My boyfriend, Karl, and I have been planning this trip for a few months, spurred by our goal of visiting all 59 national parks together someday. Might be a bit ambitious/crazy, but we’ve already been to 6 in the past 3 years. A bit about us – we’re in our mid-twenties and are both working on graduate degrees. I’m currently living in Pittsburgh and Karl’s in Madison, so we wanted to visit Isle Royale while he’s in the Midwest for school. Karl had been on many backpacking trips (though none more than 2 nights); I had been camping and hiking a lot growing up but only got into backpacking in the past year. We both felt like a challenge, so we agreed to try a 4-night trip on the Minong. This forum was extremely helpful in planning our trip, so we wanted to pay it forward with a report of our trip!
7/15: Getting to the island
After flying into Chicago Monday night to begin my one week “summer break”, we re-packed and started the 7 hour drive to Grand Marais. We had reservations at the Outpost Motel for Tuesday night, and got in about 10:30pm. We would have liked to stay and explore the area longer if we had time; the motel owner was friendly and accommodating, and it was very affordable especially given the lakeshore view!
7/16: Grand Portage > McCargoe Cove > Todd Harbor
We got up early for the half hour drive to our 7:30am departure on the Voyageur. It was a pleasant, calm ferry ride, and we spent the first hour talking with a nice older couple who were also visiting for the first time. They were spending a few days in a cabin while visiting their friends who run the Windigo store.
After getting off for a few minutes to get our permit in Windigo, we continued to McCargoe Cove. We got on the trail about 1:30pm to start our 6.7 mile hike to Todd Harbor. This segment was a great introduction to the island; after trekking through some thick vegetation and eating our first thimbleberries (which were plentiful throughout the trip), we stopped for a snack at some beautiful vistas overlooking Lake Superior. We were amazed this first day by the rugged beauty of the island; we went from feeling like we were in a rainforest, to “high desert” terrain that felt like home (we’re both from a small town near Crater Lake, Oregon), to the ocean shore, in the space of 3 hours.
We got into Todd Harbor with plenty of time to set up camp and make dinner (and well before the rain that night). We had heard from someone getting off the ferry that we should check out group campsite #1 if there weren’t any groups around. It was a great suggestion, we had a beautiful view of the sunset over the lake just a short walk from our tent!
7/17: Todd Harbor > Little Todd
We knew from the weather report that we would have rain, and I am so glad we brought dry bags for our gear. We quickly ate and packed up, took our tent down and filtered water in the rain, and hit the trail for another 6.7 mile hike. It was a wet day, switching between a light mist and downpour, though with the help of rain pants and good boots my feet stayed dry. Karl wasn’t so lucky; the thick vegetation and narrow trail along this segment quickly soaked through his hiking pants. Despite the rain it was a beautiful hike; it stayed above 60 degrees (maybe a bit colder at night), and we were very thankful this segment didn’t have many rocky ridges to slip on! The trail down into Little Todd was steep, but wound through a breathtaking misty forest of birch trees. We set up in campsite #4 during a brief lull in the rain and spent the afternoon and evening reading and listening to the waves from the comfort of our tent.
7/18: Little Todd > N. Lake Desor
We had planned on this being our easy day at only 5.6 miles, though reading trip reports more carefully may have helped. We were glad the rain cleared out; after a breakfast of pop-tarts, we quickly realized we were beginning to see the challenging part of the Minong. It was slow going with many ups and downs along the rocks and looking for the next cairn to find the trail; our usual hiking pace is about 2mph but we averaged about 1.2mph this day. We took it slow and enjoyed the views and perfect hiking weather (partly cloudy and 65 degrees!); the ridge trail up here is beautiful. I was very grateful for my trekking poles; I slipped and bruised my knees a couple of times, and probably would have gotten seriously injured without having poles to break my fall. We were glad to get into Lake Desor in time for a quick swim and an hour to relax in our hammock in site #3. We had the entire campground to ourselves again; we were surprised to only see 9 people between McCargoe Cove and Washington Creek (a couple going the other direction on our first day; 4 in Todd Harbor, and a group of 3 crossing paths with us a few hours from Washington Creek).
7/19: N. Lake Desor > Washington Creek
We got up early to watch the sunrise and cook breakfast on the rocks by the lake, and set out for our 12.6 mile day. This day was a stretch for us, but we were glad for the varied terrain! After a few more rocky ridges, we spent hours cruising through a beautiful open forest, crossing a few creeks, picking our way through thick thimbleberry and raspberry bushes, hiking up again to some sunny rocky ridges, and back down through 3 beaver dams and a marsh. Thankfully the marsh had a plank walkway; the beaver dams were a bit trickier and I was again very glad for my trekking poles and water-resistant boots. This was also our best day for wildlife; we saw many toads, a fox sleeping on the rocks, and a mother and baby moose. After many snack breaks and our freeze dried ice cream sandwiches (a treat from Karl’s mom for the trip), we finally made it into Washington Creek. After eating the last of our dehydrated meals, we walked to the harbor for a quick dunk in the lake to celebrate a long day. We even saw a bull moose snacking on some plants in the river.
7/20: Windigo > Grand Portage > Madison
We had a nice leisurely morning in Washington Creek and Windigo, stretching our legs on the 1-mile nature trail and buying some souvenirs. We ran into our friends from the ferry ride over, and caught the last of a ranger talk. After a bumpy afternoon on the lake, we drove home to Madison, sad to leave the wilderness and beauty of Isle Royale behind.
We couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend almost a week away from our busy grad school lives, and hope to return and explore the rest of the island in years to come!
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