Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park

As we made our way north to Grand Portage, the sun started to peek over the horizon. We had to leave at dawn in order to make the 8:30 a.m. departure to Isle Royale National Park.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Located in Lake Superior, the island has been dubbed a national park, and we were about to explore it for the filming project we were working on. The only way to access the island is by boat. Unless you have your own or know someone who does, your only transportation option is hopping on one of the two ferries that shuttle to the island. One of these ferries departs from Houghton, Michigan, and the other departs from Grand Portage, Minnesota.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Grand Portage is located five hours north of our home base, so it was the obvious point of departure for us. We made the drive to Lutsen the night prior to our departure. Thankfully, that meant we only had an hour drive before reaching the docks.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Even though the calendar read late June, the air was crisp and cool. We boarded the boat and chose the outside seatsbasking in the morning sun. I would soon regret this choice, as the temperatures dropped drastically once we were out on the open water. Unfortunately for me, the inside of the boat was now filled to the brim, so I was stuck sitting in the bone-chilling wind for the next 2+ hours.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

We were on a tight schedule so we opted for the day trip out to Isle Royale National Park. This meant, with a bit of sightseeing along the way, we were due to arrive at the Windigo docks at 10 a.m., and our boat left for home again just 4 hours later to return around 3:30 p.m. The 7-hour day trip packs in quite a bit of activity, but if you are short on time, it is a great option for visiting the park.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

First up on our day trip was a stop at the Witch Tree, aka a 400-year-old cedar tree that is said to have powers that protect and calm the waters of Lake Superior.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Next up was a stop at the sunken ship called “America”. The sun was shining perfectly and we had a crystal clear view of the 185 foot ship that was resting below our boat. Because Lake Superior is a freshwater lake, the wreck is one of the best preserved in the world, even though it has been underwater since 1927. It is a popular dive spot and the bow of the ship rests just 2 feet from the surface while the stern sits at over 90 feet underwater.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Once we finished reminiscing about the heydays of the ship, America, we made our way to Windigo where we would be disembarking and spending the afternoon. The island offers plenty of hiking trails and scenic views to explore on your own, as well as ranger led programs, if you prefer a guided approach.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

After a quick peek in the ranger station and gift shop and some lollygagging around the docks, we made our way to the Grace Creek Overlook trail. The hike took us about 2 hours roundtrip and that included a picnic and plenty of stopping so we could capture footage along the way. The trails consisted of well-marked dirt paths with the occasional boardwalk to bridge a rough patch or stream.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Once we made it to the lookout point, we stopped for our lunch which consisted of sandwiches that we purchased from the gift shop in Windigo. Before long, the bees decided to join us, so we packed up and figured it was time to head back to the docks.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

We arrived back at the boat with an hour to spare, so we decided to join in and listen to the last ranger program of the day. The program revolved around the history and evolution of the island’s lodge. It was rather interesting to learn about the struggles of opening a lodge on an island.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

All too soon, it was time to board the boat and head back to Grand Portage, but the day wasn’t over quite yet. We had one more stop on the itinerary: The Rock of Ages Lighthouse. The lighthouse is there to warn ships of the massive reef system in the Isle Royale archipelago as the water ranges from a depth of 5 feet to hundreds of feet in a small area. Right before we arrived at the lighthouse, we were engulfed in a thick wave of fog. We could barely see each other, let alone much of the lighthouse. And, with that, we were on our way back to the docks to head home and mark another road trip off the books for the year.

Day Trip to Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Daytrips from Grand Portage are priced at $67 per person.The Isle Royale boat company also offers transportation services for anyone wanting to stay on the island for several nights at a time; these tickets start at $71 per person each way. There is one lodge and numerous campgrounds on Isle Royale, but be aware that no motorized/wheeled vehicles are allowed on the island so hiking is your only form of transportation. The ferries only run on certain days of the week, so be sure to check the days it operates so you aren’t stranded unexpectedly!

We enjoyed our day exploring Isle Royale, but it was a long day with a large amount of our time spent on the boat. My only complaint is that we didn’t have enough time to properly explore the island on foot. It looks like we will have to return for a longer camping visit one day in the future.

Have you been to Isle Royale National Park?

25 Comments
  • Dominique King
    Twitter:
    Posted at 08:06h, 25 November Reply

    Loved seeing Isle Royale again! We visited there about five years back…spending nearly a week staying at the lodge on the island, which was a great way to see a bit of the island if you’re not really a camper . We were there on what was supposed to be the last day of the season and went down to the dock with all of our things packed for the trip home. It was a seemingly beautiful day, but a storm that rolled in the previous evening left Lake Superior further out with high waves that necessitated the ferry to cancel the trip that day. Meant we had to re-check in to our cabin at the lodge and stay another night. Some great hiking back out for a day trip…and re-packing for the trip back to Copper Harbor the next morning (made it that time as the ferry captain’s daughter was getting married that day…so it was a pretty quick trip back!).

  • Jen
    Twitter:
    Posted at 23:27h, 28 November Reply

    2 hours in the freezing cold wind on a ferry doesn’t sound fun – but the rest of the trip looked great. I agree a camping trip may have been a really good option to be able to fully experience the Island. Seeing your picture and description of the fog rolling in reminded me of sailing in Maine. It can come in pretty quickly and make the return trip home a bit of a challenge.
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    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 21:46h, 29 November Reply

      Yeah, the rest of the trip was great! Camping is definitely a good option and would be a nice way to explore the island in more depth. I can see how the fog would remind you of Maine–it was so foggy when we were there! Would be fun to go sailing there!
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  • Lesley
    Twitter:
    Posted at 02:00h, 29 November Reply

    The one thing my husband reminds me of every time we go sailing is to bring warmer clothes. I always say that I’ll be fine and I never am. He jut started bringing an extra sweater for me.
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    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 21:41h, 29 November Reply

      How nice of him to bring an extra sweater! I always do the same–think I’ll be fine and then freeze. Maybe I’ll have to have Micah bring some extra layers, too 🙂
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  • Economical Excursionists
    Twitter:
    Posted at 03:37h, 29 November Reply

    Do you think the cost was worth it? You mentioned it being $67 just for the boat ride alone, which seems REALLY steep to me and a lot of the activities seemed to be things you could do at other national parks.
    Economical Excursionists recently posted…Should I be Afraid of Travel and Terrorism?My Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 21:39h, 29 November Reply

      It is on the expensive side, but we personally thought it was worth it. We are trying to visit all of the National Parks in the US, so we were ok with the price. The boat ride was a fun experience itself with the stops we made. We are always willing to spend a bit more on experiences and cut back on food and lodging, but it depends on your priorities and interests on whether it’s worth it for you or not.
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  • Stefan
    Twitter:
    Posted at 04:30h, 29 November Reply

    Love the look of that dive site. Are you able to snorkel/scuba dive down? LOL at the Witch Tree – great name. I’m gonna call Seb that when he’s knickin’ my food!
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  • Meg Jerrard
    Twitter:
    Posted at 04:38h, 29 November Reply

    Sounds like a fabulous trip even though you didn’t feel like you had enough time to explore. I think we would probably opt for some overnight camping after hearing about your experience, just so we can fully explore the area. Really don’t like being rushed when you’re in a beautiful place with so much hiking. Though note to self to make sure we get a seat on the inside of the ferry. Seems like just the ferry ride itself has some pretty fabulous views.

    Had no idea there was a sunken ship in Lake Superior!!
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    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 21:29h, 29 November Reply

      I think the overnight camping is a great idea-there is a lot to explore there! And, yeah, on chilly days, a seat inside is a must! 🙂
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  • Natasha
    Twitter:
    Posted at 06:53h, 29 November Reply

    Nice video! Though the price of the day-trip is a bit steep, it looks like a fun excursion and some good hiking too.
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    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 21:25h, 29 November Reply

      Thanks! Yeah, it is a bit on the expensive side for the day. Definitely a fun stop if you are looking for a bit of a splurge or fun camping adventure, though!
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  • Karilyn
    Twitter:
    Posted at 16:57h, 29 November Reply

    Great roundup! I have not heard of this national park. My son will definitely want to go once he gets wind of it! he’s only 5 but has already collected 15 park ranger badges – the harder to get to, the more he loves them!
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    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 21:21h, 29 November Reply

      Thanks! That’s fun that he is collecting badges, especially since he is so young! Sounds like a fun adventure–hope you both get to visit this spot sometime soon–it’s a fun one!
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  • Nancy
    Posted at 18:26h, 29 November Reply

    Beautiful photos! I live in Canada and haven’t been to Isle Royale National Park. I wonder if it is accessible from the Canadian side of Lake Superior? I will have a look at logistics and accommodation options. It sounds like a fun spot to spend a few days.
    Nancy recently posted…Fairmont Pacific Rim Gold Floor ReviewMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 21:16h, 29 November Reply

      I’m not sure if it is accessible from Canada, that’s a great question! I thought I read boat service was only offered from Minnesota and Michigan, but I could be wrong. I do know that the Minnesota departure point of Grand Portage is only about 6 miles from the Canadian border and an hour south of Thunder Bay, so that might be the closest access point. Either way, it was a lot of fun and a great spot to spend a few days!
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  • Dariece
    Twitter:
    Posted at 18:37h, 30 November Reply

    What an amazing trip…it sounds like heaven! Totally sounds and looks worth the $67. All of these images (especially the one of the lighthouse–I absolutely love the eerie effect the fog gives it) are absolutely stunning, guys.
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  • Linda DeColumna
    Posted at 08:56h, 05 June Reply

    Thank you for the information! We are interested in visiting Isle Royale in the future. Hope to get some nice pictures!

  • Emily Bruns
    Posted at 10:50h, 17 July Reply

    I’ve backpacked Isle Royale twice, harbor to harbor. To really experience the park, I think you have to camp overnight, at least. Some of the most beautiful places on the island are only accessible on foot or by boat. To those questioning the fees, Isle Royale is a backcountry wilderness. The only running water is at the two main harbors. Everything has to be shipped to and from the island via boat, and high fees help ensure all garbage, etc is taken off the island and all supplies are brought to the island. Don’t let the price stop you from experiencing this magical place!

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 11:23h, 25 August Reply

      Yeah I agree–wish we had the time in our schedule to camp there! Would love to go back and stay longer sometime! Glad to hear you enjoyed your experiences there!
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