We’re back! In a time of disease & uncertainty, we found a way to add a National Park to our list. This time we voyaged out to Isle Royale National Park in Upper Michigan.
Eric A spent a few months trying to put some longer road trips together, to no avail. With Covid- 19 hanging in the air, to cross state lines park to park & get the experience we’d prefer, it just wasn’t happening. After some thinking & a month’s worth of planning, we picked the Isle.
We already knew the park wasn’t visited all that often. They offer a much shorter season than most parks, April until November, but in 2020, the season was even shorter then that. Unlike some of the more popular parks, it’s not easy to get to. Most people don’t want to put the effort into the planning so fewer people visit.
When it comes to getting there, you can ferry from the Houghton Visitor Center in Houghton. Michigan, or fly by sea plane from either Hancock, Michigan or Grand Marais, Minnesota. This year however, Isle Royale is only offering entrance by sea plane or personally owned boats only, due to the virus. So we went with the obvious choice, the seaplane!
Isle Royale Seaplanes, is a husband & wife owned business that transports people by plane over to Isle Royale during the season. We found them pretty early on, mostly because they have the only license to do so. They were really informative & the price was more than reasonable for one of the best experiences you could ask for.
When you decide to start planning your trip, you need to start by figuring out what your goal is. Do you want to hike the entirety of the park from one end to the other (45.98 miles) or just pick a side & do some day hikes? No matter which you choose, you have to pick the side you want to start or end up on. You can pick the Rock Harbor side or the other side, Windigo, we chose Rock Harbor. Typically with a normal season, the island offers lodging, camping & restaurants; they also have a great little mock REI at the Rock Harbor store where you can buy camp fuel, some clothing & camp gear, food & beer. This year however, the lodging & restaurant were not open. Also for anyone choosing to visit during Covid, you have to pre- order your cooking fuel through the Isle Royale Sea Plane website, & they’ll have it at the visitor center you choose when you arrive.
This park is slightly different than most when it comes to camping, because it’s pretty much a back packer’s park. When you show up, unless it’s by personal water craft, you’re left to carry your gear to the campsite of your choice. Something you should also know, about your gear at this park though, is you need significantly less. Most, if not all of the campsites marked on the map have small makeshift cabins on them, which are first come first serve & you can’t stay more than three nights. Now these aren’t your grandpa’s cabins… or maybe they are! The cabins are more or less 3 walls with a roof & a bug screen on the front. What is great though, is if you plan right, you really don’t need a tent, sleeping pads & bags are really all you need. That being said, we only did day hikes, that might not be the case if you’re hiking the entire island. Finally, something you will need to bring with if you don’t have one, is a water filter. We stayed mostly on Lake Superior, so all we did was filter our water, boil it in the Jetboil, move it back into our water bottles & let it float in the lake until it got cold again. You don’t necessarily need step two but if you like to use iodine pills & didn’t bring any, the boiling will do the exact same job. For any other questions, we spent about 3 weeks talking to the rangers at the Houghton Visitor Center (over the phone) & they were very helpful. Another resource for camping is the park newspaper, The Greenstone. The paper has charts on it that show you distances between campsites & whether or not they allow fires.
We spent our first two nights on the island at Daisy Farm. It’s usually boat traffic heavy with a lot of people & little space, but with the visitation of the park so low this season, we had no problem getting a cabin & getting comfortable.
We were hell bent on seeing moose while we were there. This was supposed to be a good year to see them with so few people on the island. We were recommended the Greenstone Triangle to head out & see if we could find one. Moose typically eat in the morning & at night & spend the hotter parts of the day resting & trying to stay cool. We headed out in the morning to see if we’d have any luck… we didn’t. We saw red squirrels & a wood pecker but no moose. As a matter of fact, the entire 3 days we were on the island we never saw one. Aside from the afore mentioned animals, we saw a bunch of merganser, butterflies, beavers, & otters. There’s more to Isle Royale than just moose & wolves & we were happy to see it.
The entirety of the outskirts of the park lies on Lake Superior. However, there’s also plenty of places to hike inland. That said, you should be ready for thick marsh & tree growth. We packed bug spray galore & treated our clothes. Whitney A wore a mosquito net & it helped. This wasn’t their heavy mosquito season but the black flies were nasty & went off on a biting frenzy, make sure you’re physically & mentally prepared for that.
The treks are tough & weather can change at any moment, but we highly recommend this to anyone who loves wildlife & anyone who truly wants to get away from car camping. The seaplane ride over, should you choose to take it, will blow your mind. Make Isle Royale your next pandemic vacation & you won’t be disappointed!