Posts Tagged With: Isle Royale National Park

2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale, June 25

2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale, June 25

Fog in June on Lake Superior seems to be a constant. It comes, it goes, it re-forms and moves around. The cold water evidently interacts with the warmer air temperatures and, voila, fog. We have watched it from our cabin, from various hikes, from the shores of Rock Harbor, and from the deck of Voyageur II.

Rock Harbor Lighthouse in Lake Superior by Isle Royale

Rock Harbor Lighthouse in Lake Superior by Isle Royale

Fog banks moving around the islands

Fog banks moving around the islands

Today was no exception. All night long the fog was heavy outside our cabin. The Voyageur II left at 9 AM EDT and the harbor was socked in. As we traveled around the island, picking up stray backpackers from small, isolated docks, the fog eventually dissipated; the views of the rocks and forests of Isle Royale are much more spectacular with blue skies and bluer water. Then, as we arrive in Grand Marais this evening, the fog is present again as a light mist covering the ground.

Malone Bay- a pick up point for backpackers

Malone Bay- a pick up point for backpackers

Several of the people returning with us are like old friends; the couple from Minocqua, the Montana couple that ran in Grandma’s Marathon, the Iowa party getting on at Malone Bay after backpacking. We joke about the boat ride and hope today’s return trip will be smoother. It is. But the length of the journey has only increased. The pick up of backpackers from remote locations requires slower speeds in narrow channels and extra time to go in and out of pick-up points. All in all, we enjoy the smoother trip and better scenery. We congratulate ourselves for tackling another adventure.

Captain Ben spends some time with us chatting. We discover the boat was built in 1972, originally planned for commercial fishing. The back section, the noisier one that we have avoided, was to hold fish. The original owner died and the ferry people bought it and converted it. Both Ben and Kirk have been doing this for four years and sleep on board. We have smelled their lunches on each trip as Kirk makes something in the galley for them. Evidently, sometimes they use a Crockpot and the smell drives the travelers nuts.

On our way out of Windigo, going through Washington Harbor, Voyageur II stops at the site of the wreck of the steamship America which went down in 1928. The America was the mail, freight, and passenger delivery service to Isle Royale and much of the North Shore. In 1928, the 2nd in charge ran the boat aground, all passengers got off safely. The new Highway 61 in Minnesota was making the ship less profitable and the ship was left in the water to break up further rather than salvage it. We were able to see portions of the wreckage still under the water.

More than 25 ships have sunk around Isle Royale over the years. There are still four lighthouses around the island. We saw all of them and heard lots of foghorns. Isle Royale National Park does extend out into Lake Superior so park rangers have to patrol the waterways also.

You probably know that Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and the third largest in the world by volume. We also wrote about Lake Superior in two previous trips: 2013 Trip 7, Sept. 7-12 (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and 2014 Trip 6,Sept. 8-11 (Ontario from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste Marie).

Skies darkening as we approach Grand Portage

Skies darkening as we approach Grand Portage

We arrive at Grand Portage and are able to leave (after getting our luggage and paying the parking fee) around 3:45 PM CDT. The skies in front of us are getting ominously dark. Our plan is to drive the short distance to the High Falls of the Pigeon River at Grand Portage State Park. Doing this hike now will save us 1.5 hours tomorrow of driving time by having to back track from Grand Marais.

The High Falls are notable for several reasons. First, they are the tallest falls in Minnesota at 120 feet and with recent rains, should be impressive. Second, the falls and Pigeon River are on the boundary of the U.S. and Canada. One can view the falls from either country.

High Falls on the Pigeon RIver at Grand Portage State Park

High Falls on the Pigeon RIver at Grand Portage State Park

Third, the falls created an impediment for Indians and fur traders who traveled by canoe during the days of the fur trade. This required a nine mile portage around the falls. This “Grand Portage” lead to the creation of a trading post for decades; now it is memorialized in the Grand Portage National Monument. We have been here before and will not go into its history and significance in this post.

Fourth, the park land is owned by the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa and is leased by them to the state for use as a state park.

We reach the visitor center and hike at double-time speed to reach the falls before any rains come-and before the park closes. Success is ours; the falls are running fast and we manage to avoid rain.

Lodging is in Grand Marais MN, an upscale town along the North Shore. We are at the Best Western with great Lake Superior views. But first we have dinner at The Pie Place Cafe in downtown Grand Marais. The meatloaf dinner and the Black Bear Blueberry Salad are fantastic; almost as great as the Blueberry/Sour Cherry pie and the Raspberry/Rhubarb pie.

Ed and Chris June 26

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2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale, June 24

2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale National Park, June 24

With the drapes wide open, the early morning slowly greets us and the sky gets lighter and lighter. At 4:45, Chris decides to fight the mosquitoes and goes down to the dock and takes pictures of the early morning sunrise. I let her do it.

Sunrise on Tobin Harbor

Sunrise on Tobin Harbor, Isle Royale National Park

Early morning fog that comes and goes

Early morning fog that comes and goes

Isle Royale is about 50 miles long. Don’t expect us to hike the entire island. Rock Harbor Lodge is on a spit of land and I am guessing most of the moose population here is scattered around the island where the backpackers are more likely to observe them. Score one for the backpackers.

The trail to Suzy's Cave

The trail to Suzy’s Cave, Isle Royale National Park

The trail to Suzy's Cave

The trail to Suzy’s Cave

After breakfast in the grill, we headed out on a hike to Suzy’s cave to see how much water will be on the trails this morning. Theoretically, moose may be present on this trail but I will end your suspense early; we did not see any. Like yesterday’s trail, this is a loop that has one leg on Tobin Harbor (north side) and one leg on Rock Harbor (south side). The trail is rocky, after all this island is here because the rock formation has withstood erosive effects. The trail goes through forest, along water, over rock formations, and up and down the ridge as it crosses from the Tobin Harbor side to the Rock Harbor side.

Suzy's Cave

Suzy’s Cave, Isle Royale National Park

Suzy’s cave is a small cave that a young girl discovered and sought shelter in during a storm. Her family lived on one of the islands in Rock Harbor back before the park was formed. The cave is on the ridge between the two bodies of water. As we leave the cave and hike down to Rock Harbor, we notice that fog has started to develop on the water. Soon the islands begin to disappear and it is time to get a little nervous (Chris) as to whether the fog will develop enough to envelop the trail.

The fog starts to move in

The fog starts to move in

The trail coming back from Suzy's cave

The trail coming back from Suzy’s cave

Eventually light fog reaches the shore but our trail never disappears. We do meet two other couples out backpacking. One woman has a face mask of mosquito netting. My DEET spray this morning appears to be more effective than yesterday’s eco spray. We hike a little faster on the way back, but I soon realize that I am getting tired and need to be cautious so as to not lose my footing on the wet rocks or mud. We end up back to “civilization” in a little over two hours. Our reward is a snack of cinnamon, sticky buns at the grill.

Rock Harbor  with fog

Rock Harbor, Isle Royale National Park with fog

In the afternoon, we partake of a ranger hike focusing on wild flowers. Isle Royale has a short growing season and right now numerous plants are budding. Our ranger is here through the conservation corps and is a recent grad of Rutgers in environmental policy. This is a summer internship for him. The fact that this presentation only attracts the two of us doesn’t discourage him. It presents him with the opportunity to practice for the larger crowds that come after July 4th. In addition, the large boat that brings day hoppers over from Michigan does not run today. His talk is well done but unfortunately, like previous wild flower talks I have listened to, I don’t seem to retain a high degree of information. It was interesting to learn about a few flowers here that change colors over the period of several weeks. The white ones below can be seen in a yellow shade in other locations along our trails.

This flower changes from yellow to white

This flower changes from yellow to white

Wildflfowers at Isle Royale

Wildflfowers at Isle Royale

Wildflowers at Isle Royale National Park

Wildflowers at Isle Royale National Park

Ed and Chris June 26

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2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale, June 23

2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale National Park, June 23

Me and my big mouth. We were hiking to Scoville Point, a five mile out and back loop. The southern loop of the trail had quite a few areas where yesterday’s rain had not yet disappeared from the trail, making us frequently walking around the water or carefully stepping on rocks. On the way back, we took the northern loop and I commented to Chris that this trail was drier then the southern one. Five minutes later, at one of the few boggy areas on the northern loop, I stepped off the trail into water deep enough to go over the tops and inside the shoe. The ground was mucky and the shoe almost came off. A shout out to Chris who helped me gain my balance without me getting completely wet. My second pair of shoes is in the trunk of the car-remember the ferry boat limitation on weight? The second pair probably weighs 10 pounds and I was saving them for North Shore hikes. Well, it is a sunny day and maybe the inside of the shoes will dry out.

But my attitude is still good. The day began early watching the skies clearing and the morning light starting to fill our room. The room faces north so we do not have a direct sunrise or sunset view. The clouds were still moving eastward as dawn came, so I did not see any sunrise colors.

Rock Harbor Tuesday morning

Rock Harbor, Isle Royale National Park Tuesday morning

The fancier restaurant only serves breakfast from 7 AM to 8:30 at the moment (their busy time is after July 4th, particularly August). We debated whether to go there or to the grill where we ate yesterday. We ran into the Edina couple going into the grill and we all agreed on the fancier dining room. This is a relative term, the atmosphere is not much different; but the menu options are more basic at the grill.

Once again the food was tasty. Our server was from Kentucky. It seems there are several friends from Kentucky working here this summer. We were the last ones out of the dining area, they had to flick the lights a few times before we got the hint to stop gabbing and get out enjoying the day.

And it is a beautiful day. Sunny sky, temps in the 60s it seems. Hard to tell with no Internet or cell coverage to check.

View from Scoville Point Trail

View from Scoville Point Trail, Isle Royale National Park

Scoville Point Trail

Scoville Point Trail

The trail to Scoville Point includes woods and some rocky shoreline. The trail is rocky and wet, as noted above, so the hike took us about three hours with a few stops. The mosquitoes are out in force, black flies not apparent. We tried the environmentally appropriate bug spray today. The mosquitoes loved it. There was one on my hand taking some blood less than three minutes after I sprayed the hand with the eco bug spray. Tomorrow is going to be a DEET bug spray day. We did have on long pants and long-sleeved shirts with a jacketed hood so the bugs only had limited skin area to attack. Chris, however, had her Isotoner gloves on and avoided bites there. My gloves were more for cold weather and were back at the cabin.

One of the copper mining locations

One of the copper mining locations

Scoville Point Trail

Scoville Point Trail

Chris and Ed along the trail

Chris and Ed along the Scoville Point Trail at Isle Royale National Park

The views are great. Lake Superior is very clear and the blue water and blue sky made for great scenery with the rocky cliffs and green trees. There are numerous small islands off shore from Isle Royale so the view is not just endless water. We passed one old copper mine. Copper was mined here by Native Americans and traded all through the Northeast. European settlers began mining copper here in the mid-1800s and ended around 1900. It was never really profitable but resulted in the cutting of timber and establishment of some small, and brief, towns.

Chris on the return trail to our cabin

Chris on the return trail to our cabin

Scoville Point on Isle Royale National Park

Scoville Point on Isle Royale National Park

Fishing was successful for a much longer period of time. Commercial fishing had pretty much ended by the mid-1900s. Individual fishing still continues. Lake Superior whitefish is still a popular menu item. Resort use began in the early 1900s but the mass use of the auto diverted people away from boat trips to auto trips. In the 1920s there was initial discussion about making Isle Royale a national park, advocated heavily by Detroit newspapers. It was approved in the 1930s and the Civilian Conservation Corps made improvements here during the depression. It took until 1940 before all of the land transfers to the NPS occurred and the park was official.

We returned to our cabin around 1:30 PM and rested up. I worked on getting my shoes dry and clean; by 4:30 they were good enough to wear again. Thankfully the sun was out. So were the loons along with their unmistakable call.

Clouds moving in

Clouds moving in

Dinner was back at the grill where we reversed our orders from last night. We thought about taking a boat trip which would take us to a neighboring island where we could walk through more bogs and then watching the sunset from the boat. But the temperature was dropping, winds picking up, and cloud cover moving in. We chose to go back to the cabin and read while watching the skies.

Over the next two to three hours we had: a brief but intense wind and rain squall; dark clouds with no wind or rain; a sunny period with rain; dark clouds with drizzle; and a good downpour. Quite changeable weather.

Ed and Chris June 26

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2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale, June 22

2015, Trip 3, Isle Royale National Park, June 22

Seven hours on a continuous Disney ride: Chris’ description of the boat ride from Grand Portage MN to Rock Harbor Lodge at Isle Royale National Park, MI. Interpretation: Not a comfortable, relaxed ride.

So which boat do you think we took??
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The Voyageur II, our transportation to the island, has been around a while. It is not heavy on the amenities. It did have coffee and two rest rooms and the seats were padded with backrests, though. Chris and I were the second group arriving this morning at 6:15 A.M. I met Kirk, the second in command (of two) who indicated we could stow our gear on the deck and be patient for the boarding process-which began about 6:45 AM.

While waiting at the dock, we met and talked with two couples that will also be staying at Rock Harbor Lodge with us. One is from Edina, MN and one from Minocqua, WI. The Edina couple seems to have traveled the globe. They had dog-sledded in Ely MN at the same place that we had done. This November they plan to visit Churchill Manitoba to watch polar bears-a trip similar to one that Chris has been dreaming about. The WI couple used to have a cabin cruiser that they had used to cruise around the Apostle Islands area of WI.

The Voyageur II holds about 50 people, today’s count was 47. Of those, most were people backpacking and camping out somewhere in the park. They generally got off the boat at Windigo, the first stop, at the southwest end of the island. When they got off, a park ranger met them and went over the rules and warnings; including that you need a specific type of water filter, iodine drops are not enough. The Voyageur II is the only ferry that goes completely around the island; dropping off backpackers at several remote locations.

Loading gear at Grand Portage

Loading gear at Grand Portage

There was a church group (many of them wearing shorts), a group of three from Wilmington DE, and a two-some with a boy of 11 and a woman about 30. The boy had done this before, not so for the woman. Most of the groups seemed to be going out for 5-6 nights. Supposedly there is a limit of 40 pounds per person of gear that can be carried on the boat. From the look and sounds of the two guys storing the gear, most backpackers had not read, or had ignored, the limitation.

Leaving Grand Portage

Leaving Grand Portage

The boat trip to Windigo was two hours. It would take us an additional five hours to reach Rock Harbor Lodge at the northeast side of the island. The day had started out cloudy and got cloudier as we approached the island. The temperature was in the low 50s(Fahrenheit). Soon it was drizzling and it alternated between a drizzle and a light rain for most of the rest of the day. At a second stop, two other couples got off and headed for their camping site. Those of us staying at the Lodge wished them well. We also thought: There are advantages to getting old; no false optimism or naive ideas about camping and backpacking in the rain.

East end of Isle Royale

East end of Isle Royale

Lake Superior can be very violent and stormy. It has a well-deserved reputation for dangerous waters. Our waters were probably relatively calm for the Lake, but the small boat was still tossing about on the waves. Chris and I both had “sea bands”- an acupuncture/pressure type device to help one avoid seasickness. We did not have breakfast and were not planning to eat or drink while on the boat. Before Windigo, I did have a brief spell where I sat out back to keep my stomach under control, and it worked. Chris did fine, stomach-wise.

Weather deteriorates

Weather deteriorates

The boat was traveling at about 12-14 miles per hour, according to Kirk. As we left Windigo, the waves increased and the tossing about increased a notch or two. All of the seats are inside, under cover, although there are two outdoor areas where people can stand and view the scenery. There was little to no heat and the engines make a loud racket. Some people napped, others read or talked. The scenery was so-so. The clouds, drizzle, fog etc dampened enthusiasm. After a while, the lake and the shoreline can only do so much to impress you. Chris was not enjoying the ride, but was able to keep conversing with various groups. I think it helped take her mind off the ride. She indicated she thought the ride was worse than the two nights of high winds on the Lake Powell adventure of a year ago; I thought she looked worse during the Lake Powell trip.

We finally reached Rock Harbor around 2:30 PM CDT, half an hour early. It was raining and our luggage got a little wet but the lodge provides a porter to bring your luggage to your room/cabin. For us this was a godsend since we had a house-keeping cabin at the far end of the “complex”. We have our own small kitchen, bathroom and a great view through large picture windows of Tobin Harbor. We did not bring food, though, we plan to eat here at the two restaurants and buy a few snacks at the store. A little more cost, a lot less hassle. We tried out the grill after we were settled in. The burger and tossed salad with chicken were both very tasty.

Our cabin, we have the right half

Our cabin (picture taken Tuesday), we have the right half

The view from our cabin

The view from our cabin

The cabin is like the Ritz Carlton. Well-built, heat, plenty of hot water, clean, pleasant kitchen area. But then it is not like the Ritz Carlton. The floor never seems to truly get warm, the space heater is noisy and has to run almost constantly, the bed is shorter than I am and the sheets are not fitted and seem too small for the bed. All in all, though, I prefer to think like the first sentence: The cabin is like the Ritz Carlton. Starting in the evening and until almost 3 AM, the winds are howling and the rain is heavier. I sit in one of the wood chairs and watch the storm and am thankful we are camping inside.

Tomorrow we hope for better weather and will be out hiking.

Ed and Chris June 25

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2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale, June 21

2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale June 21
Hovland, MN

This trip is to visit Isle Royale National Park, an island located in Lake Superior. Technically the park is in the state of Michigan although it is closer to Minnesota and to Ontario. We have never been to this park; it is remote and not heavily visited. One can take a day’s ferry ride over from Michigan or from Minnesota and spend a few hours on the island. We chose a second, longer option of taking the ferry over and spending three nights on the island. If you have read this blog previously, you can probably guess that we are not camping. There is a lodge at Isle Royale and we will be staying at one of their cabins.

The ferry leaves from Grand Portage MN, just a few miles south of the U.S.-Canada border. It departs at 7:30 A.M. (and arrives at our lodge around 3 PM) so we have driven up to the North Shore region of Minnesota on Sunday. These remote areas of the North Shore and Isle Royale itself have little or no Internet and cell coverage (or the cell coverage might be in Canada and extremely expensive) so this post may not see the light of day until Thursday when we return from Isle Royale and are lodging in Grand Marais MN, a little farther south of the border.

We left St. Paul at 8 AM. The first half of the distance brings us to Duluth MN at the SW tip of Lake Superior. The road is all Interstate and other than abundant wildflowers along the edge of the Interstate, nothing too dramatic to report. Duluth is a pleasant town of about 85,000 people and we have visited here often and do not plan to discuss much about it here. Except, this was the weekend for Grandma’s Marathon.

Grandma’s Marathon has been running for 39 years and was originally sponsored by a local Duluth restaurant (Grandma’s) which is still in existence. The marathon has grown dramatically and now large, corporate sponsors provide the primary funding for the marathon. It runs along the shore of Lake Superior and has spectacular scenery. Lucky for us it ran Saturday since our route and the marathon’s route overlap for a number of miles. The only evidence we saw were the hordes of teenagers picking up trash along the route and the list of finishers in the local Duluth newspaper.

Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior

Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior

The second half of the distance is on MN Highway 61 along the North Shore. This road is a scenic route with great vistas of the lake and of the “mountains” along the shoreline. Due to the mountains, there are over 20 waterfalls between Duluth and the Canadian border. As we drive farther past Duluth, the smell of pine trees is noticeable. Chris spotted a bald eagle just sitting in one of the trees. The drive here is slower but more enjoyable.

Bald Eagle along the North Shore

Bald Eagle along the North Shore

We stopped at an overlook north of Duluth and met a marathoner from Toronto. He has been trying to run marathons that are located around the Great Lakes. He has run 13 so far. He was taking pictures of the area and we took one for him with Lake Superior in the background. Another couple at the overlook were from Nebraska and we discussed with them the snow geese and sandhill cranes that throng the Kearney-Grand Island NE area in late March. We are contemplating visiting there next spring if we can figure out how to do that and make it to South Beach.

Brule River in Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Brule River in Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Our return journey starts Thursday and we will spend four more nights along the North Shore. This extended time will allow us to visit several of the waterfalls at that time. Today, we did visit one state park and its waterfall. Judge C.R. Magney state park is located along the Brule River (there also is a Brule River in Wisconsin.) We hiked the trail to Devil’s Kettle. (Atlas Obscura has an interesting video about Devil’s Kettle also. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/devils-kettle)

Brule River falls

Brule River falls

Devil's Kettle; left side water disappears

Devil’s Kettle; left side water disappears

The Devil’s Kettle is a waterfall/rapids that is somewhat unique. As the river heads to Lake Superior, it passes a rapids where the north side of the river creates a water fall but the south half of the river falls into a pothole and the water disappears. Geologists have done various studies to figure out exactly where the water goes but no one has yet definitively answered the question.

Naniboujou  Lodge, view from Lake Superior

Naniboujou Lodge, view from Lake Superior

Our lodging for the evening is at Naniboujou Lodge, located across the street from the state park. The lodge was formed in 1929 by a group of wealthy men to create an exclusive hunting lodge. Original founders included Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. As you can imagine, the 1929 October stock market crash put the kibosh on the funding for the club. It changed hands over the years but the current owners have had it since the 1980s.

Naniboujou Lodge Dining Room

Naniboujou Lodge Dining Room


The dining room has the largest, free-standing native stone fireplace in the U.S. The dining room is painted in the Cree Indian style and the paint is as fresh and vibrant today as it was when it was originally painted in 1929-over 85 years ago. The food was excellent also; Lake Superior whitefish for me and spinach lasagna for Chris.

This far north the nights are longer and sunrise comes early. That won’t be a problem tomorrow since we have to be up early to make it to Grand Portage for the early departure of the ferry. There is a good potential for wind and rain-hopefully that won’t stop the ferry ride or make the journey too unpleasant.

Ed and Chris Thursday June 25

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