​Isle Royale National Park – Day 7, Homeward Bound

Last day “on” Isle Royale.

Was up at 6am (ET), got my sleeping gear in my pack and pulled out some snacks for the day long boat ride back to Grand Portage.  Hauled my pack down to the docks and headed over to the restaurant at 7 and had a nice relaxing breakfast with fresh brewed coffee – much better than the freeze dried variety!

After breakfast I wandered back to my shelter to double check that I hadn’t left anything and then finally back to the dock a little after 8 ET so 7 am CT.  I was plenty early – not gonna be “That guy” again.  We started loading onto the boat around 7:30 and were under way at 8 am CT sharp.  There were two or three stops along the trip back to Windigo at the other end of the island where I had started my hike.  These stops were to pick updrop off people at these various locations.  We pulled into Windigo around 12:30.  There was a thirty minute stop for loadingunloading and then we were underway at 1 o’clock.  Two more hours to Grand Portage.  The day was cool and cloudy so I sat inside the entire trip, tried to get some sleep but the waves made for a bumpy ride the whole day.  Docked in Grand Portage about 3 pm.

After waiting for my pack to be offloaded, then getting stuff situated in the car and paying for parking, I was on the road at about 4 o’clock.  Uneventful drive home, stopped in Cloquet for a quick bite and to stretch my legs around 7 o’clock.  After a final couple of hours I pulled into my garage around 9:30 Sunday night.  After 6 days on the trail, the day was a good rest for my feet, hips, shoulders and back.  But man, oh man, after 13 hours sitting in the boat and car now my butt hurts!

Glad I planned to take Monday off, I’ll need it to recuperate and get all my gear cleaned up.

What a wonderful trip!

Isle Royale National Park – Day 6

Day 6 began relatively early since I didn’t really have to deal with breaking camp – just had to get my sleeping padbag and cooking gear into my pack. Most importantly, Rock Harbor campground also has shelters and I wanted to secure one of those to again save time tomorrow morning since I had to be ready to board the boat at 8 am. I was on the trail at 7:30.

It’s seven miles from Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor and is almost entirely along the lakeshore. There was a nice cool breeze blowing off the lake which was the perfect counter to the sunshine on my face. Absolutely beautiful morning. The first 4.2 miles going in this direction are virtually level and features some nice smooth areas and lots of boardwalks over boggy areas where streams are entering the lake. I covered this in just over two hours and was feeling great as I walked into Three Mile Campground which is, as you might guess, 3 miles from Rock Harbor.

Given this pace, I decided that I wouldn’t worry about my mid-morning stop that I had usually done or even lunch. I figured at this pace I should only be about an hour and a half from Rock Harbor. I was wrong. Unlike the previous four virtually flat miles, the last three miles are up and down over a rocky areas of cliffs. Nothing very high or very steep mind you, but just constantly up and down. The pack hadn’t been lightened enough to make this pleasant. I wandered into the campground at 11:50 so it had taken me about two and a half hours to cover the last three miles. In any case, mileage wise at 7.2 miles it was an average day but I covered it in the shortest amount of time, just four hours and twenty minutes which felt pretty good. More importantly I was able to secure what appeared to be the last available shelter, phew!

Whereas Daisy Farm was the Holiday Inn, this must be the Ritz! Showers, flush toilets, potable water, convenience store and a restaurant – almost back to the real world! There is actually a lodge here at Rock Harbor as well but I didn’t stay there since as with most lodges inside National Parks the rates are outrageous. After dropping the back in my shelter, having some lunch and resting for a few minutes the most important goal was a shower. Unfortunately, the hot water was lacking, but even the cold running water and soap felt good at this point! Got my clean clothes on and then took a walk around Snug Harbor then back to my shelter for a nap.

I also had to finally clear up the time zone issue so that I was certain to be on time for the boat in the morning. Turns out its a pretty common question. The park is indeed on Eastern Time however the boat operates out of Grand Portage in Minnesota and in fact stays on Central Time. Therefore the boat departs at 9am ET8am CT. Glad to have that cleared up!

The restaurant opened for dinner at 5 o’clock and I was one of the first people in the door. Even though I had a meal in my pack I was ready for some real cooked food. Had a nice dinner of Lake Trout, wild rice, asparagus and a beer! Delicious! Already picked out what I was having for breakfast as well – enough oatmeal for the week, I’ll be back here for breakfast.

Being at the visitor center also meant I could attend the evening Ranger presentation at 7:30 (ET). This evening however was actually a presentation from the last of the season’s Artist in Residence program. Some of the National Parks offer this program that invites artists to visit the parks for 1-2 weeks to explore whatever art form they work in and relate it to the park.

There were two photographers at the moment, both from New York. The first, whose name I can’t recall (Russell something), was primarily working with infra-red photography which I’m not really a big fan of. He showed us some of his previous work which mainly involves how people interact with landscapes. In any case, for his work at Isle Royale he went a bit abstract. Since he didn’t expect to see any wolves he decided to cut out life sized silhouettes of wolves in felt. He then laid these out on the ground or in bushes, intending to show the absence of wolves. May have been a good concept but didn’t really work. He did also take some photos of the landscape in some of the buildings in the park and those actually worked quite well.

It was the second artist that really engaged the full house in the auditorium – I also had a chance to talk with him briefly before the presentation as I was early. He is John Isaac(not his given name) and is now a landscapewildlife photographer. He is originally from India and came to the U.S. to attend college. He became a UN photographer and did that for nearly 30 years, covering all of the war torn areas of the world during the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. He had a breakdown after covering the genocide in Rwanda and contemplated suicide before discovering wildlife photography. Showed us a lot of his work over this time. He was also focussing on more abstract photography here at Isle Royale and showed us a few of those – mainly the colors and formation of the lichen that is on the rocks all over the island, along with some general landscape stuff. After leaving Isle Royale, he was heading to Borneo to photograph orangutans. Truly a remarkable guy!

After that it was back to the shelter for my last night on Isle Royale.
Day 6 route:  Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor

Day 6 route: Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor

​Isle Royale National Park – Day 5

Today was my last near 8 mile day of the trip and it looked to be mostly level to downhill as I was headed for Daisy Farm campground which is on the Lake Superior shoreline.  I got rolling a little earlier than previous days as this site didn’t really have any place to really get comfortable for any length of time – I was on the trail at about 7:40.

The squirrelbird infested campsite at West Chickenbone campground;-)

The squirrelbird infested campsite at West Chickenbone campground;-)

As usual, there was a short climb out of Chickenbone Lake that brought me back up to the Greenstone.  The first leg of about a mile and a half that took me past East Chickenbone was lush and level so I covered that pretty quickly.  Had a bit of a surprise that I began climbing again at this point – that’s why you carry a topo map dummy.  It wasn’t that long however and led to two of the best vistas of the entire trip.


A view of the northwest side of the island.

It was at the above view point that I ran into the only guy I had met on the trail yesterday. He and his two buddies had intended to stay at W Chickenbone last night but after getting there and finding no campsites to hang their hammocks had to go another 3 miles to McCargoe Cove to find suitable sites.  They covered about 17 miles yesterday and had already caught up to me this morning – man I’m slow.  Told them I was headed to Daisy Farm and they said “Oh, the Isle Royale Holiday Inn, you’ll love it!”


Boardwalk panorama

I had stopped for lunch around 11.  While resting, a family from Sioux Falls that had been on the boat over from Grand Portage with me passed by.  They were the first people from the boat that I’d seen since Monday and they were also headed to Daisy Farm.  The second viewpoint above came around mid-day as I was still ascending when I saw a signpost at the top of the ridge.  I had expected it to be the sign indicating the turn to Daisy Farm, but was a little disappointed when it said “Viewpoint” which I had never seen a sign for previously.  Anyway, after this initial disappointment the view was definitely worth it. The sign for the last 2 miles to Daisy Farm was just another view minutes up the trail in any case.  At which point it was finally all downhill.

From this point the trail did primarily head down and also traversed a couple of beaver ponds and one large meadow with what must have been the longest stretch of boardwalk that I had crossed.  After coming out of this meadow there was a short rise around a hill.  I heard some branches cracking up the hill through the trees and stopped.  I spotted a young bull moose munching on some leaves.  By the time I got my camera out, he seemed to have spotted me and turned to head away from me.  I got a couple of shots off, but you have to use your imagination to “see” a moose.

I finally reached Daisy Farm campground at around 3 in the afternoon.  This is a huge campground and I was a little lost at first so just decided to keep heading towards the lake and around to the opposite side to save some time in the morning.  I reached the lake which was a wonderful view and then followed the trail along its edge.  It was at this point that I discovered the reason this is considered the Holiday Inn.  It’s one of the few campgrounds that has shelters available.  These are three sided, single room shelters with the front side completely screened in.  Heavenly – no need to pitch a tent just roll out the sleeping bag on the floor.  Plus there was a picnic table out front – no more sitting on logs and cooking on a rock table.  Lastly a beautiful pebble peach no more than about 75 feet from my front door.  All I had to do tonight was relax.  What a treat!

Daisy Farm Campsite!

Daisy Farm Campsite!

My favorite campground by far.  Holiday Inn indeed!

Day 5 route:  West Chickenbone to Daisy Farm

Day 5 route: West Chickenbone to Daisy Farm

​Isle Royale National Park – Day 4

My mornings were now fairly routine as well, wake up around 6, out of the tent by 6:30, breakfast, pack up, and hit the trail by about 8:30.  Was able to add some fresh thimbleberries to my oatmeal since my campsite was completely surrounded by them! This morning I added water filtering to my routine to make sure that I left camp fully topped off.  The nice steps down to the water made that easy.

The hike out of Hatchet Lake starts with a level 0.2 mile section from the campground over to the spur trail up to the Greenstone.  I saw a little garter snake along the trail here.  The spur back up to the Greenstone is only about 0.3 miles but it seems to be mostly straight up, so that was a nice way to start the day;-)

Trail up and out of Hatchet Lake

Trail up and out of Hatchet Lake

The trail started out amongst some fairly lush overgrown sections, that opened up to rocky sections between the trees and finally up to wide open ridgeline with views of the southeast side of the island and out to the open waters of Superior.  It wasn’t too hot, I guess the mid-70s, but after spending time under the trees it felt warm.  Fortunately there was a steady breeze that kept things comfortable.

Early in the morning while pushing through a lush overgrown section of the trail, I could hear some sort of activity in the thimbleberry patch on my left.  I suspected a squirrel, but hadn’t spotted it.  Then all of a sudden about 10 feet in front of me a squirrel popped out of the foliage onto the trail and headed straight at me, a second one appeared in hot pursuit. The first squirrel spotted me after covering about half the distance and jumped back into the bush, however the second’s reactions weren’t as quick and he kept coming my direction.  It finally realized what he was up against and came skidding to a halt seemingly right between my boots – like something you’d see in a cartoon, before jumping back into the bush.  I had a good laugh and then continued on my way.

Found a nice shaded clearing off the trail a little after 11 and decided to have a break and early lunch.  Finally go back on the trail around noon.  This was one of my near 8 mile days and I have been taking it fairly slow as there’s really no rush.  By 3 in the afternoon (Central Time) I hadn’t seen another soul on the trail.  I had stopped momentarily to have a sip of water and from behind me I heard “How’s it goin?” – scared the crap out of me!  The guy was also on his way to W. Chickenbone but had left Lake Desor this morning about the same time I had left Hatchet Lake.  He’d covered about 14 miles in the time I’d done 7 – man I’m slow…

I arrived at W. Chickenbone about 3:45, procured a campsite and proceeded with my evening routine.  Was a good thing I had decided to top off my water this morning as I was nearly dry when I got here.  This is my least favorite campsite so far – it didn’t have anything setup as far as logsrocks for “dining” area or anything and little tree cover so the sun was beating down for a couple hours.  Oh well.  It also was surrounded by thimbleberry pushes that were populated by a number of squirrels and birds that were making noise all evening long.  One of which also decided to relieve themselves on my shirt and pants that I had laid on a rock to dry.  I get it, you were here first, but really that’s just rude.

Some of the flora and fauna that I observed today:


Day 4 map: Hatchet Lake to West Chickenbone

​Isle Royale National Park – Day 3

Day 3 began the same as the previous, rolled out of the tent, made some breakfast and broke camp.  As I was wrapping up, I noticed this spider sitting on some peeling bark:

My camp neighbors, a father and son from Michigan, were the last ones in the campground as I left at about 8:20 (CT). Heading out of the campground is about a 0.3 mile climb.  A good portion of which is through thimbleberry patches like the one shown in the panoramic image in the gallery below.  There were a variety of other berries but I have no idea what kind they are.
Back up on the Greenstone Ridge I had before me my longest day planned on the trail, just over 8 miles to Hatchet Lake.  Roughly midway was Ishpeming Point, the second highest point on the island.  From Lake Desor it seemed like it was mostly uphill to Ishpeming and primarily still below the forest canopy so it was pleasantly cool.

Around 11:30, after 3 hours on the trail, I was more than ready for a break when I stumbled up to the top of the hill into a little clearing which is Ishpeming Point.  There is an observation “tower” built here, but it’s reserved for Park Ranger use and inaccessible which was a little disappointing as I’d had visions of getting a great photo from the top.  Oh well.

Observation Tower at Ishpeming Point

Observation Tower at Ishpeming Point

Being roughly the halfway point between Lake Desor and Hatchet Lake makes this a popular lunch spot.  There were three guys from northern Ohio already having lunch when I arrived.  The first people I had seen since leaving the campground.  They had flown into Rock Harbor from Houghton, MI and were doing the opposite route from mine.  They mentioned that they had also climbed from Hatchet Lake so I should have a mostly downhill remainder of the day (turned out sort of true) and that the last 0.3 mile from the Greenstone down to the lake was particularly steep (definitely true).  My neighbors from last night followed into the lunch spot shortly after me – they were obviously moving faster than me as they had still been having breakfast when I left…

I got the pack back on around 12:30 and started the second half of the day towards Hatchet Lake.  I passed one couple going the opposite direction about midway between Ishpeming and Hatchet Lake.  Passed them in an overgrown portion of the trail so I startled them a bit when I said “howdy” and they hadn’t seen me yet.

I arrived at the campground around 3:45 and think I got the last free site.  Also, by far the nicest site I’ve had so far.  It was a split level plus had a nice “dining” area with a nice big flat rock for cooking and some well supported logs for seating.  The route down to the lakeside (seen in the page header if you’re on the stand-alone page for this entry) was a nice rock staircase as opposed to the cliff at Lake Desor.  It also had a flat area that you could actually get into the water if you chose to.

Campsite at Hatchet Lake - the best so far.

Campsite at Hatchet Lake – the best so far.

My evening has become pretty routine; drop the pack, rest, setup the tent, rest, filter some water, rest, make dinner, crash.  I’m halfway to Rock Harbor, at least by days, mileage-wise I’m still slightly short of midway.  Regardless, it’s the point of no return and I’m having a great time!


Day 3 map

Isle Royale National Park – Day 2

Day 2 started around 6 am (Central Time) and I finally crawled out of the tent around 6:30. I had a relaxing breakfast of coffee and oatmeal and watched as the few other people in the campground hit the trail – clearly operating on Eastern Time…

By the time I had my gear packed and ready to go it was 8:30 which I think is a perfectly reasonable time to hit the trail while on vacation.  Besides today was slated as my shortest hiking day – just 5.5 miles, so there was really no rush.

I made the approximately 0.4 mile climb up from Island Mine Campground back up to the Greenstone Ridge and continued my northeasterly hike.  Once back on the ridge I had 4.8 miles to go to the Lake Desor junction.

Trail heading out of Island Mine

Trail heading out of Island Mine Campground

Yesterday and this morning have been spent hiking mostly under the forest canopy and so it has been pleasantly cool with just some dappled sunlight making it’s way to the ground.  Perfect for hiking!  Especially given that yesterday and day are mostly uphill ascending the ridge – not steep but a steady climb.  Even better is the fact the bugs have really been very mild so far – only around camp in the evening did I need to use a little bug spray.

And the best part of hiking at this time of the summer is that the berries are ripe – in fact the ranger said yesterday that all of the varieties are ripening at the same time this season which is unusual but due to the long spring.  She said that anything that looks like a raspberry is safe to eat and are most commonly thimbleberries.  There are also blueberries and a range of others.  In my haste to get on the trail yesterday I forgot to take a look at the photos of the edible varieties.  In any case, the thimbleberries are plentiful along the trail and you rarely have to reach far to grab a few;-)

At around 11 o’clock after two and a half hours on the trail I was ready for lunch and to get the pack off my back for a little while so started looking for a spot to break.  A short time later I could finally see a clearing in the trees and the next thing I knew I was out in a small clearing along the ridge with an overlook on part of Lake Desor and Superior in the distance.  The perfect spot for lunch!

I ate my lunch and rested for about 30-45 minutes and just enjoyed being in the sun for a short while as I could see the trail headed straight back into the trees.  The clearing was only about 60 feet long with about 20 feet on either side of the trail.  But it was a short rest of the way to the campground.  After about 45 minutes I reached the junction that would take me down to the South Lake Desor campground, 0.3 miles.  I was in the campground at around 12:45.

I hadn’t seen a soul on the trail the entire morning but upon reaching the campground I saw two other groups and a third would arrive later in the evening to take the last of the 4 sites in my area.  There were several more individual and group sites in an adjacent area of the campground.  After dropping my pack I had no desire to scout the other areas. After a short rest I scrambled down the “trail” to the lake to filter some water for dinner and tomorrow.  Carrying my water filter and various bottles was a bit of a challenge given how steep it was, but I made it without injury, but was a bit disappointed.  I had visions of a nice beach to maybe walk out and cool my toes.  However, what I got was a clearing in the trees about four feet wide and nothing but boulders…  Oh well, still a nice view of the lake and I got my water filled.

Lake Desor

Lake Desor

The rest of the evening was just relaxation and making dinner then crawled into the tent around 8 as I was fairly tired despite the short trail day.  Was again hoping to catch some of the Perseid meteor shower as tonight was the last best night for them.  While I had a clear view of the sky from my campground the clouds rolled in and so it was not to be.  I fell asleep early anyway…

Day 2 map

Day 2 map

​Isle Royale National Park – Day 1

Day 1 on Isle Royale started with a boat ride via Isle Royale Boats aboard the Voyageur II.  I had read the boarding pass last month when I bought the ticket but hadn’t reviewed it recently.  The departure was scheduled for 7:30 in the morning and I arrived at 7:15, plenty early.  Well, everybody knew my name by this time as I was the mystery guy they were waiting on.  I was supposed to be there at 6:45 according to the ticket….  Oh well, we still left several minutes before the scheduled time:-)

It’s a two hour ride to Windigo at the southwest end of the island.  The lake was calm so it was a nice smooth ride, a little cloudy and we had a few drops of rain but otherwise a nice cruise.  The boat runs at a blistering 12 mph, so it’s good to be patient.

Orientation at the Windigo Visitor Center

Orientation at the Windigo Visitor Center

Upon arrival we were greeted by a ranger who started by handing out several pieces of paper to various people – including myself.  For the orientation those of us with these papers were identified as the “guest experts” on various topics.  Mine was pertaining to Respecting Wildlife.  After the orientation it was on to the visitor center to obtain my back-country permit for the trip.

Finally after topping off my water supply, I hit the trail at 10:30 – or maybe it was 11:30… This is not the first time during a park visit that time zones have become an issue and this would bug me the whole week.  I left Grand Portage, MN which is in the Central Time Zone while the park is in Michigan and therefore is in the Eastern Time Zone.  I operated the week as if I was at home, but depending on where people were from it could go either way.

It’s about a 0.6 mile hike up to the Greenstone Ridge Trailhead from Windigo.  The Greenstone runs nearly the full length of the island and I would be spending most of the week upon it.  From the trailhead to my first camp, Island Mine, was about 5.8 miles.  Then a few tenths off the Greenstone to the campground.  Total distance covered today was about 6.9 miles.  I arrived at the campground around 4:30 in the afternoon.  Was quite relieved to drop the pack – 45 pounds is way too much to lug around.  I would discover I brought a variety of things I would not useneed.  Oh well, live and learn!

About halfway along the trail I had stopped for lunch when I also realized that my left arm was getting numb.  After taking the pack off realized it was also a bit stiff and swollen. Was a bit scared until the feeling came back and the swelling went down.  Guess I had the pack strapped on a bit too tight.  After getting the pack on after lunch, I made some adjustments and didn’t have that issue again the rest of the trip.

The fortunate thing about waiting for my arm to return to normal, was that I got my first view of not one, but two moose.  A cow and calf to be precise!  I heard something coming out of the trees and grabbed my camera and just sat on the log.  The cow emerged from the forest about 20 yards down the trail and turned in my direction.  She stopped when she saw me, turned to get the calf, then back in my direction.  After realizing I wasn’t going anywhere they continued across the trail and into the trees on the opposite side behind me.

All in all, it was a great first day on the island.  I crawled into my tent around 9 pm and got some shut-eye.  Had hoped to see some of the Perseid meteor shower, but this campground was down in a low lying area and under a fairly heavy canopy – so there wasn’t much sky to see.


Windigo to Island Mine

An evening in Grand Portage

Finally got on the road about 11:30 this morning, had been planning for 10 but it seems there is always one last thing to do.

Had been thinking about stopping along the way to stretch my legs, but I saw the sign for Gooseberry Falls as I was passing – didn’t see any warnings, and it was raining as I passed Cascade Falls which was my plan B. So, just made a stop for gas in Grand Marais.

Pulled into Grand Portage about 4:45 and made a run past the marina I’m departing from in the morning just so that I know where to go. As the boat leaves at 7:30 tomorrow morning I opted to stay at the lodgecasino so that I don’t have to deal with breaking camp in the morning.

Had a nice salmon dinner with wild rice pilaf for dinner. Figured I’d better eat well tonight since the next 6 days until I reach Rock Harbor lodge will be trail food. Took a short walk after dinner and got some panoramic images of the bay the hotel sits along. All in all, a beautiful evening in the arrowhead.

Now back in my room to catch the premiere of the first of the final episodes of Breaking Bad.

I don’t expect to post any further updates till I’m home as there is no cell service even in Grand Portage – aside from an intermittent burst from a Canadian provider, so I’ve turned off my cellular radio to avoid getting stuck with international charges….

Backpacking Isle Royale National Park

Finally completed planning for my upcoming trip to Isle Royale National Park.  On Sunday, August 11 I’ll be driving up to Grand Portage, MN and staying at the Casino Lodge.  If I get on the road early enough and the weather’s nice, I’ll probably stop to stretch my legs at Gooseberry Falls and/or Cascade River.

Monday morning, August 12, the Voyaguer II departs Grand Portage at 7:30 am and arrives at Windigo on the southwest end of Isle Royale about 10 am.  A 6.6 mile hike will take me out to my first night’s campsite at Island Mine Campground.

Over the next five days I’ll average a little over 7 miles per day between campgrounds; most of which lie along the Greenstone Ridge, the backbone of the island.  The last two stops will drop off this main route in order to reach the Rock Harbor location from which I’ll depart back to Grand Portage on Sunday, August 18.

Looking forward to the adventure!