Isle Royale National Park is a U.S. National Park on Isle Royale and adjacent islands in Lake Superior, in the state of Michigan. Isle Royale National Park was established on April 3, 1940, designated as a National Wilderness Area in 1976, and made an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. The park covers 894 2,320 km2, with 540 km2 above water. At the U.S.-Canada border, it meets the borders of the future Canadian Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area.
Isle Royale, the largest island in Lake Superior, is over 70 kilometres in length and 14 kilometres wide at its widest point. The park is made up of Isle Royale itself and approximately 400 smaller islands, along with any submerged lands within 7.2 kilometres of the surrounding islands.
Isle Royale National Park is known for its wolf and moose populations which are studied by scientists investigating predator-prey relationships in a closed environment. This is made easier because Isle Royale has been colonized by roughly just one third of the mainland mammal species, due to it being so remote. In addition, the environment is unique in that it is the only known place where wolves and moose coexist without the presence of bears.
There are usually around 25 wolves and 1,000 moose on the island, but the numbers change greatly year to year. In rare years with very hard winters, animals can travel over the frozen lake from the Canadian mainland. To protect the wolves from canine diseases, dogs are not allowed in any part of the park, including the adjacent waters. In the 2006-2007 winter, 385 moose were counted, as well as 21 wolves, in three packs. In spring 2008, 23 wolves and approximately 650 moose were counted.
From November 1 through April 15 annually Isle Royale is officially closed to all visitors. The area of closure extends 4.5 miles out into Lake Superior from the island. The park re-opens April 16, with ferry service beginning the first week in May.
The daily user fee is $4, per person, per calendar day (it includes the day you arrive and the day you depart the park). Visitors should pay this fee after their transportation reservations have been confirmed.
The park is accessible by ferries, floatplanes, and passenger ships during the summer months - from Houghton and Copper Harbor in Michigan; and Grand Portage in Minnesota. Private boats travel to the island from the coasts of Michigan, Minnesota, and Ontario. Isle Royale is quite popular with day-trippers in private boats, and day trip ferry service is provided from Copper Harbor and Grand Portage to and from the park.
The Grand Portage ferries reach the island in 1 1/2 hours, and stay 4 hours at the island, allowing time for hiking, a guided hike or program by the park staff, and picnics.
The Isle Royale Queen serves park visitors out of Copper Harbor, on the northern Upper Peninsula coast of Michigan. It arrives at Rock Harbor in the park in 3 to 3 1/2 hours, spends 3 1/2 hours before returning to Copper Harbor.
The Sea Hunter operates round-trips and offers day trips to the Windigo visitor center through much of the season, less frequently in early summer and autumn, it will transport kayaks and canoes for visitors wanting to explore the park from the water. It is the fastest ferry serving the island and arrives in 1 1/2 hours including some sightseeing points along the way out and back. Because of the relatively short boat ride day visitors are able to get 4 hours on the island, more than any others, and get back to the mainland earlier in the afternoon. This gives visitors on a tight schedule time to visit the Grand Portage National Monument or other attractions in the same day.
The Ranger III serves park visitors from Houghton, Michigan to Rock Harbor. It is operated by the National Park Service, and said to be the largest piece of equipment in the National Park system. It carries 125 passengers, and canoes, kayaks, and even small powerboats. It is a six-hour voyage from Houghton to the park. The ship overnights at Rock Harbor before returning the next day, making two round trips each week, June to mid-September.
The Voyageur II, out of Grand Portage, crosses up to three times a week, overnighting at Rock Harbor and providing transportation between popular lakeside campgrounds. In the fall season in addition to carrying campers and hikers it provides day trip service to Windigo on weekends. The Voyageur transports kayaks and canoes for visitors wanting to explore the island from the water. The Voyageur II and other boat taxi services ferry hikers to points along the island, allowing a one-way hike back to Rock Harbor or Windigo. Visitors may land at Rock Harbor and depart from Windigo several days later, or vice versa. Hikers will frequently ride it in one direction to do a cross-island hike and be picked up at the other end when they finish.
Floatplane service is available from Houghton. It's considerably more expensive than the ferries, but the trip takes a fraction of the time, and offers nice aerial views. The plane can dock at either port, and since it can make multiple crossings in a day, this can give you some flexibility with the time of day you arrive and leave. Stove fuel can't be transported by air, so if you're camping you'll have to buy that on the island.
For most visitors, you'll be eating what you pack in, so freeze-dried meals, candy-nuts-and-granola mixtures, and oatmeal are your best bet for on the trails/lakes. Fires are prohibited except in selected sites with community fire rings or grills, so you'll need a camp stove. Edible berries can be picked and eaten along the trails when in season. Anglers (especially with watercraft) can add freshly caught fish to the menu. The camp stores at Snug Harbor and Windigo have a limited selection of packaged groceries for housekeeping cabins, freeze-dried food for in the wilderness, and chips/candy for those just returning.
There is potable water available at the ranger stations at both Snug Harbor and Windigo and their neighboring campgrounds of Rock Harbor and Washington Creek. All campgrounds have a natural water supply on-site or nearby, but these sources should be presumed infected with parasites, and either filtered or thoroughly boiled before drinking or cooking. Filters are the best option for drinking water, because that retains its refreshing coldness, and is also most practical for the gallon/day or more each person is likely to need. Chemical purification tablets and UV filters such as SteriPens won't kill the tapeworm eggs that the moose deposit in the water supply.
Soft drinks are sold at both camp stores. The Greenstone Grill (see "Eat") also serves a small assortment of mainstream U.S. and Canadian beers (including Moosehead), and a small but well-chosen selection of Michigan microbrews. Bring your own liquor to the island if you wish, but keep in mind that drunken campers disturb both wildlife and other campers. Besides, the last thing you need in the wilderness is impaired judgment, dehydration, a hangover, and a bottle to carry.
The park has 36 designated wilderness campgrounds. Some campgrounds in the interior are accessible only by trail or by canoe/kayak on the island lakes. Others campgrounds are accessible only by private boat. The campsites vary in capacity but typically include a few three-sided wood shelters (the fourth wall is screened) with floors and roofs, and several individual sites suitable for pitching a small tent. Some tent sites with space for groups of up to 10 are available, and are used for overflow if all the individual sites are filled.
Rock Harbor Lodge, (east end of Snug Harbor), ☎ +1 906-337-4993 summers and +1 270-773-2191 winters (yes, that's a Kentucky area code). The only option for those wanting a bed and four walls, the lodge offers both modest modern hotel rooms overlooking Rock Harbor/Lake Superior, and modern duplex "housekeeping" cabins inland with nice big picture-window views of the surrounding trees, all a short stroll from the dock. $209-$232 (cabin), $215-239 ('European plan' room without meals), $336-$360 ('American plan' room with meals), double occupancy, tax and fees included; peak season is mid-July to mid-August.
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