Have you ever wanted to travel to a remote island? Well, Isle Royale is one of the most remote national parks in the entire country. So remote, that getting there takes a lot of time. Located in the middle of Lake Superior in Michigan, this island’s harsh weather makes it hard to visit. In fact the quickest route is by seaplane ✈️ and it still takes a couple of hours roundtrip. That means that you cannot possibly see all there is to offer in a quick Isle Royale Day Trip.
This past year I traveled to all the National Parks in the contiguous US 🇺🇸. My husband and I went on a quick day trip to Isle Royale and we both agreed we felt rushed and missed out on a lot of what the island had to offer. We immediately fell in love with the bright blue waters, the lush forests, and delicious wild berries that lined the trails.
It’s clear why this destination is one of the most popular places to go backpacking. It’s the only way to see the island in full. I hope to convince you to spend more than a day exploring this park in this blog.
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Table of Contents
Reasons To Not Go On an Isle Royale Day Trip
1) You Will Feel Rushed
Day trip excursions allow visitors to see the park for just a few hours ⏳. Travelers who leave from Grand Portage usually have a little more than three hours to explore, while those who leave from Copper Harbor have around a couple of hours. Either way, you will have to know exactly what you want to see before you arrive at the island.
By the time my husband and I got off the boat, they told us we would only have time for a short 30 minute hike into the island. We are fast hikers, so we decided to book it to get to the far end of the island and do the Scoville Point trail. The only reason that we were able to even get there is because we walked quickly the entire time. It felt like we were racing through 🏃♀️ one of the most scenic places in the country. I barely felt like we had a minute to spare.
Once we got back on the boat, I felt that I had paid a lot of money just to simply see check the island off a box ✅. Immediately, I regretted our decision to do a day trip and I knew that one day we would need to go back to Backpack. The rangers often say that it’s one of the least visited, but most re-visited parks and I truly believe it’s because people sign up for a day trip and realize that they barely saw anything at all.
2) Travel time > Time on the Island
There are only two day trip options to see Isle Royale National Park: one from Grand Portage, MN or Copper Harbor, MI. One way on each boat trip is a minimum of three hours and you go directly to one port. By the time you get to the island on either excursion you have just a little more than two hours to explore. So, you’ll spend more than 6 hours on a boat 🚢 to get to see this beautiful park for just a couple of hours.
There is very little time to see anything. It will feel as if you spent your whole day just to travel and you’ll lament not spending longer on the island. Although the Isle Royale ferry rides are pretty, you do not get to see anything of note along the way.
3) Orientation Takes 15 Minutes
With only a couple hours to explore Isle Royale National Park, you do not have time to waste. Unfortunately, rangers give a mandatory orientation as soon as you get off of the boat. They teach you about the flora and fauna 🌸 you may see and explain things to keep in mind when you visit. The orientation itself is great and I truly believe that visitors need these at most parks. However, I wish they could do them while you are on the boat.
The orientation eats into your precious minutes on the island. Now you’ve already lost a good chunk of your time exploring. If you choose to stay longer and go backpacking or stay in the lodge, then you would feel a lot better about the orientation. It would not feel like a race against a ticking clock ⏱.
4) It’s Expensive
Taking an Isle Royale day trip costs a minimum of $160 per person 💸. That does not include the park fee, if you do not already have a pass. The park costs $7 a person to enter. Because this park is so remote, it’s costly to get there. Get more out of your money by extending your stay on the island and really exploring the beauty of it.
5) Harder to See Wildlife
Isle Royale is well known for having a large moose population and small wolf population 🐺. Most wildlife comes out during dawn and dusk hours. If you are taking a day trip to the island, then you will only be there during mid-day. This is the time when most wildlife likes to hide from the heat of the sun and rest. You will have a much better chance of seeing these amazing creatures if you stay for a night.
6) You’ll Only See One Area
No matter which day trip you choose, whether it’s from Grand Portage or from Copper Harbor, you will be limited to seeing one small area of the island 🏝. If you land on Rock Harbor you can only stray a couple miles from the port area and it’s the same if you land in Windigo. People who spend a couple days there can go on longer excursions that go deeper into the island.
Backpacking Isle Royale is truly the ✨ best way✨ to see it. You can explore the length of the island, increase your chances of seeing wildlife, watch the stars, and spend time in solitude. There are very established routes, so it is a great way to see this stunning national park.
Planning an Isle Royale Trip
How to Plan a Trip to Isle Royale
Because Isle Royale is so hard to get to, there are a few decisions you need to take before going there.
- Decide whether you are going to go backpacking or stay in lodges. If you are going to go backpacking make sure to look at the various routes on the island. Then, map out your route, so you know how many days you will need. ⛺️
- Figure out which part of the island you want to visit first whether it’s Rock Harbor or Windigo. 🏝
- Then, choose the port of departure based on where you want to go. Grand Portage is closer to Windigo and Copper Harbor is closer to Rock Harbor. ⛴
- Look at the ferry and seaplane schedules to make your plans run smoothly. 🗓
- Book your trip a few months in advance to secure your spot. 🎟
How to Get to Isle Royale
There are two ways to get to Isle Royale, you can choose between a ferry 🚢 or a seaplane 🛩. There are also two ports in Isle Royale: Windigo or Rock Harbor. They are on completely opposite sides of the island, so you should plan ahead and know what you want to see before you go.
There are two vendors of ferries that leave from either Grand Portage, Minnesota or Copper Harbor, Michigan. These boats vary widely in their length and availability. Below I have detailed some of the most important points.
Grand Portage, MN
You can take the Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation line, which leaves from Grand Portage, Minnesota. The boat rides start at $87 🎟 and go up from there. Boat rides from Grand Portage to Windigo are 90 minutes one way, they then make a few stops and you can get to Rock Harbor after 7 hours on board.
Most of these boats do not leave every day, so you need to check the schedule and plan ahead. There is a day trip option, which fills up quickly so book your excursion at least a couple months in advance. This boat leaves at 8:30 am, travels for 90 minutes, stays on the island for 3 hours and returns back to the marina.
Copper Harbor, MI
The Isle Royale Ferry Line leaves from Copper Harbor and is a popular way to get to the National Park. Boat rides from Copper Harbor start at $80 one way and increase in cost based on the trip type you choose. Boats leave on different days depending on the time of year, so make sure to check their schedule before making any plans 📆.
Boats from Isle Royale Ferry only travel from Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor and back. You can take a day trip there, which leaves at 8:30 am, travels for 3 hours, and then you have less than 3 hours on the island before returning to Copper Harbor. These ferry rides book up months in advance, so make sure to ❗️book early ❗️ if you want to see the park.
Isle Royale Seaplanes is the sole vendor of flights. Seaplanes leave from either Grand Marais, Minnesota or Hancock, Michigan. They can go to either the Windigo or Rock Harbor ports, so you can be dropped off at one and picked up at another. These flights cost a minimum of $250 for a one way flight ✈️ and can cost $360 for a three way flight from one area of Isle Royale to another.
Best Time to Go to Isle Royale
Isle Royale is only open from April 16-October 31st every year. This means that there is limited time to get to this scenic park. The number of people on the island is limited by the number of ferries. So, it is never really crowded in the park.
Although temperatures are high in the summertime, you may have to deal with more bugs and pests. Black flies 🪰 hatch in the late spring and are most populous in late June and early July. These flies have a strong bite and often draw blood from their victims. They are pesky and they can make a nice day seem awful, so just prepare for them.
Summer is the most popular time to go ☀️. If you don’t mind cooler temperatures, then you can go in early June or early Fall to avoid seeing more people. Make sure to prepare for the colder temperatures by packing extra layers and warm sleeping gear. Visiting this park at anytime is truly spectacular and unique.
What to Pack
Packing for a trip to Isle Royale depends on your plans. If you are going to go backpacking through the island, then you will need to do a lot more preparation. You will want to make sure you have the 10 essentials as well as enough gear and food to last your trip. They get thunderstorms ⛈ on the island, so bring clothing and gear that is waterproof.
- Comfortable Hiking Boots
- Hiking Poles
- Backpacking Pack or Day Pack
- Refillable Water Reservoir
- Iodine Tablets or Water Purifier
- Snacks and Dry Food (Enough for your trip)
- First Aid Kit
- Bug Spray
- Hat to block sun
- Solar Charger
- Rain jacket or light winter jacket
- Bathing Suit
- Light Merino Wool Layers
- Satellite phone
- Downloaded Maps
Isle Royale is one of the least visited parks in the country, but I hope I’ve convinced you that it’s worth more than just a day trip. This island has amazing scenery, great wildlife, and incredible stargazing 💫. Start planning your trip to spend time exploring there now.
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