Let’s Go Back to the Isle: Day One

July 2017

Trail/Park: Isle Royale National Park

Months of planning had gone into this day. My first solo backcountry backpacking trip. I’d been training, though I was sure I had not done quite enough. I learned the map of Isle Royale so I could see my route in my head. I packed and unpacked and repacked my gear multiple times. I fretted over the amount of food I needed to carry for seven days on the island. Did I have the clothes I needed?

I met with friends and friends of friends who had been to the island. We talked about the ferry ride over, the trails, the moose, the potential bad weather that could have me stuck extra days. I joined the Isle Royale Forums and read trip reports, gear suggestions. I desperately wanted to make the trip with just my hammock set up. No tent. It wasn’t clear to me if the was possible for the full distance of my hike.

How much more prepared could I be? My trip plan had been distributed with my family and reviewed so now it was time to put all that planning to the test. My very first solo backpacking trip had me feeling both excited and nervous. All there was left to do was to start. As I drove away from my house in the late morning, taking a leisurely pace for the drive north, it was already getting hot and muggy. I was hopeful that my time on Isle Royale would be cooler and relatively bug free. On one of my stops on the way up, I noticed that my analog watch wasn’t keeping time, which mean that a new battery was in order. Managing to find a jewelry repair shop and explaining that I needed the new battery for my trip the next morning I was on my way within an hour.

I arrived in Grand Marias around dinner time as planned and stopped at my favorite restaurant, the Gunflint Tavern, for my last fresh meal for a week. After a gigantic pile of salad, ziti and a beer, I was ready to head for my campsite at Grand Portage Marina and RV Campground.

My first stop was to check where the ferry dock was located as I’d been told it’s not in the place that most people expect. The dock for the ferry is about 3 miles northeast from the campground and tucked a little way off Highway 61. I found my way, scoping out the parking, when the office would be open and making note of how long it took me to drive from the campsite so I’d be on time. The weather was starting to feel a bit chilly and there was a light rain expected into the morning.

The weather adjusted my plan to sleeping in the back of the car. I didn’t want to set up a tent that I would then be putting in my locked car for a week to mold. So I made myself as comfortable as I could for the night. As I was getting myself settled, I discovered that all of the others tenting were also heading over in the morning. There were a few individual campers and a youth group that would be on the ferry. As the rain and wind picked up, we were all driven into our respective sleeping places for the night.

I remember thinking as I tried to sleep that I was hopeful that the rain and wind would be passing and the morning be clear and dry for our trip across Lake Superior. If not, it was going to be a bumpy ride or maybe no ride at all.

Helpful Hints

  • Check all your options to get to the island on the National Park Service Website for Isle Royale. There are options from Houghton, Michigan and Grand Portage, MN that include both ferry and sea plane and may change at any time.
  • For Departures from Grand Portage on the Ferry: Arrive the day before and camp or stay at the Grand Portage Lodge overnight. The ferry typically departs in the morning and doesn’t wait for late arrivals. Plus, you’ll be better rested for the ferry ride and if it’s bumpy, you might be better prepared for your trip over.
  • Take the drive to the dock ahead of time if you’ve never been there before.
  • The campground includes a restroom with showers, but depending on how busy it is, the hot water can be in short supply. There is also a coin operated washer and dryer. The fee includes access to the pool at the Lodge.

Next Post Preview: About that ride over. Let’s just say it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it wasn’t an easy one.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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