Five Backpacking Tips for Isle Royale


Took this photo of the Dock at the Three Mile Campground

So your going to Isle Royale, awesome your going to love it!  I visited the Island recently and decided to do a quick write up based on my own experiences.  I’m definitely no expert on Isle Royale but maybe some of my questions about the Island might be yours too.

Note:  When I first started to write this piece I found myself including tips that were relevant to backpacking in general so I scrapped it and started over.  I wanted to keep the information here relevant to backpacking on Isle Royale Specifically.  I also greatly appreciate any input from fellow visitors to the Island.  You can leave your comments below 🙂

Related from Amazon: Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes

Packing for Isle Royale is much like packing for any other trip except for one very important factor.  Your on a Island!  This means you can’t really afford to forget anything because you can’t just pick it up some place local when you arrive.  Yes, there is a small gift shop/store at both Windigo and Rock Harbor that carry a few supplies in case you did forget something.  However you will pay a premium for them so its definitely better to come prepared.  Not only that, I’ve heard the store only stays open somewhere between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Who’s to say its open when you arrive?  Consult this handy packing list to make sure you arrive prepared.

The water is beautiful but don’t be fooled, it’s not safe to drink without filtering.

What about Drinking Water?  All the Campgrounds on Isle Royale come with a natural water supply either on-site or nearby.  However, these water supplies should be presumed to be infected with parasites. Chemical purification tablets and UV filters such as SteriPens are not enough to kill Tape Worm Eggs.  You will need to either boil your water or bring a approved water filter (.4 micron or lower).

I recommend bringing a water filter as you will waste a lot of your precious stove fuel boiling drinking water.  Not to mention your water will be immediately available for consumption after filtering and maintain its cool refreshing quality.  When available, Lake Superior was our favorite source of water, it looks pretty clear and it’s definitely cold!

As far as water filters go I had a Sawyer Queeze and found it very easy to collect and filter water.  It’s perfect for anyone collecting water for around 1 or 2 people.  If you have more people and your responsible for their water as well you might want to consider a pump system like the MSR Miniworks .as well as a collapsible five-gallon/20 liter water container.  Some of our group companions were utilizing this method and it was very convenient to have the extra water at camp to cook and clean dishes with.

Avoid the Death March!  Yes, this was our mistake and it might be yours too.  This was the idea, it’s a Big Island, we have 5 nights, lets see as much as we can.  Sure, you don’t know when you will get back and you want to make the most of your trip but don’t try to cover so much ground that your trip across the Island turns into the Death March trying to keep up with your itinerary.

8-10 miles/day is very doable depending on your parties experience and fitness level.  However, If your moving slow this could eat a big chunk of the day especially if you spent the morning making breakfast and tearing down camp.  Trying to see it all can quickly become seeing nothing!

Fishing! Hiking is great but also leave enough time to enjoy yourself!

The entire time your eyes are glued to the ground while you swiftly traverse up and down a rocky terrain trying not to stumble and fall with a heavy pack on your back.  When you arrive at your next camp, setup, then have dinner its just about bedtime and trust me, your ready!  Don’t let this happen, remember to leave enough time to enjoy camp, read a book while relaxing in your hammock, fishing, or venturing out on a small side hike (without the heavy pack!).  In fact, I wish we had planned a 2 night stay at one of the campgrounds that allow multiple nights.  McCargoe Cove (3 night maximum stay) would have been the perfect place to relax a little.

Relaxing and just enjoying the Beauty on the Island.

The whole point is to enjoy yourself so just know your pace, your limitations and try to plan accordingly.  If you think you can backpack 2 miles/hour and you only want to hike for 4 hours a day then try to stay around 8 miles a day.  If anyone is feeling run down, not enjoying themselves or feels like they barely have time to take a breath and enjoy the beautiful scenery consider making a change.  6-8 miles/day is perfect for beginner hikers.   Assess all party members and don’t be afraid to alter your itinerary (easier for groups 6 or less – see below.)

Groups vs Non-Groups  7-10 people are officially considered a group and must adhere to more guidelines while hiking Isle Royale.  The most notable of these rules is that you must use the group tent sites and are not allowed to change your itinerary.  There are limited group tent sites at each campground.  If your group or others groups decide to alter their plans there is a potential possibility of hiking all day to find all the group tent sites occupied.  This would suck!

We hiked, ate, and slept in the rain. Trying to dry out!

In addition, groups are not allowed to use the three sided shelters nor the individual tent sites.  This really was hard on us as we had seven people in our group and it rained a lot during our visit.  It would have been nice to use the shelter for a night and try to dry out.  Instead we made use of the available picnic shelter at Daisy Farm and hung our tents while we made breakfast.  Two nights later we were able to dry our shoes out at the campfire in McCargoe Cove.

Do You have a Plan in case of Injury?  Luckily, we never had to put such a plan into action but it’s better to be prepared ahead of time for such misfortune.  There are Ranger Stations at the following campsites:  Amygdaloid Island, Malone Bay, Snug Harbor, and Windigo with a Ranger resident at Daisy Farm.

If injury or illness makes it impossible for one of your party members to hike you will need a good plan.  Ideally, someone should stay with the person while other members of the party seek help.  Never leave a injured member without their supplies/gear in case of prolonged arrival of help.

Also make sure your supplies includes a basic first aid kit and each member of your group has a card that list their name, address, emergency phone number, and any relevant medical information. This would be such things as blood type, allergies, any medications, etc.

Most Importantly, just be smart!  Most injuries will result from your own foolishness and you will be left saying, “that was just stupid.”  Drink water!  Drink when your not thirsty!

Speaking of Drinking – Beer Lovers Bonus Tip – You can Drink on the Queen!  Just a little tip for all you beer lovers out there.  I can only vouch for my own experience but the gift store at Rock Harbor sells individual Cans of Beer.  Off the top of my head they had 16 oz cans of Oberon and Two Hearted Ale.  They also had Sierra Nevada and a few other brands I don’t remember.  It was nice to come out of the woods after six days of roughing it and crack a cold one and just relax on the bench outside the store.  Upon boarding the Isle Royale Queen destined for Copper Harbor we asked if beer was OK and he said, “that ought to be alright”.

Needless to say we grabbed a few more beers for the boat ride back!  You should too 🙂

View from Mt Ojibway Tower

Did you go to Isle Royale and have some tips for our Readers?  Please share them in the comments below!

Published in Backpacking & Hiking, Things to Do, USA

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Meet the Author

I enjoy photography, hiking, traveling, camping, kayaking and a good cup of coffee in the morning. I look forward to meeting some like minded friends. I'm also the owner of Round World Travels. Feel free to drop me a line about anything you wish.

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