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How to plan a day trip to Michigan’s remote Isle Royale National Park

HOUGHTON, MICH. — Isle Royale National Park, which sits surrounded by Lake Superior some 55 miles from the tip of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, is so rugged and remote that most experts recommend travelers plan on spending several days to an entire week there in order to enjoy the full island experience.

But what if you’ve only got one day?

That’s a common question from many would-be Isle Royale visitors, say the folks at Visit Keweenaw, which is what prompted the regional travel and tourism organization to recently publish a robust day-trip guide to the island archipelago.

One of the least-visited properties in the entire National Park Service, Isle Royale is home to a diverse and unique array of wildlife and plants, which is what has made it a haven for nature lovers and outdoor adventure seekers. While day trippers have to be realistic about what they can pack into their island time, Visit Keweenaw says there are still ways to enjoy a single day on Isle Royale.

Read on for a quick overview of planning a day trip to Isle Royale National Park:

Getting there: There are two options for traveling to the island: Via Isle Royale Seaplane (30-45 minutes one way) or the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry (a little more than 3 hours one way). A seaplane daytrip gives you a maximum of seven hours to explore, while the ferry leaves you with three hours —not a ton of time, but enough for an adventure.

Don’t skip the visitors center: Whether you arrive at the island’s Windigo or Rock Harbor visitors center (dependent on your transportation to the island), make sure you stop in: Not only is this where you’ll pay park entrance fees, but you can also pick up helpful maps and brochures. This is a great opportunity to ask park rangers for timely tips or pointers on how to make the most of your brief time on the island.

RELATED: Headed to Michigan’s remote Isle Royale? Here are 12 tips from the pros

Hiking: According to the experts at Visit Keweenaw, you’ll want to choose your hikes based on your transportation to the island. You’ll also want to have a realistic idea of your pace and hiking abilities so trips don’t take longer than you anticipate. Suggestions for seaplane visitors range from the 1.2-mile Windigo Nature Trail to the six-mile Minong Ridge Overlook, which offers just a taste of the island’s rugged, 28-mile Minong Ridge Trail. Ferry travelers might try the 4.4-mile figure-eight shaped Stoll Trail to scenic Scoville Point, or the relatively easy 3.8-mile Hike to Suzy’s Cave to see a sea arch carved roughly 4,000 years ago.

Paddling: Enjoy a day soaking up the scenery and wildlife by renting a kayak or canoe — just mind the time and distance so you don’t miss your flight or ferry trip back to the mainland. Ferry-goers can rent from Rock Harbor Marina to enjoy a few hours paddling the Rock Harbor area; seaplane visitors may consider paddling protected Tobin Harbor or Washington Creek.

RELATED: Michigan’s Isle Royale named among least-visited national parks in the U.S.

Fishing: Home to more than 40 documented species of fish, including whitefish, walleye, perch and pike, Isle Royale is a great spot for angling. Visit Keweenaw suggests bringing some light fishing gear, and fishing off a dock or a rented boat.

Relaxing: Don’t feel like you have to maximize every minute during your daytrip; enjoy a picnic, nap in a packable hammock or take in a meal or drink at the historic Rock Harbor Lodge’s Greenstone Grill.

For more day trip ideas, including tips for the best-possible day trip experience and how to recreate responsibly at Isle Royale National Park, see the full guide on VisitKeweenaw.com.


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