rise of more than 4,000 feet. Irs worth it, though: you’ll see pristine inland lakes, wetlands and a variety of rare flora and fauna.

A boarded path at Isle Royale National Park
A boarded path at Isle Royale National Park by Robert Trudeau

Wildlife Encounters

This is one of the few places where you can observe the natural interplay between wolves and moose. The wolf population is estimated at 31, and park visitors are usually always on the lookout. While you’re unlikely to ever see a wolf on Isle Royale, moose are often sighted in the mornings and evenings as they come to drink water. If you spend your days hiking the north woods wilderness, you might catch a glimpse of a snowshoe hare, though.

Beyond that, the natural ecosystem is home to many traveling birds and woodland creatures. Beavers, red fox, squirrels, chipmunks, and many other wildlife call the island home during the summer months. My favorite bird we saw from the canoe this time was this loon.

Fishery at Isle Royale
Fishery at Isle Royale by Robert Trudeau

Water Adventures

Tobin Harbor and Rock Harbor are favorite spots for kayaking. Glide through serene waters, and you might just get a glimpse of fishes darting below or wildlife at the shore. You can paddle the inner islands safely on most days, but make sure to take all necessary precautions for the weather if you’re traveling by kayak or canoe!

Heading north from Rock Harbor will lead you to a series of historical structures which you can explore from the outside. If you plan to do any fishing on Lake Superior, you’ll need a fishing license if you are over the age of 17. A license is not required for fishing in the inland lakes.

Edisen Fishery

Located at the south end of Rock Harbor, the Edisen Fishery is a must-see for history lovers. This fish camp which operated from 1910 until 1975, stands as a prime example of Lake Superior living in the early 20th century.


As a designated International Dark Sky Park, the night skies are mesmerizingly clear. One of the most amazing and rare experiences on Isle Royale is to witness the northern lights, but every clear night on the island presents excellent stargazing opportunities.

Scoville Point on Isle Royale
Scoville Point on Isle Royale by Robert Trudeau

Shoreline Exploration

Coming from Rock Harbor, the hike to Scoville Point is an amazing experience. Once you’re there, the unique ecosystem of lichen dots the landscape. The contrast of oranges and yellows against the crystal blue waters is a truly gorgeous sight.

Another point worth exploring is Blake’s Point, although you’ll need a kayak or canoe to make it to this northern part of the Island. If you’re lucky enough to have calm seas, you’ll be able to make the trip around the northern point of the Island to view the Palisades. This long cliff is breathtaking, and really puts the volcanic history of the island into plain view.

The Palisades at Isle Royale
The Palisades at Isle Royale by Robert Trudeau

Rock Harbor Lighthouse

The Rock Harbor Lighthouse, situated on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, is a historic beacon that has guided ships through these treacherous waters for over a century. Perched majestically on a rocky outcrop, this picturesque lighthouse not only serves as a vital navigational aid but also offers visitors a glimpse into the maritime heritage of the region.

Its iconic red tower, set against the rugged beauty of Isle Royale, is a sight to behold, making it a popular destination for tourists and history enthusiasts alike. A visit to the Rock Harbor Lighthouse is a journey back in time, offering a unique perspective on the remote and stunning landscape of Isle Royale.

Ferry at Isle Royale
Ferry at Isle Royale

Lodging Options on Isle Royale National Park

Lodge and Cabins

Lodging accommodations are available at Windigo and Rock Harbor. You can choose to stay at the Rock Harbor Lodge or Windigo Camper Cabins. You can also choose to camp at one of the campgrounds around the island. You can find food and other provisions in Rock Harbor or Windigo

Remote Camping Shelters

Camping on Isle Royale is a unique experience. You’ll find spots that range from well-equipped wooden shelters at places like Three Mile to more remote camping areas, offering solitude like no other. Backcountry camping is an option, although you’ll need to get a permit in advance of your trip. We highly recommend trying backcountry camping!

Aboard the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry
Aboard the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry by Robert Trudeau

Travel Logistics: How to Get to Isle Royale

Isle Royale is accessible only by ferries, private boats or seaplane.

There are ferries from Copper Harbor Michigan and Minnesota, and while the trip might be long (anywhere from 1.5 to 6 hours, depending on the starting point and destination), it provides beautiful views of Lake Superior. You can take the Ranger III from Houghton, the Queen IV from Copper Harbor, the Ranger II or Voyageur II from Grand Portage, Minnesota.

It’s also important to consider the weather and plan extra travel time. This year, gale-force winds prevented the Isle Royale ferry, the Queen IV from leaving Copper Harbor, so our trip was shortened by a day. For a comprehensive experience, a stay of 3-5 days is recommended.

The Isle Royale Seaplane offers both one way and round trip flights to and from Hancock, Michigan and Grand Marais Minnesota.

Essential Tips for Visiting Isle Royale National Park

It’s important to consider several things in order to be fully prepared for your trip to Isle Royale. While many of these are general practices for a camping trip, there are some particular differences about camping or hiking on Isle Royale.

Preparation is Key

There are no large stores to purchase supplies on the island, so bring everything you’ll need, including food, water (or a way to purify lake water), and camping gear. This doesn’t really apply if you plan to stay in the Rock Harbor Lodge. Remember, this is a wilderness area so you’ll have to carry out what you bring in.

The park does not have cell service, Wi-Fi, or many of the other modern amenities. It’s a true escape from the digital world, so be prepared for that experience.

Loon on Isle Royale National Park
Loon on Isle Royale National Park by Robert Trudeau

Final Thoughts on Visiting Isle Royale

From Windigo to the edges of the Greenstone Ridge, every corner of Isle Royale is a chapter in a timeless tale. Be it hiking, fishing, kayaking, or simply camping under the vast sky; memories created here are etched for a lifetime. If Isle Royale is on your list, ensure you’re prepared and well-informed to make the most of this magnificent national park.

Isle Royale Frequently Asked Questions

Is Isle Royale National Park on the National Register of Historic Places?

Yes, the entire Isle Royale Island chain was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019. In 2021, the Minong Mine Copper Mining District was designated a National Historic Landmark.

When is the Best Time to Visit Isle Royale?

While Isle Royale’s beauty shines throughout the year, summer brings warmth and vitality. However, if you’re looking for serene moments, spring’s freshness or fall’s color palette might allure you. Remember, the park hibernates in winter due to the severe cold. We always prefer going in August when the bugs have subsided!

More Michigan Travel Destinations to Explore

Ultimate Guide to Mackinac Island

Explore the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Visit Tahquamenon Falls Scenic Site in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula

Houghton Michigan Dining Guide 14 Must-Visit Michigan Islands

About the Author-
My name is Robert Trudeau, and I’m a web content writer soon to be graduating with a B.S. in Writing with a minor in Digital Studies. Hailing in from the Upper Peninsula, I’m no stranger to the expansive beauty of Michigan. In this role, I’m excited to share my knowledge of Michigan while working within the web content development process. In the future I hope to work as a web developer and backend content strategist, helping clients build powerful websites with research-driven content and brand-specific strategies to support continued success.