Quick & Short: How to Backpack Isle Royale


Isle Royale is a national park located in the northwest corner of Lake Superior. It is 45 miles long and 9 miles wide. Because of its isolation, it is one of the least visited national parks. Isle Royale is famous for its wolf and moose population. As of this writing, there are two wolves left on the island. The moose have flourished and number around 1,600. Plans are being discussed to relocate more wolves to the park.


When to Go:

Isle Royale is open April 16 to October 31.

Hints: Busiest months are July and August. Bugs are also at their peak these months. 


Permits: Park and Backcountry

There are no advance reservations. When you arrive on the island, you attend a 20 minute orientation. After the orientation, you go to the Ranger’s Office in the Visitor Center and fill out your itinerary. You do not have to follow your itinerary out on the trail.



Plan your itinerary before you arrive.

Open the map in a new window.

Open the trail mileage chart in a new window.

Plan your itinerary according to your ability.

Hints: If you arrive by the ferry to Rock Harbor, the leader of your group should stand on the edge of the crowd closest to the Visitor Center during orientation. Once orientation is done make a beeline straight to the Visitor Center to fill out your itinerary. The line tends to move slow as people stand at the counter figuring out the best routes.


Suggested Itineraries:



  • All shelters and campsites are first-come first-served.
  • Parties up to 6 may use shelters.
  • Parties of 7-10 are a “group” and must use tents in designated group campsites.
  • There are also non-group campsites for tents.
  • Parties of more than 10 must divide up into multiple parties with different itineraries.
  • Pit toilets are at all campsites.

Warning: As of this writing, water is not to be used from Chickenbone Lake or Lake Ritchie due to a toxic algae bloom. No amount of filtering, boiling or purification can make it safe for drinking or cooking.

Hints: Competition for shelters is fierce during July & August, usually filling up by noon. If you are planning on using the shelters, bring a tent anyway. Group campsites are alright, but definitely last place out of the three options.



My Isle Royale Gearlist


Getting to Isle Royale:

Ferry out of Copper Harbor, MI 

Ferry out of Houghton, MI

Ferry out of Grand Portage, MN

Seaplane out of Hancock, MI or Grand Marais, MN 

Hints: Make your reservations well in advance during the busy months.


Wendigo or Rock Harbor?:

Wendigo has a Visitor Center/Ranger Station. Hiking is more forested, less shoreline views than Rock Harbor. Many hikers trek the length of the island beginning at Wendigo.

Rock Harbor has a Visitor Center/Ranger Station and also a cafe, restaurant, store, lodge and cabins. The network of trails at this end of the island are more scenic. Most people hike the Rock Harbor end of the island.


Foxes will come right into camp and steal any food or garbage left out, even with you sitting right there.

Points of Interest:

  • Siskiwit Mine
  • Scofield Point
  • Mt Franklin
  • Mt Ojibway
  • Any of the harbor trails


Misc Notes

  • Park fees are $7 per person each day on the island.
  • Fire is only allowed at two campsites: Mosky Basin and Chippewa Harbor.
  • There are 165 miles of trail with campsites and shelters.
  • No bears on the island.