Isle Royale is considered one of the most remote and isolated U.S. National Parks in the lower 48. Traveling here is not for the faint of heart nor spirit because what it lacks for comfort it makes up for in its natural beauty and innocence. It’s rugged. That does not mean to say that if you’re over the age of 50 not to venture to this pristine island in the northwestern edge of Lake Superior. In many ways, this island is perfect for those who have had many miles under their boots and paddles. The comfort and amenities can be had for those with moderate means. The air is fresh and the wonderful lake bathes you in cool mists in the height of summer heat. To many, this “Bucket List” adventure is obtainable with a little preparation and knowledge.
This article offers a travel itinerary is a potential option for the 50-60-70 something year old that wants a taste of the island without the hiking or paddling. It offers the comfort of a rustic modern resort to come back to after a day of adventure. Hopefully, you will find this useful in planning your own adventure.
Planning Your Trip to Isle Royale
We found that it was extremely helpful by planning early. By early I mean we had a discussion at Christmas dinner and nods of yes “let’s go” all around the table for the following summer. We chose to utilize a package deal offered by Isle Royale Resorts a perfect all-in-one approach; transportation to the island, lodging, a 1/2 day guided trip, all meals were included.
The Transportation and Lodging Package includes:
- A three and a half hour round trip ferry ride from Copper Harbor, Michigan to Rock Harbor Lodge on Queen IV Ferry.
- 3 or 4 Night’s lodging at Rock Harbor Lodge, Isle Royale’s only full-service lodging and dining facilities.
- 3 meals including breakfast, lunch, and dinner per person each day.
- One Half-Day sightseeing trip of Isle Royale National Park in the Rock Harbor area and a 1/2 day rental of a canoe (availability & weather permitting.)
- This is set up for weekends only so your trip will start from Copper Harbor on Friday.
Getting to Rock Harbor, Isle Royale
Leaving from the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan will involve a ferry ride of 6 hours from Houghton or 3 hours from Copper Harbor. Ferry service is also available from Grand Portage Minnesota and via Seaplane.
We all met and embarked from Copper Harbor as we all knew that the extra few minutes of car trip would mean less ferry time on the crossover from Copper Harbor. The drive along the Keweenaw Peninsula is something to experience. The history of the mining days and the natural setting are an awesome addition to your trip. We stopped in Houghton for lunch and looked around Michigan Technological University and found the Official Headquarters of Isle Royale National Park located down near the river to pick up maps and information.
Exploring Copper Harbor
The tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula is at Copper Harbor. This is a charming little town. With taverns, craft shops, bakeries and scenic lookouts on Brockway Mountain drive. It has some amazing local restaurants and tt is a perfect 1st-day trip. It’s very bike-friendly and the views are amazing.
Traveling to Isle Royale by Ferry Boat
After staying the night in a nearby lodge a short walk from the docks we had an early breakfast and made it to the Queen IV ferry with time to spare. Bring something to read or cards and games if you have a group. Outside. the deck is cool even in mid-summer as the lake temperature hovers around 40F, the coldest of the Great Lakes.
The old saying getting there is half the fun applies. We were blessed with an extremely calm day on Lake Superior. The lake was like glass. THe water was crystal clear and you could see the bottom for a long way. On the way, we managed to cross the path of a freighter heading out of Duluth. An amazing sight.
Crossing the Path of a Freighter on the way to Isle Royale
Day One – The Afternoon at Isle Royale
When you arrive on the island, you will be greeted by a National Park Service ranger. The ranger will give two forms of orientation; one for those who will hike into the interior of Isle Royale right away and another for those staying at the lodge. If your staying at the lodge feel free to listen in, but a better tactic is to orient yourself with Rock Harbor. To your right of the docks and the Ranger Station is the dining hall and grill of the Rock Harbor Lodge. Get to know it well. To your immediate front and left is the Outfitter Shop where you can obtain everything from white gas, rain jackets and properly chilled Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Your bags will be taken right to your room so look around and relax.
The Queen IV tends to arrive just after lunch is served in the main dining, however, you can still grab a sandwich at the Grill. You will also get the chance to see hikers coming in off the islands many trails.
Staying At the Rock Harbor Lodge
The Rock Island lodge is a bit of civilization in this pristine wilderness area. The rooms are typical of a roadside inn. They are a little small, somewhat dated, but offer a million dollar view of Lake Superior. Hint: ask for a room on the first floor so you can have a balcony and bring your own towel. We found them comfortable and cozy.
If its a bit chilly walk down from your room into the old Lodge and see is there is firewood to build your own fire. We did this and soon we had warm glowing embers that was inviting. Folks came in and we chatted waiting for the ferry to come to pick us up. Great experience.
Take an Afternoon Paddle on Rock Harbor
If you bought the lodge package, your fee may include a half-day canoe rental. If you have pent up energy from the long ferry crossing and the weather is calm consider taking a paddle up Tobin Harbor to Scoville Point. Bring along a small dry pack with sunscreen, snacks, and water. (We brought water everywhere we went). Walk back to the main dock where you came in on the ferry and check-in at the fuel dock. You receive life jackets, paddles, and a canoe number. Take a short hike up over the rise and down to Tobin Harbor to pick up your canoe.
Paddle north in Tobin Harbor to the tip of the island. Do not go out into Lake Superior. There is much to see and you will notice old cabins still around that have been grandfathered by families who built them before the island was a National Park.
Paddling Around North Isle Royale
Paddling is not strenuous but balancing is. You will quickly find that you can cover a lot of ground very quickly via canoe. At the end of Scovile Point point, you will see some of the last private cottages still allowed on the island. These have been passed down from generation to generation but are slowly being phased out. We went all the way around the point. This is not advisable to novice paddlers. The big lake can change quickly and did on us as late afternoon fog rolled in.
As the end of the day closed we toasted our safe travels and looked forward to the next day. Cocktails at 5 o’clock and dinner at the Lighthouse Restaurant. At the northern latitudes, the night comes late. But we looked forward to another day ahead with our Isle Royale Adventure with national park lodging.
Related Isle Royale Stories
- Paddle to Turnip Rock
- Road Trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula
- Five Amazing Great Lakes Islands to Explore
- Plan a Day of Kayaking in Michigan