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Isle Royale Dock

Michigan

5 Great Ways to Experience Isle Royale National Park

By: Emily H. Bratcher

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  • States:
    Michigan

Isle Royale’s secluded natural beauty and charm are worth the effort.

Known for its rugged landscape and quiet solitude, Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park consists of a collection of islands huddled in the northwestern curve of Lake Superior. This remote national park in the Midwest, accessible only by boat or seaplane, is home to wolves, moose and eye-catching semiprecious stones called chlorastrolite, or “green star stones.” Though the area may be more challenging to reach than most U.S. national parks, Isle Royale’s secluded natural beauty and charm are worth the effort. The park is open mid-April through October. Here are five ways to experience Isle Royale in full.

Hike the Greenstone Ridge

The Greenstone Ridge Trail forms the backbone of Isle Royale National Park. Extending 64 kilometers through the park’s middle, the trail is known for its views of the islands and their surroundings. Hop on the hiking trail in the east at Rock Harbor and walk west toward Windingo Harbor. Don’t skip the portion of the hike that passes over Mount Franklin; it’s one of the trail’s most beautiful stretches. Liz Valencia, the chief of interpretation and cultural resources at Isle Royale National Park, says, “On clear days, you can see the north shore of Lake Superior and you can also see Canada and Minnesota.”

Isle Royale National Park offers beautiful views and the solitude to enjoy them in peace.

Isle Royale National Park offers beautiful views and the solitude to enjoy them in peace.
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Take in the View From Scoville Point

If you prefer a shorter hike than the Greenstone Ridge Trail, take a few hours to trek the Scoville Point loop. “There’s a really nice view at Scoville,” says Valencia. “If it’s clear, you can sometimes see the freighters on Lake Superior.” Access the Stoll Memorial Trail at Rock Harbor and hike eastward underneath an evergreen canopy until you reach the rocky Scoville Point.

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Scuba Dive in Lake Superior 

Sunken steamers and wrecked freighters rest beneath the cold, dark waters of Lake Superior. Only experienced, certified scuba divers should attempt to approach these eerie shipwrecks. Advanced divers can register at one of the park’s visitor centers and dive to the lake’s sandy bottom with a National Park Service-licensed charter. Not a scuba diver? You can see the underwater sights on one of several glass-bottom shipwreck tours.

Experienced scuba divers who visit Isle Royale National Park can reach several shipwrecks in Lake Superior. 

Experienced scuba divers who visit Isle Royale National Park can reach several shipwrecks in Lake Superior. 
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Go Canoeing in Tobin Harbor

Isle Royale National Park contains many harbors, bays and waterways ideal for canoeing. You can rent canoes for a half or full day from the Rock Harbor Lodge & Marina, where paddling in the nearby Tobin Harbor’s gentle waters is easy. The marina also recommends canoeing down Tobin Harbor to Hidden Lake Dock, where you can stow your boat and hike about 1 kilometer up to Lookout Louise, where you’ll enjoy a breathtaking view of forested islands and glassy waters. 

Relive the Past 

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in July and August, take “The Sandy” boat from the Rock Harbor Lodge to the Edisen Fishery. “The Edisen Fishery represents what life was like on a small family fishery in 1930s and 1940s,” Valencia says. Afterward, she recommends a .4-kilometer walk to the Rock Island Lighthouse, which was refitted in 1855 and rebuilt in 1882, and now incorporates a maritime history exhibit. 

You can also take another short hike to the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale summer research station. If you see the station’s scientists, ask them about their research.

How to Get There

Take the Voyageur II or Sea Hunter III from Grand Portage, Minnesota; the Ranger III from Houghton, Michigan; the Isle Royale Queen IV from Copper Harbor, Michigan; or seaplanes that take off from Houghton County Memorial Airport in Houghton, Michigan. 

You can stay at Rock Harbor Lodge, the park’s only full-service accommodation, between early June and early September. Camping is another option. Day trips are offered on select boats out of Grand Portage and Copper Harbor, as well as via the seaplanes.

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