The Royale Experience
Do you know how amazing a visit to Isle Royale National Park can be?
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t quite understand what this park was all about. Sure you can read on the national park website Isle Royale National Park that it’s the largest island in Lake Superior (the largest freshwater lake in the world.)
OR you can read the blogs about backpackers traversing across the island over the course of several days.
OR even how you have the opportunity to visit Rolf & his wife who have been studying the moose and the wolf populations on the island for several decades. They have been living on the island from May through October for since the 1970’s. (Both the wolf & the moose did not come here until a few decades ago. The wolves came via crossing ice bridges from Ontario and the moose swimming across the lake from land in the 1950’s it is believed.) My dad actually went on a tour where you got to meet this extraordinarily interesting couple.
OR about how this National Park receives less visitors all year than Yellowstone National Park receives in a day. Sure sounds like a nice place to find some quiet if that is what you are seeking!
There’s a great list of reasons that you can read about why you should visit Isle Royale National Park.
But here’s the thing: Until you actually go set foot on the least visited national park in the lower 48 of the United States (with less annual visitors than any park but Lake Clark in Alaska (bush plane flight required to visit, Gates of the Arctic (no roads or trails inside of it just wilderness), and American Samoa (five hour flight from Oahu) then you simply are going to be like me and not quite get it nor understand how incredible of a place this is to visit.
It’s an island in Michigan? Okay cool. Pure Michigan ads have been showing me the beauty of the state for some time but there are plenty of epic islands on Michigan, in America, and across the globe. Why would this one be worth the extra effort?
Be careful about letting yourself think like this and delaying a trip to Isle Royale National Park. And I must say it again…be very careful.
The Royale Experience snuck up on me and smacked me right in my face. From the second I could get my feet underneath me after our rough four hour ferry ride (Lake Superior feels & looks more like an ocean than a lake) that about 40% of the boat got some sort of tumbling tummies on I could tell this place was different.
Let’s start with the fact that you are isolated in the wilderness. You are with a small amount of people (maybe a thousand or two thousand across an island that is 49 miles long and 9 miles wide) and the average visitor is there for 3.5 days. Which is like a year in terms of “national park” visits compared to so many people that drive in and take a picture at a park sign and scenic overlook and are on their way.
Yet for all the isolation there is so much to do here you won’t feel bored. However you will feel rested. The pace is slow and there is no hurry to be anywhere (other than to the ferry the day you are supposed to leave!)
If I were to rank my National Parks on a list (or at least a top ten) I would put this park at number two just behind Grand Canyon National Park.
Isle Royale for me was much like the Grand Canyon in the fact that my rankings are based on my experiences there. If I had simply driven to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and taken a photo like many I would understand how they would question my hype of the park. But spending a week sleeping below the rim and exploring hidden canyons and waterfalls, hiking rim to rim in a single day and tent camping on the North Rim, and visiting with my wife and seeing her only current “gasp” at a view in nature I have had wildly different experiences there than most.
That’s the same for Isle Royale. You could just take the ferry out from Copper Harbor Michigan or a sea plane from Thunder Bay Ontario and take the obligatory picture by the park sign, hike around for an hour, and be on your way.
If that’s what you would wind up doing then Isle Royale like will never be the experience for you that I was able to enjoy on my journey there.
Here are my top 7 reasons I would recommend you consider a multi-day experience on Isle Royale National Park!
The Wild. 99% of the park is wilderness. No cell service. Subpar wifi at the visitor center office for an emergency text. You are able to think & feel and not be bothered with the constant barrage of To Do’s in our busy lives. You are on an island a few dozen miles away from shore on the biggest freshwater lake in the entire world.
The Hiking. 65 Miles of Trails live within the park. I was able to have the good fortune of being on about 28 of them (some of them more than once.) You have the ability to hike from one end of the island to the other and maybe even do a full loop. Adventure awaits.
I hiked the Stoll Trail out to Scoville Point, the Harbor Trail out to Daisy Farm, then up to the Mt Obijway Fire Tower & on to Mt Franklin (named after Benjamin!) and down the Greenstone Ridge Trail to Tobin Harbor. I often found myself with kind groups or at other times by myself for several miles.
The Skies. The Northern Lights came out the 2nd night we were there. Since it was unexpected no one really saw them except for a few night owls. There was a chance on the last night and I laid on a harbor dock from 130-3am listening to Phish (seemed fitting) and the howling of the wolves that live on the island. I did not get the chance to witness the amazing Northern Lights for a 2nd time in my life. However the shooting stars, Milky Way, and constellations that covered the sky were still one heckuva midnight snack.
4. The Wildlife. The bull moose with a four foot antler wingspan swung by every morning on his walk by our cabin. I could hear the wolves howling at night. Amazing birds, caterpillars, and more cover the terrain and if you aren’t careful when you backpack you might get your hiking shoes swiped by a fox. (True story on the foxes swiping some boots of hikers in July as shared to us by Dave the National Park Ranger.)
5. The Fun. From Ranger Dave’s talks to being able to rent canoes and kayaks and take them around the quiet harbors to meeting people on the trails and at breakfast to having the time to read books for several hours of a day you get to really remember what it’s like to have fun and reconnect with yourself and the planet. We even got to meet the Artist in Residence Nate and his partner Michelle who was the Artist in Residence here in 2016 and see Nate give a stunning presentation on his art, we met them on a hiking trail of course.
6. The Mushrooms. Purple, Red, Yellow, Brown, Orange, you name it. The different colors, sizes, and textures of mushrooms in this park was unforgettable. I actually will have a full different post simply on these.
7. The Beauty. They don’t call it Pure Michigan for nothing friends! The sunrises & sunsets, blueberry bushes, striking views of the lake waves butting into the rocks, and the trees, plants, terrain, and views are second to none in a state that is known for being simply “Pure.”
At the end of the day any National Park can be better or worse depending on how it’s experienced. For myself I felt I truly immersed myself into seeing what “The Royale Experience” had to offer and it gave me more than I could have ever imagined.
I plan on going back in the coming years to backpack the whole island but for now my feet are wet in the Royale Experience and I am grateful for it.
What else should I know about visiting Isle Royale National Park?
This park has a limited visiting window of June thru September so plan your trip ahead of time.
Lodging can fill up a year out or you can do tent camping. Some of the tent camping sites have first come first serve indoor screened in cabins that are very popular!
Boiling water is a must if not at Copper Harbor or the Windigo Stations.
Grand Portage Minnesota and Copper Harbor Michigan are your ferry options and Thunder Bay Ontario offers sea planes.
No bears live on the island.
You might think that what the rush is to go visit an island on the Michigan/Canadian border but all I can say is I really hope you ignore your thoughts and give this park the true Royale Experience it deserves. You won’t be disappointed!
Thanks for reading. Have you been or do you have questions about going to this isolated national park?
Because Adventure Travel Feeds the Soul,
Mike R and the Hashtag 59 Team