Tag Archives: Isle Royale

Great Lakes Cruising of Yesterday


I’ll admit that I’ve taken a liking to cruising. It must be the influence of having a sailboat that we have taken from port to port on Lake Huron. Recently several cruise ships have announced routes and stops throughout the Great Lakes region. Currently there are three curse lines that cover the Great Lakes. Victory Cruise Lines, Great Lakes Cruise Company and Blount Small Ship Adventures. The Great Lakes Cruise Company has four ships that cover a wide range of ports and destinations. One ship, the Pearl Mist is small enough to tackle the famous cruising grounds of Georgian Bay and the beautiful North Channel.


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In the days before the highway and autos the only way to travel the vast distances for the Great Lakes was by sail and steamer. In the mid 1800’s until well into the 1950’s one could travel most of the lakes in style and comfort. One of the most famous and beloved ships was the SS South American. The SS South American was a Great Lakes overnight passage steamboat built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works at Ecorse, Michigan. It was built in 1913 for the Chicago, Duluth & Georgian Bay Transit Company. The vessel was launched on February 21, 1914 and was the newer of two sister ships, the older one being the SS North American.


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Along with its sister ship, SS North American carried passengers between Chicago, Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Duluth, Georgian Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. These were they heydays of the industry. A business man could board a ship in Chicago for an overnight trip to northern Michigan. Spend the weekend with the family in the cool northern cabin in the woods and take the ship back to the city on Sunday night for work on Monday. It was noted that Hemingway’s father did just that early in the 1900’s.


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Only the South American visited Lake Superior, and made a short weekly stop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula town of Houghton/Hancock. She carried over 450 passengers. The rare picture below hangs in the Rock Harbor lodge on Isle Royal. It shows tourists being dropped off at the American Dock which still stands today. 


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The South American was well known for its High School trips in the 1950’s. Southeast Michigan high school seniors would take a small cruise from Detroit to Chicago. The last season for the South American was in 1967. Her final route was to offer trips to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal.


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Sadly, both ships are now part of history. The SS North American sunk on the Atlantic coast while being towed and the SS South American rotted away and was finally scraped in 1992. However, with the rapid popularity of cruising now taking place I expect to see more of these small cruising ships ply their way among the Great Lakes.


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Guide to Active Adults Adventure to Isle Royale National Park – Part One


Isle Royale 106Isle 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. Its rugged. That does not mean to say that if your over the age of 50 not to venture to this pristine island in the north western 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  series of posts offers a travel itinerary is a potential option for the 50-60-70 something 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.

Prep Work – Planning Your Trip

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 and all meals were included.

The package includes:

  • A three and a half hour ferry ride from Copper Harbor, Michigan to Rock Harbor Lodge on the 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.

Day One – Getting to Rock Harbor, Isle Royale.

Leaving from the Keewenaw peninsula of Michigan will involve a ferry ride of 6 hours from Houghton or 3 hours from CopperCopper Harbor Harbor. Ferry service is also available from Grand Portage Minnesota and via Sea Plane.

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 cross over from Copper Harbor. The drive along the Keewenaw Peninsula is something to experience. The history of the mining days and the natural setting are awesome addition to you trip. We stopped in Houghton for lunch and looked around Michigan Technological University and found the Official Headquarters of Isle Royal National Park located down near the river to pick up maps and information.

Brockway Mountain DriveCopper Harbor is a charming little town. With taverns, craft shops, bakery’s and scenic lookouts  on Brockway Mountain drive. Its a perfect 1st day trip. It’s very bike friendly and the Copper Harborviews are amazing. After staying  the night in a nearby lodge a short walk from the docks we had a 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.

Queen IV FerryThe 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. On the way we manged to cross the path of a freighter heading out of Duluth.  An amazing sight.

Day One – The Afternoon.

When you arrive, you will be greeted by a National Park Service ranger. The ranger will give two forms of orientation ; one for  those who will Isle Royale Entryventure into the interior of Isle Royale right away and another for those staying at the lodge. If your staying at the lodge Rock Harbor Mapfeel free to listen in, but a better tactic is to orient your self 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 dinning, however you can still  grab a sandwich at the Grill.

Take an Afternoon Paddle

If you bought the lodge package, you fee includes a half day canoe Scovill Point 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 every where 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.

Scoville BeachPaddling is not strenuous but balancing is. You will quick 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 Scovill Pointpaddlers. 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 and dinner at the Lighthouse Restaurant. At the northern latitudes the night come late. But we looked forward to the day ahead.

Go to Part Two of the Isle Royal Adventure.