Ranger III History

Ranger III ferry docked at Mott Island
Ranger III docked at Mott Island

NPS / Paul Brown


Ranger III History Navigation


For over 50 years, the Ranger III has sailed the waters of Lake Superior, transporting passengers, rangers, and supplies from Houghton, Michigan to Isle Royale. Through its reliable and dedicated service, it has fostered strong connections between this remote island and many mainland communities, and it has become an icon of Lake Superior. These Ranger III connections have allowed Isle Royale National Park to serve visitors year after year.


During the Eisenhower administration (1953-1961), the "Mission 66" program began nationwide in order to rejuvinate national park lands and facilities. During this time, Isle Royale National Park asked for a new vessel to better connect the mainland to the archipelago it manages. Custom designed for the National Park Service (NPS), the Ranger III was built in 1958 by the Christy Corporation, a shipyard in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The Ranger III, the largest vessel operated by the NPS, set sail for Isle Royale for the first time on September 8, 1958.

Historic Ranger ferry at a wooden dock
The first Ranger ferry, a converted United States Coast Guard cutter

Past Vessels


During 1937, Isle Royale National Park received two surplus United States Coast Guard cutters. They were originally designated NPS-1 and NPS-2, but later became the Beaver (NPS-1) and the first Ranger (NPS-2). From 1937 until 1942, these 75-foot wooden vessels carried Civilian Conservation Corps crews, building materials, food, and other supplies to the island. The entry of the United States into World War II (WWII) resulted in the Beaver returning to military service. The Ranger remained at Isle Royale and, deprived of maintenance funds diverted to the war effort, the wooden vessel started to deteriorate.

Historic Ranger II ferry at a dock
The Ranger II ferry served the Isle Royale National Park from 1946 to 1958

Ranger II

After WWII, the decayed Ranger was replaced by a surplus Army minelayer. This 114-foot wooden-hulled ship defended American harbors during WWII. Now it would be known as the Ranger II. From 1946 to 1958, the Ranger II carried passengers and tons of cargo to the developing park.

What became of the original vessels?

The first Ranger was acquired from the government by an individual in 1946 and later resold in 1953. The Ranger II was purchased from the NPS in 1961 and later that year sold to the University of Michigan for use by its Great Lakes Research Division. The name of the vessel was changed to Inland Seas, and operated until 1973 when it was again sold to a private individual. The NPS does not have further records after 1953 for the Ranger and 1977 for the Ranger II.

The Ranger and Ranger II have faded into history, but the original connections made to Isle Royale live on in the Ranger III.


The Future of the Ranger III

The Ranger III has two primary missions:
1. Provide logistical support to Isle Royale National Park
2. Provide scheduled public passenger service from Isle Royale to Houghton, Michigan

Passenger service operates June through early September. Before and after that time, known as "freight season," the Ranger III is dedicated to island opening and closing operations such as transporting rangers and supplies to and from Mott Administrative Island, Rock Harbor, and Windigo. Each year the Ranger III averages about 80 voyages. Throughout its 50 year history, it has made over 4,000 Lake Superior crossings. Each of these voyages brought supplies and family connections to island rangers, and visitors whose park memories began when they first stepped aboard.

Isle Royale National Park will always be a solitary archipelago amid Lake Superior. For years to come, the vessel which will connect mainland communities to the park will continue to be the Ranger III.

Ranger III ferry docked at Rock Harbor at night with the Northern Lights visible in the sky
Ranger III in Rock Harbor with the Aurora Borealis

NPS Photo/Robert deJonge


Last updated: May 26, 2020

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