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Backpacker Magazine – June 2010

Secret Hikes: Isle Royale National Park

Trek to shoreline campsites through woodlands rife with moose, birds, and wolves.

by: Michael Lanza



Lake Superior acts like a 31,800-square-mile moat that keeps the sightseers away—this island park gets fewer visitors in a year than Yosemite gets on a busy midsummer day. And the precious few who make it here and actually go backpacking tend to target Greenstone Ridge, the backbone of the island and home to its highest landmark (1,365-foot Ishpeming Point). Traverse adjacent Minong Ridge instead, hiking 37.3 miles from McCargoe Cove to Windigo. You’ll snap pictures of all the same scenery—perfect lakeside campsites, dense northern forest, wildlife galore—and never have to worry about another human accidentally walking through the frame. And if you’re lucky, you’ll notch a rare sighting of wolves (see p. 40 for tips). You’ll also pick blueberries by the fistful (in August, between McCargoe Cove and Todd Harbor), pass by an 1890s-era copper mine, and enjoy craggy ridgetop views over a carpet of spruce. And did we mention the birds? One of our contributors counted 50 species on his Minong traverse. Camp at Little Todd Harbor, Lake Desor, and Hugginin Cove. Plan a layover day at Lake Desor to wade into the chilly waters on a sandy spit, then lounge on sun-warmed slabs. Avoid black-fly and mosquito season: Go in early spring or fall.

›› Magic Moment Stepping off the ferry at McCargoe Cove, you are so taken by the scene, you alter your itinerary to add a night here. In the evening, a bull moose walks by like he owns the place—because he does.

›› Local knowledge Posthike, in Windigo, rent a canoe or kayak and paddle protected Washington Harbor, where you’ll see mergansers and otters during a circumnavigation of Beaver Island (dock there for lunch).

›› Do it Get to the island via the Voyageur II ferry from Grand Portage, Minnesota: isleroyaleboats.com.

Contact
(906) 482-0984; nps.gov/isro

Buy the PRO MAP for the Traverse East, Traverse West, or a Wall Map.




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
The OLD GUY
Feb 03, 2014

Thru hiked Rock Harbor to Windigo back in 1966, so I think it's time to go back. Headed up there in late August. No bugs last trip. Not sure what trails we'll use this trip.
My dad was 20 years younger than I am now when we were there in '66. But the modern gear is so much better. I carried my Boy Scout pack and a Sears Ted Williams cotton sleeping bag that weight in at over 7 pounds! No stove back then so we cooked over wood fires and boiled all our water. This time should be easier!
Oh yeah, hated the whole trip so you should stay home! (:-)

Star Star Star Star Star
EvanstonJ
Sep 24, 2013

I hiked Isle Royale a couple of weeks ago with my brother. We hiked a loop starting at Windigo, spending a night at Feldtmann Lake, a night at Siskwit Bay, a night at Island Mine, and returning to Windigo.

This was one of the quietest, most pristine national parks I have seen. At the campsites, there was none of the detritus that you inevitably find where people have been. The hikers here clearly take care of it, and take care to preserve it. Not only that, the forest type changes often so that you are not stuck in a coniferous forest the entire time. We passed through gorgeous birch/aspen forests that looked like something out of the Lord of the Rings under the clear blue sky and bright sun.

We went the first week of September and there were very few mosquitoes and no flies. There were TONS of wild raspberries and blueberries (especially on the flat stretch of the hike from Siskwit Bay to Island Mine), and we didn't have to resort to thimbleberries -- which are only okay. Sadly, we did not see any wolves, although there were wolf tracks on the beach near our tent one morning. One moose fled at our approach, and we only saw and heard the underbrush moving as he took off, and the briefest glimpse of moose butt on the move.

We also didn't see many people at all. There were two other groups on the same loop, but we only really saw them at the campgrounds at night. Otherwise, we were entirely alone on this hike.

If you've got the scratch, I recommend taking the seaplane from Houghton rather than any of the boats. The trip was 30 minutes long (as opposed to 6 hours on the boat from Houghton), and we were able to schedule the flight time to suit our hiking needs.

Also, if you are going during the fall or spring, check to see if the stores at Rock Harbor and Windigo are open -- or be damn sure you've got everything you need.

Star Star Star Star Star
Joe Hanna
Aug 22, 2013

Most awesome place there is! I want to go back!

zentater
Jul 05, 2012

this is my 5th year in a row - hiking the island is so special and resets my sanity every year!
It took me 4 years to see a moose but it was and is worth it!

Bullwinkle2.0
Mar 22, 2012

A friend and I hiked Isle Royale late last August. We were dropped off at Rock Harbor and hiked to Windigo via the Minong Trail. We spent the first night at Daisy Farm, second night at McCargoe Cove and left McCargoe at 9AM the next morning. We hiked all day and throughout the entire night with a few couple hour breaks. Awesome experience, especially hiking the Minong trail at night with no light except for our headlamps. Virtually no bugs during our trip, didn't see or hear a wolf and saw 1 moose. It was a quick trip, but I will go back for sure and take more time. I would like to concentrate on the fingers on the Rock Harbor end. Also, no idea what the person was talking about as far as filtering the water? Used a Hiker Pro and the water tasted better than anything you will buy at the store and if you take it out of Superior, it is ice cold. I will agree with the thimbleberries however. I thought they tasted great and they are so easy to pick while you are hiking, but they will mess you up and make it necessary to dig a few extra cat holes! Hike it, but plan for a few days to do the Minong Trail, we had fun but didn't get to enjoy it like we would have liked.

Mr. Jones
Feb 19, 2012

I have been there three times in the last 27 years and am planning another trip this summer. I can't wait to go again.

Rodent Whisperer
Sep 17, 2011

My suspicion is that people who claim to "hate" Isle Royale really are trying to keep it for themselves.

Anonymous
Aug 22, 2011

Been there with our scouts. I loved the whole island then and am going back in September with jusf my husband this time.

Den
Aug 19, 2011

Spent five days hiking the island in late June 2011. Loved it, and hope to return next year.

Johnny Sunshine
Jul 16, 2011

Spent eight miserable days on that God forsaken island. Mosquitoes everywhere! Don't even think about eating the wild thimbleberries, the taste is overrated and will have you running for the wooden shack, disappointingly opening that crescent mooned door only to find out some boy scout already blew that place up. Probably from too many berries! Which leads to me to the wild blueberries, the island is full of "blueberries" most of which are poison, enough said. If you wade knee high into any inland lakes on the island you will get a parasite, good luck filtering water. Try to rise off in Lake Superior after a couple of days of hiking and you WILL be attacked by at least half a dozen lampreys. How do they even live in that water, it's so f***ing cold! I do not recommend this National Park to anyone. I don't think the wolves and moose enjoy living there, I'm pretty sure if Lake Superior ever froze again they would leave in a heartbeat and take there chances with the Minnesota rednecks!

Tobin Harbor
Jul 08, 2010

Spent 2 month stretches there in my early teens, at my grandmother's life-leased summer cottage (repossessed by the NPS after she died). Some of the best times of my life, I look forward to taking my own children there some day. Although the experience just won't be the same, they can have their own, unique experiences (just like life). It really is a magical sleeper. Another excellent option to Minong Ridge (I did it in 2 days, starting from the Lookout Louise trailhead),portage from Rock Harbor, up through Tobin's, Duncan's, etc. to McCargoe's Cove. Take your time and savor it.

Tobin Harbor
Jul 08, 2010

Spent 2 month stretches there in my early teens, at my grandmother's life-leased summer cottage (repossessed by the NPS after she died). Some of the best times of my life, I look forward to taking my own children there some day. Although the experience just won't be the same, they can have their own, unique experiences (just like life). It really is a magical sleeper. Another excellent option to Minong Ridge (I did it in 2 days, starting from the Lookout Louise trailhead),portage from Rock Harbor, up through Tobin's, Duncan's, etc. to McCargoe's Cove. Take your time and savor it.

Ray Boze III
Jul 08, 2010

Had a great time. My first backpacking trip and I almost got run over by a moose. Will be going back.

Kevin
Jul 08, 2010

Been there five times. I still hate it! You will not like it either.

Teej
Jul 08, 2010

Don't go, you'll hate it.
-
-
-
-
-
-
-I was there last year and can't wait to go back. But let's keep it a secret.

4Bears
Jul 08, 2010

Mc Cargo Cove is truely a beautiful place to stay while on the island. The beach at Lane Cove is worth the hike in as well. I usually see an eagle or osprey everyday there. They forgot to mention the thimble berries, even more plentiful than than the blueberries, tasty!!

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