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Isle Royale Trip: My Original Backpacking Trip Itinerary

Little Todd trail marker with moose antler

My trip to Isle Royale National Park last summer was unusual in many aspects compared to my typical backcountry jaunts.

Most of my trips take me into the Adirondack backcountry; not only due to my love and lifetime relationship with the area but because of its close proximity; after two hours of driving I can be immersed in the vast forests, wetlands and beaver meadows of northern New York.

Isle Royale was entirely virgin territory for me; I had never journeyed there before. Although I did almost visit the island back in the summer of 1996, at the end of a summer of doing ornithological field work in north-central Minnesota. That plan never reached fruition unfortunately, as a couple day training trip lead to feet riddled with festering blisters, which were totally inappropriate for the long distances required for Isle Royale.

The travel time to get to Isle Royale was exorbitantly greater than my typical sojourns into the Adirondacks. It not only required driving more than over 900 miles, but an approximately 55-mile ferry ride across Lake Superior. Although the scenery along first portion of the drive was not particularly spectacular, the portion along Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was very pretty and reminiscent of parts of the Adirondacks.

This trip was primarily a trail hike, with very no planned bushwhacking. There would be no fighting through blow down, slogging through soggy wetlands or struggling with dense coniferous forests. Or at least no plans for doing so.

I decided to forego any large-scale bushwhacking from the get-go, since the area was new to me. Sticking to the trail would allow me to survey as much of the island as possible over the least amount of time. Seeing a good representation of the island was important, since it was uncertain whether another opportunity to return would ever present itself.

This Isle Royale trip was planned as one of my longer trips, both in the number of days and total distance. The length and remoteness required many additional preparations, including a resupply package sent through the USPS. The resupply was crucial to avoid the stress of two weeks’ worth of food carried on my middle-aged back.

There are an excessive number of rules for backpacking in Isle Royale National Park. The evidence of the high use witnessed there really hammered home the importance of all these rules and regulations.

View up Rock Harbor from Daisy Farm Dock

Although bushwhacking is allowed, camping off-trail is even more highly regulated than trail hiking; requiring a detailed itinerary that must be adhered to without change. Even though trail backpacking requires a permit, with an itinerary, the staff is not quite so militant about sticking to it, especially during the off-season when the number of people on the island is much reduced.

Along the trail, camping is only allowed at the designated campsites. These campsites are often 8-10 miles apart, thus requiring a good deal of planning. Part of my planning for the trip was coming up with an itinerary prior to landing on the island. I tried to keep the amount of hiking to a relatively reasonable amount per day, but was largely dictated by the distance between the campsites and the necessity of reaching the other end of the island at a certain date so as to recover my resupply box at Windigo, one of the more “civilized” places on the island.

The following table shows the original itinerary for my 15-day Isle Royale adventure. I actually stuck to this plan pretty well up to day 12, when I altered it based on the suggestions of fellow hikers met along the trail. Day 13 and 14 turned out significantly different from my original plan, and I think the trip was much better for it.

Day Date From To Via Distance (miles) Comment
1 Aug 29 Rock Harbor Daisy Farm Rock Harbor Trail 8.2 Start around noon after boat ride.
2 Aug 30 Daisy Farm McCargoe Cove Daisy Farm Trail 1.9
Greenstone Ridge Trail 4.2
East Chickenbone Trail 1.6
Indian Portage Trail 0.7
3 Aug 31 McCargoe Cove Todd Harbor Minong Trail 6.7
4 Sep 1 Todd Harbor Little Todd Minong Trail 6.8
5 Sep 2 Little Todd North Lake Desor Minong Trail 5.7
6 Sep 3 North Lake Desor Washington Creek Minong Trail 13.0
7 Sep 4 Washington Creek Washington Creek None 0.0 Rest day; incidental hiking only.
8 Sep 5 Washington Creek Feldtmann Lake Feldtmann Lake Trail 9.1
9 Sep 6 Feldtmann Lake Siskiwit Bay Feldtmann Ridge Trail 10.3
10 Sep 7 Siskiwit Bay South Lake Desor Island Mine Trail 4.8 Includes distance from campsite to main trail
Greenstone Ridge Trail 5.1 Includes distance on spur trail to campsite
11 Sep 8 South Lake Desor Hatchet Lake Greenstone Ridge Trail 8.1 Includes distance on spur trail from and to campsites
12 Sep 9 Hatchet Lake East Chickenbone Lake Greenstone Ridge Trail 9.4 Includes distance on spur trail from and to campsites
13 Sep 10 East Chickenbone Lake Lane Cove Greenstone Ridge Trail 9.6 Includes distance on spur trail from campsite
Lane Cove Trail 2.4
14 Sep 11 Lane Cove Rock Harbor Lane Cove Trail 2.4
Mount Franklin Trail 1.5
Tobin Harbor Trail 3.0
15 Sep 12 Rock Harbor Rock Harbor Stoll Trail 3.8 Out and back to Scoville Point
Total 118.3

As I continue to write about my Isle Royale trip, feel free to return to the above itinerary to see where it diverged. Also, it can be used to plan your own adventures to Isle Royale National Park. I would strongly advise you read my future posts to learn more details of the trail conditions along the way though.

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