Isle Royale Trip Report

We visited Isle Royale July 10-16.  After five years, it was great to get back to Isle Royale. Some things have changed, probably due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.  But the island is still as beautiful and peaceful as ever. This was my fifth time to the island, and it won’t be my last.

We took the Isle Royale Queen ferry. Copper Harbor seems to be feeling the effects of the pandemic. Pre-departure breakfast options are pretty much limited to the coffee and doughnut stand by the dock. I missed having a hearty breakfast, but the Pines restaurant doesn’t open until 9:00, an hour after the ferry departs. Maybe next year?

The crossing was the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. The lake was as flat as a freshly-made bed.

The number of passengers on the ferry was reduced to allow for social distancing, and masks were required.

Some people had told us that they wanted to go to the island, but they couldn’t get boat tickets. Lucky for me, I had bought tickets back in February. Planning and preparation are a must when going to Isle Royale! 🙂

When checking in with the rangers on the island, I realized I had over-paid my park usage fee. I paid online (pay.gov) for seven days, two people, $98. I could have/should have bought a season pass for $60, which would have gotten both of us in for the whole week. Oh well. Live and learn. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like money spoil my vacation!

We stayed in Rock Harbor the first night, because we wanted to check out Scoville Point, which is on the east tip of the island. It was a nice day hike, good trail, pretty scenery.

Trail conditions throughout our trip were excellent. It obviously hadn’t rained for a while. There was a little mud in some places, but it was not squishy, we could walk right on it. My feet hadn’t been that dry on the previous trips.

After a night in Rock Harbor, we hiked to Lane Cove. The trail was plagued with a lot of downed trees blocking the trail. We stopped counting after climbing over, under, and 20 windfalls. That trail is also challenging, a lot of up-and-down over hills. We both fell on our butts on steep slopes.

Lane Cove was peaceful. We met a couple of hikers leaving as we were approaching. They said it was beautiful but buggy. We didn’t notice that the mosquitoes were especially bad. They said they were using natural repellant, which didn’t work. I chalked that up to a rookie mistake. I don’t mess around when I go to Isle Royale. I use the 99% DEET spray.

If I could do it again, I think I’d skip Lane Cove. It’s pretty, but no prettier than other parts of the island. It’s hard to get to.  There are also no shelters, so you have to use your tent.  There’s easy access to the water, but there are a lot of trees right down to the water’s edge which obscures the view of the water. The lake is shallow there, we could walk pretty far out, and splash some water on our sweaty bodies. Word to the wise: Lake Superior is COLD.

The next day we hiked back to Rock Harbor and spent another night in a shelter there. The following morning, a hungry resident woke us up. Two young bull moose were foraging right outside our shelter.

We took a water taxi to Moskey basin and stayed there for two nights. The ride wasn’t cheap ($160) but it only took 40 minutes (hiking would take us 5-6 hours).  Moskey is still our favorite place on the island. The sunrises are really stunning, and access to the water from the shelters is convenient.

From Moskey, we did a day hike to Chippewa Harbor, which was about 12 miles round-trip. The trail was in excellent shape, and the scenery was really pretty.

We like to treat ourselves to a night in the Rock Harbor Lodge on our last night, to take a shower, use a flush toilet, and have a hot meal in the restaurant. The lodge was full to capacity, I was glad that I booked a room five months ago.

The Lighthouse restaurant is closed, probably for the whole season.  The store is open, and has the same food items they usually stock.  The only dining options are the Greenstone Grill, which is open from 7:00 am – 7:30 pm. Here’s the menu:

These dining options will probably not change for the rest of the season.  A ranger told us that they make staffing and logistical arrangements before the season starts.  They can’t ramp up in the middle of the season, even though the restrictions have been eased and the number of tourists is almost at the same level as previous years.  So if you’re planning a trip, plan accordingly.

On the trail, we ate a lot of Mountain House freeze-dried food.  It’s more pricey than some DIY options, but it’s very convenient.  The pouches are labeled as two servings, but a hungry hiker could probably eat a whole package on his own.  My two favorite entrees are beef stroganoff and the adobo chicken.  The teriyaki chicken was a little too sweet for me.

The morning after our return to the mainland, we skipped breakfast in town and headed up to Mohawk to eat at Slim’s Cafe.  Excellent food, great service, highly recommended.

In total, we saw three moose, two snakes, several loons, too many ducks to count, several squirrels and rabbits, one otter,, and approximately three billion mosquitoes.  No wolves, of course.  The rangers estimate there are 12-14 wolves on the island now.  We think we might have heard some howling one night (wolves, not rangers) when we were in Moskey Basin, but I can’t be sure.  As I mentioned, the mosquitoes the biting black flies were out, but DEET kept them at bay.

All in all it was a good trip.  The weather was perfect: sunny every day, some haze, high in the mid 70s and lows in the low 60s.  It seems like the whole tourism industry in northern Michigan is still recovering from the pandemic shutdown.   Some services aren’t quite back to normal.  But it’s the high season for Michigan: people want to travel and hotels are full and restaurants are crowded.

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