23 Nov 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.