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Isle Royale National Park in Michigan

Trip Overview

On this trip I took the NPS ferry, the Ranger III, from Houghton, Michigan, to Isle Royale and back. The Ranger III is the largest ferry making scheduled trips to Isle Royale. The ferry, the staff, and the service received I rate as very good.

I took my long and skinny strip built sea kayak on this trip (19'11" by 20.5") to see how it would perform. I ended up circumnavigating Isle Royale clockwise, this was my third time around IR. The trip was quite fast, I started paddling from Rock Harbor at 4PM on 7/27/07 and was back in Rock Harbor at 2:30PM on 7/30/07.

The weather was very warm and so was the water for Lake Superior! I swam in it a couple of times each day, which felt great after kayaking in the hot weather.

On Friday afternoon, 7/27, I paddled from Rock Harbor to Chippewa Harbor, and spent the night there. The first person I met at Chippewa Harbor was John Mahan, the photographer and writer that has been going to IR for over twenty years. John was there with his wife Ann, his father, his daughter and her three year old son. Four generations of them on a two week canoeing trip on which they took thousands of pictures. I had met John and Ann on IR once before on 5/21/06 at Grace Island. Check out their website:

The next day the weather was calm and warm and I was on the water at sunrise. From Chippewa Harbor I headed straight to Isle Royale Lighthouse on Menagerie Island, which is about three miles south of Malone Bay. From there I paddled by Long Island and a few other small islands to Point Houghton. The distance from Chippewa Harbor to Point Houghton is about fifteen miles and I was blessed to have calm conditions while so exposed during ths section. This part of the trip was good enough to make the whole trip worth while.

After getting to Point Houghton I felt more relaxed because I wasn't away from the island and so exposed. The south shore from there around to Washington Harbor has a lot of gravel and rock beach areas that are easy to launch and land on. I stopped at three of my favorite places along this section: Little Boat Cove, Long Point and Rainbow Cove.

In the afternoon a SW wind began blowing a produced waves of about two feet that I paddled in from Long Point to Grace Island at the west end of Washington Harbor across fronm the North Gap.

At Grace Island I had a good dinner and assessed my condition, the weather, and decided to paddle on to Huginnin Cove on the north side of the island.

The west end of IR was quite deserted! I did not talk to or see anyone all the way from Chippewa Harbor clear around to Todd Harbor over half way around on the north side of IR. I was the only person in the campground at Huginnin Cove. Much of this is probably due to the fact that the ferry Wenonah, that normally does round trips to IR from Grand Portage, isn't running. Lake Superior is over two feet below normal and the ferry can't navigate in the shallow water at Grand Portage.

From Huginnin Cove to Little Todd Harbor there is a dangerous fifteen mile section of rock wall. This section has no areas to safely land and launch from.

The day started clear and calm, so I loaded up at sunrise and headed along the rock wall toward Little Todd Harbor. The weather was still good when I arrived at Little Todd Harbor, at which I took a short break, and then paddled on to Todd Harbor.

At noon I was in Todd Harbor, and took a good long break there to rest, eat, and take a swim. Shortly after I arrived in Todd Harbor the wind began to pick up from the NW and soon there were white caps and building seas. The cloud cover in the north was not looking very good either. The weather continued to deteriorate as the day went on, and in the evening there was a thunderstorm. As a result I didn't paddle any after noon on Sunday.

Monday morning the weather was improving and the forecast was acceptable. I left Todd Harbor paddling in three foot waves that came at me quartering from behind, my least desired direction to deal with waves! The paddle from Todd Harbor until I got in the shelter of the Amygdaloid Channel, about seven miles, was choppy and demanding.

By 10AM I had gone through the key and was at Belle Isle campground. Belle Isle is one of my favorite campgrounds at IR, and I stopped there for a good meal and a break.

The weather conditions were improving so I paddled through the beautiful Five Finger area, around Locke Point, by the Palisades, around the notorious Blake Point, then by Scoville Point, and back into Rock Harbor.

Even though I did not paddle from noon on Sunday till Monday morning, I was still able to circumnavigate Isle Royale in less than three full days. Having good weather most of the way and having a fast kayak allowed me to easily do the 120 mile trip in this time.

After stopping at the Rock Harbor visitors' center I paddled down to Caribou Island, and camped there for the night. I spent an enjoyable evening there with three other paddlers.

The next morning I slept in and then paddled back to the dock area in Snug Harbor, and got a spot in the Rock Harbor campground for the night. I needed to be there to be ready to catch the Ranger III back to Houghton in the morning.

That evening Jenny Mahan, John and Ann's daughter, did a musical presentation called "born wild" in the small auditorium there in Snug Harbor. She did this presentation with a pictorial presentation using many of her parents' pictures of Isle Royale.

The next morning I loaded my kayak and gear on the Ranger III for the ferry trip back. The Mahans, many members of the Isle Royale advisory board, and people involved in Earth Watch were also on the ferry. The ferry ride went by too fast with all these interesting people to talk to. The Mahans also gave a presentation using the big flat screen in the Ranger III's main passengers' cabin.

It was a very nice trip, even with the stormy weather one afternoon and evening.


A 19'11" by 20.5" strip built sea kayak of my own design.


There is a fee for each passenger on the ferry, additional charge for baggage over 100 pounds, a $25 charge to transport a kayak or canoe, and a $4/day fee is collected on the ferry for your stay on Isle Royale.


The Ranger III is docked at the Isle Royale National Park headquarters on the shipping canal in Houghton, Michigan.


Trails Illustrated map 240 of Isle Royale National Park

  • Duration: Extended Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip