Explore the Most Remote and Least Visited National Park in the U.S. – Isle Royale!
Isle Royale is one of the most remote and least visited national parks in the United States. It is located in Lake Superior, 53 miles off the coast of Copper Harbor at the northernmost tip of both Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Keweenaw Peninsula. Surprisingly, anyone hoping to visit the island this summer or early fall needs to start making transportation and lodging reservations now.
“All national parks, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, are seeing big increases in visitorship,” said Kim Alexander, general manager of Isle Royale Resorts and Rock Harbor Lodge. “Isle Royale is on thousands of peoples’ bucket lists because they expect it to be less crowded — and it is — but this national park is also where visitors stay the longest and return the most often.”
Alexander said because the pandemic closed the park in 2020, there is still a lot of pent up demand to visit the archipelago wilderness in 2022. Add to that Isle Royale making National Geographic’s 2021 list of “Best of the World,” and that increases people wanting to discover it. Isle Royale is only open between April 15 through Oct. 31. The only way to reach it is by boat or seaplane, and this requires coordinating transportation with lodging reservations both on the island and mainland.
“This is not a spur-of-the-moment day-trip or longer-term vacation.”
What draws people to this remote collection of 450 islands is its 133,782 acres, 160-plus miles of wilderness hiking trails, inland waterways, wildlife sightings, four lighthouses and sunken shipwrecks off its coasts. No cars, bikes or pets are allowed on the island. The park is renowned for being a place to disconnect and immerse in the sights and sounds of nature.
When making plans to visit in 2022, Alexander said day trips are doable, but advised staying for at least two to four nights to fully take in the island adventures. He recommends starting with lodging reservations by calling 866-644-2003 during the winter months or 906-337-4993 after the park opens in mid-April. Overnight options include the lakeside Rock Harbor Lodge with its Lighthouse Restaurant & Gift Shop and Greenstone Grill, housekeeping cottages with a kitchenette and private bath or the rustic, one-room Windigo camper cabins.
Isle Royale visitors can also backpack or kayak to 36 campgrounds. Reservations are required for groups of seven to 10 individuals, including leaders. More information and reservations may be made at the Isle Royale website, https://www.nps.gov/isro/index.htm.
After lodging or group campsite reservations are set, Alexander said to make transportation reservations. Ferry service runs from Houghton and Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor and Grand Portage, Minnesota, to Windigo and Rock Harbor.
The Ranger III ferry from Houghton takes six hours travel time and reservations can be made between Jan. 3, 2022, and mid-September at https://www.nps.gov/isro/planyourvisit/rangeriii-reservation-instructions.htm. The Isle Royale Queen IV from Copper Harbor takes 3.5 hours travel time, and reservations can be made now through September at 906-289-4437 or https://www.isleroyale.com/reservations/trips/Transit/CH-IR.html?show_featured=1&activetab=book_reservations.
Ferry service is available on the Voyageur II or Sea Hunter III from Grand Portage. The Voyageur II to Windigo takes two hours and to Rock Harbor, five hours. The Sea Hunter III takes one hour to reach Windigo. Reservations are available now at https://www.isleroyaleboats.com/.
For faster arrivals, Isle Royale Seaplane rides are available from Houghton or Grand Marais, Minnesota. The plane ride from Houghton to Rock Harbor takes 40 minutes. from Grand Marais to Windigo takes 30 minutes and Grand Marais to Rock Harbor is 45 minutes. Flight reservations from both cities can be made at https://www.isleroyaleseaplanes.com/reservations.
Alexander said there are also fishing charter, canoe or water taxi rentals and tour options available on Isle Royale. He advised signing up for them after finalizing lodging and transportation reservations by calling the Rock Harbor Lodge during the winter at 866-644-2003 or 906-337-4993 starting April 15.
“The best advice I can give, in addition to making reservations now, is don’t overextend yourself when you are adventuring on Isle Royale,” said Alexander. “Come here with plans to relax, take in nature and quiet your life.”
The Keweenaw Peninsula is the northernmost part of Michigan. Despite its name, the area is actually an island because the Keweenaw Waterway separates it from the main part of the Upper Peninsula. The Keweenaw juts into Lake Superior with almost 125 miles of shoreline. It is a nationally renowned outdoor recreational destination for mountain bikers, paddlers, hikers, snowmobilers, skiers and more. With a past in copper mining, several historical sites are preserved for unique visitor experiences today. Learn more about the Keweenaw Peninsula at www.keweenaw.info or on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube