Isle Royale Moose

Backpacking Isle Royale National Park

This summer we had three different groups of Solar Outdoors members – former, current, and future – who had the experience of a lifetime. We were lucky enough to backpack on Isle Royale during a pandemic that kept 2/3 of the usual visitors away. What a unique time to hike the island!

Ferries did not run this summer at all. The only way to get to the national park was by seaplane or private boat. All of us were able to fly to the island. Other than all of us arriving by plane, our trips were all very different! To plan YOUR future trip, check out our varying answers to a few questions below, along with some of our favorite photos.

What surprised you most about Isle Royale?

Laura Miller: I was on the Windigo end, which is very wet with dew and fog in the mornings.  It felt like being in a rainforest.

Karen Haroutunian: How different it was from the first time I went.  The trails were not maintained and were more challenging (especially climbing over trees!) and there were so few people on the island.  I remember one day when we saw only 2 other people on the trail.  We had our pick of shelters and campsites everywhere we stayed.  Stuff like that just never happens on the island.

Leslie Cordova: What surprised me the most is how many moose we saw. We saw at least a dozen moose at Washington Creek, 6 eating in the river at the same time in front of our shelter. The best part of the trip was so few people. This was my sixth trip and probably one of my favorites.

Jennifer Tislerics: The variety of landscapes we hiked through. From a misty, cooler coast with large rock formations to a warm, lush, muddy interior, to beaches made entirely of small, red rocks. Wild!

Anandi Chandran: I was first apprehensive about going to an island during a pandemic but very soon realized we were getting a one-of-a-kind experience with everything shut down and so few visitors to the park. It made the experience truly unique and all the more pleasurable.

Ann Riley-Gawura: This was my 5th visit to this park and our itinerary was for trails around Windigo.  What surprised me this time is that there are a couple of nice beaches (for Lake Superior that is) that we could have actually swam in.  Those beaches are at Rainbow Cove and Siskiwit Bay.  The mossy fruit/nut trees on Feldtmann Ridge around the fire tower and the tagged coniferous trees were very curious.  Lots and lots of wolf tracks were cool!!

Krisanne Schmidt: Thinking back to my first time on the island in 2009, I was surprised by the remoteness of the island.  No cars, very few people.  It was just a wild place.  Stole my heart immediately.  I was new to backpacking and did not know these places still existed.

Kirsten Groppuso: No bugs, and no poison ivy.  I realize timing is everything, and that the bugs come out at some point in the year, but what a pleasure to hike in short sleeves, and shorts without the worry of bug bites and poison plants.  For me, late August is the perfect time to revisit.

What would you do differently if you went back to the island?

Laura: Stay longer.  My trip was 6 days/5 nights which was wonderful but not long enough.

Karen: Stay longer and I’d like to hike the Windigo end of the island.

Leslie: I think the next time I would like to go for 2 weeks and cache food at the ranger station to resupply after a week.

Jennifer: I’d hike through the middle and the east end of the island, only because I haven’t seen those yet and I want to get the full Isle Royale experience! The west end was awesome. If I were to do the west end again I’d build in an extra night to enjoy the beach at Siskiwit Bay.

Anandi: I definitely would do the Minong trail and spend more time watching the stars.

Ann: For the Feldtmann Loop itinerary, I would plan to have more time at the beaches as well as more time (maybe lunch and a nap) at the Feldtmann Ridge Trail fire tower. For my next trip, I would plan to do a couple of ranger tours including visiting the predator/prey study site.  I would do a ‘highlights of’ trip that would definitely include the Scoville Point hike (my absolute fav hike), hiking the mid-section of the Greenstone Ridge trail, and hanging out at Moskey Basin and one of the beaches.

Krisanne: I have been to the island 3 times – each time hiking end to end over 6-7 days – twice from Rock Harbor to Windigo along the Minong Trail and this last time Rock Harbor to Windigo on the Greenstone Trail.   I want to go back to IR for a longer trip – I need more time to explore the areas I have not seen.

Kirsten: I’d build in a room to take a second night in certain camp areas.  I’d definitely stay a second night at Huginnin Cove, take the extra day to explore that coastal area.  I’d swim, and swim, and swim.  It’s an island!

What was your favorite campsite?

Laura: I have two favorites. Huginnin Cove campground because the night we were there no one else was in the campground. It is very peaceful and beautiful. Washington Creek campground because moose like to eat the vegetation in the river so you see them up close.

Karen: Moskey Basin. Other than the five in our party, there was a couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. They were down at the far end of the campsite so we didn’t see them. (However, the husband did stop by to chat with us.). When they left as we were having breakfast, we were the only 5 people on the planet at Moskey Basin. It was amazing. But I have to say that Washington Creek was a close second because of all the moose we saw!  That was very cool.

Leslie: My favorite campsite was Moskey Basin. It is usually so hard to get a shelter there in non-COVID times. They have 8 shelters and there were the 5 of us and one other couple at the entire place. We had our pick of shelters and got the best ones. [Three sunset photos from Moskey Basin are below.]

Jennifer: Hugginin Cove, our first night. It was absolutely gorgeous, with a cool-mist coming in off the water. We had our own private beach at the end of the point. There’s something special about the first night of a backpacking trip, too. Washington Creek is a close second – we got to see moose there, and on a clear night, some of us laid on the dock at Windigo for the most amazing star-gazing experience!

Anandi: My absolute favorite was the Moskey Basin campground. The view, the serenity, the stunning sunrise, and the gorgeous Milky Way in the night will stay in my heart for eternity. It was a special night.

Ann: Any campsite where there’s a grassy or duffy tent pad and a latrine that doesn’t smell.  These sites are usually (but not always) the more remote group sites.  I don’t care for shelters because the floors are hard and they’re colder.

Krisanne: This trip was Moskey Basin. We had an amazing shelter right on the water. A close 2nd was Shelter #2 at Washington Creek. We were treated to our own moose show in the creek the entire day/night we were there.

Kirsten: My favorite spot was Huginnin Cove.  I loved the way the fog rolled in and left water droplets on the pines.  The water in the cove was clear and warm, the coastline Superior in every way.

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