Isle Royale National Park



Isle Royale National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the country — but that doesn’t mean you should skip over it. Come once, and you will understand why this park is also one of the most revisited national parks nationwide, booked for months in advance. National Geographic even added it to its list of “Best of the World” in recent years! Here is everything you need to know about why Isle Royale should be on your bucket list.

Where is Isle Royale National Park?

Isle Royale and its rugged archipelago wilderness are located in Lake Superior, 53 miles north of Copper Harbor and 20 miles east of Grand Portage, Minnesota. The park is renowned for being a place to disconnect and bask in the sights and sounds of nature.


How big is Isle Royale?

To be precise, Isle Royale has 450 islands, 160+ miles of wilderness trails, four lighthouses, sunken shipwrecks and no cars. Of its 133,782 acres, 132,018 are designated wilderness making this park an amazing hiking destination.

History of Isle Royale

Once called “Minong” by the Ojibwa, meaning “the good place,” it’s speculated that the name was rooted in Isle Royale’s reputation for its berries, specifically thimbleberries and blueberries. In 1931, then President Herbert Hoover authorized Congress to “conserve a prime example of the North Woods Wilderness.” By March 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the land as a national park. 

In 2019, Isle Royale was added to the National Register of Historic Places as The Minong Traditional Cultural Property. This important designation reflects the recognition of the cultural history of the island and, notably, that of Native Americans. Then in 2021, the Minong Mine Copper Mining District was designated a National Historic Landmark recognizing the significance of both the indigenous and historic copper mining that occurred at Minong Mine. The park also boasts many other listings on the National Register of Historic Places including historic structures and shipwrecks.

How to get there

Isle Royale is remote and takes planning to visit. If you would like to come, be sure to arrange transportation by ferry or seaplane in advance. There are seasonal hours at the visitor information centers in Houghton, on the island at Rock Harbor, Windigo and at the park’s summer headquarters located on Mott Island. 

You can take a ferry from Houghton, a six-hour trip one way, or Copper Harbor, which takes about three and a half hours. Seaplanes travel from Hancock and get you there in under an hour! All are scenic ways to travel, and that gorgeous view begins when you depart. As you approach the island you can actually feel its warmth and smell the earth and vegetation. For ferry users who do not often travel long distances over water, this experience is quite unique and memorable.

Isle Royale weather

Due to extreme winter weather conditions, the park is open annually from mid-April through October. The best time to visit is during the summer, but it will also be the busiest time to visit. Even then, this destination still feels like a remote escape with others flocking to it. Keep in mind that weather also heavily influences traveling to and from the island and what you do during your stay. Be sure to check the forecast and current conditions on the Island beforehand. Remember, the temperatures may feel colder than they would at home because this is an island. We suggest packing layers for warm and breezier days. 

Favorite things to do

Get supplies at two camper stores

You will disembark from the ferry or seaplane in Rock Harbor or Windigo. Rock Harbor has a full-service marina, a camper store with food and supplies, showers, a gift shop and a snack bar. Windigo, at the island’s west end, has a camper store with food and supplies and marine fuel. Both are good places to get local advice before setting out on your adventures. 

Hike some of the wildest, most scenic trails in the Midwest

Hiking is the top reason people visit this national park. There are 165 miles of wilderness trails to traverse on foot. If your goal is to hike the entire island, plan on three to five days of backpacking and camping. Day hikes are also doable. 

The trails on Isle Royale are moderate to strenuous in difficulty. They are very rocky and the tree roots pose a constant tripping hazard. Depending on your trail choice, you will hike through boreal forests, over wetlands and out on scenic rocky outcrops.

Make sure you bring food, a water bottle and any other supplies you need on your hike. Potable water is available in Rock Harbor and Windigo. When you are in the interior, filter water from creeks but avoid drawing water from inland lakes with toxic algae blooms. Your safest option on the trails is to filter water from Lake Superior. 

Before you go, read the Isle Royale website for backpacking tips and suggested itineraries for day trips from Rock Harbor and Windigo. For the most bountiful wild berry picking and to avoid biting bugs, lace up your boots and come in August and September. 

Rent a canoe or boat and explore inland and open waters

There is so much to explore on Isle Royale’s inland lakes and Lake Superior’s open waters. Rent a canoe or boat in Rock Harbor or Windigo and launch your adventure! 

Go to the Isle Royale website for where to get a boater permit, guidelines and safety tips for paddling and boating, and itineraries for paddling and portaging inland lakes. If you want to paddle some of the calmest water, especially with children, explore Tobin Harbor or Washington Harbor. 

Only experienced paddlers and boaters should navigate Lake Superior’s open waters. This Great Lake is well-known for its cold water, fog, and sudden high-wave squalls. Canoes should be at least 15' long and sea kayaks at least 15'8" to 19’ to navigate open water. Do not venture beyond the inland lake and waterways in a smaller craft. 

Regardless of which wilderness waters you navigate, make sure everyone in your canoe, kayak or boat always wears a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device. Your safety depends on it. 

Fish for delicious yellow perch, whitefish, trout and salmon.

Isle Royale is an angler’s dream trip. There are over 40 fish species off Isle Royale’s Lake Superior shores and in its inland lakes and streams. You can reel in lake trout, brook trout, salmon and whitefish from Lake Superior and northern pike, yellow perch and walleye from inland lakes. Reach the best fishing spots by boat, canoe, kayak or from shore. 

One of the easiest and safest ways to reel in tasty Lake Superior trout and salmon is to charter a half-day fishing trip from the Rock Harbor Lodge. An experienced captain will equip you with everything you need. Before wetting your line, get a valid Michigan fishing license available from the Lodge. The Lighthouse Restaurant at the Lodge will happily cook your catch for dinner! Or the Lodge can freeze and package your fish so you can bring it home. 

Visit century-old lighthouses, breathtaking overlooks and historic sites.

Whether hiking or taking a sightseeing tour, you will want to include these popular destinations during your stay on Isle Royale: Grace Creek Overlook, Minong Ridge Overlook, Scoville Point, Mount Franklin, Suzy’s Cave, Ojibway Fire Tower, the historic Edisen Fishery and Rock Harbor Lighthouse (circa 1855) and the Passage Island light station (circa 1888). Also, take the sightseeing cruise to Raspberry Island. It’s your chance to see across to the Canadian shoreline, the site of the Monarch shipwreck and enjoy a beautiful Lake Superior sunset.  

Stargaze at our glorious universe overhead.

The skies over Isle Royale are some of the darkest on earth. Find a place to sit at dusk and look up. Watch for shooting stars and gaze at constellations, nebulae and planets that brighten the night. It is one of the many ways this national treasure will leave you in speechless awe. 

@michigansupperpeninsula Witnessing a moose at Isle Royale is an experience like none other! ✨ #pov #UPtravel #UP #upperpeninsula #puremichigan #vacation #wildlife ♬ original sound - The Upper Peninsula

Experience the thrill of seeing wildlife

Isle Royale is home to many of the Midwest’s most treasured wildlife species. Most of the animals have made the journey across the ice to the national park or have been reintroduced there. Numerous amphibians and birds, a few reptiles and 18 mammals, including gray wolves, moose and beavers live here. Other mammals to look for while hiking or paddling include red foxes, ermines, mink, five types of bats, Isle Royale red squirrels and possibly Canada lynxes.

The park offers junior, youth and adult ranger programs as well as guided tours, so you can get pointers when looking for the wildlife. To help keep track of your findings, download this Isle Royale wildlife checklist

American Beaver

See beavers at night in rivers, streams, ponds and lakes. Listen for the loud slap of their flat tails hitting the water. Beavers cut down trees to build lodges and dams from large branches, creating ponds where moose eat and escape insects.     

Image of an American Beaver, found in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan                                                 


This species is on many Isle Royale wildlife watchers’ lists. It is the largest species in the deer family. Common sightings are in forests and wetlands, especially near beaver ponds. Despite their large size, they are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath underwater for 50 seconds while eating. They consume large quantities of deciduous shrubs and aquatic vegetation. Their main predator on the Isle are gray wolf packs. 

A moose in the water at Isle Royale National Park, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Gray Wolf

This is the largest wild dog species. Wolf packs live on Isle Royale and you are much more likely to hear them howling than ever see them — they are very shy around people. They travel great distances hunting for animals, berries, insects and fish.   

Image of a Gray Wolf, found in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Isle Royale Red Squirrel

This is one of the easiest species to see on Isle Royale. It is smaller, less red and makes different sounds than its mainland counterparts. It lives in the trees and feeds on conifer seeds. 

Red squirrel in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Canada Lynx

These cats have distinctive black tufts of hair on their ears and a short, black-tipped tail. They live in Isle Royale’s forests and rocky outcrops. The adults are very secretive, so look for the young during the day. 

Image of a Canada Lynx, found in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Lodging and Campgrounds

While it’s possible to spend only a day on Isle Royale, the travel time to and from this national park and the experiences it has to offer are very tough to do in a day trip. Plan to spend at least two to three nights at either Rock Harbor Lodge and cottages, the two rustic cabins in Windigo or any of the 36 campgrounds. 

Make transportation and lodging reservations early

Going to Isle Royale is not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It requires coordinating your transportation and overnight lodging arrival and departure times and dates. As more and more people from around the world discover this magnificent wilderness, dates, especially in June, July and August, fill up quickly. It’s advisable to book your Rock Harbor Lodge & Cottages reservations six months to a year in advance. You can make ferry, seaplane and Windigo Camper Cabins reservations starting in early January of each year. 

Rock Harbor Lodge & Cottages

This is Isle Royale’s only lodging. The Lodge has 60 lakeside rooms and 20 housekeeping cottages. Each of the cottages accommodates up to six guests and has a private bathroom and kitchenette. The complex offers everything from boat/kayak/canoe rentals to fishing charters and sightseeing tours to a water taxi to reach hiking trails and docks on the island.
There are also two places to dine on the property. The Greenstone Grill serves pizza, burgers, sandwiches, fresh salads, late-night snacks, cappuccino, and a wide selection of regional beer and wine each evening. The Lighthouse Restaurant prepares breakfast and dinner and, as mentioned above, will cook your catch-of-the-day. 

Windigo Camper Cabins

For an alternative to tent camping, rent one of the two, one-room Windigo Camper Cabins. They are simply furnished and do not have indoor plumbing. There are shared restroom facilities a short walk away. 


You can choose from 36 campgrounds on Isle Royale. They are reachable only by foot or by water. For parties of six or fewer people, campsites are first-come, first-served. Campsites cannot be reserved. Groups of seven or more campers must make reservations in advance. There are specific campgrounds that accommodate groups..

Camping permits are required of anyone staying overnight on the island, including power boaters and sail boaters. 

Isle Royale campgrounds are accessible by water, trails or inland lake paddling. All campgrounds have tent sites, a water source and outhouses. Some campgrounds along the Lake Superior shore have shelters, picnic tables and boat docks. 

Experienced campers and paddlers can get a special permit to cross-country camp outside of designated campgrounds. This camping offers a higher level of solitude, adventure and self-sufficiency — it’s a true immersion into this wonderful wilderness. 

Here is a range of your camping choices. 

McCargoe Cove Campground

This campground’s various launch points make it a popular destination for novice and experienced kayakers and canoers. Wildlife watchers thrill at seeing moose crossing and wading in the water. 

Washington Creek Campground

If your idea of camping includes flushing toilets, showers and drinking water, aim to claim one of this campground’s 19 tent sites. Courting moose frequent the area, too.

Birch Island Campground

This boat-in campground has one coveted tent site. But you will be hard-pressed to find a better place to explore the forest, view the world from Stanley Ridge and enjoy the serenity of several no-wake coves. This is one of the more likely islands to see gray wolves. And, oh, the stars — there are so many stars!

North Desor Campground

Only a few endurance-minded outdoorsmen and women make the hike to pitch a tent in these three, two-night-limit sites. 

Island Mine Campground

Don’t let the word “Island” fool you. This is your “deep woods” hike-in camping destination. There is no kayak, boat or canoe access. Pack in your water, the nearby river seasonally runs dry.

Start planning your trip today. 

Isle Royale is one bucket list trip you won’t want to push off. Start planning now and feel the excitement building as you get closer to your arrival date! This adventure will bring out the explorer within you in a whole new way! For a glimpse of what awaits, read about a first-timer’s experience at Isle Royale in this MI Playground blog

Share your photos of Isle Royale

Please send us your photos and videos of the overlook vistas, trail scenes, plants and wildlife, kayaking and boating adventures, lighthouses and historic sites on Isle Royale. Use our hashtag #uptravel or upload your photos or videos to our Crowdriff Collector below. We may feature them on our social media, website or in our marketing materials.
Have a wonderful time on Isle Royale. But know that once you come, all you will think about is when you will be back.