ENP 22.2 Isle Royale: Trip Planning Options Abound From Daytrips To Sunken Ships
01/31/2020Although notoriously difficult to get to (and, in Bryan’s case, off of), Isle Royale National Park rewards visitors with acres of solitude and Superior vistas. Park Ranger Liz Valencia, the park’s Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resources, joins Bryan to discuss the island’s mystique and why it’s rugged beauty is more approachable than you think.
Isle Royale’s Endless Day Trip Hiking TrailsBackpacking in Isle Royale National Park - photo by National Park ServiceNot a backcountry camping aficionado? Don’t let that keep you from this wilderness paradise! “You don’t have to be a backpacker to enjoy our Isle,” says Liz of the options available to day-trippers arriving from either Houghton, MI or Grand Portage, MN. Once onshore, visitors can find solitude a short walk from the bustling disembarkation points at Windigo and Rock Harbor. Take Scoville Point, for example. This 4.2 mile loop from Rock Harbor makes its way between the forest and the northeast tip of the island. “It can be really different on the same day from one side to the other.” Suzy’s Cave, a shorter 3.8 miler at Rock Harbor, boasts ancient cliff formations along its loop connecting to the Tobin Harbor trail, a gentle route with stunning views of Lake Superior. Windigo, at the opposite end of the island, has its share of day-long adventure. The Windigo Nature Trail, a 1.2 mile loop from the visitor center, is an easy activity for families with young children. The longer Grace Creek Overlook makes elevation gains along its 3.6 miles before revealing views of the harbor and the island’s interior. While the Minong Ridge Trail maxes out at 26 miles, day-trippers can get a taste of the area’s marshes and forest on its challenging 6 mile loop. At 9.4 miles roundtrip, the Huginnin Cove Loop may seem like a brisk option for daytrippers but it can be done.
Backcountry BlissGrace Island Shelter, Isle Royale National Park - photo by Molly CooperIt’s safe to say that a daylong visit will spark daydreams of longer stays. Backcountry campers may have Isle Royale’s vastness all to themselves on any number of the park’s longer trails. At the top of the list is the Greenstone Ridge Trail, a 42-mile tip-to-tip jaunt spanning island’s entire spine. This is the one to get your head and heart racing. On a slightly smaller but no less magical scale is the 32 mile Feldtmann Ridge Loop which provides hikers with an excellent survey of the park’s varied ecosystems. Portage routes, too, allow backcountry campers to canoe its collection of inland lakes for an even more intimate experience. Regardless of the trail, however, Isle Royale surprises visitors with its diverse flora and fauna, from dense forests to hidden sandy shores, from damn-building beavers to packs of moose frolicking in the water.
Paddling The Shore And Diving The WrecksChisholm engine - photo by National Park Service, Isle Royale National ParkAlthough she’s a fan of the park’s extensive trail options, Ranger Liz is especially fond of exploring the main island and its network of neighbors by kayak. Private boats are another option worth a mention as they offer visitors a chance to drop anchor in a secluded harbor or off a deserted outer island. “That’s a wonderful way to see the island too because you do have so much more flexibility with a boat.” For those with cold-water diving experience, the park boasts no less than 10 major diveable wrecks dating from the late 1800s to the 1940s. The unique museum-like quality of the wrecks is further enhanced by the absence of zebra mussels blighting the sunken hulls.
Ranger Programs And Wolf StoriesEdisen Fishery - photo by National Park Service, Isle Royale National Park“We’ve got some of the most enthusiastic rangers, that’s for sure,” says Ranger Liz. Programs are available at both Windigo and Rock Harbor covering a variety of topics from shipwrecks and lighthouses to commercial fishing operations and wildlife cultural resources. Additionally, there are ranger programs at Daisy Farm. This backcountry spot is well-situated for educational visits from its neighbors, Dr. Rolf Peterson and Michigan Tech’s wolf and moose study program. It’s not unusual, says Ranger Liz, for Dr Peterson’s wife Jenny to lead ranger program discussions about Isle Royale’s famous residents.
Moose in Isle Royale National Park - photo by Amie Heeter
Isle Weather WatchReady to grab your pack and head to Isle Royale? Do it quick! The park’s northerly location means condensed prime-time travel with a slim shoulder-season. The potential for extreme winter weather in April and October brackets the fleetingly beautiful summer months. Fierce storms in July and August can curtail your best-laid plans. Liz advises campers to come prepared with extra days’ worth of everything to get through an extended stay.
Isle Royale is raw and introspective; expansive and private -- and well worth your time. Whether your day-tripping from a northern port of call or planning the full traverse, this national park is a wonder on the water.
Discussion Includes the Following:
Camping Tent in Isle Royale National Park - photo by Kaitlyn KnickCanoe in Lane Cove, Isle Royale National Park - photo by Lori HonrathGreenstone Ridge from Ojibway Tower, Isle Royale National Park - photo National Park ServiceEntrance to Chippewa Harbor, Isle Royale National Park - photo National Park Service0:02 - 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
1:10 - Park Ranger Liz Valencia, Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resources at Isle Royal National Park
1:26 - Minnesota or Michigan? Getting to Isle Royale by boat: Ranger III, Isle Royale Queen IV, Voyageur II, Sea Hunter III
4:03 - Daytripper strategies: Grand Portage, MN and Copper Harbor, MI
8:40 - Seaplane service
9:42 - Extended exploring aboard Voyageur II
10:25 - Island hopping and harbor stopping: Daytrip and overnight options at Windigo, McCargoe Cove, Belle Isle, Tobin Harbor, Rock Harbor, Daisy Farm, Malone Bay, Chippewa Harbor
12:28 - Rock Harbor Lodge water taxi
12:45 - Huginnin Cove Loop Trail
13:28 - Hiking the spine: The Greenstone Ridge Trail
16:16 - Weather considerations and planning for the unexpected
20:02 - Daytrip hikes from Rock Harbor: Scoville Point, Suzy’s Cave, Lookout Louise, Mount Franklin, Tobin Harbor, Ojibway Fire Tower
24:24 - Rock Harbor paddling recommendations
25:46 - Daytrip hikes from Windigo: Windigo Nature Trail, Grace Creek Overlook, Minong Overlook, Rock of Ages Huginnin Cove Loop
27:15 - Backcountry treks: Feldtmann Ridge Trail
29:25 - Backcountry portages
30:19 - Islands and inland lakes: Beaver Island, Lake Richie, Chickenbone Lake
31:49 - Backcountry camping permits and logistics
33:30 - Backcountry popularity
35:44 - Sailing around Isle Royale and the outer islands
36:27 - An underwater museum: cold-water diving amongst the preserved remains of 10 major shipwrecks
40:52 - Ranger programs on land and water
45:44 - Inside the park’s wolves and moose population with Isleroyalwolf.org and the fictional Winter Study by Nevada Barr
47:48 - Slim shoulder-season
49:52 - Pests
51:20 - Seasonal transitions
53:47 - Ranger Liz shares a favorite Isle Royale memory
57:15 - Don’t be shy. Ask a ranger!