Isle Royale National Park in Michigan is a rugged, isolated island in Lake Superior. The island is enjoyed by hikers and backpackers; boaters, canoeists and kayakers; and scuba divers. Although the park covers over 800 square miles, just over 200 square miles of the parkland are above water. The national park can be accessed through two areas, Rock Harbor and Windigo. Rock Harbor is on the northeast end of the park, and can be accessed by boat or seaplane. Hikes of varying lengths are available.
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Hikes in the Rock Harbor area take visitors through the southern border of the boreal forest, the world’s largest on-land biome, south of the northern tundra. Boreal forest is characterized by coniferous trees, mostly spruce and pine. Rock Harbor Lodge provides lakeside lodges and cottages for overnight visitors who prefer not to camp. The historic Rock Harbor Lighthouse was built in 1855, and is the oldest on the island. The lighthouse has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. The 50-foot tower of stone and brick topped by an octagonal beacon, is attached to a keeper’s house which contains a small museum. Visitors may climb the tower. The historic Edison Fishery is also located in the Rock Harbor area. The 1880’s fishery includes a net house and sleeping cabin built in 1895, a fish house and residence built in 1900, an additional sleeping cabin from 1925, and a 1934 chicken coop. The fishery is still operational and is open to the public. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Windigo is located on the southwest end of the National Park, also accessible by boat or seaplane. With a slightly different terrain than the north, the forests of the southern end of the park are characterized by birch and maple trees. Two rustic camper cabins are available in Windigo in addition to campsites and backcountry camping. Canoeists and sea kayakers enjoy taking advantage of the many inland waterways, lakes and bays. Fishing is available in these inland bodies of water as well as Lake Superior. Several shipwrecks are in the area, making the park a popular site for diving. The fresh, cold water has allowed the historical shipwrecks to remain remarkably intact. Wildlife on the island includes a wolf and moose population, which has been extensively studied, as the predator and prey live in a closed environment. The mainland park headquarters are located in Houghton, Michigan, where the visitor center offers a 25-minute park orientation video. Other mainland ports of entry include Copper Harbor and Grand Portage.
History: Isle Royale was occupied by Native Americans as far back as 3000 BC. Large amounts of copper artifacts indicate that early residents were mining the nearby Keweenaw Peninsula. Prospecting set off a copper boom in the area, which was in full effect by the mid1800’s. An extensive fishing industry in the area has considerably declined, with just the historic Edison commercial fishery still open. Most notably, the island served as a navigational outpost for several years, with lighthouses guiding ships through the notoriously difficult waterways. In the 1920’s, when the mining in the area had come to a close, and the area was at the height of its popularity as a resort community, several area residents began to explore the idea of a National Park. For the next 20 years, the community worked hard to promote the idea. The area was officially designated as a National Park in 1946. Several improvements were made in the mid-1950’s as part of the Mission 66 Program, created to revitalize the nation’s parks before the 50th anniversary of the Parks Service in 1966. Through this movement, concern for the area wildlife deepened, and in 1976 the area was designated a National Wilderness Area. In 1980 the park became an International Biosphere Reserve.
Ongoing Programs and Education: The Rock Harbor Lodge is a full service lodging facility, the only one on the island. It also offers sightseeing tours, as well as recreational boat rentals. Sightseeing tours aboard the MV Sandy operate during the summer months. Boat tours are guided by the National Park Service and most include hiking, or options for hiking after drop off by boat. Rock Harbor lighthouse is accessible only by boat, most tours to the lighthouse include a trip to the Edison Fishery.
800 East Lakeshore Drive Houghton, MI 49931, Phone: 906-482-0984