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Isle Royale General Information


General Information

Isle Royale lies approximately 25 miles east of Minnesota and 55 miles northwest of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. Approximately 22,000 people visit Isle Royale every year between April 15th and October 31st..  The National Park Service charges $4.00 per day user fee but is free for young people 11 and under.  Season passes are available for $50.  User fees are collected when you make your boat reservations or if you arrive by private boat you will pay your fee when you register at Windigo or Rock Harbor, the two points of entry to the Isle.  If you are planning to depart by boat from either Houghton or Copper Harbor and need a  motel to stay over night, each community offers a wide variety of options.  Grand Portage in Minnesota also has a variety of motels for your convenience.  Please allow yourself plenty of time in advance to make boat reservations as boat trips quickly fill up, especially in peak seasons.

A complete list of transportation services

1.  Houghton, MI - The Ranger III is a 165 ft vessel capable of even the roughest water of Lake Superior and is run by the National Park Service.  The Ranger runs from June 1st until September 12th.  It departs Houghton to Rock Harbor at 9 am EST on Tuesdays and Fridays and returns to Houghton on Wednesdays and Fridays.  Transit time is 6.5 hours.   Cost one way is $48 for adults and $24 for young people 11 and under.  For reservations and other detailed information call the National Park Service in Houghton, MI at (906) 482-0984 or write: Isle Royale National Park, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, MI 49931-1869.

2.  Copper Harbor, MI - The Isle Royale Queen III is an 81 ft vessel and though capable of rough water, can bounce around and can cause seasickness.  The Queen generally starts her crossings in mid-May until the end of September. Departure time is 8 am EST. If seas are rough, consider an over-the-counter  motion sickness medication.  Trips usually last 4.5 hours and are well worth the experience.  Cost one way is $42 for adults and $21 for young people 11 and under.  For detailed information and reservations call (906) 289-4437 or write: The Royale Line, Box 24, Copper Harbor, MI 49918-0024

3. Grand Portage, MN - The Voyageur II is a 63 ft vessel and departs Grand Portage at 9:30 am CST on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from mid-May until the end of October.  The Voyageur takes about 2 hours to reach Windigo (22 miles) and takes another 4.5 hours to reach Rock Harbor via the north shore. It returns via the south shore to Windigo and Grand Portage then on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.  Cost one way is $49 for adults. For further information and reservations call (715) 392-2100 or write: Grand Portage-Isle Royale Transportation Line, Inc., 1507 N. First Street, Superior, WI 54880-1146

4. Grand Portage, MN - The SS Wenonah is a 65 ft vessel and departs daily at 9:30 am CST for Windigo and returns the same day.  The Wenonah runs from early June until September 16th.  Cost one way is $34 for adults and $17 for young people 11 and under. Transit time is about 3 hours. For further information and reservations call (715) 392-2100 or write: Grand Portage-Isle Royale Transportation Line, Inc., 1507 N. First Street, Superior, WI 54880-1146.

5. Houghton, MI - Seaplane Service.  1/2 hour one way, on-demand air service mid-May through September service to Rock Harbor and Windigo.   For reservations from May through September, call (906) 482-8850 or write: Isle Royale Seaplane Service,  P. O. Box 366,  Houghton, MI 49931-0366. For winter reservations, call (715) 526-5103.  For more information to see whether the seaplane service is available for 2004 contact the Isle Royale National Park headquarters at (906) 482-0984.

6. Rock Harbor - MV Sandy - The Sandy, operated by the National Park Concession Service provides a taxi service from Rock Harbor to both McCargoe Cove and Siskiwit Bay.  Service available only part of the year.  For information on costs, reservations, and departure times call Park headquarters at (906) 482-0984.

7.  Personal watercraft.  Many people travel to Isle Royale on their own boats, sailing or engine boats are common around Isle Royale.  Key ingredient - know the weather conditions, be prepared for extended periods of rough weather and fog conditions AND be prepared to stay an extra day or two due to the weather. 

What Is Available On The Island

Windigo on the western section of the Isle and Rock Harbor on the eastern section are the only two  contacts with civilization.  Each has a small store with camping supplies and food.  Liquid fuel can be purchased.  Do not rely on the stores to purchase much - variety is very limited.  Everything needs to be brought to the Isle by boat.  These are also the only place where running water exists and you can take a 5 minutes shower at Rock Harbor for $3. Washers and dryers also are available - costly though.  Aluminum canoes are available but difficult for portaging - rent one from the mainland or bring your own - cost is minimal on the Ranger III the Queen.  Rock Harbor Lodge is open from Memorial Day until Labor Day.  House keeping cabins are also available.  Advanced reservations are required for both the Lodge and the cabins. Contact Rock Harbor Lodge, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, MI 49931  (Reservations & Information - Summer: 906-337-4993 or Winter: 270-773-2191). Also available through the Rock Harbor Lodge is a boat taxi service to different parts of the Isle.

Hiking and Camping

Isle Royale campgrounds and hiking trails are a must for every visitor.  When planning your hiking experience consider both the mileage of all trials and the difficulties of the individual trails so that you may have adequate time to accomplish your hike. To get a visual idea of hiking, shelters, and campgrounds visit our gallery of pictures taken during an actual camping trip. While there are no bears on the Isle, fox, blue jays, squirrels, and other wild life will feel free to investigate all your possessions.  Keeping your campground neat and tidy and having things packed securely at night will limit any damage they can cause.  Fires are not allowed outside of designated fire rings.  The interior of the Park can get very dry during the summer and caution is encouraged.  Clean drinkable water is a problem outside of Rock Harbor and Windigo.  Make sure that you bring a water purifier of 4 micron or less to purify the water.  You can boil the water, but it may not taste good and will use up your precious fuel resources.

While the vast majority of campers will see at least one moose, if not many, people who only visit Rock Harbor will most likely not see a moose.  Though moose wander everywhere, they love to stay near their favorite feeding spots, usually found in swampy areas.  While wolves can be heard, especially at night, they are skittish of people and are seldom seen. 

Insects and Lake Superior are synonymous with each other and indeed the mosquitoes are quite large.  Yet while camping in early August seldom was a mosquito to be seen.  But they and the pesky flies can become quite voracious, so remember to bring a good bug repellant along - remember the higher the DEAT number, the better - forget the stuff with less than 20, find a repellant with a number between 50 and 100 for good protection.

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis can be seen on any given night anywhere in the Copper Country and Isle Royale.  Anytime after dark they can appear - at times incredible and other times just flickers in the sky.  Anyplace by the Lake or over the Lake or any high vista will be the place you wish to be to see these beauties.  Any pictures you have seen can quickly pale into insignificance should a true display occur for you.  They can last 10 minutes or up to four hours.  How can anyone capture such an array?

Park Rules

1. While the inland lakes can have Northern Pike, Perch, Trout, etc, Park rules stipulate only artificial bait on all inland lakes, but the good thing is, you won't need a fishing license.  Michigan size and catch limits apply on both inland lakes and Lake Superior. On Lake Superior you will need a fishing license but you get your choice of bait.  When cleaning fish, all extra parts of the fish must be disposed of in deep water, more than 50 ft, or on shorelines at least 100 ft from the campgrounds.  Try to leave them where the sea gulls will be able to get them.
2. What you take into the park, you must take out - leave nothing behind including cigarette butts and all foil!!!!
3.  Groups of 7 or more people must have advanced camping registration and follow their itinerary - Rangers are much stricter with groups on this matter than they are with just several campers.
4.  All collecting of artifacts or mineral resources from the Park is prohibited.  All archeological and paleontological sites are to be left undisturbed. 
5.  Individual camping parties must obtain their free camping permit upon arrival on the island at Rock Harbor or Windigo.  This includes backpackers, kayakers and canoeists, boaters and fishermen.

When all is said and done at the end of the day on Isle Royale, falling asleep to the sounds of nature, the fresh smell of Lake Superior, the call of the loon, memories of what you went through that day, and the camaraderie of fellow campers will make your camping dreams come true!

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