10 Reasons to Visit the Isle Royale National Park, Michigan! (Activities Included)

Reasons to Visit the Isle Royale National Park in Michigan
Discover 10 reasons to visit the Isle Royale National Park, Michigan: wildlife, Lake Superior views, lighthouses, hiking trails, and unique activities await!

If you’re a nature and wildlife enthusiast and want to be close to some of the most beautiful trees and wildlife, the Isle Royale is a great place to visit.

Not only will you get to see white-tailed deer, moose, wolves, and bear but you’ll also experience the rocky shores of Lake Superior.

The Isle Royale National Park is the best place to view Lake Superior and its waves crashing overhead, trees of all different kinds, and a wealth of other sites that can only be seen on this island.

With all these things, it makes sense that it’s a popular place for tourists to visit. Here’s why you might want to visit.

Camp in the Wild

Camp in the wild with fellow adventurers and nature lovers at one of our 36 first come, first serve campgrounds from which to choose. From the Lake Superior shoreline to backcountry islands, Isle Royale National Park offers many different camping experiences.

Isle Royale National Park camping

The Isle Royale National Park is one of the most scenic and remote national parks in the United States. Located in Lake Superior, it’s accessible only by boat or plane.

Camping is allowed on any of the islands, but you must obtain a permit and register before your trip. The park has three campgrounds: Rock Harbor, Windigo and Siskiwit Bay. There are also primitive campsites for backpackers who don’t have a permit to stay at one of the other campgrounds.

The island is home to a variety of wildlife, including wolves and moose, which can be seen from your campsite or boat tour. You’ll also find plenty of birds around the island, including bald eagles, loons, blue jays and herring gulls.

Enjoy a Ferry Ride

There are many things to do when visiting this national park. One of the best ways to explore this area is by taking a ferry ride across Lake Superior. This will allow you to see some amazing scenery on your way over to the island.

Isle Royale National Park ferry

If you are looking for something fun and adventurous when visiting Isle Royale National Park then taking a ferry ride across Lake Superior is sure to be an experience you will never forget.

Isle Royale National Park is an island in Lake Superior off the coast of Michigan, with no roads or cars. It’s a wilderness preserve, and the only way to get there is by boat.

The park has two ferries that carry passengers and vehicles between Rock Harbor on Isle Royale and Windigo on Houghton County’s mainland. The ferries run from June through late October; a third ferry runs from mid-May through mid-June. When leaving from Isle Royale, you can take a vehicle on board for an additional fee.

The ferry ride takes about 15 minutes each way, but it’s not just a quick trip across the water—it’s also an opportunity to learn more about Isle Royale’s history, environment and wildlife.

SCUBA diving

The Isle Royale National Park is located in northern Michigan and is part of the Great Lakes. It’s the largest island on the Great Lakes and has been declared a Wilderness Area – meaning that there are no roads or buildings on the island. The only way to get there is by boat or plane (or kayak).

Isle Royale National Park scuba

There are two places where you can dive: 1) near Rock Harbor Lodge on Caribou Island (which is located off of Isle Royale) and 2) near Windigo Ranger Station near Windigo Harbor (on Isle Royale itself).

Nine shipwrecks await experienced divers.

Hike the Greenstone Ridge Trail

The Greenstone Ridge Trail is a 16-mile hike that starts at Windigo and ends at Mizpah Spring on Isle Royale. The trail is part of the island’s road system, so you’ll be walking on pavement much of the way.

Greenstone Ridge Trail

The hike is long and difficult, but it offers views of Lake Superior and plenty of wildlife. The trail is also open to mountain bikers in the summer (bikes are not allowed on snowshoes).

The trail begins at Windigo Visitor Center, which is open year-round. From here, hikers will walk along the Greenstone Ridge Road, which goes southward past campsites and ranger cabins before turning into a dirt road. There are four bridges along this section of trail that cross streams and rivers, so if you’re crossing in early spring or late fall when there’s still snow on the ground, be prepared for some wet feet!

The second half of the hike takes hikers through more forested areas before reaching another set of bridges that cross over Lake Superior at Indian Portage Point. From here it’s less than a mile to Mizpah Spring where hikers can stop for water before heading back to Windigo Visitor Center.

Isle Royale is home to 3 lighthouses

Isle Royale National Park is a remote island park in Lake Superior. There are no roads on the island, but there are three lighthouses — two of which are open to visitors during the summer season. Isle Royale is a rugged wilderness with over 200 miles (322 kilometers) of hiking trails and scenic views of Lake Superior.

Rock Harbor Lighthouse

Rock Harbor Lighthouse

It was built by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939 as part of a series of lights marking the channel into Rock Harbor. The lighthouse is located on the northeast side of Isle Royale just south of the entrance to Rock Harbor, which is itself on the southeast side of Isle Royale.

Menagerie Island Lighthouse

Menagerie Island Lighthouse is a lighthouse on Lake Superior, in Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw County, Michigan. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1958.

Menagerie Island Lighthouse

The Menagerie Island Lighthouse was constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1883 to replace the original light, which was destroyed by fire three years earlier. The lighthouse was built as part of a series of lighthouses that were built along Lake Superior during this period.

The tower is made of local stone and stands about 18 feet (5.5 m) high. The original lens used to burn kerosene oil, but it has since been replaced with an electric lamp powered by an underwater cable from a building on shore.

Passage Island Lighthouse

Passage Island Light is a lighthouse on Passage Island in Isle Royale National Park. It is also known as Passage Island Light Station, or simply Passage Island Lighthouse.

Passage Island Lighthouse

The current light was built in 1921 to replace the original structure, which was built in 1882 and burned down on October 13, 1919. The new light was built with concrete walls and a steel skeleton, topped with a white metal dome.

It has an array of red vertical stripes to help mariners differentiate its appearance from the other lights on the island. The station had electricity since 1935 (replacing its kerosene lamps), but lacked running water until 1960. It was automated in 1985, and deactivated in 1991 due to budget cuts.

The island itself is named for its location at the northern end of Lake Superior’s Michipicoten Strait; it lies between Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and Ontario’s Manitoulin Island. Passage Island is one of three islands that make up Passage Islands State Recreation Area; it is connected to North Fox Island by a causeway called Swallow Tail Bridge, which carries foot traffic only.

Canoeing on Isle Royale

Isle Royale is one of the best canoeing destinations in the Midwest. There are many great places to drop a canoe in this wilderness park. You can take your first steps in paddling on Lake Superior or one of the many rivers flowing into it. Or you can go for a longer trip down the length of the island or across its width.

Isle Royale National Park canoeing 1

The most popular place to start is at Windigo, where you’ll find a campground, boat launch and canoe rental shop. From there you can paddle along the shoreline and explore beaches and rock formations. If you’re lucky, you might even see some moose or wolves along the way.

If you want more of an adventure, pack some extra food and water and set out for Isle Royale’s interior lakes, ponds and streams. These are much more remote than those along the shoreline and will take longer to paddle through because they have fewer portages around rapids.

The Majestic Moose

The majestic moose can be found all over Isle Royale National Park. In fact, they are one of the main attractions at this park. The moose can be seen in many different places, but there are some prime locations that you should check out.

Isle Royale National Park Moose

The best place to see them is on the lakeshore or near one of the waterfalls. They love hanging out in these areas because they provide them with plenty of food and water sources at all times.

You can also spot them while hiking through the woods or near their favorite spots along the shoreline. It’s best to hike in groups when trying to spot them, so you can better protect yourself from predators if you see any nearby.

Wolves have also called Isle Royale home since 1948

Isle Royale National Park Wolves

The wolves are the largest carnivore on the island and play an important role in regulating the island’s population of moose.

Rock Harbor Lodge

The Rock Harbor Lodge is a must-stop on Isle Royale, where you can get a good night’s sleep and relax before the next leg of your journey.

Isle Royale National Park Rock Harbor Lodge

The lodge is located in Rock Harbor, the only harbor on Isle Royale. It’s about halfway between Windigo and Washington Island and offers a variety of services for visitors.

The lodge has been operating since 1938, when it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was rebuilt in 1997 after a fire destroyed most of the facilities.

Rock Harbor Lodge provides lodging, food service and other amenities to visitors who come from all over the world. The facility has 23 rooms with private baths and two suites (both with shared bath). All rooms have telephones, cable television and Wi-Fi access.

In addition to lodging, Rock Harbor Lodge also provides food service at three restaurants on site: The Fish House Restaurant (open seasonally), North Shore Grill (open year-round) and Lake Side Snack Bar (open year-round).

Ruins of the Wendigo Mining Company

Isle Royale National Park Rock Wendigo Mining Company

The Wendigo Mining Company was a mining operation on Isle Royale from 1883 to 1894. The company was named for the legendary creature of Native American folklore, the wendigo. The mine is located in Copper Harbor and is now part of the National Park Service’s Isle Royale National Park.

Is it worth going to Isle Royale National Park?

Yes, absolutely! It’s worth going to Isle Royale National Park. With its unique archipelago setting, diverse wildlife, and opportunities for immersive wilderness experiences, it’s a destination that offers a distinct and memorable adventure for those seeking solitude and natural beauty.

Cloaked in the embrace of Lake Superior, this treasure trove stretches over 450 islands, each with tales etched by time. 

Located in Michigan, this park is unlike any other in the United States, a fact that becomes evident once you delve into its unique characteristics. 

12 Unique Characteristics of Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park is more than just a serene wilderness retreat; it’s a place where nature’s wonders intertwine with historical tales, creating a tapestry of unique experiences. Here are twelve defining characteristics of this magnificent national treasure:

  1. Isolated Wilderness: Amid the vast expanse of Lake Superior lies Isle Royale, a pristine, isolated sanctuary. Its isolation, emphasized by its seasonal closure during winter, ensures it remains untouched, preserving its wild heart for the few who venture its terrains.
  2. Island Archipelago: Instead of a solitary landmass, Isle Royale surprises with an archipelago of over 450 islands. These islands, varying in size and terrain, offer diverse habitats, enriching the park’s biodiversity.
  3. Moose-Wolf Dynamic: A unique ecological ballet unfolds here, with the predator-prey relationship between wolves and moose taking center stage. This interplay greatly influences the island’s ecosystems.
  4. Long-Running Wolf Study: The world looks to Isle Royale for insights into wildlife ecology. With over 60 years of research into its wolves and moose, the park has significantly broadened our understanding of nature’s intricate dynamics.
  5. Underwater Wilderness: Dive below Lake Superior’s surface to discover a submerged realm. Sunken shipwrecks stand as silent witnesses to Isle Royale’s fishing and mining past, creating surreal underwater landscapes.
  6. Hiking Haven: Whether you’re strolling along serene lakeshores or scaling rugged cliffs, the park’s 165 miles of trails promise an unparalleled hiking experience, celebrating nature in all its grandeur.
  7. Exceptional Birdwatching: From the eerie calls of the common loon to the graceful arcs of bald eagles, Isle Royale presents a symphony of avian wonders, making it a birdwatcher’s utopia.
  8. Incredible Aquatic Life: Dive into Lake Superior’s crystalline waters and be greeted by a vibrant aquatic life. With species like the Lake Trout and Northern Pike, the waters tell tales of ecological richness.
  9. Historical Landmarks: History enthusiasts will find the island’s landmarks – ancient copper mines, rustic fishing camps, and guiding lighthouses – as intriguing narratives of human endeavors amidst nature’s dominance.
  10. Diverse Flora: The island’s varied microclimates give rise to a botanical tapestry, ranging from majestic conifers to delicate wildflowers, making every trail a botanical exploration.
  11. Wildlife Viewing Opportunities: While the wolves and moose are undoubtedly the stars, other residents like otters, beavers, and snowshoe hares ensure that the island remains a wildlife enthusiast’s dream destination.
  12. Dark Sky Sanctuary: In today’s world of glaring city lights, Isle Royale offers a celestial retreat. With its unpolluted skies, the park serves as a stargazing haven, where the Milky Way paints its stories against a canvas of darkness.

Isle Royale National Park is not just a destination, but a journey into the heart of nature’s mysteries, historical legacies, and the profound silence of isolation. If you’re looking to discover a place that epitomizes the raw beauty and complexity of nature, Isle Royale beckons.

But Isle Royale isn’t just a destination for daytime exploration. As night descends, a whole new spectacle awaits. Far from city lights and nestled under the vast canopy of the sky, Isle Royale offers a breathtaking view of the Northern Lights. 

Is it worth going to Isle Royale National Park?

Also known as the Aurora Borealis, this celestial phenomenon paints the night sky with ethereal colors, dancing and shimmering in a display that’s nothing short of magical. The park’s northern location and minimal light pollution make it one of the best places in the U.S. to witness this natural wonder. 

Observing the Northern Lights here, with the silhouette of the islands and the sound of Lake Superior’s waves in the background, is an experience that resonates deep within the soul

Planning To Visit Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park is a unique blend of pristine nature, historical significance, and remote allure. 

However, a trip to this gem needs a bit more planning and knowledge than your typical national park visit. 

Here’s a comprehensive guide to prepare you for your journey:

1. Seasonal Accessibility

The park isn’t open year-round. Isle Royale has a distinct operating season due to its location in Lake Superior. 

Typically, the park is open from April to October, with peak visiting months being June to August. 

Winter months see the park closed due to harsh weather conditions and the challenges of accessing the islands.

2. Limited Entry Points

Access to Isle Royale National Park is Limited. Its remote location ensures fewer crowds but also means that getting there requires a bit more planning. 

You won’t be driving up to an entrance gate at Isle Royale; the park is accessible only by boat or seaplane.

3. Arriving by Air

Seaplane to Isle Royale National Park. For those keen on an aerial view and quicker travel, seaplanes offer a unique way to reach the park. 

Is it worth going to Isle Royale National Park?

Operated by authorized providers, these flights often depart from near Houghton, Michigan.

4. Sailing to the Park

Several ferry services operate between the mainland and Isle Royale, each offering its unique experience:

Ranger III: This is the largest vessel offering trips to the park and is operated by the National Park Service. It operates out of Houghton and offers a comfortable, albeit longer, journey to the park.

Isle Royale Queen IV: Operating out of Copper Harbor, this ferry is known for its faster speed, ensuring a quicker passage to the park.

Seahunter III: A smaller vessel option for those who prefer a more intimate journey.

Voyageur II: This boat not only carries passengers but also provides mail and cargo service to the park. Its route covers multiple points, making it a great choice for those wanting to see more of the surrounding areas.

Determining If Isle Royale is Right For You

Isle Royale National Park is a unique destination, offering unparalleled experiences for nature lovers. But, it’s essential to know if it aligns with your travel preferences.

Isle Royale is NOT FOR YOU If:

Comfort is Key: If luxury accommodations and easy accessibility are top priorities, Isle Royale may prove challenging. The park embraces its wild nature, meaning fewer amenities.

Short Visits: If you’re looking for a quick day trip, the logistics of reaching and exploring the park might be cumbersome.

Urban Attractions: Those who favor bustling cityscapes, shopping, and entertainment might find the park’s secluded nature a bit too remote.

You SHOULD Visit Isle Royale If:

Nature Enthusiast: For those who thrive in the wild, the park’s untamed landscapes and diverse wildlife are a dream come true.

Adventure Seeker: If hiking, canoeing, or diving among shipwrecks excites you, Isle Royale beckons.

Solitude Searcher: Those looking to disconnect and find solace in nature will appreciate the park’s serene environments and fewer crowds.

Eco-conscious Traveler: With its commitment to conservation, the park is a must-visit for travelers who prioritize sustainable tourism.

Isle Royale is a haven for those who seek raw, natural beauty. However, its remote and rugged nature may not appeal to every traveler.


If you want to explore a remote, natural wilderness area and learn more about the history of North America’s Great Lakes , Isle Royale is the place to go. The island itself is a National Park, with plenty to do and see.

And thanks to its location in Lake Superior, the scenery is awe-inspiring third in the country. Check out our full list of 10 reasons (in no particular order) to visit Isle Royale below. We hope you enjoy your visit!

Isle Royale National Park FAQ

What to Expect on your visit to Isle Royale National Park:

Isle Royale isn’t your typical national park. This isolated archipelago in the heart of Lake Superior provides a genuine escape from modern life. 

Expect a serene environment, where nature’s sounds dominate over human-made ones. The absence of cars, roads, and city noise creates a peaceful ambience. 

You’ll experience firsthand the rugged beauty of a wilderness largely untouched by human interference, filled with dense forests, clear waters, and diverse wildlife. 

Prepare for unpredictability too: weather can change rapidly, and the wildlife, from moose to foxes, roams freely.

Activities on Isle Royale:

Adventure awaits at every corner in Isle Royale. Hiking enthusiasts can tread the renowned Greenstone Ridge Trail, which offers panoramic views of the park. 

Canoeing and kayaking are popular, given the multitude of inland lakes and waterways. 

Dive enthusiasts can explore underwater shipwrecks. Wildlife observation is another favorite, with moose, wolves, and a plethora of bird species awaiting your gaze. 

For history buffs, remnants of old mines and lighthouses offer a peek into the island’s past.

How Many Days Do You Need to Visit?:

The time you spend at Isle Royale depends on your interests. 

A short stay of 3-4 days allows you to explore key areas and engage in primary activities like hiking and wildlife watching. 

However, to truly immerse in the park’s vastness, a week-long stay is recommended. 

This allows time for backcountry camping, extended hikes, or even a multi-day canoe or kayak trip. Given the effort it takes to get here, maximizing your time can be rewarding.

How to Get to Isle Royale National Park?

Reaching Isle Royale is an adventure in itself. There are no bridges; access is only by seaplane or ferry. Multiple ferries operate from Michigan and Minnesota, including the Ranger III, Isle Royale Queen IV, and Voyageur II. 

Each offers a unique journey with varying durations and schedules. The seaplane, operating out of Houghton, Michigan, provides a quicker but pricier alternative. 

Regardless of your choice, the journey provides stunning views and the thrilling anticipation of reaching a secluded wilderness. Remember, reservations are essential, especially during peak season.

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