Isle Royale is one of the more challenging National Parks to visit and most people who are visiting spend a few days backpacking around the island. When we visited we didn’t have time to backpack, but still wanted to dedicate time to hiking and exploring the island.
We created this 2 day Isle Royale itinerary and general information to help you plan a visit to the island. You can also easily make this into a 3-day Isle Royale itinerary and you can find general information about how to plan an Isle Royale day trip. I visited the island with just Finley, Freja and some friends during the summer of 2023.
You can also find information about how to get to Isle Royale, where to stay on Isle Royale and how many days you need on the island.
Overview of Isle Royale Itinerary
Most people who are visiting Isle Royale are looking for a quiet experience. While the itinerary described below is meant for people who are not backpacking, most people are still looking to experience the island on a day hike. This itinerary includes some of the best day hikes on the island as well as some of the other activities on the island.
Below are a few of the highlights of Isle Royale
- Untouched Wilderness: Isle Royale is one of the least-visited national parks in the United States, ensuring a pristine and unspoiled natural environment.
- Wildlife Viewing: Encounter a variety of wildlife, including moose, wolves, foxes, and numerous bird species, in their natural habitat.
- Isle Royale Hiking Trails: Explore over 165 miles of hiking trails, including the famous Greenstone Ridge Trail, offering breathtaking vistas of Lake Superior and the island’s interior.
- Isle Royale Kayaking and Canoeing: Paddle along the island’s coastline or explore its inland lakes, providing a unique perspective of the park’s beauty.
- Rock Harbor Lighthouse: Visit the historic Rock Harbor Lighthouse, a picturesque spot for photography and learning about the island’s maritime history.
- Astronomy: Experience exceptional stargazing due to the island’s remote location and limited light pollution.
- Island Hopping: Explore nearby smaller islands like Raspberry Island and its historic lighthouse, adding diversity to your adventure.
- Ranger Programs: Participate in ranger-led programs and guided hikes to learn about the island’s ecology, history, and conservation efforts.
- Fishing: Cast a line in the island’s pristine lakes and streams, known for excellent fishing opportunities.
- Disconnect from Technology: Embrace the lack of cell phone signal and Wi-Fi, providing a chance to disconnect from the modern world and truly immerse yourself in nature.
- Photography: Capture stunning landscapes, wildlife, and the changing seasons on the island through photography.
- Natural Silence: Experience the rare opportunity to enjoy natural silence, as the absence of motorized vehicles contributes to a peaceful and serene environment.
- Historic Copper Mines: Explore remnants of the island’s copper mining history, including abandoned mines and interpretive displays.
- Resilient Ecosystem: Witness the island’s unique ecosystem recovery efforts, particularly the predator-prey relationship between wolves and moose.
It’s important to know that Isle Royale is remote and you will find limited facilities. There is one lodge with a restaurant in Rock Harbor with a small restaurant. You can also find a small camp store in Rock Harbor and Windigo. Besides that, you will be camping.
Before we dive into the details of our Isle Royale Itinary there are a few things you should know about Isle Royale.
Things to Know about Isle Royale
Where to Stay on Isle Royale? Windigo or Rock Harbor?
If you are visiting Isle Royale for a few days and are not backpacking, you really have two options for where to stay – Windigo or Rock Harbor. If you are looking for a truly quiet Isle Royale itinerary, Windigo offers campsites and a small store. Most people visiting Windigo are backpacking.
If you only have 2-3 days for an Isle Royale itinerary, we recommend staying in Rock Harbor. This is the most developed part of the island (although still quiet and remote).
In Rock Harbor, you have two options for places to stay:
Rock Harbor Lodge: this rustic lodge offers rooms, a small restaurant, and boat rentals. This is a great base for spending a few days.
Rock Harbor Campground: The is a frontcountry campground in Rock Harbor. The campground has campsites as well as lean-tos. There is a one night stay limit in this campground, so you will only be able to do a 2 day Isle Royale itinerary if you are camping.
If you’re planning on camping Isle Royale, it’s helpful to know that the Rock Harbor campground is first-come, first-served. While there may be days when it fills up, there were plenty of spots when we visited in early August. In order to get a site after the ferry arrives, make sure you are one of the first people in the line to get a camping permit – then go directly to the campground to claim a site.
We were concerned we wouldn’t get a site and have gear to backpack. Luckily there was no need to do this as there was plenty of room at the campsite.
If there is not a spot at Rock Harbor campground, you can wait until the ferry leaves (around 2:30 in the afternoon). At this point a few additional spots are likely to open up in the campground.
How to get to Isle Royale National Park
The only way to get to Isle Royale is by ferry, seaplane or private boat. Most people who visit the island arrive by ferry. We took the ferry from Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor. The ferry ride took about 3 hours each way and was comfortable. Make sure to book your ferry tickets a few months in advance. We booked our August tickets in late spring and got the last tickets available.
You can also catch a ferry to Windigo directly.
How Many Days Should you Spend on Isle Royale
While Isle Royale is one of the least visited National Parks, it is also one of the parks that people visit for the longest amount of time. Many people who are backpacking spend more than 4 days on the island.
If you are visiting Isle Royale and are planning on day hiking and not backpacking, you should plan on spending 2-3 days on the island. Some campgrounds (like Rock Harbor) have minimum stay limits so if you are spending 2 nights, you may want to consider the Rock Harbor Lodge.
Our 2-Day Isle Royale Itinerary
While I think 3 days is the ideal amount of time to spend on the island, we ended up just spending 2 days. In this section you can see our itinerary, but with a 3 day Isle Royale itinerary you can add on a tour from Rock Harbor.
We took the ferry from Copper Harbor and arrived on Isle Royale around 11:30 in the morning. Once the ferry arrives, people leave the boat and are split into two groups – one group gets and introduction for campers and the other group gets an introduction for people staying at the lodge.
If you are planning to camp at Rock Harbor, make sure that as soon as the talk is over you make a beeline to be in the front of the line to get a camping permit. This will help ensure that you can get a spot in Rock Harbor Campground.
Once you’ve arrived, have some lunch and settle into your campsite or room at Rock Harbor Lodge. Take some time to stop in the information center for the park or visit the Artist in Residence center.
In the late afternoon, take a hike toward 3-Mile Campground along the Rock Harbor Trail. This pretty trail stops at Suzy’s cave. Take time along the trail to swim and fish along the way if it is a warm day.
Return to Rock Harbor in time to make dinner and enjoy the evening. You can either make your own dinner or get dinner at the small restaurant at the lodge.
On the second morning, get an early start and hike out to Scoville Point. You can do all of this 4.2 mile hike or just part of it. This point is very pretty and offers places to swim. You will also hike past some of the Copper Mines and may see a moose on this walk.
The ferry leaves Isle Royale for Copper Harbor in the middle of the afternoon (around 2:45) . If you still have time before you need to catch the ferry (or if you are staying for another day) you can rent a boat from Rock Harbor Lodge Marina and enjoy some time out on the water. They offer kayak, canoe and motorboat rentals or you can book a tour.
Make sure to get to the dock early to get a spot on the ferry. We arrive 30 minutes before departure and were already the last people in line!
List of Things to do on Isle Royale
See our complete list of things to do on Isle Royale.
- Backpacking: Trek across the island’s remote campsites or follow our Backpacking Isle Royale guide for an adventure.
- Day Hiking: Enjoy a relaxed day hike from Windigo or Rock Harbor, with Scoville Point being a popular choice.
- Fishing: Discover the diverse fish species in Lake Superior’s clear waters, from trout to bass.
- Canoeing and Kayaking: Paddle in rented boats, exploring Isle Royale’s stunning waters.
- Swimming: Take a refreshing dip in the chilly Lake Superior during hot summer days.
- History: Visit visitor centers to learn about the island’s rich history and copper mining.
- Geology: Marvel at the unique geologic formations on the island, marked by folded rock.
- Wildlife Watching: Search for moose, wolves, beavers, red foxes, and more. Remember to keep a safe distance.
- Stargazing: Enjoy the dark skies, perfect for stargazing and possibly witnessing the Northern Lights.
- Boat Tours: Explore the island from the water on scenic tours, with a chance to spot wildlife.
- Scuba Diving: Dive into clear waters to explore shipwrecks, underwater rock formations, and marine life.
- Camping: Camp at various campgrounds, including lean-tos, with permits available upon arrival.
One Day on Isle Royale
While it’s technically possible to visit Isle Royale in a since day – you can take the ferry out and back on the same day, we don’t recommend this as you will spend most of your day sitting on the ferry.
If you do take the ferry from Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor, you will have about 3 hours to explore the island. This gives you time to go for a short day hike. The walk out to Scoville Point is the best option if you only have one day.
What to Pack for Your 2 Day Isle Royale Itinerary
This packing list assumes that you will be camping on Isle Royale and cooking your own meals. If you are staying in the lodge, you will only need to bring the second part of the list below. This list is for visiting in the summer months, so if you are visiting in the spring or summer make sure to bring extra layers.
Isle Royale Packing List – camping
- tent (in case you don’t get a lean-to
- sleeping bags
- sleeping pads
- cooking stove
- food for 2 lunchs, 1 dinner and 1 breakfast and snacks
- dishes for cooking and eating
Isle Royale Packing List – summer
- head lamp
- t-shirt (2)
- Long sleeved/warm layer
- rain gear
General Questions about Visiting Isle Royale
Below are some common questions about visiting Isle Royale
Can you drive to Isle Royale national park?
No – the only way to reach Isle Royale is via ferry or seaplane.
Is there cell service on Isle Royale?
There is almost no cell service on Isle Royale. We were told there was none, but as we were hiking the Scoville Point trail, we had limited cell service.
Is there potable water on Isle Royale?
Yes! If you are camping at Rock Harbor, you can get potable water in the campground.