Isle Royale: Michigan's Secret IslandBy Jennifer Daniel Szymanski
In the far northern reaches of Michigan lies a pristine island practically untouched by human life. It remains a virtual secret, so far off the beaten path that some lifelong Michigan residents have never even heard of it.
This piece of land is known as Isle Royale, and in 1946, it was designated a National Park. 45 miles long and 9 miles wide, Isle Royale is located 55 miles north of Michigan 's Keewanaw Peninsula and 22 miles south of Thunder Bay, Ontario: right smack in the middle of Lake Superior.
To get to Isle Royale is an experience in itself. First, you have to drive north to Copper Harbor, the northernmost point of the Keewanaw Peninsula.
There is a bridge that separates the Lower and Upper Peninsulas, and crossing that bridge is like crossing into a different world. You can also get to the Upper Peninsula by plane, then Copper Harbor by rental car (there is an airport in Marquette, 1 ½ hours from Copper Harbor; and Houghton, 45 minutes from Copper Harbor).
The Upper Peninsula reflects the true, untouched and pristine beauty of Michigan, and Isle Royale is the crown jewel of that beauty. Accessible only by ferryboat or floatplane, Isle Royale is a virtually untouched archipelago of wild abandon.
For an outdoor lover, it is a unspoiled wonderland waiting to be discovered.
By boat, Isle Royale takes just over four hours to reach. Most of that time is spent with no trace of land in any direction, surrounded by the coldest, deepest freshwater lake in the world.
As the island surfaces on the horizon and the ferryboat draws near, eager hikers are met with miles of rugged shoreline that connect with the crystal clear waters of the great lake.
Backwoods Rules Apply
For the hiker, the island presents every level of experience. A true die-hard could easily spend weeks with a backpack strapped on their body, hiking deeper and deeper into the interior of the island, exploring new areas and never repeating the same area twice. Once a hiker is off the beaten path, however, they are on their own.
For the less experienced hiker, a stay at the Rock Harbor Lodge might be more appealing. The lodge is complete with running water and a warm bed in which to sleep – and the beauty of the island can be experienced through day hikes.
In addition to hiking trails, there are 36 campgrounds, inland lakes that boast excellent whitefish and trout fishing, diveable shipwrecks, and historic abandoned copper mines and lighthouses. 98% of the 571,790-acre park is wilderness. It is an island with many rich experiences to offer.
In 2001, Isle Royale attracted nearly 20,000 visitors. Compared to the nearly 3 million who visited Yellowstone National Park and the 9 million who visited the Great Smokey Mountains, Isle Royale is a land yet undiscovered, and a backwoods hiker's paradise. Better get there soon!
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