Private Seaplane Guide

a plane casts its shadow onto the wreck of the SS America below
A plane casts its shadow onto the wreck of the SS America below.

NPS photo / Paul Brown

Regulations Regarding Flights Over Isle Royale National Park

Designated Landing Sites

As articulated by the FAA's Aeronautical Information Manual at 7-4-6, the landing of aircraft is prohibited on lands or waters administered by the National Park Service without authorization. Exceptions include: 1) When forced to land due to an emergency beyond the control of the operator; 2) at officially designated landing sights, or 3) on approved official business of the Federal Government. The boundary of the park extends 4 1/2 miles into Lake Superior from the shoreline of Isle Royale.

Fly Over Open Waters

Ninety-nine (99) percent of the land portion of the park is federally designated wilderness. The park requests that pilots attempt to conduct their flight operations over the open waters of Lake Superior rather than over the land, in order to minimize noise disruptions to wildlife and wilderness users.

Minimum Altitude 2,000 Feet

All aircraft are requested to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above the surface. FAA Advisory Circular 91-36D, Visual Flight Rules (VFR) Flight Near Noise-Sensitive Areas addresses the operation of aircraft over noise sensitive areas, including national parks. Pilots operating aircraft "should make every effort to fly not less than 2,000 feet above ground level (AGL), weather permitting." The advisory circular goes on to define the ground level of noise-sensitive areas as including "the highest terrain within 2,000 feet AGL laterally of the route of flight, or the uppermost rim of a canyon or valley."

Airdrops Prohibited

Federal regulations also prohibit airdrops by parachute or other means of persons, cargo, or objects from aircraft within park boundaries. Exceptions include emergencies involving the safety of human life, or threat of serious property loss.


Landing Areas

By Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations § 7.38, there are 3 Aircraft Designated Landing Areas at Isle Royale National Park:


Tobin Harbor

36 C.F.R. § 7.38(a)(1):
The portion of Tobin Harbor located in the NE 1/4 of sec. 4, T. 66 N., R. 33 W.; the SE 1/4 of sec. 33, T. 67N., R. 33 W., and the SW 1/4 of sec. 34, T. 67 N., R. 33 W.


Mott Island (Rock Harbor Channel)

36 C.F.R. § 7.38(a)(2):
The portion of Rock Harbor [Channel] located in the SE 1/4 of sec. 13, the N 1/2 of sec. 24, T. 66 N., R. 34 W., and the W 1/2 of sec. 18, T. 66 N., R. 33 W.


Washington Harbor

36 C.F.R. § 7.38(a)(3):
The portion of Washington Harbor located in the N 1/2 of sec. 32, all of sec. 29, SE 1/4 of sec. 30, and the E 1/2 of sec. 31, T. 64 N., R. 38 W.

Tobin Harbor seaplane dock with a pink and gray sunny sky due to wildfire smoke
Tobin Harbor concessionaire seaplane dock, illuminated by the sunlight cast through wildfire smoke.

Photo courtesy of Mark Grey.

Seaplane Docking

Overnight seaplane docking is permitted only at the NE end of Washington Harbor and at Tobin Harbor immediately adjacent to the designated landing area. The concession seaplane dock may be used for drop offs only. Advance contact with the park is recommended. If aircraft is left unattended for longer than 24 hours, arrangements will need to be made with the Rock Harbor or Windigo District Ranger. Aviation fuel is not available at the park, but boat fuel (gasoline and diesel) is available in Windigo.
zebra mussel appears in Lake Superior as shiny shell on lake bottom
An invasive zebra mussel that has taken refuge in the waters of Isle Royale.

NPS photo / Paul Brown

Aquatic Invasive Species

Training for Self-Inspection

A growing number of states are requiring that seaplane pilots be trained for self-inspection of aquatic invasive species. A quick, free online training system has been developed by the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Seaplane Pilots Association, and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to satisfy these requirements. It is recommended that any seaplane pilot flying to or from Isle Royale National Park hold a valid certificate of training.

Local Invasive Species Laws

It is the responsibility of the pilot to be familiar with the laws pertaining to invasive species in all states and provinces that a seaplane is taking off from or landing in.

logo for the stop aquatic hitchhikers campaign featuring a seaplane within the bounds of a stop sign

Logo produced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on behalf of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force

Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!

Tasked by Congress, the National Park Service is a member of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, an entity that has been responsible for developing the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers national education campaign. Its guidance, at, recommends the following for seaplane operators:

CLEAN off visible aquatic plants, animals, and mud from pontoons, cross members, steps, transom, rudders, chine, wheel wells, mooring ropes, wires, and cables. Scrub off any floats with a stiff brush. Rinse landing gear with high-pressure hot water, when possible. Landing in marine waters, if moving between freshwater bodies, can be an effective method of killing freshwater aquatic invasive species.

At water take-off:

  • Avoid taxiing through aquatic plants.
  • Raise and lower water rudders several times to clear off plants.

After water take-off:

  • Raise and lower water rudders several times to dislodge aquatic plant fragments while flying over the waters you left or over land.
  • If aquatic plants remain visible on aircraft, return to same water body and clean them off.

DRY water from floats before take-off.

DRY everything five days or more, unless otherwise required by local or state laws, when moving between waters to kill small species not easily seen OR wipe with a towel before reuse. Store aircraft on land when possible. Hot summer temperatures and flights during dry weather will help kill aquatic invasive plants and animals that may be on floats.


Float Pumping, Decontamination, and Inspection

Pump into Sealed Container

Do not pump any water from floats into any Isle Royale body of water. If you need to pump water from floats before taking off, dock the seaplane and and pump the water from the floats into a sealed container. Find an NPS ranger to help dispose of the water properly, down the drain to be processed by the park's wastewater treatment. During early or late season, if a ranger is unavailable and/or the wastewater system is not online, transfer the water at least 100 feet inland and dump onto dry soil to prevent any aquatic invasive species in the pumped water from entering the lake.


All seaplanes are subject to inspection for Aquatic Invasive Species at Isle Royale National Park. Seaplane operators are responsible for Aquatic Invasive Species decontamination prior to entering park waters.

Operating Season

Isle Royale National Park is open to the public from April 16 through October 31. Aircraft landing or other public use is prohibited between November 1 and April 15.

Park Entrance Fees

A per person daily entrance fee is required to enter and remain in the park. Pay fees online prior to your trip.

Last updated: July 18, 2022

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800 East Lakeshore Drive
Houghton , MI 49931


906 482-0984

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