When planning a trip to Isle Royale, many visitors ask, "What is the one thing I must do or see while I'm there?" The answer is, it depends on what type of Isle Royale experience you want to have! With a multitude of ways to travel to the park and numerous things to do once you arrive, compounded by the island's large size and isolation in Lake Superior, Isle Royale adventures are as diverse as the thousands of visitors who come to the park each year. Despite these differences, the safest, most enjoyable trips are all grounded in planning and preparation that takes place before arrival. Using the information in this guide, plan an unforgettable experience to your national park.
What Should I Know Before I Start Planning My Trip?
Isle Royale is Accessed Via Boat or Seaplane
As a collection of islands, Isle Royale can only be accessed by crossing Lake Superior via a boat or seaplane. Most visitors to the park utilize ferry or seaplane services from Michigan or Minnesota. Private boaters and private seaplanes travel from around Lake Superior and beyond.
No Vehicles are Allowed on the Island
Ferry services only transport people and select freight (canoes, kayaks, luggage, etc.). They do not transport vehicles to the park since vehicles are not allowed on the island.
Non-motorized wheelchairs are welcome, although trails are narrow and rocky with numerous boardwalks.
Bicycles and other wheeled devices (wagons, strollers, portaging carts, etc.) are not allowed on park trails.
Traveling to Isle Royale Takes Time and is Weather Dependent
All visitors who travel to Isle Royale must cross Lake Superior's vast, cold waters. Travel times one-way range from 35-45 minutes on the seaplane service. On the ferries, travel times one-way range from 1.5 hours to 7 hours, depending upon departure and arrival location. Ferry crossings can be flat calm, or rough and bumpy. Inclement weather on Lake Superior can cause ferry services to be delayed or cancelled. Fog, storms, and wind on the mainland or island can cause seaplane services to be delayed or cancelled.
Cell Phone Service is Unreliable - Do Not Depend on it for Your Trip
Occasionally you may pick up a signal if you are on a high ridge - be aware that this may be a Canadian tower, and additional fees through your cell phone carrier may apply. Do not plan on being able to use your cell phone in case of an emergency. When the Rock Harbor Trading Post in Rock Harbor and Windigo Store in Windigo are open, there is a satellite phone available for visitor use (additional fees apply). There is no public Wi-Fi available for visitor use on island.
Emergency Medical Response and Evacuation are Limited and Take Time
Know What to Expect Before You Come
Prepare yourself by reviewing current conditions in the park prior to your trip. Campgrounds, docks, and trails are busy late June through September.
Expect Your Plans to Change
Over 99 percent of Isle Royale's land is federally designated wilderness. Weather, emergencies, and other rapidly changing conditions affect even the best laid trip plans. Prepare yourself for this possibility by being flexible with your itinerary.
Changing weather conditions means that ferry and seaplane delays and cancellations are common. If your departure is affected, you can prepare yourself by:
Start Planning Your Trip
How to Travel to Isle Royale
Multiple ferries and a seaplane service transport visitors to the park.
1. Reserve Transportation
Make sure that your arrival and depature dates work with your trip plan, particularly if you are staying at Rock Harbor Lodge or the Windigo Camper Cabins. Secure your transportation to the park as soon as possible. Transport can sell out any time during the season. Any questions about certain transportation services should be directed to those providers. Isle Royale National Park staff only facilitate reservations for the Ranger III ferry from Houghton, MI.
2. Finalize Your Itinerary
Know where you want to stay, how you are going to get there, and if you need a permit or reservation.
3. Pay Your Fees Online
4. Read the Park Newspaper
The park trip planning newspaper, The Greenstone, hosts a wealth of information that is applicable for all visitors.
5. Download the NPS Mobile App
The NPS app provides tools to explore over 400 national parks. Download Isle Royale National Park before you come so you can access information offline during your trip. The free app is currently available for iOS and Android Devices.
6. Check Current Conditions
Conditions constantly change in the park. Inform yourself about current conditions before you leave the mainland.
7. Prepare for Your Crossing
All visitors who travel to Isle Royale have one thing in common - crossing Lake Superior via boat or seaplane! Prepare yourself for this exciting rite of passage by reviewing your transportation providers website for travel information before you arrive. Enjoy your journey; we'll see you once you arrive at your destination!
Last updated: January 9, 2023