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Home » Adventures » Great Superior Adventure » Isle Royale

An Isle Royale Hiking Trip (Pictures)

September 7 – 15, 2016
Isle Royale entrance sign at Windigo

After driving nearly 3,000 miles in three days from Alaska, I started my tour of the upper Midwest with a trip to Isle Royale, a large island in northern Lake Superior. This National Park is the least visited in the Lower 48 (although still crowded compared to some in Alaska). I spent a week hiking around the island.

I had a smooth ride across Lake Superior on the ridiculously expensive Voyageur II ferry from Grand Portage, MN to Windigo, where I began my counterclockwise loop of Isle Royale.

My route followed Feldtmann Ridge Trail down to Siskiwit Bay, before climbing to the island’s backbone of Greenstone Ridge, and then descending along Ishpeming Trail to Siskiwit Lake. There I went cross county, while also utilizing portage trails, to reach Chippewa Harbor and continued out past Rock Harbor to Scoville Point. I returned along the Greenstone Ridge and Minong Trails, before looping past Huginnin Cove to arrive at Windigo for my boat home — about 125 miles in total. See map for details.

My stroll around Isle Royale was enjoyable, but the park did not live up to all its hype — all my time in the mountains has spoiled me. Many trails traveled through thick green tunnel, obliterating any evidence I was even on an island. A few areas had lookouts or nice views of the coast, but they were the exception. Scoville Point and the north shore along the Minong Trail were the nicest, with the rocky spine providing many open views of the forests, shoreline, and lake.

Route I Hiked

Route I Hiked

I hiked cross country from Malone Bay to Chippewa Harbor mostly because I had too much time on the island and needed something to keep me occupied since I am not a fisherman. Travel along the southern shore of Siskiwit Lake and the northern sides of Lake Whittlesey and Chippewa Harbor was very slow, although mercifully the underbrush was thinner than anticipated. The two portage trails between the lakes helped a lot too. I did not discover anything neat or unique along this route, but freeing myself from the overly manicured NPS trails and taking things into my own hands just a small bit was a nice endeavor.

Wildlife on Isle Royale was mostly elusive. One or two moose crashed through the woods as they ran from me, but I never saw them. Neither one of the two remaining wolves on the island came out to play either, but I did spot a paw print. The most noticeable wildlife effect was again beavers, with their dams flooding trails and forcing hikers to scramble across the uneven structures.

In my ever thorough planning, I did not even know that some backcountry campsite on Isle Royale have screened in lean-tos. These were quite the nice surprise then when I stumbled upon them. These luxurious shelters provided a great place to slumber, even more so in the summer when then island is infested with bugs. Most insects were dead by this time of year though, so the screens were not as beneficial to me. The solid roofs did keep off the rain though.

Scoville Point

In another move that showcased my expert preparedness, I packed too little food, despite having a fixed departure and return date on the ferry. I somehow miscounted rations and came up a day short. Thankfully the small store in Rock Harbor was not already closed for the season — despite the sign in the window stating as much — and it happened to be open for a short time while I was there, as the ferry from Michigan was in port. I was very lucky here, and quite happy I did not have to stretch my food and be hungry.

Overall I had a decent time on this rock, although my expectations were a bit higher. On this single trip I hiked most of the trails on Isle Royale, but still want to return with my kayak to see what the island holds from the water.

Flowers along the trail
View along Minong Ridge
Sunset over Huginnin Cove