Description - Isle Royale National Park, a wilderness archipelago 45 miles long and 9 miles wide at its widest point encompasses 850 square miles including submerged lands that extend 4.5 miles out into Lake Superior. Receiving authorization in 1931 and officially established as national park land in 1940, this past fishing and copper mining island was actually formed some 1.2 billion years ago as the result of rising lava seeping through cracks in the Superior Basin. Leaving waves of ridges and valleys that were additionally sculpted by major glacial ice sheets, a bountiful wilderness remains intact. Predominately untouched, the archipelago received official wilderness designation in 1976 and in 1980 the United Nations recognized the island and surrounding waters as a National Biosphere Reserve.
Copyright: National Park Service
Four hundred islands form the Isle Royale archipelago
It is theorized that man arrived on Lake Superior's north shore by 7,000 B.C. Views of the island when encased by fog led Native Americans to name the mystical land, "floating island." Eventually conquering the 15-mile paddle from Canada to the island shoreline, the Indians discovered copper thus creating a small trade industry by 2,000 B.C. By the late 17th century French explorers set their sights on the island, naming it Isle Royale. Early in the 1890s the fishing waters became quite popular with several fish camps coming and going over the next century. Mining camps came and went as well, fluctuating with the strokes of Mother Nature and economic waves.
Today nature lovers experience a diversity of ecosystems where spruce and balsam fir emerge in cool, moist environments, where lowlands are lush with northern white cedar and beautiful black spruce, and where dense concentrations of maple and birch hug the ridges.
Wildflowers grace the Isle Royale landscape later in the season than on the mainland. By July wildflowers brighten the park amid the forest floors, open fields, swamps, and bogs. The park has a printed list of over 100 species including the wood lily, purple wild iris, yellow pond lily, wild rose, columbine and lady's slipper.
Wildlife is just a diverse as the plant life on Isle Royale. Stories and tales of moose and wolf have been exchanged over many an evening meal. Come to the park expecting to see moose, beaver, fox, squirrel, and a flurry of birdlife. You will probably not see any wolves, nor mink, or otter. Several species of bats inhabit the island, but they too, are hard to spot. Birds love the islands as much as man. Expect to see warblers, kingfishers, chickadees, woodpeckers, innumerable herring and perhaps a few ring-billed gulls. The Canada goose and the common loon are easy to spot thus are favorite photography subjects. Venturing into the depths of the park afford better opportunities to see other waterfowl inhabitants including American black duck, bufflehead, and the common and red-breasted merganser. Reptiles are plentiful as well and fairly easy to spot. On sunny days painted turtles bask atop downed timber along waters edge while the common garter eases across the field or forest trail. Other easily spotted reptiles include the American toad and the green frog. Warm weather visitors will mostly likely hear the high-pitched twirls created by spring peepers.
- The half million acres of Isle Royale National Park boasts 165 miles of scenic hiking trails and 36 campgrounds for backpackers and recreational boaters. The site is recognized as one of the best backpacking experiences east of the Rockies. In addition, the wonderful chains of lakes make it perfect for paddling while the miles of rugged shoreline are havens for sea kayakers. There is excellent fishing, historic lighthouses, ancient copper mining sites, and plenty of spots to observe and photograph wildlife and plant life. Offshore shipwrecks make the park attractive to divers.
If camping is not your style yet you wish to experience the wilderness, Rock Harbor Lodge offers the alternative. Both motel style accommodations (with the American Plan for dining) and self-contained housekeeping cabins are available. At the Rock Harbor location a full-service dining room, snack bar, marina with docks suited for boats up to 65' in length, boat rentals, fishing charters, sightseeing tours, and water taxi to multiple destinations are offered. Groceries, fishing licenses, laundry, showers, and gifts are just a few of the essentials provided.
Another developed site on the island is Windigo Store where visitors can find groceries, snacks, fishing licenses, boat rentals, laundry and an assortment of marina services.
Visitors should note several features about the park: No public phone service is available on the island; cell phones work from some locations on the island. Trails signs may be outdated, therefore purchasing a USGA map is recommended. Maps are available at the park stores and the visitor center located on East Lakeshore Drive in Houghton. The cost for utilities (water, sewer, power) on Isle Royale is much higher than for comparable utilities on the mainland. A utility surcharge will be added to the cost of all goods and services provided by NPCI in order to recover these higher operating costs. Many facilities are handicap accessible and assistance is available by contacting the park office.
The roadless entry to Isle Royale necessitates boat or float plane. Ferries are available to the island from Houghton and Copper Harbor, MI and from Grand Portage MN. Private boats and seaplanes may access the park as well. Contact the park office at 906-482-0984 for details. Park fees and access-to-island fees vary greatly.
The park is open April 16 to October 31, with full transportation services mid-June to Labor Day. There is reduced transportation services during the spring and fall. Isle Royale is the only national park that closes for an extended period of time, which is November 1 to April 15.
Recreation - Isle Royale National Park is a backpacker's paradise. Other predominate recreations include canoeing, sea kayaking, boating, fishing, diving, wildlife viewing, sightseeing, and nature photography.
Climate - Lake Superior weather is cool throughout the operating season. Dense fog in spring, sunny with temperatures rarely exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Thunderstorms and rain occur throughout the season. Weather and rough seas may delay departures to and from the island. Bring plenty of warm clothing, even in August. A jacket is a must for the ferry trip to the island or if boating around the island.
Isle Royale National Park is part of Keweenaw County (Upper Peninsula), located in Lake Superior 48 miles northwest of the mainland.
The roadless entry to Isle Royale necessitates boat or float plane. Ferries are available to the island from Houghton and Copper Harbor, MI and from Grand Portage MN. Private boats and seaplanes may access the park as well. Contact the park office at 906-482-0984 for details. Park fees and access-to-island fees vary greatly. Isle Royale Seaplane Services flies from Houghton, Michigan to Isle Royale (Rock Harbor or Windigo). Call 906-392-8850 (late May to September) or 715-526-5103 (October - mid-May).