Perhaps the best-kept secret of all the great US parks, visiting Isle Royale National Park promises rugged, untamed landscapes and plenty of peace and quiet. Surrounded by the waters of Lake Superior, this is the ultimate natural wonderland to explore on a trip to Minnesota or Michigan.
Located just out of reach of the outstretched fingers of Canada, Minnesota, and Michigan (to whom it technically belongs), Isle Royale National Park was declared by Congress in 1931 as conserved land, and then in 1976 as part of the Wilderness Preservation Act. Today, it’s also protected by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve.
This means that travellers willing to do a little extra work in getting here will be handsomely rewarded with an unparalleled back-to-the-wilderness experience: a nature lover’s dream vacation.
How to get there? Good question. Your team must be small but mighty – seven to ten people is the maximum for a campsite – and you must get a permit. Ferries depart from the shores of Michigan and Minnesota from May to September, and the island is also accessible by seaplane, should you wish to take an aerial approach.
Campsites are abundant in Isle Royale, and are strung alone the main hiking routes. A way station on the southwest shore, Windigo, offers one-room cabins with access to a pay shower for when you want to freshen up.
If camping is not your thing, you have just one other option to go with, Rock Harbor Lodge. Located right on the banks of Lake Superior, the lodge offers rooms with private baths and housekeeping cottages, as well as rental motor boats, kayaks and canoes. They also organise their own private fishing and sightseeing tours led by local guides.
Visiting Isle Royale National Park is a must for walkers. Miles upon miles of hiking trails wind their way through the park, including the Greenstone Ridge Trail, a forty-mile trek down the middle of the island, and a two-week circumnavigation trail. Wildlife lovers will be in their element with some wonderful bird watching opportunities, while the park’s colourful spread of rare flora and fauna makes it a top destination for horticulturalists. Wolves and moose, which are declining in number overall in neighbouring states and in Canada, are also thriving here.
There’s plenty to discover on the water as well, with excellent paddling around the inland lakes, coves, and caves. Pick up a canoe and set out on a voyage of discovery on Lake Superior, or opt for a motorised vessel for an easy ride around the island.
Visiting Isle Royale National Park can be downright idyllic if you pack right and travel smart. Be aware that supplies are limited and only available at Windigo and Rock Harbor. Once you’re dropped at your chosen checkpoint: this is it. Go gentle into that good nature, and it will (hopefully) be kind in return.
Would you consider visiting Isle Royale National Park? Have you already been? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Katie Dohman