Isle Royale National Park: Trip Report

 Isle Royale Trip Report

Quick Stats:

Total Mileage: 106.34 Miles

Length of Time: 7 Days

Dates: 9/11-9/17

Start/End Point: Rock Harbor → Rock Harbor

Moose: 7

Beavers: 8

Wolf: 0

Gear List:

Link to Lighter Pack HERE

Big 3: 

  • Enlightened Equipment Enigma 10°
  • Zpacks Duplex Camo (carried by partner)
  • Thermaret NeoAir (women’s)
  • Hyperlite Windrider 2400
  • Pack Liner – Compactor Bag


  • Katadyn BeFree
  • Toaks Pot
  • Snow Peak Gigapower Stove
  • Snow Peak Spork
  • Lighter 
  • Lightload Towel (cut in half)
  • 2 1.5L Smart Water Bottles
  • Zpacks Food Bag  

Clothing – worn:

  • Kuhl Harmony Dress with built-in bra 
  • HOKA Speedgoat 5 with Curex Insoles 
  • Darn Tough Hiking Socks
  • Patagonia Underwear
  • Columbia Silver Ridge Sun Shirt 
  • Spy Optic Sunglasses
  • Respect the Locals Hat (SAVE THE HELLBENDERS <3)

Clothing – packed:

  • Montbell Rain Pants
  • Patagonia Thermal Weight Leggings
  • Melanzana Dress
  • Enlightened Equipment Puffy
  • HOKA ONE ONE Liner Gloves
  • Arctery’x Zeta FL Rain Jacket 
  • Appalachian Gear Co. Beanie 
  • 2 pairs of extra Darn Tough Socks
  • 2 pairs of Injinji Sock Liners 
  • Enlightened Equipment Stuff Sack 


  • Brick
  • USB Charger (for headlamp, camera, brick)
  • iPhone 12
  • Phone Charger
  • Dual Port Block 
  • Camera
  • Headlamp
  • Airpods + Case
  • Osprey Zip Diddy Bag


  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Floss 
  • Squirrel’s Nut Butter
  • Aquaphor
  • Prescription Glasses
  • Contacts (+ extra pair)
  • Saline Solution
  • Baby Wipes
  • Osprey Zip Diddy Bag

First Aid Kit:

  • KT Tape (4 strips)
  • Stomach Relief
  • Advil
  • Tylenol
  • Benadryl 
  • Duct Tape
  • Knife (Spyderco Cricket) 
  • KT Blister Bandages
  • Needle + Thread 
  • Neosporin 
  • In bag with Toiletries 


  • Poop Kit 
  • Deuce of Spades
  • Toilet Paper
  • Hand sanitizer 
  • Ziplock to pack out TP
  • Osprey Diddy Bag
  • Kula Cloth Pee Rag (on outside of pack)


  • Gaia GPS
    • I predownloaded our daily routes onto Gaia to utilize in Airplane Mode on my iPhone
  • National Geographic Isle Royale National Park 
    • Highly recommend this map 

Logistics/Permits/Things to Note:

There are two ways to get to Isle Royale – boat or seaplane. Both are expensive and you must be flexible with your planning. As weather can change rapidly on Lake Superior, both modes of transportation are often delayed and sometimes canceled. 

There are four places to travel to the island via boat or seaplane: Houghton, Grand Marais, Grand Portage, or Copper Harbor. The ferry rides are all several hour trips, no matter your point of departure. All seaplane flights are about 35-50 minutes with Isle Royale Seaplanes. 

We opted for the Seaplane from Houghton. There are a couple of reasons for this decision. The first, and most personal, is because my dad went to school in Houghton at Michigan Tech University, and I fondly remember visiting here as a child. Before traveling to Houghton, my mom and I had decided to drive from Nashville to Okemos, Michigan to visit family and some of my dad’s ashes at his family cemetery. Houghton was the closest point to Isle Royale via car after the Michigan visit. The second reason we opted for the seaplane was timing. Because of work schedules, we had to make this trip after the busy season and as transportation and amenities on the island were slowing down and stopping for the season. Isle Royale Seaplanes make multiple trips daily, weather dependent, to the island whereas the ferries have far fewer trips after Labor Day. Because my mom drove me to Houghton, she was also able to drive us to the Seaplane airport the morning of our departure. Houghton does have multiple cab companies and shuttles to take you from the airport or your hotel, so you do not have to rent a car. We hitched a ride upon our arrival back to Houghton (easy hitch) to our hotel and paid for a cab to the Houghton airport on Sunday, the 18th

We had a very good experience with Isle Royale Seaplanes and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a faster, convenient way to Isle Royale. The most important thing to note is that you must be flexible with your plans. The weather can change rapidly on Lake Superior that can make for less-than-ideal flying conditions. Because there are so many trails on the island, it is easy, and necessary, to have alternative routes and plans. Our flight on the way to Rock Harbor on Isle Royale from Houghton was delayed for about 1.5 hours due to fog. The flight back from Rock Harbor to Houghton was delayed for about 3.5 hours due to fog and rain. Both flights were smooth, and the pilots were both awesome. 

If you have a reservation, Isle Royale Seaplanes will honor this commitment even if it means adding additional flights due to delays and/or getting you on a flight the next day or available weather window. The ranger stations at Windigo and Rock Harbor have screens telling you the latest weather and flight information. Even if the stores/resort are closed, a ranger is on-site until the island is closed. Though Rangers do not work for the seaplane company, they are in contact with them and will have the latest information. They are merely the messengers and do not have control over flight plans and logistics. Isle Royale Seaplanes do not permit you to fly with fuel, but it can be purchased at Windigo and Rock Harbor as long as the planes are running. The total cost for the seaplane for 2 tickets roundtrip was $720.00. Though expensive, the convenience was worth it for us. 


You can acquire a permit prior to your visit on Isle Royale’s website HERE

However, after calling the rangers and discussing the permit system with them, I concluded it would be easier to get the permit once on the island. I called the rangers on Isle Royale more than once during my planning process and cannot compliment them enough for their helpful information and patience with the many questions I had. At this time, Isle Royale is one of the least visited National Parks and, therefore, permits do not sell out. 

We opted to get our permits once on the island because we knew our plans were up to the weather and when we would actually arrive. Once on the island, we filled out our permits with our estimated campsite each night. We received a backcountry permit and a cross-country camping permit. The Cross-Country Camping Permit requires you to watch a video and comes with a few more LNT rules, which we always respect. We ended up not needing to camp at a non-designated campsite, but it was comforting to have that option. Our permit was free because we have a National Park Pass. 

Also an encouraging reminder to get a National Park Pass – I always say that these pay for themselves in just one visit to a National Park. 

Things to Note:

  • Because Cricket and I visited Isle Royale after Labor Day, many services and amenities were closed for the season. If you can visit earlier in the year, the resort, restaurant and both stores would be open. Check NPS website for dates open and more details. 


  • Because Isle Royale can be quite boggy in some places and contamination can occur, some lakes on the island are sometimes not safe to drink out of even if filtered, treated, or boiled. Algae blooms are common in ponds and lakes on the island. NPS tests water in each lake quite often and the Isle Royale NPS website (LINK HERE) will have the most updated information on drinking water. You can also call Isle Royale National Park with questions about which water sources are currently safe to filter or treat.
  • We used the Katadyn BeFree filter and Aquatabs to treat water. Often, we only filter but in our research and speaking with rangers, it was recommended to also treat the water on the island. 


  • As stated before, the weather can change rapidly on Lake Superior. It is vital to have back up plans and to keep track of the weather. Both Windigo and Rock Harbor have the latest weather information. 


  • Stores on the island are closed after Labor Day. However, you would be able to supplement a resupply at Windigo’s General Store and/or Rock Harbor’s resort/restaurant during the open season. We did not have this option so we carried 7 full days of food. 
  • Fuel: As long as the Seaplanes are running, fuel will be sold at Windigo and Rock Harbor as you are not permitted to fly with camp stove fuel. 

Cell Coverage: 

  • We did not have cell coverage the entire trip with Verizon.

Windigo and Rock Harbor:

  • Windigo:
    • The general store was closed by the time we made it to Windigo (closes Labor Day)
    • Ranger Station Store was open with souvenirs but no food or drinks
    • There is a very nice pavilion with places to charge devices 
    • Flush toilets
    • Water spigot 
  • Rock Harbor:
    • Rock Harbor resort was closed for the season. When open, they have rooms and a restaurant open to the public. 
    • Electric outlets
    • Flush Toilets
    • Water Spigot 
    • Ranger Station Store was open with souvenirs but no food or drinks 


  • Isle Royale National Park’s wildlife is extremely fascinating. An island is a great place for studying wildlife as it is a contained space, ideal for studying the various inhabitants of Isle Royale. 
  • According to the NPS, there were 14 wolves on the island in 2019 but we were told by a ranger that that number has almost doubled in the past few years. We did not have the pleasure of seeing a wolf from a far distance on this trip, though we looked very hard. We did see wolf scat a couple of times and a clump of unmistakable wolf hair which made us miss our dog, Radley. If you see a wolf, please send me a picture. 
  • Beavers are concentrated in many areas on the island, we saw most of them during our journey on the Northern, central part of the Minong Ridge Trail. Though I believe they are a nuisance for trail builders and often disrupt the water flow, we thought they were quite cute and entertaining. 
  • There are over 2,000 moose on Isle Royale. I was delighted to see 7 moose on this trip, as I had never seen one on my thru hike on the AT to my disappointment. We were on the island during rutting season so we were on high alert each time we saw one and gave them a wide berth. 
  • There are many other wildlife you may see including various species of birds, rodents, insects, etc. 

Our Route:



They say that Isle Royale National Park is amongst the least visited National Parks in the United States. For me, however, I grew up hearing tales of this remote island from my dad, who visited the area many times as a Boy Scout. He also attended Michigan Tech University 70s and went to the park a time or two while living just a few hour ferry ride off the coast of Isle Royale in Houghton, Michigan. My dad passed away in the Fall in 2020. Though his death seemed unexpected to me, he had been suffering from a long illness that he had finally succumbed to. 

Cricket (trail name, real name: James), my partner, and I had begun to check on National Parks after his sister, Emma, had given us a wall hang containing a list of the parks. We’re list people, Cricket and I, and we can’t seem to contain ourselves when we have boxes unchecked on those lists. We had ticked off quite a few on our thru hikes of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail and both growing up in families who loved to travel. However, we wanted to visit all the National Parks to give us a goal in between thru hikes and to get away from our lives in the corporate world. 

In 2022, we have already crossed off three National Parks but we were itching to go on a backpacking trip during September. My urges to call my dad during long walks or work trip drives had become less and less. His presence in my childhood home began to weaken and I craved some sort of connection with my father. 

“I need to go to Isle Royale, James,” I told Cricket, “I know it seems like a logistical nightmare, but let me work all that out and we can go this September.” It was the ideal time to go in our minds, my job with HOKA was becoming increasingly more time consuming and I needed time away and Cricket had PTO he needed to use up. “Okay,” he said, “just let me know the dates and let’s go.” 

It was a logistical nightmare–at first. However, after a few phone calls with some very helpful Isle Royale National Park Rangers, visiting a few blog websites (though not many), and reading and rereading the National Park Website, the nightmare turned into something to look forward to. Because we were unable to go to the Island until after Labor Day, we did have some extra difficulties with logistics (noted above.) However, if thru hiking taught us anything, it’s the ability to be flexible and extremely uncomfortable. 

After making various plane reservations, booking a hotel in Houghton, and ironing out all the other logistical details of actually getting to the island, I focused on the route. Cricket had mapped out a route a few years earlier when we had first talked about going to Isle Royale; I used this as a guide. Because we had 7 days and wanted to see as much of the island as possible, we decided that we would start at Rock Harbor, go to the other end of the island to Windigo, and back. The goal was to try to string all of the trails together to do a circumnavigation, loop de loop thing. We planned to take the Greenstone Trail to do the Feldtmann Lake Loop up to Windigo, and then hop on the Minong Ridge Trail back to Rock Harbor. Upon our arrival, we found out that most people typically do a point to point – Rock Harbor to Windigo or vice versa. However, we had the time and the ability to do higher mileage days so we went for it. 

My mom and I decided we would drive up from Nashville to Okemos, Michigan to visit my dad’s sister and to visit the family cemetery, including one of my dad’s headstones. After this nice visit to a place near and dear to my heart, we then drove to Chicago to have a long lunch with my cousin Ellen on the way to Milwaukee. Once in the Cream City, we took a long walk with Radley around Lake Michigan before hitting a couple of local breweries. Milwaukee was, surprisingly to me, quite a cool town and I look forward to returning when I can see an Admirals game and have time to visit more breweries. 

Day 0: 

My mom and I woke up early in Milwaukee. She went on a long run along Lake Michigan while I took a walk with my dog, Boo Radley, to the lake. We had a nice breakfast before heading to the Milwaukee airport to pick up Cricket. To put less pressure on his limited PTO, Cricket decided to fly and, with Milwaukee on the way to Houghton, my mom and I did not mind picking him up on our route. The three of us are big Home Alone fans, we wanted to stop where the Polka King of the Midwest hailed from – you guessed it: Sheboygan. After a nice lunch at a local deli and Radley’s short dip in Lake Michigan, we made our way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

As we entered the small town, greeted with college students shotgunning beers on their roofs and signs stating, “Honk for the Queen and we’ll take a shot” (this was the day after Queen Elizabeth’s death), James observed, “So this is a college town.” “Yep,” I said. 

My parents and I had visited Houghton when I was younger and I had fond memories of the trip. I had even considered attending Michigan Tech, but my educational interests lied in Appalachia. My dad had told me funny anecdotes of attending college in the UP, like having a second story entrance and exit door because the snow would reach the second story and, as busy college students, they did not want to shovel out their first story door. As one might guess, the UP has quite a long and tough winter, so interest in winter activities is a must for mental health. The town has a small ski hill and snow sports are popular during the winter months. Culturally, the UP is quite different from the other parts of the US, including the “mitten” of Michigan. 

We stayed in a dog friendly Quality Inn right on the main street in Houghton. Cricket and I had resupplied in Tennessee in order to allow more time for us to relax the night before our seaplane flight to the island. In our typical fashion, James and I dropped off our bags, took a quick walk with Radley, and headed to the local brewery, Keweenaw. We then met my mom for dinner at my dad’s old watering hole. 

I could already feel my dad’s kind, guiding presence. I was so grateful for my mom’s ability to drive us to Houghton and the seaplane dock. She would also watch her granddog, for which we are always so appreciative. 

After dinner, Cricket and I unpacked and repacked our bags and ensured we had every last item on our gear list. We took Radley on one last short walk and returned to our bed to sleep. As we were drifting off, we sleepily chatted about how smoothly everything was going so far in our several layered logistical plan to get to Isle Royale National Park. 

Day 1: September 11th, 2022

Day 1, Mile 2

Mileage: 13.00 Miles

Start/End Point: Rock Harbor → East Chickenbone Lake Campsite

I awoke early the next morning and took Radley on a short walk along the Portage River. The sun rose slowly over the dense, though lifting, fog. I wondered if this would affect our flight plans. Radley and I enjoyed the sunrise and before my unwelcomed, though ever present, anxiety began to rise. I returned to the hotel room and unpacked and repacked my bag for the thousandth time. Luckily, because we were staying at the same Quality Inn upon our return to Houghton, the hotel allowed us to keep a duffle bag with clean clothes and shoes. After checking out and stowing our bag, the three of us – my mom, Cricket, and I – went to a local bakery for breakfast. We enjoyed breakfast and ordered sandwiches and pastries to pack out to the island so we would not have to delve into our limited resupply on the first day. 

As we pulled into the Isle Royale Seaplane’s parking lot, my phone received a call from an unknown Houghton number. I knew what this meant before I answered. After hanging up with Isle Royale Seaplanes, I told my mom and Cricket our flight to the island was delayed indefinitely due to foggy conditions. We decided to drive back to town. With at a loss for what to do, we sat in the car in the motel parking lot for about 30 minutes before another call came through. “It’s go time,” I told my mom and partner. 

We arrived at the seaplane dock about an hour before our flight, just enough time for my anxiety to bubble up again. I tried to pet my dog and think about our exciting upcoming adventure. I don’t really like flying and I like leaving my dog even less. As with most US National Parks, dogs are not allowed in Isle Royale National Park. 

Because we were going to the island during off season, Cricket and I did not have any idea of how many other hikers we might encounter, but we both thought little to none. To our surprise, there were two other hikers joining us on our seaplane. Our pilot told us we would probably encounter many more hikers than we expected – he was right. 

I hugged Radley for the millionth time and told her to be good before giving my mom a tearful hug and kiss. “Gosh, this is harder than leaving for the PCT,” I thought. Radley is getting older and my attachment to my mom has grown since my dad has died. To my astonishment and delight, my anxiety went back into its temporary home as I strode confidently towards the seaplane. Cricket often met my eyes to check on his anxious girlfriend. 

Cricket, the pilot, our two fellow backpackers, and I all buckled up on the seaplane for our short, smooth, 35-minute flight. The views from the plane were astounding, all of us, with the exception of the pilot, were constantly snapping photos. 

Photo 1. Peanut on a Seaplane


Once we landed, we took a short walk to the Ranger’s station to register for our permits. Next, we went to the Rock Harbor Lodge to buy a fuel canister each. After filling our bottles and using a real restroom, we were off to our campsite at about 12:45PM on Sunday, September 11th. 

The day started at Rock Harbor Lodge where we took a short trail to get on the Greenstone Ridge Trail. We immediately started climbing to the ridge. The views were astounding, Fall had arrived on the island which was a nice surprise coming from a hot and humid Tennessee. The tall ridge allowed us to see Lake Superior to our left and our right. The trees were covered in yellow and red leaves and it smelled like Autumn. 

We took a short break at the fire tower on Mount Ojibway to soak in the views before descending to Chickenbone Lake. At the time of this trip, it was unsafe to drink the water at Chickenbone Lake due to an Algae Bloom. A couple of miles before arriving at our campsite, we filled up 3 liters of water each to have enough for dinner and the next morning. 

Chickenbone Lake East Campsite sits on top of a ridge next to the lake with about 4 campsites. Each site can hold at least three tents. There was also a moldering privy available. After speaking with a ranger who deemed it unnecessary, we opted to not hang our food bags during this trip; we simply kept our food bags in our tent vestibule at night. 

We arrived at the campsite about 5:30PM and immediately set up camp. We each ate a breakfast sandwich we had packed out from town and changed into our sleep clothes. After, we took a walk down to the lake filled with undrinkable water to watch the sunset. 

As we enjoyed the beautiful view, we heard a large animal get into the water. We never saw what we were sure was a moose, but heard it splashing in the water several times throughout the evening. 

Day 2: September 12, 2022

Night 2. South Lake Desor Campground

Mileage: 17.78 Miles

Start/End Point: Each Chickenbone Lake Campsite → South Lake Desor Campsite

The next morning, we decided to sleep in a bit and pack up camp slowly. After a breakfast of hot oatmeal and coffee, we packed up, and took the short .3 mile trail back to the Greenstone Ridge Trail. We reached the trail about 9:00AM. 

The morning was clear and pleasant as the trail followed the ridgeline for easy hiking. The trail winded in and out of the woods with long sections on exposed ridgeline which offered gorgeous 360° views of Lake Superior, Chickenbone Lake, and several smaller lakes. When the trail would dip back in the forest, the path was lined with ferns and colorful trees. 

We stopped at Hatchet Lake Campsite at a little over halfway for the day to have lunch. The 0.3 mile side trail was worth it to have a nice place to sit and to retrieve safe drinking water. We took about an hour to eat lunch, stretch, and drink at least 2 liters of water each. 

Once back on the Greenstone Ridge Trail, we continued to enjoy the views of Autumn. We took a short break at Ishpeming Point Fire Tower before hiking the final couple of miles to South Lake Desor Campsite. 

South Lake Desor offered a large backcountry campsite with at least 3 moldering privies. There were about 9 campsites with group camping available. Individual campsites had room for at least 3 tents each. We arrived at about 4:45PM which is very early for us. However, we got the last campsite available as all of the other sites were occupied. Because the sites were large, we felt if everything was full, a fellow hiker would have let us set up our tent with them. 

We were surprised that almost every campsite we stayed at was full throughout the week despite this being the end of the busy season. We seemed to get lucky each night with a campsite, getting one of the last ones available almost every evening. It seemed that most hikers were doing lower mileage and arriving at their end point early in the afternoon while we were doing more mileage and finishing in the evening. 

After setting up our Zpacks Duplex and unpacking for the evening, we took a stroll to find a good place to fill our water bottles. Along the shore of Lake Desor, there is about a mile of trail with the campsites strewn along it. Cricket found a nice log to sit on and offered to filter our water while I swam. I enjoyed the cool water and swam with the loons who were singing their evening hymns. 

We each enjoyed our individual hot suppers next to the lake after cooking it at our designated campsite. The sunset was even more gorgeous than the previous night’s and I was grateful to be back on trail. I slept soundly that evening listening to the loons in the distance. 

Day 3: September 13th, 2022

Night 3. Sunset at Rainbow Cove

Mileage: 21.03 miles + 1.73 Bonus Miles to Rainbow Point and back 

Start/End Point: South Lake Desor Campsite → Feldtman Lake Campsite 

On Tuesday morning, we were on trail by 7:30AM and took the .4 mile side trail back to Greenstone Ridge to start our longest mileage day of the trip. We started with a quick pace and ascended Mount Desor as the sun had begun to peak over Lake Superior. James and I were treated to a beautiful sunrise as the warmth began to burn off the morning fog. 

We continued in silence for the next couple of miles. I suddenly stopped when I saw a huge bull moose staring straight at me in the middle of the trail about 50 feet in front of me. “What?,” James said. “Shh!,” I replied. We both froze in cautious excitement. We watched him for a couple of minutes until he started to walk slowly toward us. He began to exhale loudly through his nostrils and the look in his eye was more than a little offputting. We stepped off the trail, talking to him loudly letting him know we were going to give him plenty of space. Once we had given him enough room, he began to back off a bit. After several minutes of slowly making a wide berth around the trail, he stomped loudly off the trail and into the woods. 

In 2016, when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, I had made it my life goal to see a moose, which I never fulfilled. After seeing this moose on Isle Royale, I was ecstatic, it had been the only thing I had been talking about in preparation for this trip. Little did I know, this was the first of several throughout the week. 

Just after we encountered Bullwinkle, we stepped off the Greenstone Ridge Trail and headed south on the Island Mine Trail. After about 4 miles in bogs and walking on wooden planks, we arrived on the shoreline of Siskiwit Bay. The trail follows rocky beach for a couple of miles until Siskiwit Bay Campground, where we had lunch. 

Peanut hikes along Siskiwit Bay

This campground boasts several shelters, campsites, and moldering privies. It is also accessible by boat from Lake Superior and has a large dock and several picnic tables. It was a lovely place to have a long lunch. 

Leaving the Bay, we hopped on to the Feldtmann Ridge Trail. The section between Siskiwit Bay and Feldtmann Lake on the Ridge Trail was perhaps our most difficult of the trip. Not because of the difficulty of the terrain, but this trail was extremely overgrown and boggy. This was also the hottest, muggiest day of the week. We had decided to take a quick break at Feldtmann Tower, but after climbing for what seemed like forever on exposed trail, we wondered if the tower was a myth. We were beginning to get cranky and hungry. Both of us were scratched up from the overgrowth, ready to take a break, and wondered where the fuck this tower was. “Shit,” I said as I saw the remnants of an old tower on a small, exposed ridge. James threw his pack down and we decided just to snack in direct sunlight, adding to our misery. A few minutes after we started hiking again, we didn’t say a word when we saw a nice, new tower poking through the trees. 

By the time we reached the actual Feldtmann Tower, I was covered in tiny burrs on my dress. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture in my frustration, but there were hundreds of these little assholes. It took us at least 20 minutes to remove them. 

We descended back into the woods for a welcomed few miles in the shade before we reached our campsite at Feldtmann Lake. We again snagged the last available campsite when we arrived at about 5 o’clock and were both exhausted and hungry. As we cooked dinner, we did not say much except that we would not do another 20 mile day on this trip (ha, how quickly we forget the feeling of misery). 

Though Feldtmann Lake is inland a bit, Rainbow Cove Trail takes you to the shore of Lake Superior, about one mile from the campsite to the beach. After some sweet convincing from Cricket, we grabbed our headlamps and my camera and walked to enjoy the sunset with the Rock of Ages Lighthouse in the distance. 

When we first arrived at the beach, there were several people there as well but they quickly retreated back to camp. Though it was difficult to convince our exhausted bodies to hike another 2 miles, the view was absolutely worth it. We knew that this would be one of the last clear, dry nights we would have on this trip. The red sunset was absolutely breathtaking. Cricket and I sat in silence until the stars came out and I could feel my dad’s presence on this night more than any other. 

Day 4: September 14, 2022

Mileage: 20.90 Miles 

Start/End Point: Feldtmann Lake Campground → South Lake Desor

On Wednesday morning, I awoke early before Cricket and let him sleep in a bit. His stomach had been giving him issues for the last 24 hours and I knew he needed the rest. I watched the sunrise over Feldtmann Lake and watched the loons begin to stir, hoping to see a moose. When the sun had fully risen, I made us hot coffee and oatmeal and slowly packed up camp. We were on trail a few minutes after 9AM to finish up the loop around Feldtmann Lake and headed towards Windigo. 

Around midday, we arrived at Windigo for a long lunch break to enjoy the amenities. Running water and flush toilets were welcomed after 4 days in the backcountry. There was a large pavilion with outlets to charge our electronics and a picnic table for us to enjoy our lunch. Though the general store was closed, the Ranger Station was open with souvenirs and a small museum. 

The Ranger Station at Windigo also has the latest information on the weather. Cricket and I studied the forecast and discovered what we already knew: rain and cold. We had been looking at the weather for several days leading up to our trip and it was predicted to rain and drop in temperature on the night of the 14th until our departure. 

We walked back to the pavilion to slowly pack up our electronics. Most people were using the satellite phone to get on an earlier ferry or seaplane ride, cutting their trips short to avoid the weather. We chatted with other backpackers before heading back on trail. Our fellow adventurers wished us luck with the impending weather.  

We left Windigo and took a path that led us to the Greenstone Ridge trail where we saw several hikers finishing their journeys, heading towards the docks where we had had lunch just a couple hours before. Around 4 o’clock we reached the turnoff for our intended campsite — Island Mine. However, we came to a mutual decision to head a few more miles back to South Lake Desor where we had stayed two nights before. This would put us closer to our campsite the next day, increasing our chances of securing a covered shelter out of the rain. 

The next 5 miles whizzed by as we jogged to get to our destination before sundown. We arrived just after 5:30PM and set up camp. There were just a few other campers there that evening and finding a site was no issue. After we set up our tent, we headed down to Lake Desor to filter water before heading back to the campsite to cook dinner. I had Annie’s mac and cheese and gave Cricket one of my vegan Alt Route Meals, hoping a good meal of rice and vegetables would help settle his stomach.

James and I chatted about the weather that was coming in that evening and our plans for the next day. We decided we’d stick with our original plan of getting back on Greenstone Ridge Trail to repeat some of the same miles going the opposite direction until we reached Hatchet Lake. At Hatchet Lake we’d take the Hatchet Lake Trail to the Minong Ridge Trail and camp at Todd Harbor. 

Like most nights on this trip, we drifted off to sleep listening to the loons and slept soundly until we heard the pitter patter of rain drops on our tent a few hours later. 

Day 5: September 15, 2022

Peanut hikes over a beaver dam

Mileage: 18.02 miles 

Start/End Point: South Lake Desor → McCargoe Cove 

The rain had come early in the morning, a few hours before sunrise, but ceased around 7:30AM for just enough time to pack up the tent and scarf down a cold breakfast. Our goal was to hike quickly and get to Todd Harbor to hopefully secure a shelter. We were looking forward to having a short 12 mile day — or so we thought. 

We followed the path leading us back to Greenstone Ridge from camp with a fellow hiker. The three of us chatted for a few minutes before she stopped suddenly. “Look!,” she mouthed. I turned my head to see two huge bull moose to our left. They were about 30 feet off the trail and were munching on some vegetation. Both seemed completely unbothered by our presence; we stood watching for several minutes. About 50 yards after we started to hike again, we saw a third moose also enjoying his breakfast and a fourth deeper in the forest. 

Once we were back on the Greenstone Ridge Trail, Cricket and I hiked in silence in the rain until we reached Hatchet Lake. A brief break in the rain allowed us to stop for a quick lunch on the shores of Hatchet Lake. I noticed something move across the lake, I squinted and barely made out a large dark figure. “Is that a moose?,” I asked James. “Nah,” he answered. We sat there for another few minutes in silence looking at the figure until we both decided it was, in fact, our fifth moose sighting of the day. 

We took the Hatchet Lake Trail to the Minong Ridge Trail where I was looking forward to seeing a creature I had never seen in the wild before. At Windigo on the previous day, a man had told us to look for a beaver the size of a labrador retriever on the Minong Ridge Trail. I was beginning to lose hope after I didn’t immediately see a beaver. However, once the trail began to get quite muddy and climb over beaver dams, they were everywhere. James and I watched them for over half an hour and did, in fact, see a beaver that was larger than our 40 pound dog. 

We arrived at Todd Harbor in the early afternoon to find the one shelter vacant. James and I are notorious for setting a goal, but quietly planning an even bigger goal in our head without sharing it with one another. “Should we go six more miles to McCargoe Cove?,” I said. “I’m not sure, we said we’d only do 12 today after back to back twenties,” he answered. It was only 3:00 in the afternoon and felt guilty taking the only shelter at Todd Harbor when we could easily make it to McCargoe before sundown, which had 6 shelters. We agreed that we would go on but knew we were taking a risk of not getting a shelter. 

The afternoon went by quickly and without much talking as we hiked in the pouring rain, looking for wolves. We had heard that the Minong Ridge Trail was far less traveled and it would be our greatest chance of seeing a wolf. We saw several piles of scat and a few clumps of hair along the way but no wolf. 

Only two shelters remained when we got to McCargoe Cove and we were extremely grateful to have secured one. We hung our wet clothes and rain gear in the shelter and warmed up in our quilts as we watched a couple episodes of Seinfeld that Cricket had downloaded. 

Shelter at McCargoe Cove

The shelters on Isle Royale are quite nice and cozy, they are three sided shelters with a screen covering the front with a door. Each shelter has a picnic table and room for at least 6 sleeping bags and pads. Shelters are first come, first serve and fill up quite quickly. Campgrounds on the island also have multiple tent pads, tent spots and shelters vary depending on the location but specific numbers can be found on the NPS website. 

We enjoyed watching the drizzly evening from our snug shelter and only emerged once for a short walk to stretch our legs along the shores of McCargoe Cove where we also filtered water. After a hot dinner and another episode, we both drifted off into a deep sleep listening to the raindrops pitter patter on the shelter ceiling. 

Day 6: September 16, 2022

Rainy hiking

Mileage: 12.96 Miles 

Start/End Point: McCargoe Cove → Threemile

On Friday morning, we allowed ourselves to sleep in as we only had 9 miles to hike to our original goal of Daisy Farm. Cricket and I enjoyed the coverage of the shelter until there was nothing left to do but hike. We left around 10:00AM and it rained the entire day. 

We took the short portage trail to the trail leading around East Chickenbone Lake until we reached the Greenstone Ridge Trail. The two of us hiked rapidly and in s in the constant downpour and turned off to the Daisy Farm Trail that would take us to the Rock Harbor Trail. 

Our rain jackets and my rain pants had finally soaked through after nearly 3 days of rain by the time we reached Daisy Farm Campground  in the early afternoon. It was too early to stop for the day so we had a quick lunch under the large pavilion before walking the final four miles. 

Around 4 o’clock that afternoon we arrived at Threemile Campground, appropriately named for the fact that it is about 3 trail miles to Rock Harbor. We claimed the last shelter and hung all of our soaking wet gear and clothes. The rain fell harder and harder as the hours went on and I was again grateful for a dry shelter to rest our heads. 

Our seaplane flight was scheduled for the next morning at 11:00AM. We were slightly worried that our flight would be canceledWe thought we had been hearing the seaplanes coming and going on the island all week long, even when the rain had arrived. We also knew that a boat was scheduled for that Saturday morning but did not know the logistics around that. The only thing we could do was stick to our original plan and hope for the best. 

That evening, we took another short walk around the shore of Rock Harbor and filtered water on the dock in the pouring rain with a couple fellow campers. I enjoyed a hot meal of Amy’s mac and cheese with a Reese’s dessert before we hunkered down in our sleeping bags to watch an episode before falling asleep in our cushy shelter. 

Day 7: September 17, 2022

A slippery, wet hike into Rock Harbor

Mileage: 2.65 miles + 2.74 bonus miles on Stoll Trail

Start/End Point: Threemile Campground → Rock Harbor 

Though our plane wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11:00AM we felt it best to get to Rock Harbor as early as possible because the weather had been so iffy. We left the shelter just after 7 and had a slippery, slow hike to Rock Harbor. The Rock Harbor Trail is on the shoreline and goes over rocky terrain almost the entire trail. The rain made for slick conditions, but the views along the way made for a beautiful morning. Though foggy, the landscape was quite peaceful and we could see across the harbor to several smaller islands. 

We made it to Rock Harbor just after the ferry had left, we found out that many hikers had canceled their plane ride and opted for the ferry. Because the ferry is not as influenced by fog as the seaplanes, it was the safer bet. Cricket and I looked at the information screen at the ranger station, which read in big, red letters “SEAPLANES DELAYED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE; CHECK BACK AT 9:00AM.”

There was a lot of tension in the air as some people told us that they had been waiting since the previous morning to fly out. One hiker dried his tent and gear on a railing while we chatted with him; he told us he was scheduled to be on our 11:00AM flight with us. “We’ll be getting on a flight before you, we’ve been waiting since 7!,” someone who had overheard our conversation exclaimed. 

James and I decided to walk over to a nearby picnic table and cook some oatmeal. As we ate our hot cereal, we went back and forth trying to decide if the fog was getting worse or better. Upon checking the screen at 9:00AM, it said to wait another hour and a half before another announcement would be made and all flights were still delayed due to fog. We decided to hike the Stoll Trail while we waited. 

This loop trail was quite pleasant as it contained several informational signs and it followed the shoreline of Lake Superior. “What was that?,” Cricket asked. My ears perked up and I heard a low huffing and looked to my left to see a very intense looking bull moose less than 15 feet from the trail; we froze. “Hey, buddy,” I said soothingly, “it’s okay, we’re just gonna keep walking.” My eyes shifted to his right and saw a smaller, cow moose. We had clearly interrupted the bull moose’s attempt at wooing her and he was not happy about it. 

I continued to talk to them as we briskly walked on and I was grateful for one last moose encounter. We finished our loop as it passed along the shores of Tobin Harbor. Cricket and I listened for the engine of a seaplane as we made our way back to the ranger station. 

Upon our arrival back at Rock Harbor, we shopped in the small store and chatted with the rangers about our moose encounter and their encounters with wolves while we waited for the update from Isle Royale Seaplanes. When the time came, we stood under the screen with the others hoping to see our name listed with a departure time — we did not. However, several others did have their names on the list. We decided to walk down to the take off point to watch the seaplanes with some slight optimism. 

We arrived at the seaplane landing area with all of our gear and several others.  The group talked amongst ourselves, some were just there to watch the plane while others were hoping for a ride. Our new friend who had been drying his gear stood next to us and we made small talk. It was the last day of scheduled seaplanes for the season and the tension was palpable. 

Our Seaplane arrives

The anticipation mounted as we heard a seaplane approaching. The pilot landed the plane and no one said a word as he exited the plane. He yelled out 5 names and instructed a family of four and a solo hiker to load their stuff into the plane’s floats. We heard a second plane coming and the excitement mounted. This was a smaller plane than the first, orange and a bit older, the female pilot parked next to the dock behind her fellow pilot’s aircraft. She hopped out to talk with her coworker before telling us that she could only fit 3 people. A flurry of questions were shouted at her after she relayed this information. The pilot put her hand up to silence the crowd and stated, “I’m not sure if we’ll have more flights today, it depends on the weather, we will fly you out in order of your reservation.”

She chatted with the male pilot again as he helped his guests into the plane. He called out 3 names with no answer. We all assumed they had taken the ferry. The two pilots chatted some more. “James, Melanie, and Jason — are you here?,” he said. “Yes!,” we all said in unison. We headed toward the orange seaplane and wished our best to the others. 

Our pilot was extremely professional and concentrated as she started the engine. She explained we could talk amongst ourselves on the headsets but would be silencing hers in order to focus. The fog was extremely thick and we could barely make out the island as we took off. This flight was much different than our first seaplane ride. She kept the plane very low to the water for more visibility. It was breathtaking though our visibility was limited. 

The flight was smooth and went by very quickly, it seemed the Portage Lake Lift Bridge came out of nowhere and suddenly we were back in Houghton. We thanked our pilot for getting us back safely and hitched a ride from our fellow traveler back to town. 

After checking into our hotel and rinsing off the layers of dirt, I was excited to show James my dad’s old college town. We went to a couple of my dad’s old hangouts and took a four mile walk around campus before ending up at the stadium to watch the Michigan Tech Huskies play a soccer game. We ended our trip as it had started — at the Ambassador, my dad’s favorite restaurant in town, and with a walk along the Keweenaw waterway. 


Peanut and Cricket at Rock Harbor on their final day

Thank you for reading this super in-depth trip report of our 106 mile backpacking trip in Isle Royale National Park. I hope it helps with your planning for this beautiful National Park! 

Feel free to reach out with any further questions you may have and follow along for more adventures to come in 2023 @melaniepeanut on Instagram

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Comments 5

  • Pinball : Dec 16th

    Exemplary thoroughness. Thank you. Zero surprise all the pilots, rangers etc were great. If there is a less than decent person in the UP of Michigan, I’ve never met them in several visits.

    • Melanie "Peanut" Harsha : Dec 16th

      Thank you so much, Pinball! The UP is a magical place.

  • sticks : Dec 16th

    Loved the in-depth description of this amazing journey. Great advise about logistics and packing. So grateful for our Park Rangers.

  • Pale Rider : Dec 16th

    Great article! Thank you! A buddy and I did a thru-hike of Isle Royale in July 2022 and it was great. Saw moose up close as well as a few foxes both on trail as well as traipsing casually through our campsite. If you’re going to make the effort to go to such a remote National Park, definitely include a couple of days at Pictured Rock National Park while you’re there. (See Dixie’s great videos on hiking and camping at Pictured Rock). We did just that and then caught the ferry to and from Isle Royale which was about one-third the cost of the seaplane. We loved relaxing on the 3-hour or so boat ride while seeing beautiful scenery and meeting and talking with many nice people along the way. I would recommend going in season when all facilities are open. It’s a pretty remote area and it was nice to have at least some amenities at the start and finish. I would also recommend downloading a trail map. Some parts of the trail are not well-marked and we unnecessarily spent a couple of hours trying to navigate a mere 1.5 miles between East Chicken Bone and West Chicken Bone campsites. We also had a little difficulty following the trail while walking at the top of some ridgelines. Last time I checked, Far Out doesn’t offer an offline map for Isle Royale but I believe that Avenza does. As you mentioned, the permit system and logistics can be confusing but diligence pays off and it’s well worth it. P.S. Don’t plan on swimming in Lake Superior unless you’re a seasoned veteran of the “Polar Bear Plunge” as it is ice-cold even during the summer. Thanks again for all the detail on this little-known gem!

  • Toga : Feb 8th

    Looks awesome! Miss y’all. ?


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