Located out in Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is a nature lovers paradise. From tranquil waters and remote campsites to moose rocky shorelines, Isle Royale is meant for long visits, hiking and backpacking. The only wayfor most people to get to the the island is to take an Isle Royale ferry.
In this post, we will share details on how take the Isle Royale ferry as well as specifics on our experience taking the ferry from Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor. It’s worth checking the National Park site for up to date information.
If you are looking for more information to help plan your visit to Isle Royale, check out:
Discovering Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale is a large island (or more correctly, a series of islands). As one of the least visited parks, it is also one of the parks that people visit for the long time. Most people visiting Isle Royale are staying for several days to backpack, but it is also possible to spend a few days on the island.
While Isle Royale is very remote, the most developed sections of the island is Rock Harbor and Windigo. Rock Harbor is bigger with a lodge, store and restaurant. Windigo is smaller and quieter. There are both good jumping off places if you plan to backpack. Below you can see more details on the different ferries out to Isle Royale.
Below are the different Isle Royale ferry routes:
The Isle Royale Ferries
The Isle Royale Ferries are operatured by the National Park Service or independently operated and leave from a series of ports. In addition to the ferries that operate from the mainland to the island you can also take ferries around the island as well.
It’s important to note that the ferries sometimes cross over time zones. Pay attention to departure times and adjust for the time change.
Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor
This is the ferry we took to Isle Royale. The ferry departs daily around 8 am and leaves the island at 2:45. The crossing takes between 3-4 hours and goes to and from Rock Harbor. The ferry is comfortable and efficient.
Make sure to book your tickets online well in advance.
Houghton to Rock Harbor
This ferry operates a longer and slower route from Houghton to Rock Harbor. The ferry takes 5-6 hours and does not operate every day. This ferry is operated by the National Park Service.
Grand Portage to Windigo
This ferry is the shortest route to get to Isle Royale and takes you from Grand Portage to Windigo. The ferries don’t run everyday, so double check the schedule. The route take 1.5-2 hours for the crossing.
Isle Royale Ferry Map
Ferries on Isle Royale
In addition to the ferries that take you to and from Isle Royale, you can also take ferries between different stops on Isle Royale. This is helpful if you plan to backpack and want to do a point to point trail.
The only ferry that operates to different places on the island is the Voyaguer II. The ferry offers service from Rock Harbor to Windigo with stops at McCargoe Cove, Daisy Farm, Chippewa Harbor, and Malone Bay. These stops must be arranged in advance.
You can see the schedule and arrange transport on the Grand Portage Ferry Line.
Planning Your Isle Royale Adventure
Booking your passage on the ferry is just the first step in planning your Isle Royale visit. You will also need to decide when to visit, how long to stay, where to stay, and what you plan to do on the island.
When Should you Visit Isle Royale?
You can only visit Isle Royale during the warm season. Double check the ferry schedules to see when the ferry operates for the season. Below you can see the monthly climate of Isle Royale to help you plan your visit.
How Long should you visit Isle Royale?
How long you stay on Isle Royale depends on what you plan to do during your visit. If you are backpacking, you should plan 3 or more days on the island.
If you are planning to stay in one place and day hike, you should plan on 2-3 days on the island.
Where to Stay on Isle Royale?
You only have a few options for places to stay on Isle Royale. The first option is to stay in the Rock Harbor Lodge.
If you aren’t staying at the Rock Habor Lodge, your next best option is to camp. Camping on Isle Royale is first come first served and you will need a permit which you can get when you arrive on the island.
The campsite at Rock Harbor is more like a front country site with some lean-tos while the rest of the campgrounds are more remote. Even the campsite in Windigo is more rustic. Many campsite have minimum night stays.
What are the best things to do on Isle Royale?
Below are some of the things you might want to consider doing 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.
Our Experience on the Isle Royale Ferry from Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor
We took the large ferry from Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor. Due to a late flight the day before into Minneapolis, we were late in getting to the ferry. You should plan to arrive 1 hour before departure. There is paid parking right across from the ferry dock and you will find a small cafe and store.
You will need to go into the store to get a paper copy of your ferry ticket before you board. Note that they will have your name but there is NO CELL service here.
To board the ferry you will form a long line. Getting in line early will let you choose a seat on board. You will pass up any luggage onto the top of the ferry. We went across of a beautiful day but if there is rain you should make sure your luggage is waterproofed.
After a short talk from the ferry Captain, the boat is boarded and gets underway.
The ferry has seating inside for everyone. The main section is a series of tables and seats and there is a smaller section up under the bow with additional seats. There is outdoor space to stand on the stern and bow as well.
Onboard you will find 2 small bathrooms and a small snack bar with drinks and snacks. There were also some magazines and reading materiel to keep you entertained.
We enjoyed the crossing on the ferry and found it comfortable.
Isle Royale is a wonderful National Park and a perfect place to unwind for a few days. If you are looking for more information on how we plan our trips to National Parks, make sure to check out: