Isle Royale National Park
Perhaps due to the remoteness, I had heard very little of this national park. We found it by accident, looking around on google maps. For reasons I cannot explain, this 40 mile island found its way onto my “must-hike” list and we finally made it. I can easily say that whatever you call your list, bucket-list, must-hike, Isle Royale should be on that list.
Getting to Isle Royale is non-trivial. Taking that into account, I divide this into two (or more articles). This first article is about backpacking along the coast south/west from Rock Harbor. More on getting there next time.
After arriving on the island and enjoying a short rules presentation by Ranger Kim we departed on our hike. The intended route would take us along the coast from Rock Harbor to Three Mile, Daisy Farm, and Moskey Basin. Leaving the ranger station at Rock Harbor, we bore aware from the shore, over aged rocks through the boreal forest. The trail quickly returns to the coast for the majority of the hike to the Three Mile campgrounds. As with most hikes, the first half mile was slow as we adjusted to our packs, with the rest of the distance to Three Mile passing quickly. It is near this area that you pass Suzy’s cave. We skipped it due to the long trek ahead, but I am told it is an interesting geological feature and worth the visit if you are taking short hikes near Rock Harbor.
Leaving Three Mile and heading to Daisy Farm, our eyes were constantly drawn to the lake, on the lookout for Rock Harbor Lighthouse. That is, when our eyes were not glued to the ground. The low lying areas near lake superior are divided between rocks and bogs, both requiring constant attention to our footing. Fortunately the rich and verdant flora provides much to see. Old man’s beard drapes the many birch trees, beside and over shelf fungi. Skunk cabbage, trilliums, and jack-in-the-pulpit line the paths. Along this route we also passed several fenced off mine pits / shafts; abandoned copper mines. They are not much to see, little more than water filled holes in the ground. A small historical novelty amidst nature’s grand scene.
Arriving at Daisy farm, you find a dock perfect for lunches, refilling water bottles, and just generally laying about. However, after a short rest at Daisy Farm (a mistake on my part as eight miles with heavy packs had taken its toll), we set out. The hills and rocks are not steep, but the constant rise and fall, combined with a heavy pack, saps the strength. Less than an hour out of Daisy Farm, our group hit a wall of fatigue. With fatigue and multiple minor injuries, I decided we would not make it and turned back. This decision pained me greatly and much praise to my long time hiking buddy for the resolve to stick to the return to Daisy Farm (absolutely the right decision). Returning to Daisy Farm we took time to enjoy the previously passed dock. Standing on the end of the dock and looking down, I saw something I had not before experienced with lakes. The water was crystal clear; enough to clearly see the bottom ten feet underwater. I can only imagine that in peak season (July, August) this dock would be packed as it was frequently visited during our visit in June.
So some ten miles later, eight to Daisy Farm and two miles in our aborted push farther, we found ourselves making camp at 8 PM -- settling into a shelter, eating dinner, and playing some spades. And all with plenty of daylight as two hours later, at 10pm on the summer solstice, it was still broad daylight. It was a long and tiring day, but one of the best backpacking treks I’ve taken.
This route is truly a coastal highway for hikers. Lake Superior is ever present, its waves washing upon the shore, often less than three feet away. The views are astounding, with every break in the trees revealing a new vista, enticing you to rest and just to enjoy. Signs of wildlife are abundant. People are present but, perhaps due to the remote location, not to the point of crowding. The Rangers are the best we have ever encounters, both ever present, and ever helpful and polite.
We will write more, and we will return. Isle Royale is simply too big to fit into a single post or a single visit.
Btw, all the locals and rangers pronounced it royal (roi-uhl), not royale (roi-al).
About the Author
I grew up in the woods. Coming home after school I would throw my book bag in the door and take off outdoors. Years later, this passion has returned. Experiencing the outdoors is like returning home.
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