Isle Royale National Park is the least visited national park in the lower 48 states, due to its remote location and difficulty to access. It’s the largest island on the largest freshwater lake in the world- Lake Superior. So now that you know what it is, we’ll show you how to take a day trip to Isle Royale National Park.
Cost: $75 per person for the boat
NP fee: $7 or free with an annual pass
The only way to take a day trip to Isle Royale (btw it’s pronounced ROY-al, forget the e at the end) is to leave from Grand Portage, MN. Technically the park is located in Michigan and you can access the park from Michigan, but the boat ride is much longer and it’s not possible to go just for the day. The only way to access the park is by boat or by seaplane. It’s recommended that you make reservations on the boat in advance. About 3 weeks prior to our desired departure, the date we wanted to go was already sold out, so definitely make sure to secure your spot as soon as you can. We took the Sea Hunter III which departed around 8am and arrived on the island by 10am at Windigo. On the way, we stopped at a tree that is estimated to be over 500 years old and a shipwreck. In fact, Lake Superior is riddled with shipwrecks and a few can be found within the parks waters.
What to do on the island
You only have about 3 hours to explore the island before the boat departs back to the mainland and if you’re not on the boat by departure time, they will leave you. This park is a backpackers dream and many people come to make the 45-mile trek from one side of the island to the other. If you’re able to stay even just one night, we think it would be worth it, because a measly 3 hours didn’t give us enough of a taste for what this park has to offer. We did check out the campsites and they were actually really cool. There are a few “primitive” spots, but a few had screened in little huts that you could just put your sleeping bag down on without needing a tent. We bet the stargazing would be absolutely unreal and you might even get lucky enough to see the Northern Lights!
As soon as you get off the boat, you do a little orientation where they explain about staying on the trail, not taking anything off the island, etc. We then headed up to the Visitors Center to get our national park stamp in our book and to find out what kind of hike we could squeeze in. The ranger suggested we do the Feldtman Lake trail which is an out and back trail that takes you along the lakeshore and then up to a peak that overlooks the island’s forests. The hike was pretty easy and the view from the top was very pretty. We took a seat and ate a sandwich before hiking back down to the visitor center.
We were told that the best place to spot a moose is over by the campground, so we continued on to see if we could spot one. There are 1,500 moose that call the island home and it’s said to be one of the best places to spot them in the world. However, you still need a bit of luck to catch a glimpse of one and unfortunately, we weren’t that lucky- BUMMER! You can also spot foxes, red squirrels, and if you’re really lucky, a wolf. Wolves used to be prevalent on the island after crossing the lake during the winter when it’s frozen over. What was once a healthy wolf population, has now dwindled to only 2 surviving members of the pack. There have recently been talks of introducing wolves back to the island to help curb the moose population, so that will be interesting to see.
Before we knew it, we were back on the boat heading back to the mainland and arrived back at Grand Portage by 4PM.
Overall, the day trip was worth it to us because we were unable to stay overnight, but it’s definitely not a long enough time to get the full experience of the park. It’s a beautiful place and it’s no wonder it has the highest return rate of visitors than any other park in the US.