Isle Royale National Park

Situated in the vastness of Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is one of America’s most isolated and untouched National Parks. Though the park is made up of many smaller islands, it’s namesake, Isle Royale is a 45 mile long, and 9 mile wide island accessible only by boat or sea plane. The park is visited annually by less people than visit the Grand Canyon (and some of the other popular parks) in a single day. The ferry ride is a long 5+ hour journey from where we were in Hancock, MI, so we opted for the 35 minute sea plane ride – an adventure in itself.

At the airport we met a couple who had been trying to get to the park for days. Fog had prevented the sea plane from landing. They twice had made the trip to the park and back, without touching down. They were hoping today would be their lucky day. As we were going on the same flight, we were hoping the same.

She’d mentioned a few times how small the plane was, and was asking about bags (you know the ones), which got me a little nervous. The last time she’d gone had apparently been pretty bumpy. She made some comment indicating once I saw the plane I’d probably be nervous. Flying always makes me a little nervous, but I assured her that the sea plane would not be the smallest plane I’d ever flown in (and it wasn’t), so the size wasn’t going to be a big shock.

We actually took off on land, but this is one of the better pictures I got of the plane (taken after landing).

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Our journey out was a smooth one, with the exception of a few bumps. I had the front seat, up next to the pilot, so I was able to take a bunch of pictures. The view was great, but it was sometimes difficult to get good pictures through the windows (which made me appreciate the terrifying, door-less helicopter from Hawaii a bit more). Here’s one of the coast as we left Michigan’s Upper Peninsula:

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I also took a few of the various systems in front of me. Here are my controls. I opted to leave them alone:

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Our pilot mentioned that it probably wasn’t a good day on the ferry and that we were lucky to be in the air. Later we would realize just how true his words were; by day’s end the ferry crossing was that of island legend. The ferry rode 5 foot swells the entire ride, and the heavy winds coming across caused the boat to roll left and right as well. More than half of the passengers were sick on the boat. A terrible crossing indeed.

After a short and pleasant flight, we set down in Tobin Harbor (coming in around a sailboat) and came to a stop at the dock. As we disembarked an Island employee offered to take our bags up to our room. We declined, as we didn’t have much with us. After the walk to the Rock Harbor office to check in we were regretting our decision as we then had to walk back up by the sea plane dock to our cottage to put our things away and get the lay of the land.

After a quick stop back down in Rock Harbor for some lunch we checked in at the Visitor’s Center for maps and ideas. The Park Ranger on duty (I believe his name was Lucas), was very friendly and super helpful. He gave us some information about the various hiking trails, and some recommendations for our short stay on the Island (we were leaving 2 days later, and would have only this afternoon and all day tomorrow to explore). With our maps in hand we headed out, deciding on the hike to Scoville Point – a 4.2 mile loop trail, with lots of options.

The park brochure has this to say about the hike:

“This trail winds its way between the forest and shoreline communities out to spectacular Scoville Point. The contrast between the intimacy and protection of the woods and the powerful influence of Lake Superior is dramatic, especially on a stormy day.”

We had a nice sunny, cool afternoon for our hike, and the brochure was definitely right about this hike. For the most part, with the exception of a hike into the Grand Canyon back in 2009, any hike I have been on has been through the forest with a view at the end. You hike to and from the view, enjoying it for whatever length of time you choose to stay. Walking through the woods and hiking are pleasurable experiences on their own, but the view is usually supposed to be the highlight. On the Scoville trail, the view winds in and out of the hike, each time more breathtaking than the last.

Here’s the first teasing view we encountered:

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It was a moderate hike, frequently dipping up and down, so not as labor intensive as simply climbing to a peak and then working your way back down. What was most remarkable about the trail was the complete lack of outside noise. We didn’t encounter many people on our hike (and when we did they were usually traveling in the opposite direction so you simply exchanged greetings and moved on). Beyond the occasional voice, there are no outside noises to intrude – no cars on highways off in the distance, just the occasional sea plane or boat passing by, and the simple sounds of nature. It truly was a magnificent hike. Here are just a few more of the many photos I took of the view:

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This was my favorite spot on the hike. We saw a family of ducks here on the return trip:

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And finally – out along Scoville Point:

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In addition to the spectacular views of Lake Superior, we also encountered lots of fun plants and berries. Here is a sampling:

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And though we didn’t see any of the moose or wolves that Isle Royale is known for, no hike would be complete without a furry friend or two:

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Once we returned to Rock Harbor we stopped back into the place we’d had lunch for ice-cream and drinks. Rather than sitting at a table, we opted to sit at the counter, where we encountered a fantastic waitress named Deborah. She was so sweet, and played the part of both waitress and doctor. When I noticed a bit of a rash forming on my arms, she asked if I’d purchased the insect repellent in the visitor’s center. She said she sometimes has a reaction to it. She advised Benadryl and a shower – good (and effective) advice.

With the long day behind us, we headed back to our cottage. The island offers an evening program 2 nights per week, and tonight was one of the programs (about the moose and wolf populations on the island), but we were too tired to attend. Our cottage had a kitchenette, and we’d purchased some supplies in the Island’s Trading Post upon arrival so after our hike (and our quick snack) we stayed in and cooked dinner. Chicken sausage and jambalaya rice. It was a good meal to finish off the day.

Stay tuned for more of our adventure on Isle Royale.

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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula contains more than 40 miles of lakeshore on Lake Superior, including 15 miles of sandstone cliffs, caves, and rock formations. But its 114 square miles also includes lush vegetation, nature trails, waterfalls, and hiking. With our Pictured Rocks water experience completed the day before (and really – that is definitely the best way to see it, though I might have been better off on the tour boat), we decided to see some of the sites on land.

We’d already stopped in at the main Visitor’s Center for some information before heading to camp, so with our list of NPS Day Hikes in hand, we headed out for the day. Our first stop was over at Munising Falls. At .25 miles, it hardly qualified as a hike, in fact signs to the Falls announced how far away you were in feet. It was a pretty walk on a paved path through some beautiful greenery. And the Falls, while not Niagara, were charming enough.

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Though it was still August, we were already seeing signs of Fall in the trees.

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Our next spot was the much longer hike at the Miners Falls Trail. At a whopping 1.2 miles it was far more taxing than our last “hike”. Even if the hike had actually been substantial it would have been completely worth it for the view. The overlook to Miners Castle is beautiful. A short walk brought you atop the “castle” but the view was definitely better from a distance.

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Since we still needed to break down camp before moving on, we skipped the actual waterfall but we did stop at one of those car overlooks on the way back. The view wasn’t all that interesting (I find that they almost never are), but this little guy sat and posed for a while.

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Before breaking down camp we visited the Bay Furnace Ruins situated within the campground. The furnace is all that remains of a settlement that was destroyed in an 1877 fire.

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Farewell Pictured Rocks. I hope to return someday.