Isle Royale

June 29-July 2, 2018

Beautiful Wilderness

One of the least visited of the National Parks sits far out in Lake Superior, a few short miles from the Canadian border. To visit you have to arrive by ferry, float plane or private boat. It is believed the moose and wolves found on the island used a different approach, either swimming or crossing the ice once the lake froze over. Lake Superior is COLD and tempestuous even in the summer so either method of crossing would be brutal for the animals… yet there they are. Being feeble humans, we chose the three hour crossing on the ferry out of Copper Harbor, MI.

It was a beautiful day to be on Lake Superior. She was calm and smooth as we headed out of Copper Harbor.

Lake crossing

The ferry crew was awesome, however, they had one snag – no coffee. The young crew members assigned to make coffee apparently had never done that before and they struggled with the percolator all the way to the island. Luckily we had stopped at the little cafe at the ferry dock to buy coffee and pastry prior to boarding. It would have been a loooong trip without that caffeine.

Isle Royale Queen

The Isle Royale Queen preparing for early morning departure.

I had booked a pre-season package deal that included the ferry transport, three nights in a lodge room, three meals a day for three days, a half day canoe rental and a half day boat tour (cancelled and refunded due to fog). We were pleased to find that the meals included anything we wanted to order off the menu (alcoholic beverages were extra). The food was better than we expected and had a decent selection. They have two “restaurants” which are two halves of the same building sharing the same kitchen. However, one side is more formal service while the other is casual. We were happy with both and we wound up paying for only one additional lunch and the tips.

Lodge Restaurant

Rock Harbor Lodge Restaurant(s)

The lodge room was nice BUT it reeked of diesel fumes. We had an upper end room that was right next to the diesel generators for the two buildings on our side of the lodge compound. It may have been the wind or fog that pushed the fumes into the room but nothing we did kept them out. We complained but to no avail. They were pretty booked up because of fog.

Lodge Room

That would be dense fog that rolled in mere hours after we did… and stayed until mere hours before we were due to leave. I had considered the MUCH more expensive float plane as a cool way to get to the island (just for a bit but the sticker shock helped me get over it). Am I ever glad I did not go that route. Float planes fly visually. If they can’t see where they are landing, they can’t land. For most of the three days, they couldn’t see the harbor at Isle Royale due to fog. So all those people that came over on the planes couldn’t leave. They hung out in the community room, they paid to stay unexpected nights at the lodge, they paid for extra meals, they hung out more in the community room, they tried to text their families (no phone service but you could text in the community room) and so on… for days. I REALLY liked the ferry. It came and went every day, rain, fog, whatever.

Here comes the fog

Here comes the fog

As I said the fog was with us for three days but being troopers, it didn’t slow us down too much. The lodge rooms were not ready until late in the day so we checked out the tiny National Park Visitor Center, the float plane dock, camp store, campground, rental housekeeping cottages (nice) and got in a quick hike before the fog reached land. We saw it coming and picked up the pace a good bit. See it up there in the picture above? That white wall over the water is hiding other islands and a lot more water. It’s almost to the coast and we had a long hike to get back to the lodge. John snapped this shot and we hightailed it out of there.

Naturally, we had high hopes of seeing wildlife right away but all we saw that day were squirrels. Part of that could be due to our very happy granddaughter. It seems that after hiking for a little while, she gets super happy and giddy. You can see her start bouncing, then dancing and skipping, and finally it bursts out of her in the form of singing (while dancing and skipping). While it is awesome that she enjoys the outdoors to that degree, I suspect it had a wee bit of a negative effect on the wildlife. I could just picture those moose peering through the dense underbrush, watching us hop and skip and sing our way down the trail before going off to confer with their buddies to see if anyone else was familiar with this weird new two-legged critter.

When we stopped at the visitor center, the ranger told Chloe that patting the water at the float plane docks will actually call the river otter. They are curious creatures and like to hang out in that area so if you catch their attention, they might just come out to play and check you out. Chloe was on a mission. We spent a lot of time patting that water… every day… we never saw an otter.

Waiting for the river otter

Calling the otter near the float plane dock – to no avail.


We did manage to see some wildlife without scaring them away.

First critter we met was yelling at us… a lot:

Red Squirrel

NOISY Red Squirrel – but so cute

The rest of them were peaceful and casual:

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare on main harbor path eating evergreen trees. He will turn white for the winter.


Common Loon feeding in the harbor (aka Red-eyed Loon)

We attended a ranger program about the loons and learned they have three basic calls. The common one “the laughing” loon is actually a distress call when they feel threatened. We loved hearing their lone call which is a hello type of thing but after the program, we recognized the laughing distress call as something less fun. We spotted a loon family with one fluffy chick on one of our hikes and hung out a while watching them but they were too far away to get a good picture. The ducks were happy to come by though.

Duck Family

Duck Family in formation at the float plane docks.

Moose poop

Moose… er, Moose Poop

OK, no heebie-jeebies. We teach the kids that anything that eats, poops. Boy those moose must eat a lot because they can really poop. Unfortunately this is as close as we got to a moose. They were spotted by other people here and there not too far from the lodge but we never saw them… it might have something to do with that singing and dancing thing we had going.

We never hiked more than a few miles out from the lodge (mainly due to fog, rain, fog, more rain). But what we were able to see was awesome. Here are a few pics of our trails and views.

Lush forest path     Harbor trail

Simply gorgeous. Next up is the truly wet one… we hiked through water half way to our knees. Sometimes it was pooled in a deep pond type spot and sometimes it was pouring down the trail in little waterfalls. This spot had both.

Swimming down the trail

Trail to Scoville Point


Foggy Coast

Foggy coast on the way to Scoville Point. We could hear the ferry coming in through the fog. Somewhere out there.

We persevered and the sun broke through just over the top of us as we stood on the rocks at Scoville Point. We explored, we sang, we exalted in having reached our goal (as we poured water out of our boots). Then we sat… quiet and still and let the wonders of nature wash over us and calm us. This is why we do the things we do. That little pink dot in the picture is a very serene child.

Scoville Point

Dark clouds soon rolled back in so we slogged back to the lodge and dried out. On our last day, the fog lifted and we waited eagerly at the canoe rental for the canoes to be released before racing to the boats for our last morning on the island. We paddled across the back harbor and hiked around Hidden Lake, watching in case one of those many moose decided to grace us with its presence. OK, no such luck (we might have been singing again).

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

We continued up the trail to Lookout Louise where we could see the gorgeous land and water of a little piece of the wilderness of Isle Royale. The shot at the top of this posting is from this lookout. It’s there behind us in this picture.

Lookout Louise

Lookout Louise

A float plane dropped in as we paddled back across the harbor. All those stranded people were headed out without ever spending time in the awesome nature of Isle Royale. We got just a taste of it and knew as we boarded the ferry that we would be back.


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