So our second thought was, well we can just go all the way to Rock Harbor Lodge, get a cottage, and that will improve the temperature and food situation. However, I'm more than a little leary of two 6—7 hour boat rides, on a fairly small boat, even if it would be really cool to circumnavigate the island.
Would going out of Copper Harbor on the Queen be a better choice with a 10 month old and a 3 year old? It goes a longer distance but it seems like a much bigger boat that could handle waves a lot better. We won't be able to go around the island, but we can always do that when they're older. Any advice?
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Welcome to the forums. As you probably surmised, anyplace away from Rock Harbor or Windigo are pretty much wilderness areas. Although you will find reports here in these forums of parents taking their infant throughout the back country areas, that is certainly a very personal decision. I think I would not have done it with my son at that age.
The lodge rooms and cabins in Rock Harbor are an excellent way to see a lot of what the Island has to offer over several days. Even though the lodge is a bit isolated on a peninsula, there are still nice trails available. You can also rent canoes and small motor boats. To see more of the Island, the lodge concessions operates a tour boat (M.V. Sandy) with multiple trips per day and per week to several points of interest. Some of the boat trips would require a little walking after arriving and others would allow you to choose how much walking you cared to participate in. There is a very nice restaurant at the lodge and an adjoining snack bar for a pizza etc. that is open a bit later than the restaurant. The cabins are equipped as efficiency units with a stove and refrigerator. The lodge rooms are like a typical hotel (nothing fancy but very nice and clean). I have stayed at the lodge. The is limited bandwidth wifi for emails etc.
To stay at the Lodge in September you will need to plan carefully. This year they are advertising they are open through the night of 9/14 (see Greenstone below). Typically they are only open until the end of the first week after Labor day, but this year they seem to be adding an extra week.
The trips from Michigan are only about 4 hours from Copper Harbor and 6 hours from Houghton. The ride quality on The Queen from Copper would be somewhat comparable to the Voyageur in similar sea conditions but there is more open water from Copper Harbor so on average the sea can be rougher more frequently. That said, Lake Superior and the weather are their own boss. Some days it can be rough along the northern shores next to MN and fairly calm to the south. The Houghton route is aboard the much larger national park service Ranger III which is 165 feet long and 650 tons. Even though the trip is longer, a good deal of the 6 hours is in the well protected Portage canal. The ride is usually smoother than the other ferries but things can still get a little rough. There is also plane service from the Houghton/Hancock with a 30 minute transit to either Rock Harbor or Windigo. The plane operators are also starting a new service this year from Grand Marais, MN (maybe I should have led with that?).
If you have not found this yet, the park's newsletter, The Greenstone will help answer most any question. If not, then please ask here.
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There are places that still sell block ice. A 20 lb block will last a solid week with careful openings. I remember the end of the family vacations when I got to play with the leftover ice block in the driveway.