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One of America’s Least-Visited National Parks May Start Requiring Reservations

Following a boost in visitation, Isle Royale National Park is seeking public comment on a plan to begin requiring visitors to reserve campsites in advance.

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Isle Royale National Park officials are considering implementing camping reservations after experiencing another year of high-volume traffic. 

“We’re still seeing some campgrounds that are overfull, and that’s not something that people expect when they come to a wilderness to camp,” said Isle Royale project manager for interpretation, education and cultural resources, Liz Valencia.

Most of the Michigan park’s 36 campgrounds currently operate on a first-come first-serve system for groups of 6 or less. But with increased visitation, many campers often end up sharing sites with strangers or relying on the park’s “overflow” campsites. 

To address concerns about overcrowding and to protect the park’s 132,000 acres of land, staff members drafted a Wilderness Stewardship Plan. The plan itself outlines strategies that target wilderness preservation (including cultural resources), while prioritizing public use of the park both now and in the future. This plan is the second of its kind, following an aborted attempt to enact a similar one in 2011.

The Wilderness Stewardship Plan could have varying effects on park management, resulting in everything from no outcome  to the adoption of aggressive changes within the park. In addition to implementing campground reservations, park officials may decide to develop entirely new trails, campgrounds, and campsites in order to optimize the visitor experience and offset use in popular areas. They may also open these areas to winter use, or even potentially limit hiking group size on some hikes or destinations within the park. 

Isle Royale isn’t the only popular destination that is making changes. This year, the nearby Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore began requiring an entry for the first time this year due to an increase in traffic and strain on the region’s infrastructure. 

Isle Royale is experiencing a similar increase in use. In the early 2000s, the park saw between 15,000 and 19,000 visitors. Between 2016 and 2020, the park saw about 25,000 visitors each year. And in 2021 – the last recorded year, 25,894 visitors entered the park. 

Currently, Isle Royale isn’t regulating the number of people that are permitted to be on the island. Nor does it limit the number of nights that campers can stay at popular sites. Campers in groups of 6 or fewer currently don’t have to pay a fee for their permit, while groups of 7 or more must apply for a campsite reservation in advance and pay a $25 fee. 

Park officials are seeking public comment through November 21, 2022. Those who are interested in sharing comments with park officials can submit their thoughts via mail at Superintendent, Isle Royale National Park, Wilderness Stewardship Plan, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, Michigan 49931-1896, or online at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/ISROWilderness.


From 2022