Everybody's National Parks Isle Royale podcast episode: Trip Report
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  • ENP 22.1 Isle Royale: Trip Report
    01/20/2020
    Sunset on Lake RichieSunset on Lake Richie

    Getting to Isle Royale National Park proves easier than getting off the famously difficult to reach island for Bryan and his buddies. In this episode, he’s joined by brother Dan and Dr. Jeff Greenberger, their former-teacher-turned-honorary-highschool-buddy, for a post-trip recap. Danielle closes the show with a look at riding out an Isle Royale storm from ENP headquarters.
     
    Ranger welcomes backpackers to Isle Royale by name and reviews park rules.Ranger welcomes backpackers to Isle Royale by name and reviews park rules.

    What Band Would Your National Park Be?

    There’s something clandestine about being one of only 12,000 annual visitors to Isle Royale that makes you want to shout your accomplishment from the rooftops. But, as Bryan explains, sometimes a simple t-shirt from the visitors center is all you need to feel like an NPS rockstar. “It’s almost like being in some band that has a cult following. I get a lot of head nods which I think just speaks to the island’s mystique.” The fascination comes built in. This rugged, isolated wilderness in Lake Superior is only accessible by ferry or seaplane via the northernmost reaches of the Minnesota coast or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But the journey to the island was a distant memory the moment Bryan and his gang of five intrepid travellers cruised into Washington Harbor.
     
    Bryan and his camping buddies pose for obligatory photo in front of Isle Royal sign upon arrival.Bryan and his camping buddies pose for obligatory photo in front of Isle Royale sign upon arrival.
     

    A Home For Hobbits

    As vast as the island is, Isle Royale’s intimate atmosphere was immediately apparent on the trails. Huginnin Cove Trail, a 9-mile loop with notable views of Lake Superior, is awash in moody overtones. “It felt like something out of Tolkien on that first loop,” says Doc. “That was kind of a surreal feel to it and it was a little bit foggy...and I felt that trail had very special vibes to me.” Surreal experiences continued along the 10-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail, a scramble akin to hiking over corduroy with its up-and-down topography. Arriving for lunch (and a nap) at Daisy Farm felt like stepping out of the jungle and into civilization, à la a scene from Apocalypse Now.
     

    Isle Royale Wildlife

    This is the only wolf Bryan got to see on the trip at the Windigo Visitor Center.This is the only wolf Bryan got to see on the trip at the Windigo Visitor Center.
    The park’s wildlife is plentiful. Beavers, loons, and moose are just a few of the animals that call Isle Royale home. But the “big ticket” prize every camper hopes to hear as they bunk down for the evening is the park’s most elusive: the wolf. Barring that, a swim with a not-so-nearby family of moose makes for a great vacation story and lends a touch of stardust to this enchanted place.
     

    Magical Moments On Isle Royale

    Although the backcountry thrums with magical moments, some of the most special took place in the park’s busy harbor towns. On the morning of day two, Bryan found himself having tea with a mama moose and her calf just outside his Windigo housekeeping cabin.
    Moose in Rock Harbor near Housekeeping CabinsMoose in Rock Harbor near Housekeeping Cabins
    Several days later, inclement weather forced the suspension of all ferry crossings and the guys had to spend an extra 24-hours on the island. That’s when national park staff showed their mettle and their kindness, keeping visitors safe and offering up their own cabins to stranded travellers until passage to the mainland resumed.

    Was all the planning and mad-dash travel back home worth the trip to the least-visited national park in the lower 48? Close your eyes and imagine your favorite cult band. Now imagine being one of only a handful of people who saw their infamous underground live show and you have a t-shirt that tells the tale. That’s Isle Royale National Park.
     
    Impromptu ranger program on snakes back at Windigo Visitor Center after not being able to leave the island.Impromptu ranger program on snakes back at Windigo Visitor Center after not being able to leave the island.

    Discussion includes the following:
    Waving goodbye to rangers and staffWaving goodbye to rangers and staff
    [0:46] Past episodes listening suggestions: Ken Burns interview, Biscayne National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Everglades National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Olympic National Park, Saguaro National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park, and 2019 Year In Review
    [01:52] The adventure begins: Grand Marais, MN, Grand Portage, MN, Sea Hunter Ferry, Isle Royale National Park
    [05:00] First impressions, lasting memories: Windigo, Washington Harbor, Lake Superior, The SS America
    [07:00] A first-name basis welcome and check-in procedures
    See beaver swimming from Hugunnin Cove TrailSee beaver swimming from Hugunnin Cove Trail
    [08:40] Day 1: Agates, beavers, and Tolkien vibes on Huginnin Cove Trail
    [13:00] Windigo camper cabins and visitors center review
    [13:56] Day 2: Morning moose-spotting and the ferry to McCargoe Cove
    [17:36] Hiking highlights: Lake Richie, Chickenbone Lake, and meeting a trail regular
    [21:00] Our backcountry campsite and a dip with the neighboring moose
    [22:25] Wolf tales and loon calls
    [24:40] The joys of sleeping soundly in a bear-free park
    [26:45] Day 3: Greenstone Ridge Trail, Three Mile campground
    [27:35] Daisy Farm
    The final stretch of backpacking into Rock HarborThe final stretch of backpacking into Rock Harbor
    [28:50] The gadget man (powdered root beer, cylinder stick stove)
    [29:43] Inclement camping: ominous weather forecasted
    [32:51] Day 4: Tobin Harbor, Lake Superior, and the trail to Rock Harbor
    [34:00] Moose tales
    [36:01] Rock Harbor Lodge cabins
    [37:00] Juxtaposition: Isle Royale’s grand past and mining history
    [38:58] Lodge dinner and libation recommendations: Redjacket Amber Ale and Widowmaker by Keweenaw Brewing Company and Isle Royale Cream Ale from Midland Brewing Company
    The high school buddies survived the backcountry and arrived safely to Rock HarborThe high school buddies survived the backcountry and arrived safely to Rock Harbor
    [40:51] The (return) adventure begins: rough crossings and returns
    [44:20] Bonus Day 5: witnessing the very best in our NPS staff
    [46:30] Bonus day recollections
    [48:30] Back into civilization: Duluth and Minneapolis, MN
    [51:00] Isle Royale wish lists: full-island traverse and kayak-camping [54:08] Lasting impressions
    [57:27] Homefront POV: Danielle minds mission control during the guys’ bonus day snafu
    Bryan relaxing in his hammock at the Lake Ritchie Campground Bryan relaxing in his hammock at the Lake Ritchie Campground
     
    Enjoying a nice cold beer at Rock HarborEnjoying a nice cold beer at Rock Harbor


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