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Book Review: Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes, Fourth Edition

Information is key to any successful venture. This is especially true during the planning process of a multi-week backpacking or canoe trip.

So when I started planning my trip to Isle Royale National Park last summer, I turned to the Internet to find information on the Island. We are living in the information age after all, and let us face it that is what we do now. Unfortunately, I found the Isle Royale information on the Internet to be wanting.

So, where could I turn? Back to the reliable print media, of course. Enter Amazon.com, where I searched for Isle Royale books. From the list, I chose the book Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes, Fourth Edition by Jim DuFresne. Although the primary reason for selecting this book was its location on the search results (it was first), it turned out to be one of my better decisions.

This book covers all the topics one would want while planning a lengthy trip to Isle Royale, regardless of whether it is on foot or by paddle. The history of the island, the flora and fauna, how to get there, a detailed description of every trail and typical paddling routes are just a few of the topics covered in its 184 pages.

There are three main sections to the book. The first section covers the essentials of Isle Royale, including its human history, flora and fauna, rules and regulations and more. The second section focuses on exploring the island on foot, describing most of the trails available on Isle Royale. The final section concentrates on exploring the island by paddle, including the entire main interior canoe and kayak routes, as well as those along the coast.

The first part of the book provides general information about Isle Royale National Park. It starts out with a fascinating short history of the Island. Many may be tempted to skip this section, but this would be unwise, as many of sights the Island, whether natural or man-made, are given context within this section. Knowing the history of the island from prehistory to its creation as a national park helps to understand both the natural and human forces that shaped the landscape on the island.

A chapter on flora and fauna details some of the distinctive living organisms on the island, while another on fishing describes how to exploit a particular Isle Royale resource for a tasty dinner. This section closes with chapters on how to get to and around on the island, and general information on how to enjoy the Isle Royale backcountry.

The chapter on how to get around covers the many different ways to get from the mainland to the island, whether by ferry or float plane. In addition, this chapter describes intra-island transportation, giving information on how to travel to trailheads accessible only by boat. These water taxis allow hikers to partake in thru hikes after being dropped off at one end of the island, if time does not allow covering the entire circuit by foot.

The final chapter in the first section is crucial for anyone planning a long trip through the island’s backcountry. Strategies for exploring the island, permits and fees, and the facilities available on the island are given their due. Along with the Isle Royale specific information, there are standard backcountry information mingled within, including equipment, water filtering and low-impact camping, with a unique Isle Royale twist when necessary.

One disappointment is the small segment on bushwhacking (or cross-country travel as it is called in the book), as only two short paragraphs are devoted to the topic. After spending 15 days on Isle Royale, I can understand why. The combination of aggressive terrain and very thick forests, often with a prodigious amount of blowdown, makes Isle Royale a difficult place to get around without the aid of a trail. Only the truly hardy (or foolhardy) would attempt bushwhacking on Isle Royale, so why cover such an esoteric topic in a book devoted to the foot trails and water routes on the Island.

The second section of the book discusses exploring Isle Royale by foot and on trail; there is no discussion of bushwhacking off trail here. All the trails on the island are covered, from the longest and most popular, the Greenstone Ridge Trail, to some of the shorter trails; although many of the very short portages are in the next section of the book.

Accompanying each of the trail descriptions are topographic maps of the trail sections annotated with miles markers, lookouts and other subjects of interest. Although these maps are excellent for noting the location of items of interest, they are inadequate for navigation, so make sure to carry a map, like the National Geographic Trail Illustrated map for Isle Royale, when visiting the island.

The last section of the book discusses the lakes, bays and other waterways present on Isle Royale. All the canoe and kayak routes are described, including portages and campgrounds only reachable by boat. These water route descriptions are all one should need to explore the Island by canoe or kayak; anyone expecting motorboat routes is out of luck though. If motorboats are you choice of travel on the Island, expect to go elsewhere for information about the routes and campgrounds catering this form of travel.

This book, combined with the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map for Isle Royale, is all one needs to plan and carry out a multiple day trip on Isle Royale National Park. I used this book and the map to plan and implement my 15-day trip across Isle Royale during the summer of 2011. Included in my backpack where copies of the pages detailing the trails I planned to use, which I read almost every night during the trip.

If planning a hiking or paddling trip on Isle Royale, buy Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes, Fourth Edition by Jim DuFresne. The book provides just about all the information necessary to plan and implement one of the greatest adventures ever, on a fascinating and beautiful island in the middle of the largest fresh water lake in the world.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links within this blog post may send you to a retailer website. If you chose to purchase any product on that site at that time, this author receives a small commission. These commissions provide compensation for the author’s time and effort necessary to provide the content at the Bushwhacking Fool.

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