Is Isle Royale National Park Worth Visiting?

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Do you ever feel the need to escape from the hustle and bustle? Situated in the middle of Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is a remote island that offers visitors an opportunity to reconnect with nature and experience some of its most untouched beauty. But is Isle Royale National Park worth visiting for your group?

From kayaking and fishing to camping and hiking, there are plenty of activities on the island, but it isn’t the easiest to reach.

So if you’re looking to explore one of America’s least visited national parks, keep reading to find out: Is Isle Royale National Park worth visiting?

There are many small coves on Isle Royale National Park making it worth visiting.

Is Isle Royale National Park worth visiting?

Isle Royale National Park is a hidden gem in the United States and an absolute must-visit for anyone who loves remote nature, backpacking, and exploration. Technically, the park is claimed by Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but it’s closer to Minnesota.

The park is accessible only by ferry, seaplane, or private boat. Once you arrive, you’ll be met with breathtaking natural beauty — hundreds of islands speckled across Lake Superior’s crystal clear waters, rugged cliffs overlooking Tobin Harbor, and miles of trails that span Isle Royale’s Greenstone Ridge.

Visitors can also explore one of the park’s two visitor centers, depending on which side of the island you arrive on, for more information on what to do and see during their trip.

Whether you plan to stay for a few days or just take a day trip, Isle Royale has fantastic natural beauty to explore. The least-visited national park in the Lower 48 is definitely worth your time and will reward you with an unforgettable experience!

view of Isle Royale National Park from sea plane
Treat yourself to views like this if you arrive on an Isle Royale Seaplane.

Isle Royale is NOT FOR YOU If:

  • You’re looking for a touristy destination with drive-up views.
  • You are looking for waterfalls.
  • You want 5-star restaurants.
  • You need cell phone service all of the time.
  • If you only have one day to visit.

You SHOULD Visit Isle Royale If:

  • You want seclusion and solitude.
  • You’d love to camp along the water.
  • Backpacking for a week doesn’t intimidate you.
  • You have a few days to explore.
  • You’re curious about the island’s resident moose population.

What to Expect on your visit to Isle Royale National Park

Visiting Isle Royale National Park is an experience like no other. From the moment you set foot on its remote island, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty and a unique history that stretches back centuries.

With hundreds of islands to explore and miles of trails, there is certainly no shortage of things to do on Isle Royale.

Ferry services are available to get visitors to the island from either Copper Harbor or Houghton, Michigan, or Grand Marais, Minnesota. Once you arrive, you’ll meet with a park ranger for an orientation of sorts, and then you can take part in one of the many activities the park has to offer such as fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing.

You can also take a scenic seaplane ride from Houghton, Michigan, or Grand Marais, Minnesota. The seaplane ride is much faster than the ferry, but it’s also much more expensive. The view arriving over the island is absolutely stunning.

There are no cars on the island. You most likely won’t have cell phone service. Plan to be totally self-sufficient during your visit.

The park isn’t open year-round

Isle Royale National Park is one of the United States’ least-visited national parks, and that’s not only because of its remote location in Lake Superior. One of the biggest reasons why visitors don’t flock to Isle Royale is that it isn’t open year-round. The park closes from November 1st to April 15th each year, so if you plan on visiting, make sure to plan your trip accordingly.

But don’t let the seasonal closure dissuade you from visiting—there is still plenty to do on Isle Royale during the warmer months. Stay at Rock Harbor Lodge and explore the trails and islands nearby or bring your pack and hit the trails for a few days, camping along the way.

How to Get to Isle Royale National Park

Getting to Isle Royale National Park is part of the adventure.

The park is only accessible by boat or seaplane, so you’ll need to plan your transportation in advance.

If you decide to take a ferry, there are several services that will get you there, including a couple of hours on the water from Houghton or Copper Harbor on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Ferries also depart from Grand Portage, Minnesota.

You can also fly directly into the park with Isle Royale Seaplanes. Flights depart from Grand Marais, Minnesota, and Hancock, Michigan. The views arriving on the island are stunning, but this is certainly a more expensive option.

You can also use a private boat to get to the island, but be sure that it is capable of crossing Lake Superior. The ride across the lake can be nauseating at best and downright treacherous and dangerous at worst.

Most likely, you’ll be road-tripping around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or Minnesota’s North Shore on your way to Isle Royale.

sea plane dock at Rock Harbor, Isle Royale National Park
Our Isle Royale Seaplane docked at Rock Harbor, waiting to pick us up.

Activities on Isle Royale

Once you’ve made it to Isle Royale National Park, the fun truly begins! Whether you’re planning a day trip (We wouldn’t recommend it; it’s not enough time to appreciate the island!) or an extended stay, there is no shortage of activities on this remote island.

For a one-of-a-kind experience, take a scenic ferry ride around Lake Superior and explore its rocky coastline. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, why not try your hand at fishing? The waters around Isle Royale are teeming with fish, and many visitors are successful in reeling in a good catch.

If you’d prefer to stay on land for your adventures, there are plenty of hiking trails to explore. Nature lovers can take advantage of the many hiking trails that wind through the park’s natural beauty and you might even spot a moose. Check with the visitor center upon your arrival, as you might get lucky and catch a ranger program while you’re there.

A backpacker hikes along Lake Superior in Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale is certainly worth visiting for backpackers.
We backpacked back from the Daisy Farm Campground to Rock Harbor on our final day.

How Many Days do you Need to Visit?

Visiting Isle Royale National Park is an unforgettable experience, and you’ll want to give yourself enough time to explore all it has to offer.

We’d recommend at least 3 days at a minimum if you plan to head out on Isle Royale with your backpack. Hiking from Rock Harbor to Windigo, or vice versa, will take longer. Typically, people plan 5-7 days for that kind of trek.

If staying in the Rock Harbor Lodge, a couple of days will allow you to take in the sights and sounds of Rock Harbor, hike a small portion of the Greenstone Ridge Trail, and maybe even take a ferry ride on Lake Superior.

If you’re a nature enthusiast, you could easily spend up to a week here exploring the isle’s unique flora and fauna. With that said, it’s also possible to enjoy a day trip—you’ll just be spending a lot of money to only be on the island for a very short time. You’ll likely just leave wishing you had stayed longer or planning your return.

Fall hiking among the changing leaves on Isle Royale, the only Michigan National Park
The leaves were on fire with color during our fall visit.

Where to Stay

If you’re planning to visit Isle Royale National Park, you’ll want to know where to stay. The park itself does not offer a variety of lodging options for visitors. The only place you can stay on the island without camping is in the Rock Harbor Lodge.

This rustic lodge located right on the lake offers amazing views and is perfect for those looking for an authentic experience.

For those looking for a more private option, there are plenty of campgrounds located throughout the main island or on smaller surrounding islands within Lake Superior. These sites offer no amenities, but they make up for it with stunning views of the lake and surrounding area.

For those wanting to explore the area by boat, you may have the option to rent a small boat or canoe, or take a guided tour from Rock Harbor, which can take you around some of the more remote parts of Isle Royale.

A moose wading in an inland lake on Isle Royale
We spotted this moose wading and eating in an inner lake on the Island on our first visit.

Isle Royale National Park may not be the most well-known or easily accessible park in the country, but it is definitely worth the effort to visit if you want to immerse yourself in the outdoors. From the stunning vistas to the unique wildlife, there is plenty to enjoy.

So, if you’re looking for a true adventure and a chance to disconnect from everyday life, put Isle Royale on your travel list. Just be prepared to be self-sufficient, and make sure you have your hiking boots ready for your visit.