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Backpacker Magazine – September 2001

Wild Island Hiking

Hear wild horses thunder through camp. Look for wolf tracks in the mud or eagles' nests in the cliffs high above. Cast off the workaday world and go hike an island paradise.

by: Todd Wilkinson, Michele Morris and Jeff Rennicke


Midwest   Michigan

Isle Royale
Hiking The Wolf's Eye

Right there, right on the trail, almost star-shaped and as big around as my fist--a wolf track so fresh it seems that I should feel the animal's stare from deep in the brush. I stop. Wait. Nothing. Only the whisper of wind in the trees and the slow lap of waves along the shore. It is a long time before I move off, quietly, down the trail.

If Lake Superior's outline resembles the head of a wolf, Isle Royale, tucked in its northwestern corner, is the wolf's eye. Unlike so many other islands cut by roads and dotted with summer homes, Isle Royale is wild and asphalt-free. Only 20,000 people visit each year.

Here, wildness is found in the details?the slap of a beaver's tail, the shades of brown in a fox's coat, the tartness of a thimbleberry against your tongue--and in knowing that you're hiking the largest island in the largest lake in the world, as remote as any national park in the Lower 48.

Wherever you stand on Isle Royale, you're never far from the sound of waves or a glimpse of a blue-sky horizon. But more than a distant horizon makes this place wild. After a day of hiking in wolf tracks, I set up camp along the shores of Feldtmann Lake and fall asleep to loon calls, a sound hauntingly like howling to ears still holding out a hope for the wild call of wolves.

Casting off: Walk-on ferry service is offered from Houghton, Michigan, (906) 482-0984; Copper Harbor, Michigan, (906) 289-4437; and Grand Portage, Minnesota, (715) 392-2100. Floatplane service is available from Isle Royale Seaplane Service, (906) 482-8850; www.nps.gov/isro/seaplane.htm.

Guides: Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails and Water Routes, by Jim DuFresne (The Mountaineers, 800-553-4453; www.backpacker.com/bookstore; $12.95). Isle Royale National Park #240 map (Trails Illustrated, 800-962-1643; www.trailsillustrated.com); $9.95).

Hidden treasure: You'll find the greatest solitude on routes like the Feldtmann Ridge and Minong Ridge Trails (see "The World At Your Feet," June 2001). Or paddle the 3-day, 20-mile, five-lake inland canoe route from Rock Harbor to McCargoe Cove, taking dayhikes along the way.

Contact: Isle Royale National Park, (906) 482-0984; www.nps.gov/isro).

Island Hopping
North Manitou Island, MI:
This 15,000-acre wilderness island boasts 20 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and 22 miles of trail. There is regular ferry service from June through August. Contact: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, (231) 326-5134; www.nps.gov/slbe.

Voyageurs National Park, MN:
The four main lakes of this paddling park-Kabetogama, Rainy, Namakan, and Sand Point-are laced with islands. Some have campsites, and many others are webbed with wolf tracks. Contact: Voyageurs National Park, (218) 283-9821; www.nps.gov/voya.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI:
Twenty-one wild islands in Lake Superior harbor black bears, bald eagles, sandy beaches, and sandstone bluffs. Hike the islands (Oak Island has the best trails) or a 12-mile stretch of mainland coast. Contact: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, (715) 779-3397; www.nps.gov/apis.

-Jeff Rennicke, Midwest Editor




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