Isle Royale National Park has the distinction of being the least visited national park, however, visitors stay longer than at any other park. This is likely because it is an island in Lake Superior and requires a 2-hour boat trip to get to it. Simply put, a trip requires planning.
Having taken up hiking and trekking in the last couple of years as a means of combining my hobbies of fitness and travel, I maintain a list of trails that I'd like to do someday. Earlier this year in June, my brother and I did a very enjoyable 2-day hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back (see my blog on this website for that story). With a couple of summer months remaining, I wanted to do one more hike and Isle Royale fit the bill given the relatively close proximity to the Twin Cities.
July and August are the peak months for visitors given the weather (the park is closed over the winter), so I started planning for a mid-August trip to the island. Planning a hike and figuring out the logistics is actually an enjoyable part of the preparation for me. The logistics weren't too difficult, but I was planning to spend four days on the island for a solo hike, and developed a detailed packing list outlining all of my equipment, food and water filtration gear that I needed to carry for the solo hike.
I left the Twin Cities on a Friday and drove up to Duluth, and then continued north along Highway 61 and the beautiful, peaceful north shore, with Lake Superior off to my right on a sunny day. As much as I wanted to stop at places like Betty's Pies, Split Rock and Grand Marais, I also wanted to get up to my hotel in Grand Portage so that I could scout things out, eat dinner and get to bed early.
I arrived in Grand Portage in the early evening, checked in at the only hotel (and casino) in town, and went through my gear one last time. I got a quick dinner, drove the route to the harbor and then went to bed early. Up in plenty of time the next morning, I loaded up my car, brought items for breakfast and lunch at the gas station/trading post and drove several miles to the harbor for the 7:30 a.m. departure on the Voyageur II.
With about 25 passengers, we departed in the gray morning light, with a light rain falling as we left the cove and ventured into the waters of Lake Superior. The two hour trip to the southwest end of the island was fairly calm and uneventful. I ate breakfast along the way and read a bit of the one book I had with me. Everyone disembarked at the Windigo Ranger Station, regardless of final destination, for a briefing from the ranger. I went up to the station and got my permit (reservations not required unless hiking or camping in a group of 6 or larger) before getting back on the boat.
We departed Windigo about 10 a.m. as the sun came out and the day warmed up. We then proceeded along the north side of the island, stopped at McCargoe Cove after several hours, and then continued on around the northeast end of the island and a couple of miles further around the south side to Rock Harbor for a 3:45pm arrival. There is a resort there, but my destination was south for about three miles along the trail to the aptly-named Three Mile campground where I found a wooden three-sided shelter for the night.
After setting up my sleeping bag and filtering some water for the next day, I spent some time sitting on the small dock in the sun and talked with a couple of other campers. I ate dinner, read a little bit and then crawled into my sleeping bag at about 8:30 p.m. as the light faded over the lake and the temperature cooled off quickly.
Next up: Climbing the trail to Mount Franklin for great views of Lake Superior and hiking south about 20 miles along the Greenstone Ridge Trail to Lake Hatchet.