Isle Royale National Park – Into the Wild

By |2016-11-29T14:31:36+05:30August 29th, 2016|Americas, Destinations, United States of America|2 Comments

You cannot drive to Isle Royale on a whim. A trip to such a remote island in Lake Superior, far from the sights and sounds of civilization, is not an easy trip. Still, in the summer of 2013, I went on solo-backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park.

One may then ask what lured me to this place. I first came to know about the island in 2008. My friends described it as a park so remote and secluded that ‘it receives same number of visitors annually as Yellowstone receives daily‘. Yet, once a visitor arrives, he will stay here, longer than at any of other popular parks. That’s when I decided to visit Isle Royale someday during my lifetime. Five years later, I was at the park on my own!

“Half the fun is in planning”

Isle Royale National Park is a wilderness preserve island in Lake Superior. It is about 55 miles from Copper Harbor of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One can reach Isle Royale by ferry (or fly) either from Houghton and Copper Harbor in Michigan or Grand Portage, Minnesota.

I decided to drive from Chicago to Copper Harbor (about 470 miles drive of 8 hours) and then board Isle Royale ferry. My backpack was equipped with almost everything – including water and food for next 2 days. I used this list as reference.

The drive from Chicago was pleasant, especially after entering Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Driving at dark through this lesser inhabited area was an adventure. I reached Copper Harbor at 2 am and dock area was pitch dark. I slept in the car to be awakened by first rays of sun.

Beautiful Morning!

It was a beautiful sunrise and I have vivid memory of the morning. I sipped hot coffee available at Harbor cafe. The captain signaled passengers to board the ferry few minutes before 8 am. The fellow passengers were also my island-mates for next two days. They will be my only connection to humanity.

Leaving Copper Harbor

Leaving Copper Harbor

We reached Rock Harbor at about 11:30 am. After we reached the port, we listened to ranger talk about staying at Isle Royale. There is a store at the Rock Harbor port to buy any items, which you might have missed.

Hiking trails of Rock Harbor Loop

Hikers visit Isle Royale for at least a week.  I decided to hike in the eastern part of the island due to shorter duration. I hiked along Rock Harbor loop and eastern part of famous Greenstone Ridge Trail.  Here’s summary of my hiking trails:


  1. Rock Harbor Port to Daisy Farm Campground – 7.4 miles
  2. Daisy Farm Campground to Mount Ojibway – 3 miles
  3. Mount Ojibway to Rock Harbor Campground – 7.2 miles
  4. Canoeing in Tobin Harbor and Lookout Louise round loop – 2.1 miles and 2 hours of paddling
  5. Rock Harbor Campground to Sunrise at Scoville Point round loop  – 4 miles

Rock Harbor to Daisy Farm Campground

I started my hike at around noon to Daisy Farm Campground. The park service have well-maintained trails, although there will be times, particularly along rocky sections, that you’ll be hunting for the path.

The trail passes through dark canopies of black spruce and fir with a stunning view of Rock Harbor Lighthouse. And of course, there is plenty of wildlife to keep you company. My first encounter with wildlife was loon whirring its wings on Lake Superior.

I reached Daisy Farm Campground at around 5 pm. The campgrounds do not require prior booking to stay at the wooden cabins here due to lesser crowd. I decided to sleep early after a long day. It was a peaceful night with occasional low-voiced owl sounds inland and loon cries from the lakeshore.

My cabin at Daisy Campground, Isle Royale National Park

My cabin at Daisy Campground, Isle Royale National Park

Daisy Farm Campground to Mount Ojibway

Early morning, I hiked along Mt. Ojibway Trail, which climbs, up and over several ridges to the highest point on the eastern end of Isle Royale. There is a tower-room at the top of the trail. It provides stunning views of the Island’s interior and bays. Formerly a fire watch station, the tower room today has instrumentation for atmospheric monitoring.

Mount Ojibway to Rock Harbor Campground

The hike was equally rich in its flora but was tiring due to afternoon heat. The presence of blueberries in full bloom and prolific thimbleberry bushes along the hike made it pleasant. Surprisingly, I spotted quite a few snakes (mostly non-poisonous) along the trail.

Canoeing in Tobin Harbor and Lookout Louise

After taking some rest at Rock Harbor, I walked towards Tobin Harbor and rent a canoe. I paddled canoe in Tobin Harbor waters for a mile to reach Hidden Lake. After docking my canoe at the shore, I hiked along the trail towards Hidden Lake, where I spotted moose for first time!

After hiking for about a mile, I reached Lookout Louise overlook. The view from Lookout Louise was spectacular and well worth the hike, regardless of how tired I was. The small bays and islands lay sprawled before my eyes, and in the distance, Canada was visible!

View from Lookout Louise

View from Lookout Louise

Sunrise at Scoville Point

After a tiring but satisfying day, I retreated to my cabin. It was interesting reading the graffiti of past travelers scrawled and inked into the walls – here are few examples “Nirvana”, ‘My boot – RIP”!

Next day, I hiked to the northern-most point on the east side to catch sunrise.  The hike was mostly flat but became rocky towards Scoville Point. There were some abandoned copper mines along the trail.

Sunrise at Scoville Point, Isle Royale

Sunrise at Scoville Point, Isle Royale

The sunrise view from the Point was spectacular.  I loved the way it reflected on the water. It was a perfect culmination to my adventure here!

After reaching Rock Harbor, I had a quick shower at one of the paid bathrooms. Next, I boarded Queen ferry leaving Isle Royale with heavy heart at about 2:45 pm.

The adventure was remarkable in many dimensions – solo backpacking, wildlife, canoeing and much more. For all that Isle Royale does not offer, it gives plenty of what many backpackers crave for: solitude and surprises for the senses. The memories of Isle are enduring and forever etched in my mind!


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  1. Deepali August 30, 2016 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Very well written… Would really like to visit this park some day

  2. Vivek Vichare August 30, 2016 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Thanks 🙂

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