Park History: Isle Royale National Park
Journeying to Isle Royale National Park is almost as difficult as visiting a foreign country, perhaps more so, due to its remote location. An island fortress in Lake Superior, the national park has endured so magnificently in large part thanks to its remoteness.
More than a few national parks see more visits in a single month than Isle Royale does in a year. According to National Park Service statistics, just 15,973 folks headed to the island last year for some R&R. The high water mark -- 31,760 -- was recorded in 1987. But that shouldn't be viewed as a slight, for those who manage to make it to Isle Royale, which was created on this date on 1940, enjoy a wilderness vista that's hard to find these days in the Lower 48.
Accessible only by seaplane, boat, or paddling (unless you come in winter, when you can walk across the ice if it's thick enough), Isle Royale spans 850 square miles, some of which is underwater as the park's boundaries extend four-and-a-half miles out into the lake. On this heavily forested preserve scientists have been watching the interplay between wolves and moose for half-a-century, a remarkable, unmatched-for-its-longevity study of predator and prey.
Those who are lured to the island park and its more than 132,000 acres of congressionally designated wilderness come to paddle around it and its many islands or perhaps on one of its inland lakes, to dive into its waters onto wrecks, or simply to walk through the meadows and into the forests.
If you plan to camp in the park either in a tent, by docking your boat or even by anchoring your boat in park waters, you'll need a backcountry permit. Permits are issued on board the Ranger III and at the Rock Harbor and Windigo Visitor Centers.
Camping for parties of 6 or less is on a first-come, first-served basis and sites cannot be reserved. Canoe-only sites are limited to two nights stay, for parties of six or less. The entire shore of Lake Whittlesey, Wood Lake, Intermediate Lake and Siskiwit Lake, and designated zones along Lake Superior, are open to camping with a one-night stay limit per location. Camping on offshore islands is limited to designated campsites. Groups (7-10 people) must stay at designated “group campsites”, and must get backcountry permits in advance. Shoreline camping is not open to groups.
There is one lodge on the island, Rock Harbor Lodge. Here you'll find rooms with private baths, housekeeping cottages, a dining room, snack bar, gift shop, dockside store, marina, rental motor boats, kayaks and canoes, guided fishing and sightseeing tours. That said, the season is relatively short, running from late May to just after Labor Day.