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Isle Royale Hiking: The Ultimate Guide

Welcome to Isle Royale National Park, a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Lake Superior. This island paradise is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

With its diverse wildlife and breathtaking landscapes, it offers an unparalleled backpacking experience. Explore the park’s inland lakes, discover the grand portage, and enjoy the campgrounds.

So grab your backpack and lace up your hiking boots – Isle Royale awaits! Get ready for unforgettable backpacking trips and day hikes as you explore this captivating island mine. Plan your backpacking itinerary now and immerse yourself in nature’s wonders.

isle royale hiking

Planning Your Isle Royale Hiking Trip

Obtain necessary permits for camping and hiking

Before embarking on your backpacking trip to Isle Royale, it is crucial to obtain the necessary permits for camping and hiking at designated ranger stations or online. These permits are required to ensure the preservation of the island’s pristine wilderness, manage visitor numbers effectively, and access the campgrounds and inland lakes. The National Park Service oversees these permits.

To secure your backpacking trip, you will need to apply for backpacking permits. These permits allow backpackers to camp overnight in specific campgrounds along their chosen route. It is essential to plan your itinerary carefully, considering factors such as distance, terrain difficulty, and available amenities.

Consider the best time to visit based on weather conditions

When planning your Isle Royale backpacking trip, it is vital to consider the best time to visit based on weather conditions. The island experiences a cold and snowy winter season, making it inaccessible for backpacking trips from November through April.

The summer months of June through August offer pleasant temperatures ranging from 50°F (10°C) to 75°F (24°C), making it an ideal time for outdoor activities such as following backpacking itineraries and exploring backpacking routes, including the popular Rock Harbor trail.

However, keep in mind that a backpacking trip during the summer season also brings occasional rain showers and mosquitoes. If you prefer cooler temperatures with fewer bugs, consider visiting the campground during spring or fall when the crowds have diminished, and nature showcases its vibrant colors on your backpacking itinerary.

Research transportation options to reach the island

Getting to Isle Royale for a backpacking trip requires careful consideration of transportation options. One common backpacking itinerary is taking a ferry ride from either Houghton or Copper Harbor in Michigan or Grand Portage in Minnesota. The ferry rides, which typically take around three hours, are an essential part of the backpacking routes.

Another option for transportation to Isle Royale is the ferry or boat services that offer a convenient way to reach the island. Alternatively, seaplane services provide a unique perspective as you soar over Lake Superior before landing on the island’s waters. However, note that seaplane services may have limited availability and higher costs compared to ferries. Whether you choose to go backpacking or explore the island’s natural beauty, there are various transportation options available.

Plan your day hiking and day trips

While backpacking trips are popular on Isle Royale, day hiking and day trips offer an excellent alternative for those seeking shorter adventures at the campground. The island boasts numerous trails that cater to various fitness levels and interests, making it a great itinerary for outdoor enthusiasts.

Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll along the shoreline or a challenging uphill climb, there is something for everyone at Rock Harbor. Don’t forget to catch the ferry for convenient transportation to and from the island.

Consider the following itineraries for your day hikes:

  1. Embark on a thrilling backpacking trip along the Scenic Lake Superior Trail, which features stunning views of Lake Superior. This popular backpacking route takes you along the rugged coastline, offering breathtaking scenery throughout your journey. Plan your backpacking itinerary to include this picturesque trail and make sure to find a suitable campground for a comfortable stay.
  2. Backpacking Isle Royale: Embark on an unforgettable backpacking trip with the Rock Harbor Trail, one of the top backpacking routes on the island. This moderate trail takes you through dense forests and offers breathtaking overlooks, making it a must-include in your backpacking itinerary.
  3. Daisy Farm Loop: A great backpacking route for families or beginners, this easy loop showcases beautiful wildflowers and tranquil inland lakes. It is the perfect addition to your backpacking itinerary.

Remember to pack water, snacks, appropriate footwear, and a map before setting out on your backpacking trip. Whether you’re following a backpacking itinerary or creating your own backpacking route, these essentials are crucial for a successful backpacking Isle Royale adventure.

wooden path on isle royale

Best Trails and Routes for Backpacking in Isle Royale

Greenstone Ridge Trail: Panoramic Views of the Island

The Greenstone Ridge Trail is a must-visit for backpackers on their Isle Royale backpacking trip. This trail offers breathtaking panoramic views of the island’s natural beauty, making it a highlight of any backpacking itinerary.

As you hike along this route, you’ll be treated to stunning vistas of dense forests, sparkling lakes, and rolling hills. The trail takes you through diverse terrain, allowing you to experience the island’s unique ecosystems up close. Don’t miss out on this incredible backpacking adventure at Rock Harbor campground.

Here are some highlights of the Greenstone Ridge Trail:

  • During your backpacking trip on the Isle Royale, you’ll encounter numerous spectacular scenic overlooks along the backpacking route. These overlooks provide breathtaking views of Lake Superior and the surrounding landscapes. They offer an excellent opportunity to capture memorable photographs or simply pause and appreciate the beauty of nature as outlined in your backpacking itinerary.
  • Abundance of Wildlife: Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings while hiking on the Greenstone Ridge Trail during your backpacking trip to Rock Harbor. Isle Royale is known for its thriving population of moose, wolves, foxes, and various bird species. It’s not uncommon to spot these magnificent creatures as they go about their daily routines in their natural habitat along the backpacking route.
  • Itinerary: While parts of the trail on Isle Royale are relatively moderate, there are challenging sections that add an adventurous element to your backpacking trip. This route presents more challenging terrain, especially around Rock Harbor.

Rock Harbor Trail: Beautiful Shoreline Scenery

For those planning a backpacking trip on Isle Royale, the Rock Harbor Trail is an ideal itinerary. This scenic route offers stunning views of Lake Superior’s greenstone coastline, with crystal-clear waters and rugged cliffs.

Here’s what makes Rock Harbor Trail special:

  • Tranquil Beaches: The backpacking route passes by several secluded beaches on the backpacking trip to Isle Royale where you can take a refreshing dip or relax under the sun. These serene spots provide a perfect opportunity to unwind after following the backpacking itinerary for a long day of hiking.
  • As you backpack through Isle Royale’s Greenstone, don’t miss the opportunity to spot ancient petroglyphs etched into the rocks along the Rock Harbor Trail. These historical artifacts provide insight into the island’s cultural heritage and are a must-see on your backpacking trip.
  • Lighthouse Views: The backpacking route also takes you near the Rock Harbor Lighthouse, a historic landmark that adds charm to the already breathtaking scenery on your backpacking trip. Take a moment to appreciate its architectural beauty and learn about its significance in Isle Royale’s history on this backpacking itinerary.

Minong Ridge Trail: A Challenging Wilderness Experience

For experienced backpackers seeking a more rugged and challenging backpacking trip, the Minong Ridge Trail is an ideal backpacking route choice. This trail offers a true wilderness experience as it winds through dense forests, rocky ridges, and remote areas of Isle Royale.

Here’s what makes Minong Ridge Trail stand out:

  • Solitude and Serenity: The Minong Ridge Trail, located on Isle Royale, offers a less frequented route for hikers compared to other trails. This means that during your backpacking trip, you’ll have ample opportunities to immerse yourself in nature without encountering large crowds at popular spots like Rock Harbor. The trail’s greenstone terrain adds to the unique experience, making it an excellent option if you’re looking for solitude and serenity.
  • Greenstone Route: Be prepared for technical sections along this Isle of Skye trip that require careful navigation. Steep ascents, descents, and rocky terrain add an extra level of challenge to your backpacking adventure.
  • Backpacking Trip: As you hike along the Minong Ridge Trail on your backpacking trip, you’ll witness untouched wilderness at its finest. This backpacking route on Isle Royale is known for its pristine beauty and is a must-visit for any backpacking enthusiast. Don’t miss the chance to explore the Greenstone region and experience the true essence of backpacking Isle Royale.

Tobin Harbor

Essential Gear for Isle Royale Hiking

Lightweight Backpack Suitable for Multi-day Trips

Having a lightweight backpack is essential when backpacking Isle Royale. You’ll want to choose a pack that can comfortably carry all your gear while still being easy to maneuver through rugged terrain on your multi-day backpacking route. Look for packs specifically designed for multi-day trips, as they typically have larger capacities and more compartments to organize your belongings.

Consider options such as the Osprey Exos 58 or the Gregory Optic 58 for your backpacking trip. These backpacks are known for their durability and comfort, making them perfect for a multi-day backpacking route. The adjustable suspension systems and breathable back panels ensure a snug fit and proper ventilation during long hikes on Isle Royale. Plus, these backpacks come with plenty of pockets and attachment points, allowing easy access to your essentials while on the go.

Sturdy Hiking Boots with Ankle Support

When planning your backpacking trip on Isle Royale, it’s important to consider the challenging trails and uneven terrain. Make sure to invest in a pair of sturdy hiking boots with ankle support to protect your feet during the journey. Look for waterproof materials like Gore-Tex to keep your feet dry throughout the days of your backpacking route.

Popular options for a backpacking trip include the Salomon Quest 4D II GTX and the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof boots. These models offer excellent traction on various surfaces and provide ample ankle stability to prevent sprains during a backpacking trip. Remember to break in your boots before embarking on any long hikes to avoid blisters or discomfort along the way on your backpacking trip.

Navigation Tools like Maps, Compass, or GPS Device

When embarking on a backpacking trip to Isle Royale’s rock harbor, having reliable navigation tools is crucial. While there are well-marked trails throughout the island, it’s always wise to be prepared in case of unexpected circumstances or getting off track during the days spent exploring.

When embarking on a backpacking trip to Rock Harbor, Isle Royale National Park, it’s essential to carry detailed maps that highlight key landmarks, campsites, and water sources. A compass is also handy for orienting yourself during the journey. In case you lose sight of trail markers or encounter dense vegetation, a GPS device like the Garmin eTrex 32x can provide accurate location tracking and store waypoints for future reference.

Trekking Poles for Stability and Balance

To enhance your backpacking trip on Isle Royale, consider using trekking poles. These lightweight and adjustable poles provide stability and balance while traversing challenging terrains or crossing streams during your rock harbor adventure. They can also help alleviate strain on your knees during steep descents, ensuring a comfortable journey for multiple days.

Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles and LEKI Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles are popular options for backpacking trips. These collapsible poles are easy to pack and adjust to different heights, making them suitable for hikers of all sizes. With ergonomic grips and durable construction, they offer reliable support throughout your journey on the isle for several days.

Additional Gear: Rain Gear, Lip Balm, and More

In addition to the essentials mentioned above, there are a few more items you shouldn’t forget when packing for an Isle Royale backpacking trip. These items will come in handy during your rock harbor hiking adventures that can last for several days.

  • Rain gear: Weather conditions on the island can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to have waterproof jackets and pants to keep you dry during sudden downpours.
  • Lip balm: The combination of wind and sun exposure can lead to chapped lips. Keep them moisturized with a lip balm that offers SPF protection.
  • Extra clothing layers: Even in summer months, temperatures on Isle Royale can drop significantly at night.

pictured rocks

Safety Tips for Hiking in Isle Royale National Park

Stay Hydrated Throughout Your Hike

When embarking on a backpacking trip in Isle Royale National Park, it is crucial to carry enough water and stay hydrated. The park’s rugged terrain and challenging trails can quickly deplete your energy levels, making hydration essential for an enjoyable rock harbor experience. Remember to bring a sufficient supply of water and drink regularly during your hike.

Pack Appropriate Clothing Layers for Sudden Weather Changes

Isle Royale’s weather during a backpacking trip to Rock Harbor can be unpredictable, with sudden shifts from sunny skies to rainstorms or even snowfall. To be prepared for these weather changes on your trip, it is vital to pack appropriate clothing layers. Dressing in layers allows you to adjust your outfit according to the temperature fluctuations throughout the day. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer that keeps sweat away from your body, then add insulating layers such as fleece or down jackets, and finally top it off with a waterproof outer shell. This way, you can easily adapt to the changing conditions and stay comfortable during your hike.

Familiarize Yourself with Emergency Protocols and Communication Options

While backpacking in Isle Royale National Park, which offers breathtaking natural beauty, it is important to be aware of potential risks and emergencies that may arise during your hike. Take the time to familiarize yourself with emergency protocols specific to the park and understand how to communicate effectively in case of an emergency at Rock Harbor.

One crucial aspect of backpacking in Rock Harbor is knowing the communication options available on the island. Due to its remote location, cell phone reception may be limited or nonexistent in certain areas of Isle Royale. However, there are alternative means of communication that can be relied upon in case of emergencies.

  • Emergency call boxes: These are strategically placed throughout the park and provide direct access to park rangers who can assist you.
  • VHF radios: Carrying a VHF radio allows you to communicate with other hikers or reach out for help if needed. Ensure you understand how to operate the device before setting out on your hike.
  • Satellite phones: If you plan an extended stay or venture into more remote areas, consider carrying a satellite phone for reliable communication.

Before embarking on a backpacking trip in Isle Royale’s Rock Harbor, it is crucial to inform someone of your hiking plans. Share details such as your intended route, estimated time of return, and any alternative plans you may have in case of unforeseen circumstances. This way, if an emergency arises and you are unable to communicate directly, search and rescue teams in Isle Royale’s Rock Harbor will have valuable information to aid their efforts.

By following these safety tips for backpacking in Isle Royale National Park, you can ensure a safer and more enjoyable experience amidst the park’s stunning wilderness. Remember to stay hydrated while backpacking, pack appropriate clothing layers for sudden weather changes, and familiarize yourself with emergency protocols and communication options available at Rock Harbor on the island.

isle royale wildlife

Wildlife Encounters on Isle Royale Hiking Trails

Isle Royale National Park is a backpacking paradise for hiking enthusiasts. With its many trails and stunning natural beauty, it offers an unforgettable experience for those seeking adventure in the great outdoors. One of the highlights of backpacking on Isle Royale is the opportunity to encounter a variety of wildlife along the way, especially at Rock Harbor.

Spotting Moose, Wolves, Foxes, and Various Bird Species

As you backpack through the rugged hiking trails of Isle Royale, keep your eyes peeled for some incredible wildlife sightings. The park is home to a thriving population of moose, making it one of the best places in North America for backpackers to observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Imagine coming face to face with a moose as you hike along the trail or catching sight of a wolf pack roaming through the forest near Rock Harbor.

In addition to moose and wolves, you may also come across foxes darting through the underbrush or soaring birds overhead while backpacking on Isle Royale. The island’s diverse ecosystem attracts numerous bird species, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and loons. So don’t forget your binoculars – you never know what feathered friends might make an appearance during your hike in Rock Harbor.

Maintaining a Safe Distance from Wildlife and Avoiding Feeding Them

While backpacking on Isle Royale, encountering wildlife can be thrilling. It’s important to remember that these animals on the isle are wild and should be treated with respect. Always maintain a safe distance when observing them at Rock Harbor; this ensures your safety and prevents any unnecessary stress or disturbance to the animals.

Feeding wildlife is strictly prohibited in national parks like Isle Royale when backpacking. Human food can disrupt their natural diet and behavior patterns while increasing their dependence on humans. It’s essential to pack out all your trash and leftovers properly when backpacking in Rock Harbor so as not to attract animals towards campsites or popular hiking areas.

Learning About Animal Behavior Before Encountering Them on the Trails

To enhance your wildlife encounters while backpacking in Rock Harbor, take the time to educate yourself about animal behavior before setting foot on the trails. Park rangers and informative resources can provide valuable insights into the habits and characteristics of the island’s wildlife.

Understanding how animals react during backpacking trips on Isle Royale’s Rock Harbor can help you make informed decisions. For example, knowing that moose are generally calm but may become aggressive if they feel threatened allows you to maintain a safe distance and avoid any potential encounters turning sour.

isle royale trees

Camping Options and Leave No Trace Principles in Isle Royale

Choose from campgrounds or backcountry campsites based on preference

Visitors to Isle Royale have the option to choose between established campgrounds or secluded backcountry campsites for backpacking. Each option offers a unique experience, catering to different preferences and levels of adventure in Rock Harbor.

For those seeking a more traditional backpacking experience with facilities and amenities, the campgrounds in Isle Royale are an excellent choice. One popular campground is the Daisy Farm Campground, nestled along the beautiful shoreline of Tobin Harbor. Here, backpackers can set up their tents amidst towering rock trees and enjoy stunning views of Lake Superior. With access to potable water, pit toilets, and designated fire rings, this campground provides convenience without compromising on natural beauty.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more immersive wilderness experience away from crowds and modern amenities, backpacking and exploring the backcountry campsites in Isle Royale’s Rock Harbor is highly recommended. These remote sites offer solitude and tranquility amidst nature’s untouched splendor. You can hike deep into the island’s interior to find your perfect spot for setting up camp under starlit skies.

Practice Leave No Trace principles by minimizing impact on the environment

In this pristine wilderness environment, backpackers and campers at Rock Harbor must adhere to Leave No Trace principles. By following these guidelines, we can ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy Isle Royale’s natural wonders as much as we do today.

Firstly, when backpacking through Isle Royale, it is essential to minimize our impact on the environment by staying on designated trails. Straying off-trail can lead to erosion and damage fragile vegetation that plays a vital role in maintaining ecological balance.

Secondly, when backpacking on Isle Royale and staying at Rock Harbor, it is important to select durable surfaces such as bare ground or established tent pads whenever possible. This helps prevent unnecessary damage to vegetation and delicate ecosystems.

Properly dispose of waste following park regulations

Proper waste disposal is crucial for backpacking and practicing Leave No Trace principles in Isle Royale’s rock harbor. Visitors must adhere to park regulations to protect the island’s delicate ecosystem and maintain its pristine beauty.

When backpacking in Isle Royale’s Rock Harbor, it is essential to pack out all trash and waste, leaving no trace behind. This includes food scraps, wrappers, and any other non-biodegradable items. Bring along sealable bags or containers to store your waste until you can dispose of it properly at designated locations.

When backpacking in Isle Royale, it is important to properly dispose of human waste. Pit toilets are available at designated campgrounds for this purpose. If camping in the backcountry, be sure to bury human waste in a cathole at least 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water sources or campsites. This helps protect the harbor and prevents contamination of the rock.

By backpacking and being mindful of our impact on the environment, we can preserve the natural beauty of Isle Royale’s harbor and rock for future generations while enjoying an unforgettable hiking and camping experience.


In conclusion, backpacking Isle Royale offers a unique and exhilarating outdoor adventure for nature enthusiasts. By following this backpacking guide, you can ensure a successful backpacking trip to this beautiful national park.

When planning your Isle Royale hiking trip, make sure to consider factors such as weather conditions, trail difficulty, and camping options. Research the best trails and routes for backpacking to fully experience the stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife that the island has to offer.

Equipping yourself with essential backpacking gear is crucial for a safe and enjoyable hike on Isle Royale. From sturdy footwear to proper navigation tools, having the right equipment will enhance your backpacking experience on the trails. Prioritize safety by adhering to park regulations and being prepared for emergencies.

Backpacking in Isle Royale offers thrilling wildlife encounters while necessitating caution and respect. It is crucial to maintain a safe distance from animals and refrain from feeding or approaching them. Always remember that you are a guest in their natural habitat.

Backpacking options for camping abound on Isle Royale, offering opportunities to immerse yourself in the wilderness overnight. It is important to practice Leave No Trace principles by leaving your backpacking campsite as you found it and minimizing your impact on the environment.

To make the most of your backpacking adventure on Isle Royale, embrace an adventurous spirit while respecting nature’s wonders. Take time to appreciate breathtaking views, listen to the sounds of nature, and disconnect from everyday life.

Remember that preparation is key when backpacking on Isle Royale. Familiarize yourself with park guidelines before setting off on your journey. Stay hydrated, bring adequate food supplies, and be mindful of your physical limitations while exploring Isle Royale.

Isle Royale beckons backpacking enthusiasts with its rugged beauty and abundant wildlife. Start planning your unforgettable backpacking trip today!

Frequently Asked Questions about Isle Royale Hiking

How long does it take to hike around Isle Royale?

The duration of a backpacking hike around Isle Royale varies depending on factors such as trail length, terrain difficulty, and individual fitness levels. On average, backpackers spend about 7-10 days to complete the full loop.

Are there any age restrictions for hiking in Isle Royale?

There are no specific age restrictions for backpacking in Isle Royale National Park. However, it is essential to assess the physical abilities and endurance of younger backpackers before embarking on longer or more challenging trails.

Can I bring my dog with me on Isle Royale hiking trails?

Backpacking and hiking trails on Isle Royale do not allow pets to preserve the natural ecosystem and protect wildlife. It is important to respect this rule and leave your furry friends at home during your visit.

Do I need a permit to hike in Isle Royale National Park?

Yes, a backpacking backcountry camping permit is required for all overnight stays in Isle Royale National Park. Permits can be obtained through the park’s official website or visitor centers.

What should I do if I encounter a moose or wolf while hiking?

If you encounter a moose or wolf while backpacking on Isle Royale, maintain a safe distance and observe them from afar. Do not approach or attempt to feed them. Make noise by clapping your hands or speaking loudly to alert them of your presence and allow them space to move away.

Are there any guided hikes available in Isle Royale?

Yes, guided backpacking hikes are available through authorized outfitters on Isle Royale. These guided backpacking trips provide expert knowledge about the island’s flora, fauna, and history while ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for backpackers.

Can I fish during my hike on Isle Royale?

Backpacking and fishing opportunities are abundant on Isle Royale, but you will need a valid fishing license issued by either Michigan or Minnesota state authorities depending on which side of the island you plan to fish from.