Welcome to my blog on Isle Royale National Park! My name is John Keefover and I’m a photographer who goes by the name: Keefography. I focus on landscape photography here in my home state of Minnesota.
I live on the North Shore of Lake Superior where nice waterfalls, towering cliffs, rolling hills and endless lakes and rivers call to me. As much as I love traveling around the US and overseas, this place will always be home.
Though Isle Royale National Park is located in Michigan, it’s actually closer to Minnesota. You can even see it from the North Shore in Lake Superior. I have been wanting to get out here for some time and see the wilderness.
My recent trip to Isle Royale National Park was a spontaneous one. A fellow photographer and friend of mine, Ben Ahrens, was going out with a couple of his buddies and there was an open spot on the seaplane. I sort of invited myself to the group but in the end we had an amazing time!
8 Incredible Days in Isle Royale National Park
We visited Isle Royale National Park for eight days, although we were originally supposed to go for nine. We had a fog delay with our seaplane trying to get over the thick fog on Lake Superior to get out there but it just wasn’t safe enough to cross. Once we finally arrived, we hit the hiking trails.
We ended up hiking around 80 miles in total going end to end and visiting both the northern and southern parts of the island. The weather was absolutely perfect for the entire trip. We barely had any rain at all – bluebird days and although the nights all got down to freezing, that meant no bugs!
The trails were in better shape than I was expecting for a true wilderness area. There was some mud and downed trees that you had to dance around but that was to be expected. A few spots had reroutes due to beavers flooding the trail, and one of those reroutes was across a big dam! I can definitely see how the trail gets overgrown with vegetation in summer.
There were also a lot more people out on the island than I was expecting. I’m not sure if it was because our trip coincided with Memorial Day Weekend or if everyone was just happy to get out of the house after last year. Campgrounds filled up by dinner and shelters were hard to come by.
We snagged one shelter out of four possible locations, so don’t plan on getting one when you arrive – just consider it a bonus if you do! We also shared a couple of the campgrounds with some friendly fishermen who hooked us up with ice cold beers from their coolers. This was an awesome experience since we had already depleted our whiskey supply at the time.
Moose were everywhere too! We saw a total of 25 moose, 15 of them in one day! Keep an eye out on the lakes and rivers as you cross them, and try to be quiet while walking to increase your chances of seeing moose. I have written a blog series about this trip which you can find on my website – click the link here. It goes into much more detail if you are interested.
My Favorite Place at Isle Royale: Todd Harbor
My favorite place in Isle Royale National Park was the Todd Harbor area. The sites there are great, and the shoreline down the trail there is super rugged and photogenic. There is an old mining site at Todd Harbor as well and you have a hidden trail past it that is concealed by a massive downed tree.
Further down the trail is a beautiful waterfall with another one that feeds into Lake Superior. You cross a log over the river to see it but it’s beautiful. I recommend spending some time here on your visit to Isle Royale!
Top 5 Things To Do at Isle Royale National Park
- Fly over the national park in a seaplane
- See some moose or in our case: 25 of them
- Get a boat ride from a fisherman up to the Rock of Ages Lighthouse
- Backpack across the entire island – it’s a great personal accomplishment
- Drink a few ice cold beers at the store after finishing the hike!
Enjoy the Harbor Towns & Lake Superior
Isle Royale isn’t like other national parks. There aren’t any close towns. The closest ones are the harbor towns where the ferry runs or where the seaplanes fly out of. I can’t speak for the towns in Michigan (Houghton and Copper Harbor), but the towns on the North Shore of Minnesota are great. They are small harbor towns with a booming summer tourism industry.
Lake Superior is the main attraction that draws us all in. People are friendly, food is good, beer is plentiful and there is lots to do – especially if you like the outdoors! While you are here check out the Superior Hiking Trail which runs along the whole lake shore. It’s a 310-mile long trail full of Minnesota magic. You can through-hike or do just a section, which is just as epic!
Plan for 5-7 Days at Isle Royale National Park
I would definitely recommend putting aside at least five to seven days for your visit to Isle Royale National Park. We ended up backpacking across the island in eight days after our fog delay of a day and a half with the seaplane. You don’t have to traverse the whole island though. You could just do a loop around the major harbors, or basecamp and then take a few day hikes.
You also have the option of renting a cabin or a room at either Rock Harbor or Windigo and just enjoying your time there. If you have a kayak, canoe or a small boat you can spend all the time you want on the water. However you choose to spend your time at Isle Royale, it will be a unique experience!
Best Memory from my Trip to Isle Royale National Park
My favorite moment from my Isle Royale trip was one night when we were walking to Rainbow Cove for sunset. My buddy had been hyping it up for weeks beforehand saying that it was the one place he really wanted to go while we were there. Well, we almost didn’t make it! We turned a corner on the trail and there stood a big bull moose right in front of us.
We stopped and crouched down silently watching it for a good 20 minutes or so while it just grazed. He would occasionally glance our way but paid us no mind. Finally it bedded down just off the trail a bit. We took a few photos with our telephoto lenses and decided to try to walk by now.
We did the classic Minnesota “ope, just gonna sneak by ya there bud” and gave each other fist bumps while we mouthed “wow” to each other. It was epic! Then once we got to the beach there was another moose on the shore. I think we interrupted it’s beach day because it quickly disappeared into the woods. That was the 15th moose we saw that day alone!
Need to Know Before you Go
My biggest advice for Isle Royale National Park is to be flexible with your planning. Weather delays are common getting to and from the island – so it’s best to give yourself some wiggle room. Don’t commit to huge mileage days to begin with if you might have to do more to make up for lost time.
If a delay happens on the return trip, you might not want to have something important lined up when you get back. The weather is another thing you need to be prepared for. It changes quickly in the middle of Lake Superior and varies a lot. When we went in late Spring the days were beautiful but the nights got down to freezing with frost outside our tents.
Make sure you have proper navigation while hiking. The Nat Geo Isle Royale map is superb, but it’s also good to have offline GPS maps saved to your phone just in case. The park rangers might inform you about trail reroutes also like the ones we had from beaver activity flooding the trail.
Lastly, just enjoy yourself. Talk to people and be friendly – especially to the fishermen. They might hook you up with a cold beer from their cooler and some freshly caught fish! Hike your own hike and always leave no trace.