There are several official National Parks in the Great including Isle Royale, Indiana Dunes, Cuyohoga Valley and Voyageurs NP. We’ve visited these parks on several different trips and want to outline how to put together a 1 week Great Lakes National Parks itinerary to visit 2 of these parks – Voyageurs and Isle Royale.
I did almost this exact trip in August of 2023 with Finley and Freja and 3 friends. I spent weeks researching how to make the most of our time and get the most out of each park. I will share our experience on this itinerary and suggest alternatives to this trip.
Overview of Great Lakes National Parks Itinerary: Voyageurs and Isle Royale
You can find complete details of our itinerary below, but here is a day by day snapshot. This itinerary starts and ends in Minneapolis and ssumes you have a car and will be camping most nights.
You can easily adjust this itinerary if you want to stay in a hotel for the night
- Day 1 Arrive in Minneapolis and drive to Copper Harbor
- Day 2 Take the ferry to Isle Royale and spend the night on the Island – take an afternoon hike
- Day 3 Take a morning hike and then catch the ferry back to Copper Harbor. Drive to ___ to camp for the night.
- Day 4 Drive to Arrowhead Lodge and spend the night
- Day 5 Spend the day on a rental boat exploring Voyageurs National Park. Camp on an island.
- Day 6 Return your rental boat and drive towards Minneapolis
- Day 7 Finish your drive to the airport and head home
Things to Know about this Great Lakes National Parks Itinerary
Best Time of Year for this Itinerary
The best time to do this itinerary is during the summer (and late spring/early fall). Isle Royale is only accessible during the summer when the ferry is running. This is the only time to get to this remote park.
Is 1 week enough for this Itinerary?
Not really. We did this itinerary in one week since that is the amount of time we had. We made it work to visit both National Parks but this itinerary includes a lot of driving to get to both parks. We wish we had 1 extra day in each of the parks to make it worth it.
How to Get Around on this Itinerary
You will need a car to do this itinerary. We rented a car from the airport in Minneapolis. Both these parks are remote and a car is the only way to get around. You will also need to book a ticket on the Isle Royale Ferry and rent boats in Voyagauers National Park. Boating experience is helpful, specifically in Voyageurs National Park although you can also see some suggestions for how to get around Voyageurs National Park by boat no matter what experience you have on boats.
Where to Start your Itinerary
This itinerary starts and ends in Minneapolis as the biggest and most centrally located airport. We found excellent deals on Sun Country Airlines from Boston to Minneapolis. Our friends we met up with drove from their home in Wisconsin.
Travel Tip: When you leave, we recommend getting to the airport several hours early as the security line was VERY LONG and apparently that is pretty standard.
Details on this Great Lakes National Park Itinerary
In this section I will outline the details of our itinerary to Voyageurs and Isle Royale National Parks.
Day 1 Arrive in Minneapolis and Drive to Copper Harbor, Michigan
If you can, arrive early in Minneapolis to give yourself plents of time to rent a car and do the drive to Copper Harbor. The drive is about 7 hours, so this is a long travel day. Unfortunately our flight was significantly delayed and we ended up with an overnight drive Copper Harbor.
Stay as close to Copper Harbor as possible as the ferry leaves early the next morning (8am) and you need to be at the ferry dock by 7 am. Copper Harbor is a small town but you can find some hotels and nearby campgrounds.
Day 2 Take the ferry to Isle Royale and spend the night on the Island – take an afternoon hike
Arrive at the ferry dock by 7 am. This gives you time to get your parking squared away, get your ticket and load you gear on the ferry before boarding. There is a parking lot for people taking the ferry that costs a small fee to park in.
You should plan to book your ferry ticket 3-6 months in advance online.
The ferry takes about 3 hours to get out to Isle Royale. If you can get on early, try to get a table for your group. We loved sitting out on the bow and taking in the view but dress warmly if you plan to sit outside.
See more about taking the Isle Royale Ferry.
Once you arrive in Rock Harbor on Isle Royale, you have two options for spending the night. You can stay in the Rock Harbor Lodge or spend a night camping at the Rock Harbor Campground. We chose to camp and managed to get one of the lean-tos at the campground for the night.
If you are planning to camp on Isle Royale, note that all camping is first come-first served. Once you get off the ferry, you will get a short talk from a ranger before getting your permit for camping. Since it’s first come, make sure you are in the front of the line so you can get your permit and claim your campsite.
In the afternoon go for a hike. There are a few good walking trails from Rock Harbor. We recommend hiking part of the trail to 3 Mile Campground. See some of the best day hiking trails on Isle Royale. In the evening you can prepare a meal at your campsite or eat at the restaraunt at the Rock Harbor Lodge.
Day 3 Take a morning hike and then catch the ferry back to Copper Harbor. Drive to ___ to camp for the night.
Wake up on your 3rd morning and enjoy the walk out the Stoll Trail to Scoville Point. This is a lovely trail with sweeping views of the lake and shoreline. You can do the entire loop hike or just a section. We also spent some time swimming at a few of the spots along the way.
Board your ferry in the midafternoon and enjoy the 3 hour ride back to Copper Harbor. You should arrive around 6:30 in the evening. With this much time, you can drive a short distance and camp or book a hotel for the night. We spent the night at McLain State Park. This lovely park right on the lake is well equipped and the perfect place for a night stay.
Day 4 Drive to Arrowhead Lodge and spend the night
In the morning, head on your way towards Voyageurs National Park. We stopped for lunch and a walk at Amnicon State Park. These is a pretty river here with a waterfall and some picnic tables making it a convenient and good stopping stop.
Arrive in Voyageurs National Park. We stayed in Arrowhead Lodge and enjoyed the evening on the docks and dinner at the Restaurant on site. You can also find many other lodges and campsites in the area.
Like Isle Royale, Voyageurs is remote but there are plenty of places to eat and get groceries.
You can see more about visiting the park in Voyageurs National Park Guide. There are many different ways you can plan your visit in Voyageurs. For this guide we recommend starting an overnight camping trip in the park from Ash River.
You can also rent canoes and kayaks or simply take a day trip on the lakes.
Day 5 Spend the day on a rental boat exploring Voyageurs National Park. Camp on an island.
Grab some breakfast and then head to Ash River to rent a small motorboat for day. We rented boats from Sunset Resort in Ash River. One of the boats was great, the other one had some engine issues on the lakes but nothing major. Overall we would recommend renting from Sunset Resort.
There are several other places to rent boats along the way.
Spend the day exploring Voyageurs by boat, fishing, swimming and then spend the night camping at one of the many campsites in the park. The campsites in Voyageurs need to be booked several months in advance but are all very well appointed. If you are taking a motorboat to your campsite, make sure you book a campsite with a dock.
We loved our night out in the park. If you get a clear night, you may even get to see the Northern lights or some shooting starts.
Day 6 Return your rental boat and drive towards Minneapolis
We get an early start due to the weather, but if you have time, you should take advantage of your visit and spend the day in the park. There are so many small islands and we went searching for jumping rocks and skipping rocks.
Return your boat, pack up your gear and start your drive back towards Minneapolis. There are places to stop along the way for lunch or if you want to spend the night camping along the way.
Day 7 Finish your drive to the airport and head home
We had an early flight on this day so spent the prvious night near the airport and headed straight to the airport. If you have a later flight or will be driving, you can enjoy Minneapolis before heading on your way.
What to book in Advance
If you decide to plan your own version of this itinerary, here is a list of the things you should book in advance:
- Flights – we flew Sun Country Airlines one way and Jet Blue the other way
- Hotels and frontcountry campgrouds- for this itinary, you will need to book campsites and hotels in advance. You should book 1 night near Copper Harbor before and after the overnight on Isle Royale, 1 night at Arrowhead Lodge, 1 night camping in Voyageurs National Park, and 1 night between Voyageurs and Minneapolis.
- Rental Car
- Boat Rental – reserve your boat several months in advance
- Isle Royale Ferry – this should be booked 4-6 months in advance as spaces fill up.
How to Alter this Itinerary
There are several ways you can change or alter this Great Lakes National Parks Itinerary. Here are our thoughts on how we would change this itinerary if we had more or less time.
- It is very hard to shorten this trip as there is a fair amount of driving involved. If you had to decrease this itinerary by one day, you could simply spend 1 day in Voyageurs NP and leave that evening to drive south to Minneapolis.
- If you have more time, you should plan to spend an extra day at one or both of the National Park. It is easiest to add an extra night in Voyageurs National Park, or if you have more time, you could spend a few days backpacking on Isle Royale.
- If you are planning this visit as part of a larger National Park itinerary, you could start your trip with a visit to Indiana Sand Dunes and after the trip, head west to Badlands National Park.