Isle Royale National Park Animals: What We Saw While Hiking!


Have you ever wondered what Isle Royale National Park animals inhabit this remote wilderness?  We take you on a journey into the wild, rugged, and beautiful terrains of Isle Royale National Park.

Over the last decade, we have gone on multiple hiking trips, all season. Here is a brief of what we saw and learned! 

Famous for its rich wildlife and dramatic landscapes, this park offers a unique refuge for an exciting variety of animals. 

From the iconic moose and wolves to a fascinating array of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and more, let’s delve into the natural wonders of this untouched wilderness and explore the amazing animals that call this place home.

13 Animals We Saw While on a Hiking Trip at Isle Royale National Park

Over the past decade, we’ve embarked on countless hiking trips across Isle Royale National Park, traversing its rugged landscapes in every season. 

Rain or shine, summer or winter, the park’s diverse wildlife never ceased to amaze us. 

From the quiet rustle of a squirrel in the underbrush to the distant call of a loon echoing across the waters, each journey offered unique encounters. We’ve been fortunate to cross paths with 15 different species, each with their own story etched into the park’s ecosystem. 

Here’s a look back at our memorable wildlife encounters and the fascinating insights we’ve gathered along the way.


Moose are truly an iconic sight in Isle Royale National Park, remarkable for their size and grandeur. 

As the largest members of the deer family, these majestic creatures often roam in the park’s dense boreal forests and around its myriad of inland lakes. 

Moose Isle Royale National Park Animals

One of the best places to spot them is along the Greenstone Ridge Trail, where the forest opens up to wetland clearings. 

Here, you may catch a glimpse of a moose munching on aquatic vegetation or even spot a mother with her calf. Remember, while they may seem calm, always give these powerful animals the space and respect they deserve.

Gray Wolves 

The Gray Wolf, a symbol of wilderness and solitude, is an integral part of Isle Royale National Park’s ecosystem. 

These elusive creatures primarily inhabit the park’s extensive boreal forests, leaving their paw prints in the soft earth and their eerie howls echoing among the trees. 

wolf Isle Royale National Park Animals

Though seeing a wolf might be a rare treat for visitors due to their secretive nature and tendency to avoid human-populated areas, there’s a certain thrill in just knowing they’re there, playing their role in nature’s grand scheme.

Occasionally, adventurous hikers on the park’s remote Minong Ridge Trail might catch a fleeting glimpse of these magnificent animals. This trail, located in the wilder northern regions of the park, passes through the wolves’ preferred habitats. 

You might spot their tracks, or if you’re lucky, see them hunting, playing, or simply trotting along in the distance. 

The mystery that surrounds these creatures adds to the allure and raw beauty of Isle Royale. But remember, they are wild and should always be respected from a safe distance.

Common Loon

The hauntingly beautiful call of the Common Loon is a signature soundtrack of Isle Royale National Park. Known for their striking black-and-white plumage and piercing red eyes, these aquatic birds are an integral part of the park’s vibrant ecosystem. 

They favor the park’s pristine water bodies, where they’re often spotted diving for fish or gracefully floating on the surface.

Common Loon Isle Royale National Park Animals

One of the best places to spot these splendid birds is around Rock Harbor. Embarking on the Stoll Trail, a scenic path that winds along the water’s edge, offers excellent opportunities for loon sightings. 

Along this trail, you might encounter these magnificent birds as they court, nest, and raise their chicks, offering a fascinating window into their lives.

When listening to the loon’s poignant calls that echo across the water, it’s easy to understand why they’ve become a symbol of wild places and pristine waters. 

The common loon’s presence adds a touch of magic to any Isle Royale visit, reinforcing the park’s wilderness identity.

North American River Otter

Playful, agile, and highly adapted to aquatic life, the North American River Otter is another captivating creature that calls Isle Royale National Park home. 

Sleek and quick, they’re often seen diving, swimming, or sliding on their bellies along the park’s numerous freshwater shorelines and rivers, adding an element of joy and playfulness to the wilderness.

North American River Otter Isle Royale National Park Animals

One of the best areas to spot these engaging mammals is around Tobin Harbor. Hikers exploring the Tobin Harbor Trail, which follows the serene shoreline, can often spot otters frolicking in the water, playfully chasing each other, or hunting for fish. 

Their acrobatic underwater maneuvers and social behaviors are truly a spectacle.

Even though river otters are generally elusive, their active nature and preference for waterside habitats increase the chances of sightings, especially at dawn or dusk. 

Observing a North American River Otter in its natural environment is a delight that underscores the natural wealth of Isle Royale National Park.

Red Squirrel

Charming and industrious, the Red Squirrel is a lively resident of Isle Royale National Park. Known for their bright reddish fur and bushy tails, these small creatures are surprisingly vocal, often chattering and scolding intruders from their lofty perches.

Red Squirrel Isle Royale National Park Animals

A variety of trails offer glimpses of these agile climbers, but the Windigo Nature Trail is particularly favorable. Meandering through mixed hardwood and conifer forests, this trail provides the perfect habitat for Red Squirrels. 

As you stroll along, you might spot them darting up tree trunks, leaping between branches, or busily stashing away pine cones for the winter.

Red Squirrels bring a dash of color and a flurry of activity to the serene landscapes of Isle Royale. Despite their small size, they play a significant role in the park’s ecosystem, spreading seeds and providing food for predators. 

Catching sight of a Red Squirrel, with its distinctive twitching tail, is always a delightful moment during a hike in the park.

Snowshoe Hare

Adapted to the seasonal extremes of Isle Royale National Park, the Snowshoe Hare is a fascinating creature to observe. 

Named for their large hind feet that act like natural snowshoes, these hares are most recognized for their color-changing coat, which turns from brown in the summer to white in winter for ultimate camouflage.

Snowshoe Hare Yosemite

The Greenstone Ridge Trail, a high ridgeline that stretches across the park, is a promising place to see these hares. It offers a variety of habitats including mixed forests and meadows, the preferred environments of the Snowshoe Hare. 

Here, they can be seen bounding through underbrush or, if you’re lucky, transitioning between their summer and winter coats.

Spotting a Snowshoe Hare, particularly in its pristine white winter coat against the snowy backdrop, is a memorable encounter. 

Their ability to thrive in the rugged landscapes of Isle Royale National Park is a testament to the wonders of nature’s adaptability.


The industrious Beaver, North America’s largest rodent, is a keystone species of Isle Royale National Park. 

These hardworking creatures are renowned for their dam-building skills, which create habitats that support an astonishing array of wildlife.

American Beaver San Bernardino National Forest wildlife

If you’re hoping to spot a beaver in action, the aptly named Beaver Island Trail is a must-visit. Located near McCargoe Cove campground, this trail offers an abundance of wetland habitats. 

You may not only spot a beaver, but also discover their impressive log and mud dams and lodges.

By dusk, you can often see them busily patrolling their pond, repairing their dam, or foraging for food. 

The ripples they create as they glide through the water, the sound of their powerful tail slapping the surface—these are sights and sounds that truly capture the essence of Isle Royale’s wilderness. 

Witnessing the work of a beaver, nature’s engineer, is an unforgettable encounter that highlights the interconnectedness of the park’s ecosystem.

Bald Eagle

Embodying power, freedom, and the wild spirit of Isle Royale National Park, the Bald Eagle is a majestic sight. 

With their striking white heads, dark bodies, and impressive wingspans, they rule the skies above the park, scanning the waters for their next meal.

Bald Eagles

One of the best places to watch these raptors is from the Hidden Lake Overlook on the Mount Franklin Trail. 

This vantage point offers panoramic views of the park, including its numerous water bodies, where Bald Eagles are often seen soaring in search of fish.

There’s a certain thrill in spotting a Bald Eagle as it rides the thermals, circles over the trees, or swoops down to snatch a fish from the water. 

Their presence adds an extra layer of awe to the park’s already inspiring landscapes. The sight of a Bald Eagle, whether perched regally or soaring high, is a remarkable moment that underlines the wild essence of Isle Royale.

Red-tailed Hawk

A common sight in the skies over Isle Royale National Park, the Red-tailed Hawk is known for its distinctive reddish-brown tail and impressive hunting prowess. 

These formidable birds of prey add a dynamic element to the park’s biodiversity, patrolling the skies in search of rodents and small mammals.

Red Tailed Hawks

A promising location to catch sight of these raptors is along the Ojibway Fire Tower Trail. This trail offers high vantage points that not only showcase the park’s expansive beauty but also provide excellent opportunities for spotting Red-tailed Hawks. 

You might see them soaring effortlessly on thermal currents, their broad wings spread wide and distinctive red tail catching the light.

Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or just a nature enthusiast, watching a Red-tailed Hawk in flight is a remarkable spectacle. 

Their commanding presence is a testament to the health and vitality of Isle Royale’s ecosystems, and spotting one is always a memorable highlight of any visit to the park

Boreal Chorus Frog

The Boreal Chorus Frog may be small in size, but its distinctive call, reminiscent of a thumb being drawn along the teeth of a comb, provides an enchanting background chorus in Isle Royale National Park. 

These tiny frogs, with their strikingly beautiful skin patterns, come to life after the winter’s thaw, filling the air with their harmonious melodies.

Boreal Chorus Frog Isle Royale National Park Animals

Hikers exploring the Daisy Farm Trails, particularly the trails passing near small ponds and wetlands, have a good chance of hearing, if not seeing, these vocal amphibians. 

After a rainfall or at dusk, their chorus reaches a crescendo, creating a captivating soundscape that resonates with the soul of Isle Royale.

Though they may often remain unseen, tucked away in the vegetation or partially submerged in pond water, their cheerful symphony is a reminder of the smaller, yet significant inhabitants of the park. 

Encountering the Boreal Chorus Frog is a delightful sensory experience that enhances any journey through Isle Royale.

Painted Turtle

Known for their vibrant shell markings, Painted Turtles are a delightful presence in Isle Royale National Park’s diverse aquatic habitats. 

These colorful reptiles can be spotted basking in the sun on logs or rocks near the park’s numerous freshwater bodies.

A prime location to spot these aquatic dwellers is around Lake Richie, with the Lake Richie Trail providing ideal viewing opportunities. 

Painted Turtle Isle Royale National Park Animals

Here, as you wander through the verdant landscapes, you might notice these turtles enjoying the sun’s warmth, their brightly patterned shells offering a splash of color against the neutral hues of the lake.

Though generally shy, Painted Turtles play an important role in the park’s ecosystems, contributing to the balance of aquatic life. Their presence serves as an indicator of clean, healthy waters. 

Spotting a Painted Turtle, with its distinctive shell glistening in the sun, is a charming and memorable aspect of exploring Isle Royale’s rich biodiversity.

Red-Breasted Merganser

Among the diverse avian life of Isle Royale National Park, the Red-breasted Merganser holds a place of distinction. Known for their spiky crests and elongated, red-tinted bodies, these diving ducks are a delightful sight as they skim across the park’s water bodies or dive under the surface in pursuit of fish.

For birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, the Rock Harbor Lighthouse Trail presents an excellent opportunity to observe these unique waterfowl. 

Red Breasted Merganser Isle Royale National Park Animals

The trail meanders along the harbor’s edge, providing a blend of coastal and woodland habitats that these birds favor. 

You might see them engaging in their peculiar feeding behavior, disappearing beneath the water’s surface and emerging moments later with their catch.

The Red-breasted Merganser is one of the many avian gems of Isle Royale, their distinctive appearance and habits adding to the park’s rich tapestry of wildlife. 

Observing these ducks in their natural habitat is a joy that underscores the natural diversity of Isle Royale National Park.

Lake Trout

The clear, cool waters of Isle Royale National Park are a haven for Lake Trout, a species prized by anglers and vital to the aquatic ecosystem. 

Known for their resilience and longevity, these fish are a testament to the health of the park’s numerous lakes and waterways.

For those interested in fishing or simply observing the teeming life beneath the water’s surface, the Minong Ridge Trail offers fantastic opportunities. 

This trail crosses several streams and lakes, including the large and pristine Lake Desor, a prime location for Lake Trout.

Lake Trout, with their silvery-green bodies and pinkish-red spots, are a sight to behold whether you’re reeling one in on a line or watching them dart through the crystal-clear water. 

Their presence enhances the park’s biodiversity and contributes significantly to the park’s food chain, making them a critical part of Isle Royale’s complex, interconnected wilderness.

Wolves and Moose on Isle Royale

Venturing into the wild heart of Isle Royale National Park, you’ll find yourself woven into an age-old tale of survival, a tale starring two of the park’s most iconic inhabitants: the Gray Wolf and the Moose. 

These two species represent the quintessential predator-prey relationship, an intricate dance of survival that plays out amidst the island’s rugged landscapes.

Isle Royale’s majestic Moose and elusive Gray Wolves have been part of the island’s narrative since the early 20th century. 

Isle Royale National Park (2)
_Wolves Isle Royale National Park

The Moose, with their towering antlers and formidable size, swam over from mainland Canada, while the Wolves, cunning and agile, crossed an ice bridge during a particularly cold winter. 

This set the stage for a unique ecological drama that has been unfolding for nearly a century.

The relationship between these two species is a complex one, the Wolf as predator and the Moose as prey. This dynamic dictates not only their individual survival but shapes the entire landscape of Isle Royale. 

The ebbs and flows in their populations influence the vegetation and other wildlife, creating ripples that resonate throughout the island’s ecosystem.

Yet, the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale aren’t merely surviving; they are living case studies. 

The island has been home to the world’s longest-running predator-prey study, with scientists braving the harsh winters and isolated terrain for over 60 years to glean insights into this dynamic relationship. 

The data gathered has shed light on the intricacies of island biogeography, predator-prey interactions, and the impact of climate change.

Each howl of the Wolf, each footfall of the Moose, echoes with tales of endurance, adaptation, and the delicate balance of nature. 

Their saga serves as a reminder of our duty to safeguard such wild spaces, allowing this captivating ecological symphony to continue playing for generations to come.

12 Unique Characteristics of Isle Royale National Park

Dive into the distinctive allure of Isle Royale National Park as we uncover twelve unique characteristics that define this wilderness gem:

features Isle Royale National Park Animals

Isolated Wilderness: Isle Royale National Park is renowned for its isolation. Located in the heart of Lake Superior, it’s the only national park in the United States that closes in winter. 

This isolation preserves its pristine wilderness, making it a haven for those seeking solace and unspoiled natural beauty.

Island Archipelago: Unique to Isle Royale is its composition; it’s not just one island, but an archipelago. Over 450 smaller islands surround the main island, each adding to the diverse habitats that support the park’s rich biodiversity.

Moose-Wolf Dynamic: The park’s ecosystem is uniquely dictated by the predator-prey relationship between its wolves and moose. 

Their dance of survival shapes the island’s flora and fauna, providing invaluable insights into ecological dynamics.

Long-Running Wolf Study: Isle Royale hosts the world’s longest-running predator-prey study. For over six decades, scientists have been studying the park’s wolves and moose, their findings contributing significantly to our understanding of wildlife ecology and the impacts of climate change.

Underwater Wilderness: Beneath the surface of Lake Superior, Isle Royale boasts a unique underwater wilderness. 

Sunken shipwrecks, remnants of the island’s mining and fishing history, provide fascinating exploration sites for divers.

Hiking Haven: With over 165 miles of scenic trails, Isle Royale is a hiker’s paradise. 

These trails traverse diverse landscapes, from rocky ridges and dense forests to tranquil lakeshores, offering an immersive wilderness experience.

Exceptional Birdwatching: Isle Royale is home to various bird species, some quite rare. From the common loon’s haunting calls echoing across the waters to the majestic flight of bald eagles, birdwatchers will find the park an avian paradise.

Incredible Aquatic Life: Lake Superior’s cool, clear waters around Isle Royale harbor a rich variety of fish species. From Lake Trout to Northern Pike, the park’s aquatic life contributes to its diverse ecology.

Historical Landmarks: Despite its wilderness status, Isle Royale has a rich human history. Landmarks such as lighthouses, fishing camps, and ancient copper mines provide a glimpse into the island’s past.

Diverse Flora: Isle Royale’s flora is incredibly diverse, thanks to its range of microclimates. From towering conifers to delicate wildflowers and various shrubs, the park’s plant life is a botanist’s dream.

Wildlife Viewing Opportunities: Beyond its wolves and moose, Isle Royale is home to an array of wildlife, including otters, beavers, snowshoe hares, and more. The opportunities for wildlife viewing here are exceptional.

Dark Sky Sanctuary: Due to its isolation, Isle Royale boasts dark skies free from light pollution. On clear nights, the park offers spectacular stargazing opportunities, enhancing its appeal for nature lovers and astronomers alike.


Isle Royale National Park is underrated and needs more people exploring it’s wonders!

With its pristine landscapes, dynamic wildlife, and unique ecological tale, offers an escape into a world where nature reigns supreme. 

Every trail traversed, every creature spotted, every birdcall heard, adds to the rich symphony of experiences that make this park a treasured wilderness sanctuary. 

As you venture out, let the park’s rhythms guide you, unveiling its many secrets and deepening your connection with the natural world. 

Isle Royale isn’t just a destination; it’s a journey into the heart of the wild, an adventure that stirs the soul and captivates the senses in every possible way.

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