Isle Royale National Park: A User's Guide

Rock Harbor is the starting point for several boat tours in the park. Mark Baldwin/Shutterstock
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Even on a splendid summer evening, more moose than people are likely to be bedding down at Isle Royale National Park. But that's a large part of the draw for this remote wilderness island in Lake Superior accessible only by ferry or private boat.

Those who make the trip have access to hush-quiet hiking and paddling that offers a chance to spot wolves. The pack predators are thought to have crossed an ice bridge from Canada to the island in the late 1940s. The Ecological Study of Wolves on Isle Royale has chronicled the relationship of wolves and moose for more than 50 years and is the longest running large mammal predator-prey study on Earth.


Isle Royale National Park was established on April 3, 1940.

Things to do:

There are more than 160 miles of hiking trails in Isle Royale National Park. While many visitors come for multi-day wilderness backpacking treks, there are a number of shorter day hikes.

The 4.2-mile Scoville Point loop trail begins near the Rock Harbor Visitor Center winds along the shore of Lake Superior, dipping into the north woods forest. A water taxi ride takes you to the starting point of the Lookout Louise Trail, which takes you past Hidden Lake (look out for moose) and Monument Rock, an inland sea stack carved by wave action when lake levels were significantly higher.

Rock Harbor is also the starting place for several boat tours. The daily sunset cruise takes you to Raspberry Island for a walk along a boardwalk through a spruce bog followed by a trip aboard the MV Sandy around Scoville Point and Blake Point.

Why you’ll want to come back:

Most folks neglect to pack a wetsuit when visiting Michigan. Too bad. Isle Royale National Park offers scuba diving opportunities exploring shipwrecks resting on the bottom of Lake Superior. Among the wrecks is the Algoma, a 262-foot passenger steamer built in 1813 that sank in 1885.

Flora and fauna:

The park is as wild as any place in the Lower 48, but because of the isolation of Isle Royale, only 18 mammal species are found there, compared to more than 40 found on the nearby mainland. Two of the species are major players in a long-running, life-and-death drama.

Moose came to the island early in the 20th century and wolves followed sometime in the 1940s. Researchers began observing the interactions of wolves and moose on the island in 1958 and have chronicled the boon and bust of the populations since. There are now about nine wolves on the island, according to a January 2012 count. That is the lowest census in the history of the study. Meanwhile, there are about 750 moose in the park.

Visitors may also spot beaver, river otters, red fox and red squirrels.

Birds in the park include loons, double-crested cormorants, herring gulls, flycatchers and blue jays.

Fact box:

  • Website: Isle Royale National Parks
  • Park size: 571,790 acres or 893 square miles
  • 2011 visitation: 15,892
  • Funky fact: Isle Royale National Park is the setting for two books by Nevada Barr, whose series of best-sellers features National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. The second book in the series, “A Superior Death,” was published in 1994 and “Winter Study” was published in 2008.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. W e'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.