- Posts: 8
- Joined: Thu Jun 18, 2015 5:53 pm
- Isle Royale Visits: 2
- Location: Michigan
After going on a very challenging and hiking adventure, I found myself longing for a new adventure. I decided to return to Isle Royale, having made one other trip there in 2015. I wanted to do an end-to-end trip, having never been to the Windigo side before. I was trying to decide if I would go on the Minong or the Greenstone, when I wondered if it was possible to do a loop trip covering both trails. I came to these forums and asked the question and was assured that it was possible, and others had done it. Here is the route I planned:
RH - DF - MC - TH - LT - NLD - WC - WC (rest day) - SLD - HL - MB - TM - RH
Day 1: Rock Harbor to Daisy Farm
7.87 miles (All mileage was tracked with Map My Hike app, YMMV, literally)
I had an uneventful trip over on the Ranger III. Once on the island, I filled my water, then started out on the Tobin Harbor Trail, planning to cut over to the Rock Harbor Trail at Suzy’s Cave. Shortly before the turn toward Suzy’s Cave, I heard a noise in the water just off the trail and came across my first moose. She watched me go by, but wasn’t too bothered by my presence.
I was surprised to see Lady’s Slipper orchids along the trail. I had thought it would be too late in the season to see them. The thimbleberries were in bloom, too. I had never tasted one, but it didn’t look like I’d get the chance this trip.
The weather was very hot, and I had forgotten how rocky the trail was. My feet hurt already, and I stopped at shelter 12 at Daisy Farm because I didn’t feel like going any farther. It faced the water, and there was no one in the other shelters near it.
Apparently I'm limited to 3 photos and I've used them all up reporting on day 1!
Day 2 DF to MC
Shortly before 6am I was in my shelter looking over my route for the day when I heard a noise and saw a moose walking down the trail right in front of my shelter. I also saw another one farther down by the water. Once they went by, I went down to the water and took a couple of pictures of them.
When I hit the trail, I mean to take the Ojibway Trail to the fire tower, but ended up on the Daisy Farm Trail. They both end up where I needed to be, so I didn’t bother going back to try and find the correct path to the Ojibway Trail. I had seen the fire tower before.
The trail had a lot of variety – open rock, woods, swamps. There were lots of beaver trees, too. My feet were hurting pretty badly, especially considering it was only day 2. The last couple miles were torture. I figured this was mostly due to pack weight and might get better as days went by and the food weight was reduced. I ate raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries along the trail, which is a nice supplement to all the dehydrated food.
I stayed at Shelter 4 at McCargoe. The weather was still VERY hot and sunny, but the air by the water was cooler, which was a nice change. A garter snake crawled up the door to my shelter, it’s tail twitching across the screen.
I went to the dock to watch the sunset and look for moose. There were no moose and not much of a sunset, but as I got up to leave, there was a turtle behind me digging a hole to lay eggs, which was awesome!
Day 3 MC to TH
8.58 miles, including trip to Minong Mine
Saw a beautiful sunsrise. The water was perfectly calm and contained a mirror reflection of each tree along the shoreline. I greeted two women having breakfast outside their shelter on my way out.
I took a side trip to the Minong Mine, and it was amazing – worth the trip. I ditched my pack, which was nice. You can go into the old mine – it’s like a small cave – and there are some old rails in it. If you wander around, there’s some old equipment out there, plus piles of “poor rock”, the waste rock leftover from mining.
The trail regularly changes from open, rocky ridges to shady forest. I loved the variation. The ridges had amazing views, and the sky was a perfect blue. I saw no one on the trail and felt like I was the only person in the world.
The weather was still incredibly hot, but eventually the trail became forest only – no more ridges. This was cooler and much easier on my feet, which had been hurting since the first day.
Eventually I was certain I was getting close to Todd Harbor, and could be there for lunch. I was mistaken, and it was soul crushing. I just kept going and going, and wasn’t there yet. Finally I gave up and had lunch on the trail. It turns out I probably had about ½ mile to go. Oh well, I was well-rested when I arrived.
There was no one at Todd Harbor, and I took the only shelter. A while later a group of maybe 6 people came. They swam, and moved on to Hatchet Lake. I did the short hike to Haytown Mine – just a pit and some rocks.
After dinner I sat by the water to watch to sunset. Bonus – the flies weren’t as bad by the water. There were A LOT of flies at the shelter. Two other people came as I was watching the sunset. They had started from Windigo, and had a couple of long days of hiking. They set up their tents as the sun was setting.
Day 4 TH to LT
I was up with the sun and left quietly to avoid waking the other campers. This was an easier hike – the terrain was dirt, not rock, and I had fewer miles to go than some of the other days. There were a lot of ups and downs, but nothing too terrible. The worst thing was that the trail was narrow and overgrown and everything was wet with. I got soaked. About midway I stopped and took of my pantlegs, replacing them with gaiters. It was much better not having the wet, clinging pantlegs stuuck to me. Unfortunately it was too late for my boots, which were soaked through.
On a steep downhill near the spur Little Todd, I had my one and only fall of the trip. I slipped on some loose rock and ended up on my butt. The spur to Little Todd is .6 miles, and was much tougher than I was expecting. There were bogs, stream crossings, and some steep descents. I was dreading leaving the next morning, and wishing I had made the choice to continue on to N. Lake Desor and avoid this extra mileage.
This would be my first night in a tent – I’d had a shelter every other night. I chose site #1 as it was closest. It was very hot, and there wasn’t much for shade.
A park service employee came through my campsite. He was getting picked up by a boat out in the harbor, and he seemed to be in a hurry. He was the only person I saw all day.
The flies at the campsite were terrible – they were slightly better down by the water. The beach is rocky, but the rocks are beautiful! All different colors and patterns. There were a few islands in the distance that were shrouded in fog.
As I started to make dinner, the temperature dropped and the air had a chill to it. All the flies disappeared. I went back down to the beach to see a big storm moving in. I gathered things up and ate dinner in my tent as the rain came. It was a big thunderstorn that seemed to go on forever.
After the storm I went back down to the beach as the sun was setting. The sky was a brilliant golden yellow. I returned to my tent to go to bed, but noticed one side of my tent was glowing orange. I unzipped the rain fly so I could see out and discovered that the golden sunset had turned into shades of purple, pink, and orange. It was amazing!
Day 5 LT to NLD
Magnificient sunrise at Little Todd! I packed up my soaking wet tent, and made sure to wear the gaiters from the start this time. The climb out was not as bad as I had feared.
I saw a bull moose early on. He ran into the trees when he saw me. I also saw slugs lowering themselves from trees using slime. That is the stuff of nightmares.
Much of the hike was on the ridge, with breathtaking views. This was a short hike, but was supposed to be tough. I had all day and no reason to hurry, so I took my time picking my way across the rocks. I didn’t mind it – slow is my specialty.
The spur to North Lake Desor was a gentle stroll through a birch forest – much better than the spur to Little Todd. I stayed at campsite #1. There were two women in the site next to mine. There were few bugs, which was a nice change.
Day 6 NLD to WC
I got up early for this big mileage day. I wanted to pickup the box of food I’d mailed to Windigo. If I didn’t get there before the Ranger Station closed, I didn’t have dinner for the night. I wouldn’t starve, but I really wanted to the tacos that were in the box!
The trail started out looking like yesterday with rocky ridges, but it soon became more wooded. At one point the trail ended at the grassy edge of a swamp. I backtracked and found where I had missed a turn around a tree. The trail led to the first beaver dam – much sooner than I had expected. It was a long, muddy path to the other side. The other two beaver dams were easier to cross.
There were a lot of big ascents and descents later in the day. My feet were hurting, and I was ready to be done, but I had no choice but to keep going.
I took the first shelter I came to at Washington Creek, then made the .3 mile trek into Windigo to get my food shipment (shipped USPS via the Voyageur II and picked up at the Ranger Station) and made a stop at the store where I bought two shower tokens, using one right away.
Day 7 – rest day at Washington Creek/Windigo
Miles: A lot for a rest day!
I started the day by getting up with the sun and trekking in to Windigo to take some pictures by the water. After that I hiked the 1 mile-ish nature trail, hoping to catch a moose. No moose, but on my way back to my shelter I stopped to fill up water at the spigot and a bull moose walked right by me.
Most of the day was rainy, but it was my rest day so I didn’t really care too much. I went to a Ranger Talk at the pavillion and learned about moose bones. I hung out at the pavillion for a while after, talking to a group of fisherman who come to the island every year. One of them gave me homemade beef jerky that was SO good. They invited me to their dinner, but I didn’t want to crash their party – and I needed to eat my meals, not carry them!
I put my laundry in a washing machine and went to the Ranger Station and talked to Ranger Val about the next day’s hike. As done-in as I was arriving at Windigo, I was concerned that the trail out would be nearly as difficult. She relieved my fears by telling me that the trail was shaded and soft, and was going to be much easier – a walk in the woods.
Later in the evening I went for another shower – wanting to be clean before starting the trek back to Rock Harbor – and I ran into someone I had hiked with before. She was there with a couple of friends, and she invited me to hang out at their shelter. It turned out their shelter was next to mine, so I spent the evening there, watching moose wade in the creek as fog rolled in.
Day 8 – WC to SLD
It was a long day and I was tired at the end of it, but Ranger Val was right – it was a much easier trail.
It rained intermittently after I reached camp, but cleared up for another amazing sunset. I was in my tent writing in my journal when I was startled by a loud noise that turned out to be a bull moose pulling vegetation out of the ground not far from my site. I watched him for a while, in the trees just behind the campsites by the latrine. He eventually wandered off.
He returned in the middle of the night, and spent hours thrashing about in the trees, ripping up plants to eat. The rangers had sent their noses were more sensitive than a German Shepherd, so I figured he knew I was there and wasn’t going to step on me.
Day 9 – SLD to HL
The trail was mostly wooded, though it eventually turned into the a narrow, overgrown trail. I took a short break under Ishpeming Tower, talking to Mike, a 70 year old solo hiker working on visiting all the National Parks he can drive to. I guess for Isle Royale, he meant driving to the ferry.
Along the trail, I found some ripe thimbleberries. I have wanted to try them for a long time, and had thought it would be too early as the plants near Rock Harbor were still in bloom. I liked them!
When I went to bed, I had left the rain fly pulled open to look at the sky. Of course that means it started to rain and I had to get up and pull it closed. It rain pretty hard for a while, and I fell asleep to the sound of it.
Day 10 – HL to MB
This was a long day by choice. I had stayed at W. Chickenbone and Lake Ritchie before, and was hoping to try out Moskey Basin. The other campgrounds were backup plans, in case I wasn’t up for the long hike.
The climb out of Hatchet Lake was long and steep, but the rest of the trail wasn’t too tough. It was narrow and very wet, though, and I was soaked – even with gaiters. I saw two moose on the trail, both fairly close to Hatchet Lake. One ran off quickly, the other was curious and watched me for a long time.
Up on the ridge I set up my amazing Helinox chair and dried my feet off, fixing all the BandAids again. It was a nice break in the sun and the breeze. The Greenstone was changing – more rocky ridges instead of woods. More views, too.
I made it to Moskey and stayed in Shelter #3. It was gorgeous – worth the tired, sore feet! There was a beaver doing some construction work in the water next to my shelter. I soaked my aching feet in the cold water of Lake Superior and they went numb almost instantly – no more pain!
Day 11 – MB to TM
I decided I would leave from Moskey a bit later than I had left on other days, since I had a shorter hike and I wanted to enjoy the beauty a bit longer. I very nearly slept through the sunrise, but made it in time for a spectacular one!
I hit the trail about 9:45. I’d forgotten how hard that section of trail is – rocky, open and VERY hot! The miles seemed to drag for what was supposed to be an easy day.
I had lunch at Daisy Farm, then continued on where I had some very close encounters with the snowshoe hares. They were frightened by a Coast Guard helicopter doing some training exercises overhead, and were all running this way and that trying to figure out how to get away from it.
I took the first shelter I came to at 3 Mile and was glad I did as someone tried to claim it shortly after I arrived, thinking it was empty. The latrine sat up on a hill – very majestic.
Day 12 – TM to RH
Watched another amazing sunrise, then headed out. I wanted to get a shelter for my last night and not have to deal with a tent. All the shelters were full at Rock Harbor, but the Ranger said many of those people would be leaving shortly on the Queen.
I made the mistake of waiting for them to vacate. The Queen dumped off a load and those people starting claiming shelters from people who hadn’t left yet. I managed to grab the last one from some very nice people who were packing up. I put my permit on the door and left my pack on the table – they kindly moved it inside for me when they were done.
I squeezed in a Ranger Talk about the island’s history, showered, had pizza and beer, saw Bruce the Moose, met a friend who came in on the Ranger III, hiked Stoll Trail, and finished with a Ranger presentation on the island’s shipwrecks.
And just like that my trip was over. The next day I was back on the Ranger headed for Houghton. That night in Houghton back at the Super 8, I had trouble sleeping. Everything was too loud. I had to shut the air conditioning off to have any hope of sleeping at all.
Already I missed the rhythm of the island – waking and sleeping with the sun, the call of the loons, coming face-to-face with moose, climbing onto the sunny ridges, descending into the shaded woods, filtering my drinking water as dragonfiles flitted about. It was a magical trip. Difficult, but not as hard as I had feared. I stil smile when I think of the sunrises and sunsets, the joy of finding berries, and the excitement I felt every time I saw a moose.
Moose: 1 (Bruce the Moose!)
- Posts: 36
- Joined: Sat Mar 16, 2019 2:56 pm
- Isle Royale Visits: 0
- Location: Central Ohio
My wife and I depart for IR two weeks from today, and I'm very eager - and anxious - to go. Our hike will be quite a bit less ambitious than yours; we'll be taking our time and keeping close to Rock Harbor campsites.
In your report, I'm amused by the instances in which you mention the pain in your feet, and then almost instantly say you took a side-hike to see some sight or another. You're what my dad would have called a "trooper."
Thanks again for the entertaining report.
Thank you for writing up a great trip report! It sounds like you had a wonderful time with nothing but good memories. I was there in June and have to wait almost a full year to go again. Winters are too long in the northern plains!
I have always slept very well while at Isle Royale; hotels/motels not so much.That night in Houghton back at the Super 8, I had trouble sleeping.
- Posts: 296
- Joined: Wed Apr 20, 2016 4:06 pm
- Isle Royale Visits: 4
- Location: Ann Arbor, MI
I was wondering about the stretch of Minong Ridge between Windigo and NLD-- How long did that take you? Did you happen to see anyone that was backcountry camping? I think we'll have to backcountry camp because we have an afternoon flight into Windigo.
- Posts: 8
- Joined: Thu Jun 18, 2015 5:53 pm
- Isle Royale Visits: 2
- Location: Michigan
7 hours of hiking (I'm not a very fast hiker). I didn't see anyone backcountry camping at all. It's a long hike, but not that difficult - just pay attention at the beaver dams. And it's very slow going to pick your way across the first one. There were some steep sections but the ground being less rocky than previous days was a bonus.
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- Joined: Thu Jun 18, 2015 5:53 pm
- Isle Royale Visits: 2
- Location: Michigan
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- Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2017 1:39 pm
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- Location: Grand Rapids, MI
To add more photos, click the "full editor" button, then use the "attachments" tab at the bottom of the post editor. A pain, but it's how PHPBB does things...
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- Location: St. Paul, MN / Fernandina Beach, FL
If there was anyone off-trail backcountry camping along that stretch, they probably wouldn't have been seen. The rules state that one must camp at least 1/4 mile away from any trail.
Several years ago, I hiked the Minong and planned on backcountry camping hallway between NLD and Windigo (going in that direction). There is a small creek around the midpoint. When we got there, the bugs were so bad, we skipped it and hiked to Windigo.
Moderator Edit: fixed quote.