Isle Royale Trails

Isle Royale Trails

Foot bridge at Isle Royale

There are 165 miles of hiking trails that intersect the 133,782 land acres of Isle Royale. Each route is very different from another and ranges from very easy to very difficult. Likewise, trails can go from easy to difficult. There are both long and short trails that people can hike. The trails themselves are marked relatively plain on the island map provided by the Rangers when you arrive on the island. However, it is essential to plan your trip to Isle Royale to consider the difficulty of the different trails, as your hike will be significantly altered as the trail's difficulty increases.

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 wildlife 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 microns or less to purify the water. You can boil the water, but it may not taste good and use up your precious fuel resources.

Rock Harbor

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 pretty significant. Yet while camping in early August, seldom was a mosquito to be seen. But they and the pesky flies can become quite greedy, 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 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 an accurate display occur for you. They can last 10 minutes or up to four hours. How can anyone capture such an array?

The Ranger at dock in Rock Harbor

Good to Know Information

Isle Royale lies approximately 25 miles east of Minnesota and 55 miles northwest of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. About 22,000 people visit Isle Royale every year between April 15th and October 31st. The National Park Service charges a $4.00 per day user fee but is accessible 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 payment 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 overnight, 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.

Foot bridge at Isle Royale

Long Trails of Isle Royale

There are seven long trails to hike when at Isle Royale. These are the Feldman Ridge Trail, Greenstone Ridge Trail, Indian Portage Trail, Ishpeming Trail, Island Mine Trail, Minong Ridge Trail, and the Rock Harbor Trail.

For individual miles for these and other routes, check the mileage chart provided by the Park, which will be in the information package your receive when you get to the Park.

These trails are indeed long and should be hiked with preparation and supplies. Having good boots, a plan, and appropriate camping gear is critical. The trails have many sections that range from easy to difficult.

Greenstone Ridge Trail

Total miles for main trail: Map=40 miles 

Difficulty: Easy, Moderate, Difficult

The Greenstone Ridge trail is the longest on the island.  It is also the most popular hiking trail. The trail runs nearly the length of the island on a ridge that forms the island's backbone. It runs along with the highest points on the island, and it offers magnificent views of Lake Superior on both the north and south shores. Of course, the time of year you go determines how often but, you can see both shores at various points along the trail.

Section 1: Hidden Lake dock to Lane Cove Trail / Mount Franklin Trail

Miles: Map=5.7 miles  

Difficulty: easy, moderate 

Most people start the trail from the point where the Mt. Franklin trail cuts in at the Greenstone trail, but you must begin with Lookout Louise to make the entire trail. By hiking from where the Mt. Franklin trail cuts in, walking to Lookout Louise, and doubling back or getting someone in Rock Harbor with a boat to drop you off at the Hidden Lake dock in Tobin Harbor. The dock at Hidden Lake is hard to locate.  The dock is right by Hidden Lake, a small lake with lots of wetlands around it. 

Hiker atop Greenstone Ridge

After leaving the Lake, you immediately begin the climb up to the ridge. The rise is relatively short and not very steep at this point in the rise. At approximately the .6 mile mark, you will pass "Monument Rock." Continuing for another .3 miles, you reach the Greenstone Ridge. At this point, if you go straight for .1 miles, you will come to "Lookout Louise." The view is worth the short trip. 

Once on the ridge, you go downhill a bit then, pretty much level off. You pass a portage trail between Duncan Bay and Tobin Harbor at 1.4 miles. Just past this point, you begin to start the ascent up to what will become more of the "normal" level of the ridge. You are at this level when you reach the Lane Cove Trail and the Mt. Franklin trail. They are 3.4 miles from the Duncan Bay portage.

Section 2: Lane Cove Trail / Mt. Franklin Trail to Chickenbone East Campground trail

Miles: Map=8.8 miles/ GPS=8.22 miles  

Difficulty: Moderate

Walking west from the Mt. Franklin trail, at the .3 mile mark, you will come to Mt. Franklin. There is no sign or anything but, you will know when you are there. Huge rocks are forming a ledge overlooking the entire northeast end of the island. Plan on spending/losing some time here; it is well worth it. It's a great place to drop the pack and bask in the beauty. Leaving Mt. Franklin, you continue along the ridge in a slight ascent till you come to Mt. Ojibway and Mt. Ojiway tower at 2.3 miles or 2.5 miles(GPS). After leaving the building, you begin a slight descent and come to the Daisy Farm trail, about 4.2 miles (GPS). Etc.

Camping at Chickenbone

Section 3: Chickenbone East Campground to Chickenbone West Campground

Miles: Map= miles / GPS=? miles  Difficulty: ? Hiked: 1999,2001

Section 4: Chickenbone West Campground trail to Hatchet Lake Campground trail

Miles: Map=7.2 miles 

Difficulty: Moderate  

At .8 miles (GPS), you come to the portage between Chickenbone Lake. This portage runs north/south, and the trail runs east to west but, when you come to the portage from the east, it is hard to see that the trail continues straight because it goes down over a small creek. 

Section 5: Hatchet Lake Campground trail to Lake Desor South trail

Miles: Map=7.3 miles 

Difficulty: Moderate

After leaving the postmarking Hatchet Lake trail, you immediately climb a hill. After that, the trail climbs another hill at the .25 mile mark. You come to Ishpeming Tower at 3.8 miles (map and post at Hatchett) or 3.7 miles (GPS).

Hiking the trail

Section 6: Lake Decor South trail to Island Mine Campground trail

Miles: Map=4.8 miles / GPS=5.2 miles  

Difficulty: Moderate

Section 7: Island Mine Campground trail to Washington Creek Campground

Miles: Map=6.2 miles  GPS=6.49  

Difficulty: Moderate

Feldtmann Ridge Trail

The Feldtmann Ridge trail is quickly made from Windigo around to Windigo in either direction in 4-6 days. It provides a good cross-section of the island.  The trail offers plenty for hikers and explores.  Amazing views along the ridge. Plenty of wildlife to include moose and ducks of all kinds, in and around the wetlands. It is an excellent first-time trip for people with backpacking experience.

Location: west side of the Isle. 

Total miles for main trail: Map=19.0 miles / GPS=19.9 miles  

Average Difficulty: Moderate

Section 1: Windigo dock to Feldtmann Lake

Miles from Windigo dock to the east sign at Feldtmann Lake: Map=8.8 miles / GPS=9.2 miles 

Difficulty: Moderate

Starting out from Windigo dock, hikers get to enjoy Washington Harbor.  Hikers head out west.  A fork in the trail confronts hikers early but stay on the path near the harbor.  If you follow the other direction, it goes to the Windigo Nature Trail and Ranger Trail.  The main trail veers south after Beaver Island.  An accent uphill starts soon afterwards of about 100 feet.  Areas between the mountains can flatten out, but it is a moderate rise until hikers reach the ridgeline.  Spectacular views await hikers at the top.  The view of Lake Superior and the wetland area below are glorious.  This is an excellent place for the first picnic or photo opportunity.  This completes the most challenging section of the route.

The next portion is decent to Grace Creek.  There are lots of footbridges in this section that traverse over the wetlands.  The amount of water you encounter depends on what season your hiking.  After Grace Creek, small hills become the challenge to hikers.  However, it eventually flattens out and becomes a relatively easy portion of the trail to hike.  

Grace Harbor is your next destination with a beautiful view of Lake Superior.  After this section, the trail turns back into the island and wetlands.  The trail goes back east from here towards Feldtmann Lake Campground.

Section 2: Feldtmann Lake to Siskiwit Bay

Miles from the east sign at Feldtmann Lake to the post at Siskiwit Bay: Map=10.2 miles / GPS=10.7 miles  Difficulty: 7 

The trail leaves the campground and passes Rainbow Cove Trail. It is relatively flat until you come to a series of pretty steep climbs taking you up the Feldtmann Ridge. Atop the ridge is excellent views.  Feldtmann Lake and the mighty presence of Lake Superior offer great photo opportunities. The trail continues along this ridge which meanders up and down a little bit, primarily up until you came to a long uphill. Ahead is the Feldtmann Ridge Tower. The tower is 4.9 miles (GPS) from Feldtmann Lake Campground. After leaving the tower, you proceed along the ridge only, in a generally downward direction. 0.5 miles (GPS) from the tower, you will pass the original wooden tower. To the left of the trail, opposite the wood debris on the right, is the old cement footings. Siskiwit Bay is 5.2 miles (GPS) from this point. You remain on the ridge going downward for a short period when the trail passes a small stream that, I've been told, is a spring. It was flowing heavily in the spring but just a trickle in the fall. It should be a reliable source of water, though. You then continue to descend until you reach the bottom and the trail generally levels out to a road grade with lots of spruce and grasslands around. You will see several clearings here with grass growing, most likely from the days when it was logging then, a CCC camp. It is like this until you reach Siskiwit Bay Campground.