Menu Close

12 Best Isle Royale Things to do

Out in the middle of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is an incredible destination with a gorgeous coastline, wonderful hiking trails, moose, wolves, and more. Isle Royale is one of the quieter National Parks and most people who visit the park stay for several days. Backpacking is one of the most popular Isle Royale things to do, but you can also find plenty of other activites to enjoy.

We enjoyed our visit to Isle Royale and spent lots of time researching how to make the most of our time in Isle Royale National Park.

Below you can find suggestion on the best things to do in Isle Royale National Park as well as some general information about how to make the most of your time on the island.

You can find additional general information to help you plan your visit on our Guide to Visiting Isle Royale or see our Isle Royale itinerary for non-backpackers.

Isle Royale National Park things to do

General Overview of Isle Royale

Isle Royale is one of the more difficult National Parks to reach in the lower 48 states. The only way to get to the island is by taking a ferry, seaplane, or private boat. The ferries come into two main harbors and then take stops at some of the other destinations.

  • Rock Harbor: Rock Harbor is one of the main entry points to Isle Royale and serves as the island’s primary visitor center and headquarters. It’s located on the northeastern end of the island and is accessible by boat or seaplane. Key attractions in Rock Harbor include the visitor center, gift shop, and the Rock Harbor Lodge, which offers lodging, dining, and guided tours. You can get to Rock Harbor from Houghton or Copper Harbor
  • Windigo: Windigo is located on the southwestern end of the island and is another entry point for visitors, accessible by boat or seaplane. It has a visitor center, campground, and provides access to several hiking trails, including the Feldtmann Loop and the Island Mine Trail.

Isle Royale is situated approximately 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the northern shore of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is the largest island in Lake Superior, covering an area of about 206 square miles (535 square kilometers). Below you can see our suggestion on what to do on Isle Royale.

Best Isle Royale Things to Do

Below you can find suggestions on the top things to do in Isle Royale. Keep in mind that Isle Royale is remote and the pace on the island is very different than many of the other National Parks.

Go Backpacking on Isle Royale

Backpacking is one of the most popular activities on Isle Royale and most people who visit spend several days backpacking across parts of the island. It is possible to backpack the entire way across the island and there are many quiet and remote campsites to stay at along the way.

This is a great guide on Backpacking Isle Royale.

Isle Royale Things to do: Go Backpacking

Go Day Hiking on Isle Royale

You don’t have to backpack to enjoy Isle Royale. You can also visit Windigo or Rock Harbor and take a day hike. Hiking Isle Royale is relaxing and a great way to explore parts of the island without carrying a huge pack. If you are looking for an easy visit, stay at the Rock Harbor Lodge and hike from here.

One of the most popular hiking trails on the island is the hike to Scoville Point or you can see a list of the best day hikes on Isle Royale.

Isle Royale Things to do: Hiking to Scoville Point

Go Fishing on Isle Royale

Fishing on Isle Royale is very popular. The island’s crystal-clear waters of Lake Superior teem with a variety of fish species, including lake trout, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and more. Whether casting a line from the shoreline, exploring inland lakes, or venturing out on a boat, fishing enthusiasts can enjoy the tranquility of Isle Royale.

You can find several Isle Royale Fishing tours available or learn more about fishing regulations on the island by visiting the National Parks Service.

Canoeing and Kayaking Isle Royale

Enjoy the waters of Isle Royale by canoe or kayak. You can bring your own boats on the ferry or there are some boats available to rent in Rock Harbor at the Lodge or Windigo. You can rent boats for a few hours or use them for an overnight camping trip.

Go Swimming on Isle Royale

The water in Lake Superior is chilly, but if you are visiting in the summer and you get a hot day, one our favorite activities is to go swimming. We found several great swimming holes just a short distance from Rock Harbor. Some of our favorite swimming spots were just a short hiking down the Stoll Memorial Trail.

Isle Royale Things to do
Isle Royale Things to do: go swimming

Explore the History

Isle Royale has a rich history and plenty of signs to explain what has happened on the island over time. From the natives who spent time on the island for thousands of years to the Copper mining operations you can find evidence of humans on the islands. Stop at the visitor centers to learn more.

Enjoy the Geology of Isle Royale

The geology of Isle Royale is formed on a geologic syncline. The folded rock forms distinct strips as it comes out of the water and on Isle Royale you can see these strips of land broken up by water. You can find signs on the island that describe the amazing geology of Isle Royale.

Learn more about the geology.

Isle Royale Things to do

Search for Wildlife

One of the most popular things to do at Isle Royale is to search for wildlife. The most impressive animals are moose and wolves. Use caution when looking for animals and never approach them. Below you can see a list of some of animals to look for on the island.

  1. Moose: Moose are the largest herbivores on the island and are a prominent species, often seen along hiking trails and near water sources.
  2. Gray Wolves: The wolf population on Isle Royale has been studied extensively due to their unique predator-prey relationship with moose.
  3. Beavers: Beavers are common on the island and are known for their dam-building activities, which can be seen in many of the inland lakes.
  4. Red Foxes: These small carnivores are occasionally spotted on the island, particularly in forested areas.
  5. Snowshoe Hares: These hares are well-adapted to the island’s seasonal changes in color, with white fur in winter and brown fur in summer.
  6. Red Squirrels: These small, agile squirrels are abundant and can be seen and heard in the forested areas.
  7. River Otters: River otters are known for their playful behavior and are occasionally seen swimming in the island’s lakes and streams.
  8. Bald Eagles: These majestic birds of prey are frequently observed soaring above the island’s waters.
  9. Common Loons: Their haunting calls are a distinctive feature of Isle Royale’s lakes, and they are often seen swimming and diving.
  10. Canada Geese: These migratory birds visit the island during the summer months and can be found near the water.
  11. Various Songbirds: Isle Royale hosts a variety of songbirds, including warblers, thrushes, and sparrows, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers.
  12. Gulls and Terns: These coastal birds can be seen along the shores of Lake Superior.
  13. Ravens and Crows: These intelligent and adaptable birds are common throughout the island.
  14. Various Fish Species: In addition to lake trout, northern pike, and smallmouth bass, the island’s waters are home to whitefish, perch, and other freshwater fish.
  15. Insects: Isle Royale has a wide range of insect species, including mosquitoes, black flies, and butterflies, which are active during the summer months.

Go Stargazing

Isle Royale is remote and dark and the perfect place for stargazing. Since Isle Royale is located far north, you can also see the Northern Lights. This is one of the best Isle Royale things to do in the fall when the skies are at their darkest and you can still visit.

Take a Boat Tour

One of the best ways to explore the island is by taking a boat tour around the island. Rock Harbor Lodge offers siteseeing tours to some of the smaller islands. Some of these tours also offer options for hiking and you have the opportunity to see moose and other wildlife.

See some of the Siteseeing Tours on the island.

Scuba Dive Isle Royale

If you are a scuba diver, you can explore some wrecks on the island. The water off Isle Royale is clear and there are many shipwrecks, underwater rock formation and a variety of fish species.

Go Camping on Isle Royale

Isle Royale is a wonderful place to go camping. From remote campgrounds to larger campgrounds right at the ferry dock, you can even camp in a lean-to for the night. Camping is first come first served on the island, but we had no problem getting a site right at Rock Harbor during our visit.

Some campgrounds have nightly limits and you will need to get a permit to camp once you arrive in Rock Harbor.

Things to do on Isle Royale: go Camping

Things to Know about Isle Royale

Once you’ve planned your trip with the list of Isle Royale things to do above, there are a few additional things to know about Isle Royale:

Best Time to Visit Isle Royale

Access to Isle Royale is seasonal, typically from late April to early October. It’s important to plan transportation and accommodations well in advance, especially during peak summer months. We booked our ferry in the spring for August and got one of the last spots.

What to Pack for Isle Royale

Depending on the activities you select from the Isle Royale things to do list above, you may want to bring full backpacking gear or simply clothing for day hiking. Below are a few extra suggestions you should bring to Isle Royale:

  • Bug Spray and Protection: Bugs can be bad on Isle Royale. Make sure you have bug spray, bug nets, and long sleeves to combat the bugs.
  • First Aid Supplies: Isle Royale is remote – it’s important to have basic first aid supplies with you. There are ranger stations, but help is further away than at other National Park.
  • Layers: Layers are important and the weather on Isle Royale shifts from hot and humid to cool and rainy.
Isle Royale Things to do

Looking for other Guides and Information?

You might also like exploring Indiana Dunes National Park or you can see more about planning a National Parks Visit.

What's Your Next Adventure?

Get Inspired for your Next Adventure

Our weekly newsletter is full of hidden gems, destination ideas, first hand experience and travel deals.

For a limited time, get your FREE ebook: 100 Adventures of a Lifetime when you join our newsletter

This will close in 0 seconds