The Best Complete Guide to Isle Royale, Upper Michigan

The Best Complete Guide to Isle Royale, Upper Michigan

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Isle Royale is a unique island with its own national park that makes the perfect destination for a weekend of hiking, camping, and kayaking. Located close to the Canadian border this island is a true nature getaway undisturbed by tourist crowds.

Planning a trip to Isle Royale, and don’t know where to start?

There are no wheeled vehicles allowed on the island which means you’ll be able to enjoy the area as it was thousands of years ago untouched by humans. If you haven’t already, make sure to add Isle Royale to your bucket list for Upper Michigan. You’ll find yourself wanting to come back for more every summer.

The Best Complete Guide to Isle Royale, Upper Michigan

The Best Complete Guide to Isle Royale, Upper Michigan

Isle Royale History and Facts

Native American mining pits on Isle Royale have been traced back 4500 years. Early inhabitants of the island took canoes across Lake Superior to use Isle Royale as a hunting and mining location. The Native American word for the island is “Minong” which can be translated as “a good place to get copper” or “a good place to be”. The first Western account of the island stems from 1670 when a Jesuit missionary wrote about “an island called Minong”.

Although Isle Royale was officially given to the Americans in 1783 it remained under British control until 1812. In the 1840s the first modern copper mines were established on the island leading to a temporary flourishing of the mining industry on Isle Royale. Unfortunately, the remote location of the island caused the mining activities to eventually subside. Much of the island had been subject to deforestation during this time and parts of the forests are still recovering from this period.

The island was declared a national park in 1940 and has had no permanent inhabitants since. 

Isle Royale

Where is Isle Royale?

Isle Royale is the largest island on Lake Superior. It lies just 15 miles from the Canadian mainland in the northwest of Lake Superior but is part of Upper Michigan. Grand Portage is the closest American city on the mainland with the much larger Thunder Bay on the Canadian side. The Canadian border is actually located within the waters of Lake Superior and does not divide the lake equally, making Isle Royale part of the US and not Canada as one might expect. The island is surrounded by around 450 smaller islands which together make up the Isle Royale National Park.

Why you need to visit Isle Royale

Isle Royale is the least visited national park in the United States and that’s exactly why you should visit. The island is truly a hidden gem and not on enough people’s bucket lists. Isle Royale is known for its untouched nature and incredible wildlife including a considerably large moose population. It’s the perfect place to go kayaking with miles of waterways and the stunning Lake Superior right at your doorstep.

Make sure to visit the neighboring Passage Island and its historic lighthouse. Isle Royale also has its own lighthouse which is well worth a visit.

Keep in mind that it’s hard to visit Isle Royale in just one day. Due to the ferry schedule, you’ll only be able to enjoy the island for a few hours before you have to return. Consider staying on the island for a weekend to truly be able to appreciate its beauty. There are multiple lodges as well as free campsites available.

Isle Royale

How to get to Isle Royale

You can reach Isle Royale either by seaplane or boat. There are regular ferry services available from a number of cities on the shore of Lake Superior including Houghton, Copper Harbor, and Grand Portage. Although Isle Royale is part of Upper Michigan its closest mainland is either part of Canada or Minnesota which can make it tricky to reach. The ferries from either Houghton or Copper Harbour might be the best way to reach Isle Royale if you’re on a road trip around Upper Michigan.

If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience why not choose to take a seaplane to Isle Royale? Return flights start at 290$ per person which might seem pricey but the experience will be worth it. There are also scenic flights around the island available for 130$ per person. Find out more here. Seaplanes depart from either Houghton or Gran Marais. Flights are only available from May 18th to September 25th and subject to availability.

There are no wheeled vehicles allowed on the island (except for wheelchairs) which means you won’t be able to take your car or bike. Make the most of nature and enjoy some hiking and relaxing. 

How to get around Isle Royale

There are no cars or bikes allowed on Isle Royale. The only way to get around is on foot, by water taxi (limited availability) or by taking a seaplane between Rock Harbor and Windigo, the island’s two “ports”. You can also rent canoes or kayaks to let you see the island from the water.

Isle Royale

When is the best time to visit Isle Royale?

The Isle Royale National Park is only open from May to September each year. The extreme weather conditions that this area experiences in the winter months mean that the island is inaccessible to visitors during this time. This includes the surrounding waters of Lake Superior.

You’ll get the most out of your visit to Isle Royale during the warmer months when conditions for hiking and water activities are ideal. The island is most popular among visitors in June to August when temperatures reach up to 75° Fahrenheit (24° Celcius). Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about crowds of tourists on Isle Royale. It is the least visited national park in the contiguous United States which means you’ll always get to enjoy the stunning nature and scenery without being bothered.

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