Canoe and Kayak

Canoeist paddling in the fog.

With numerous lakes, bays and islands, Isle Royale National Park provides many miles of waterways for the experienced canoeist and kayaker. Lake Superior is well known for its cold temperatures, fog, and sudden squalls that can generate waves that could easily swamp a canoe. This along with scarce outer shore landing sites adds to the potential danger. Small, open vessels are discouraged from entering these cold treacherous Lake Superior waters and are encouraged to use the numerous miles of waterways that the inland lakes provide. Canoeists and kayakers should be familiar with weather patterns and consult the Marine Forecast at ranger stations and visitor centers before embarking. Be prepared to adjust your schedule to the weather. A portable marine radio is recommended.

Camping Permits
A backcountry permit is required when staying overnight, at a campground, dock, or at anchor. Permits are issued on board the Ranger III and at the Rock Harbor and Windigo Visitor Centers. Camping for parties of 6 or less is on a first-come, first-served basis and sites cannot be reserved. Canoe only sites are limited to two nights stay, for parties of six or less. The entire shore of Lake Whittlesey, Wood Lake, Intermediate Lake and Siskiwit Lake, and designated zones along Lake Superior, are open to camping with a one night stay limit per location. Camping on offshore islands is limited to designated campsites. Groups (7-10 people) must stay at designated “group campsites”, and must get backcountry permits in advance. Shoreline camping is not open to groups.

The NPS ship the Ranger III is at dock.

NPS ship, the Ranger III is at dock.

National Park Service

The transportation services can transport your canoe or kayak.
For reservations, fees, and schedules, click here. Make your reservations in advance, especially during the busy season, mid-July through mid-August. The Voyageur II from Grand Portage, Minnesota circumnavigates the island in a clockwise fashion, offering drop-off and pick-up services at several campgrounds.


Canoe routes and portages are on the eastern half of the Island. Portages are marked with an indented P on a post. The use of wheeled portage devices is prohibited. For a listing of portages click here, for a map click here.

Canoes with motors are permitted on Lake Superior waters and must have a State Registration. It is illegal to use or transport motors, even if not being used, through inland lakes.

Spiny Water Fleas

Spiny Water Fleas

Invasive Species – You Can Help!

The park’s Lake Superior waters contain several exotic species, one of which is the spiny water flea (Bythotrephes longimanus).
It appears at this time that the spiny water flea has not made their way into the park’s inland lakes. This is good news, because this invasive invertebrate has been shown to out-compete native species for food.

In 2005, Isle Royale staff discovered that spiny water fleas could stick to the surface of a canoe or kayak after it had been pulled out of the water. The biggest threat to the inland lakes will be involuntary transfer of spiny water fleas on gear that has first been in the park’s Lake Superior waters.

We ask all paddlers to empty out all residual water and thoroughly wipe down all surfaces of canoes, kayaks, and gear that have been in contact with Lake Superior, before you approach an inland lake to paddle. If you can arrange your trip so that you camp prior to entering an inland lake, also use boiling camp water to pour over smaller gear that was in Lake Superior, (sandals, booties, etc.).

Bring clean rags on your trip to wipe down your paddling gear and vessel. Be sure to carry a container or sealable plastic bag to store the wipe rag(s). Don’t let those rags come in contact with inland lakes after use.

For additional information on invasive species, click here.

Northern Pike being displayed.

Proud fishermen display their catch.

National Park Service

Michigan fishing license is required when fishing in Lake Superior waters.
No license is needed to fish inland lakes and streams, but Michigan size and possession limits apply and only artificial lures are allowed. Ask a ranger about proper disposal of fish remains. To order your license on-line, click here.

To curb the spread of exotic species, plan your trip so that you complete your inland fishing prior to fishing in Lake Superior waters, or change your fishing line and thoroughly wipe off your tackle prior to fishing in the inland lakes. You can also use boiling water at the campsite on your fishing gear to kill any “hitchhikers”.

Waves build on Lake Superior.

Waves build on Lake Superior

National Park Service

Cold & Hypothermia
Dress to protect yourself from cold water and weather extremes. Wear layered clothing under a windproof outer garment. Guard against loss of body temperature (hypothermia). If after prolonged exposure a person experiences uncontrollable shaking, or had difficulty talking or moving, he or she must be warmed immediately by whatever means available. Cold water reduces swimming ability. Be a competent swimmer. Know how to handle yourself fully clothed in cold water.

Canoeist portages canoe.

Canoeist portages his canoe.

National Park Service

Every canoeist and kayaker must have a U.S. Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Device. Wear it! It is extremely difficult to put on in the water, and your life may depend on it. Also, be sure it can be tied or zipped and is the proper size so it won't slip off in the water. Be sure your canoe is in good repair. A suggested list of gear should include: first aid kit, extra paddle, self contained stove, insect repellent, compass, 50 feet of lashing line, maps, rain gear, extra food in case of bad weather, bailer sponge or bucket, waterproof matches, and dry storage containers. For additional gear suggestions, click here.

Boat Rental
Canoe, kayak, and motorboat rentals are available at Windigo and Rock Harbor. For more information contact the Rock Harbor Lodge.

Filtering of drinking water.

Drinking Water
All water, except from taps at Windigo, Rock Harbor and Mott Island, must be boiled rapidly for two minutes or filtered through a 0.4-micron water filter before drinking.

Consult the park map and know the location of possible help at all times. It is safest not to travel alone, and to come with first aid and CPR training.

Did You Know?