A Photographic Journal of Isle Royale National Park, MI
1st Anniversary Backpacking Trip
Yes, we’re crazy! That’s what everyone told us anyways. We took our vacation time this year to explore one of the most desolate National Parks. It took us months to prepare for the trip, but it was worth every minute spent planning. Isle Royale is a 35 minute seaplane ride or 6 hour ferry trip from Houghton, MI. We opted for the seaplane because Brent, my husband, didn’t want to see me get seasick for 6 hours straight! Although its a bit more expensive, it was worth the extra amount because it only takes 35 minutes. The shortest ferry ride from Copper Harbor, MI is 3.5 hours long. We had never flown in a seaplane, so it was a pretty exciting part of the adventure.
For 7 days, we backpacked about 80 miles of Isle Royale’s beautiful hiking trails. We decided to fly into Windigo, a historic mining town that operated in the early 1890’s. Rumors online told us that August is the most popular time to visit the island. They also said that Windigo has less people arriving than Rock Harbor, so we figured we could beat the crowds by entering the opposite end of the island. After completing the Feldtmann Lake Loop, a 2-3 day (or about 30 miles) hike, we arrived back in Windigo to celebrate our very 1st anniversary! Windigo has a nice store, so we were able to pick up some wine, buy tokens for showers, and even do a load of laundry. Brent was smart enough to plan ahead a “food drop”, so we picked up our next 4 days of supplies here too.
Throughout our first 3 days of backpacking, we were skunked for seeing any moose or catching pike and coasters (rare Lake Superior brook trout). Brent was determined to catch both, and I was dead set on taking pictures of a moose. When we woke up the next day, two moose were in the creek by our campsite. First we spotted a cow, then a bull. A double whammy! We realized these moose were not the most “wild” ones on the island, considering they were at one of the most visited areas, but it was still awesome nonetheless.
Minong Ridge Trail
Considered to be a “secret trail“, the Minong Ridge is one of the most desolate backpacking trails in all the National Parks. Isle Royale gets less visitors per year than Yosemite gets in one day during their summer season. To us, this made the choice between the Minong and Greenstone Ridges pretty easy. Less people, more moose and fish. The views were picture perfect, the backpacking was challenging, and the cold Lake Superior breeze was refreshing. If you look at a topographic map of the island, you’ll notice scars running perpendicular to the two main ridges. These are evidence of the ups and downs of the Minong, although it was less difficult than all the hype online said. Bring extra water here, or have a back flusher for your water filter. In other words, you’ll be drinking filtered swamp sludge.
Tips & Lessons: Backpacking Isle Royale National Park
- Plan for travel delays- our seaplane was delayed for wind on our way to the island, and delayed an entire day on our way back. With thunderstorms and gale warnings, the plane and ferry may not arrive or depart the island. Expect the unexpected, because we did not.
- Early bird gets the Shelter- Wake up early and hike during the cooler hours. To be the first to arrive at each designated camping area, you have to hit the trail in the wee hours. You’ll be pleased with the first come, first serve availability early in the day. Plus, you’re probably more likely to see a moose when everyone else is sleeping.
- The red squirrels are assholes- We went to the visitor’s center in Windigo for a presentation, and while we were gone (20 minutes) a red squirrel ate a hole through our tent and stole our trail mix. Beware of the little critters!
- Permethrin treat your clothes- Everyone online says the mosquitoes are bad, but if you treat your clothes, they are less likely to bite you through your clothes.
- Photography- Check out these accessories for a way to keep your gear on the ready. I ordered them after I came back from this trip, realizing that my parachute cord and carabiners were not the most efficient way to rig up a camera on my pack. It was also rather scary when we ran into rain, and the only thing I had to protect my gear was a plastic bag and Frog Toggs.