Extreme conditions as a result of the isolation of the island and location in the middle of Lake Superior give Backpacking on Isle Royal a reputation for being rugged and one of the most challenging trips you can take in Michigan. Be aware that there are no major medical facilities in the Park. If you break a bone it could be a long trip back to mainland. Make sure you bring a good First-Aid kit with you just in case and travel in a group so you can help each other in an emergency. The weather on Isle Royal can be cold even in the middle of the summer. Lake Superior is a very large deep lake and holds the cool temperature year long. In the middle of the summer at night temperatures can get down into the low 30's. Make sure you pack a good sleeping bag and plenty of extra clothes on your backpacking adventure.
Backpacking Isle Royal is an adventure of a lifetime. The natural environment and the beautiful landscaping make for an incredible experience. This is one of the wildest parts of Michigan and a favorite for backpackers of all ages. Be Careful and Enjoy.
Backpacking Isle Royal National Park is perhaps the most rugged adventure experience you can have camping in Michigan. Isle Royal is the most pristine remote wilderness in Michigan and offers an incredible backpacking experience for those who dare to brave the wilderness.
Isle Royal is located in the middle of Lake Superior on the western portion. It is accessible primarily by ferry but can also be reached by seaplane or private boat. Once you arrive at one of three harbors Rock Harbor, Windigo, or Malone Bay you will have a mandatory orientation that lasts less than an hour by the National Park service then your adventure begins by heading off into the remote wilderness. Most visitors to the island are backpackers and travel between the primitive campgrounds set up around the island on the islands network of over 150 miles of wilderness trails.
The history of Isle Royal is rich with culture. The island was formed by an ancient lava flow but over tens of thousands of years the vegetation and wilderness have claimed the bare rock and formed pristine forests. Native Americans spent time on the island and there is still evidence today of some of the mines they dug looking for copper. During the 1800's the Island was booming with Copper miners looking to strike it rich. Very few of the miners were successful but the excavating work they did left behind remains of mines that can still be seen today. In the 1920's there were a few resorts on the island where vacationers came primarily from Chicago and other large Midwest Cities but the remains of the resorts have been almost completely swallowed up by the wilderness on the island. The National Park service took control of the Island from Michigan in 1931 and it remains one of the least visited most natural Parks in America.
The island is open for backpacking from April thru October and can be reached by ferry. Most backpacking expeditions begin in Rock Harbor which is located on the east end of the island. A very common backpacking route is to cross the entire island and take a ferry from Windigo back to the mainland. Backpackers can camp at the islands primitive campgrounds which are scattered around the island and connected by trails. Most of the campgrounds have pit toilets and a few of them have small sleeping buildings. Campfires are only permitted in designated community campfire areas at campgrounds. If you are planning on cooking food then you need to bring your own stove with you as you cannot plan on cooking over an open fire very often.
If you are backpacking at Isle Royal Michigan you need to make sure you leave no trace. Remember this is a National Park and one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the country. Respecting the wilderness not only preserves nature for future visitors but it's the law. All of your trash will need to be carried out of the park with you as there are no trash cans available on the remote trails. Pit toilets are for disposing of biodegradable materials only.
Wildlife can be enjoyed all over the park. You will find squirrels, birds, and even moose and wolves. Isle Royal is known for having introduced moose and wolves to the park. These animals are now breeding and thriving on their own and are studied by the National Park very closely. You may see a moose as you hike the parks trails but seeing a wolf is a rare occasion. However, at night you most likely will hear them howling in the distance.
Fishing is a popular activity when backpacking across the park. Isle Royal is an island but has many freshwater lakes with islands dotting its landscape. These inland lakes are full of great fish with clean water. Remember when cleaning your catch you have to be very careful of how you discard the waste remains of your catch. Make sure you don't attract unwanted wildlife to your campsite by having fish remains nearby. When you arrive on the island the rangers will go over rules and regulations with you. Don't forget your Michigan Fishing License.
Insects are a constant nuisance when backpacking at Isle Royal. Make sure you bring the proper shelter, clothing, and bug spray with you. If you aren't prepared for the islands insect inhabitants your backpacking trip may not be very fun. You need to be prepared for:
Mosquitos: These can grow quite large and because of the abundant water sources on island they are all over. They are a problem from early in the spring until late in the fall so be careful.
Black Flies, Horse Flies, and Deer Flies: Nothing can be more annoying than having flies constantly swarm around you. May thru June these pesky flies are the worst but the Horse Flies (who can grow quite big) and Deer Flies continue until fall.
Ticks: These little creatures can be annoying but easily taken care of if you are vigilant and check your body every couple of hours they can be caught before they are able to anchor in.
No-See-Um: Most of Michigan has little problem with No-See-Ums but in Isle Royal they seem to have a much larger population. It might be a good idea to call ahead to the ranger station and see if they are a problem. The only good solution for No-See-Ums is to have very fine netting to cover your face. If you have never experienced these little pests you could be in for an interesting experience.