Is it worth visiting Isle Royale National Park?

Situated in Lake Superior, near Michigan’s border with Canada, is the incredible Isle Royale National Park. 

The park, while somewhat challenging to get to, is one hundred percent worth visiting. Isle Royale has no shortage of outdoor activities for nature lovers and park enthusiasts alike. 

This national park is comprised of one large island surrounded by a collection of some 450 smaller-sized islands. Isle Royal is one of the least visited national parks in the U.S. This is due to its incredibly remote location in Northern Michigan near the Northwestern half of Lake Superior. 

Here you’ll find a stunning landscape of boreal and northern hardwood forests, crystal clear lakes and streams, and the surrounding waters of mighty Lake Superior. 

In addition to discussing why Isle Royal is worth a visit, we’ll also discuss topics such as:

  • What is so special about Isle Royale?
  • Things to do in Isle Royale National Park
  • How many days do you need in Isle Royale National Park?
view over the blue waters and green forests of Isle National Park
Beautiful aerial view over the blue waters and green forests of Isle National Park. NPS photo

Overview of Isle Royale National Park and why it’s worth visiting

Isle Royale National Park is definitely one of those National Parks you must see to believe. The park is a remote and isolated island cluster located in the mighty Lake Superior. The park’s main island is Isle Royal, but around 450 smaller islands surround it. 

The park is a paradise for hikers, backpackers, divers, boaters, paddlers, and kayakers. 

If you’re seeking peace, quiet, and solitude, this is the national park for you since crowds here are so limited.

The park grants visitors access to a landscape and environment unlike any other. The island is a unique forested archipelago surrounded by the deep and frigid waters of lake Superior. In addition to being surrounded by Lake Superior, Isle Royale consists of hundreds of inland lakes, ponds, and bogs. The park is also made up of a lush boreal forest composed of white spruce, paper birch, mountain ash, aspen, and balsam fir that grow along the park’s rugged shoreline. 

There are over 165 miles of hiking trails to explore at Isle Royale National Park. The park also has some of the best kayaking opportunities in Michigan since the park is surrounded by water and dotted with many other smaller inland lakes and streams. 

Visiting Isle Royale requires some planning, though. The park is the second most remote national park in the contiguous United States. The only way to get there is by ferry, seaplane, or private boat. 

The park recommends that if traveling by seaplane or ferry, you secure your plane or ferry tickets sooner rather than later. Book these tickets in advance, as they may sell out at any time of the year, especially during the busy summer season in July and August. 

The park is open every year from April 16 through October 31. Isle Royale is closed from November 1 through April 15 due to extreme winter weather conditions and for the protection and well-being of visitors. 

rocky shoreline of Isle Royal national park
Crystal clear waters along the rocky shoreline of Isle Royal. NPS photo

Top Things to do in Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale has a sprawling variety of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. The park offers a variety of spectacular day hikes, perfect kayaking adventures, scuba diving opportunities amongst shipwrecks, plus chances to see historical structures such as the Pete Edisen Fishery and the Rock Island Lighthouse. There’s even a natural cave on the island known as Suzy’s Cave. Here are some of the top things to do inside the park:

Hike the Stoll Memorial Trail (Scoville Point) – This fun figure-eight-shaped trail consists of one half through a mainly wooded section and another half through a rocky exposed area along the shoreline. Both paths merge together at the final half mile to climb the rocky face of Scoville Point. 

Hike the Mount Ojibway Trail – Hike to the top of Mount Ojibway, situated on Greenstone Ridge. On the top of the mountain, you’ll find The Ojibway Fire Lookout Tower. Hikers are allowed to ascend part way up the tower to experience fantastic views of the eastern end of the island. 

Hike to Suzy’s Cave – Suzy’s cave is an inland sea arch created over 4,000 years ago by wave action when the lake’s water levels were higher. Along the way to Suzy’s Cave, you’ll meander through forests of spruce, fir, and birch. You might also catch a glimpse of moose and other various wildlife.

Visit the Edisen Fishery –  This is a historic folk fish camp situated on the southern end of Rock Harbor. The Edisen Fishery is the most complete surviving example of a small, family-operated commercial fishery in continual use in the park.

Visit the Rock Harbor Lighthouse – Although no longer in operation, the Rock Harbor Lighthouse is the most viewed and most visited lighthouse in the park. The lighthouse was finished in 1855 and consists of a 50-foot tall round white brick tower topped with a black lantern. There is a keeper’s residence connected with the lighthouse tower that now exists as a museum. 

Scuba dive the park’s shipwrecks – Isle Royale is home to the National Park Service’s most complete assemblage of shipwrecks. The park contains a collection of ten major shipwrecks that span over a period of seventy years. These shipwrecks demonstrate the progression of Great Lakes maritime transportation. The diverse group of ships ranges from old wooden side-paddle steamers to massive steel freighters. 

Rock Harbor Lighthouse sits on the edge of the Saginaw Peninsula at Isle Royale National Park
The Rock Harbor Lighthouse sits on the edge of the Saginaw Peninsula at Isle Royale National Park. NPS/Paul Brown

How many days do you need in Isle Royale National Park?

You want to spend at least 4 to 5 days inside the park to truly experience Isle Royale in all its glory. While it is possible to take a day trip to Isle Royale through one of the park’s ferries, you’ll only have enough time to catch a glimpse of the immediate area and maybe a short hike. This is because there is a 3-4 hour layover period for the ferries. 

The majority of visitors to Isle Royale camp at any of the park’s 36 different campgrounds. But if camping isn’t really your thing, you could also make reservations to stay at the 60-room Rock Harbor Lodge. The lodge also has an on-site restaurant. You also have the option to make reservations to stay in the Windigo Camper Cabins. 

Map of Isle Royale National Park
Map of Isle Royale National Park.

Final Thoughts 

To recap, Isle Royale is an extraordinary national park that is one hundred percent worth visiting. The park is a haven for those seeking solitude and refreshment in the great outdoors. 

The park’s isolated location in the middle of Lake Superior makes the experience of visiting Isle Royale and its surrounding islands genuinely unique. 

Isle Royale has a plethora of outdoor activities to enjoy. Such activities include kayaking in the park’s various water areas, hiking through its lush forested landscape, visiting its many historical buildings, and scuba diving through old shipwrecks. 

If planning on visiting Isle Royale, you’ll want to make arrangements to stay at least 4-5 days overnight in the park. You’ll have to do this by camping in one of the park’s many campgrounds. You could also plan to stay several nights in the Rock Harbor Lodge or the Windigo Camper Cabins. 

So if you’re looking for a beautiful national park that’s more off the beaten track, then Isle Royale is the place to visit. The park is extraordinary and lets you escape the crowds, which is somewhat of a rarity nowadays with more popular national parks. So don’t delay! Plan your visit to Isle Royale National Park today! 

Want a FREE complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

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About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

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Happy Travels! Sandy

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