Wisconsin's Rock Island: Camp Moonbeam

Combine a full harvest moon with a remote island trail for the greatest show on Earth.
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Combine a full harvest moon with a remote island trail for the greatest show on Earth.

Sure, the aurora borealis is impressive. And a desert sunset is a sight to behold. But no light show matches the subtle power and grace of a full harvest moon emerging from a watery horizon on a crisp fall evening. Combine that lunar spectacle with a remote island trail, and you may

just have the greatest show on Earth.

Rock Island and its neighbors-a string of islands known as the Grand Traverse to seventeenth-century fur traders-are part of a lengthy dolomite reef rising from northern Lake Michigan. The centerpiece of Rock Island's 11-mile trail system is the 5-mile Thordarson Loop Trail, which follows the island's perimeter to historic Potawatomi Lighthouse. Along the way, the path offers up superlative lake views and passes through an extensive old-growth forest of maples, oaks, and beeches.

The best front-row seats for the moonrise are found at the isolated backpacking campsites on the east side of the island, a pleasant 1.5-mile hike from the ferry dock.

Getting There:

Take WI 42 north to the Washington Island Ferry, (920) 847-2546. On Washington Island, drive 9 miles northeast on County Road W, then take the hikers-only Rock Island Ferry, (920) 847-2252.

Prime Time:

mid-September

Guide:

Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Jay Pasachoff (Houghton Mifflin, 800-225-3362; $19).

Contact:

Rock Island State Park, (920) 847-2235.