Isle Royale National Park: Arriving in Rock Harbor

Isle Royale QueenIsle Royale National Park Part 1- Getting to Isle Royale on the Isle Royale Queen IV

Here’s our destinations for this summer road trip:  Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Here’s our route- Michigan Road Trip- Summer 2012

After another restful night and a good breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express in Munising, we left Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and started our 3 1/2 hour drive to Copper Harbor, located at the very tip of the Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Copper Harbor is a beautiful little town on the shore of Lake Superior and one of two Michigan locations from which you can catch a ferry to Isle Royale National Park.  You could also catch the park service ferry, the M.V. Ranger III, from Houghton, Michigan.  The only other public transportation ferry options are from Grand Portage, Minnesota on the Voyageur II or the Sea Hunter. By air, you can also get to the island by sea plane leaving from Houghton with Royale Air Service. It is not especially easy to get to Isle Royale National Park which in my opinion is one of the best things about it as many people are simply unwilling to make the effort and the crowds are left on the mainland.

Copper Harbor

When we arrived at Copper Harbor, we checked in to the Bella Vista Motel which is a quaint small town motel located right on the Lake Superior shore.  We stayed in room 5 in the Isle Royale House which had 2 double beds and a twin bed.  The twins just doubled up on the twin bed (fitting, right?) and it was fine.  The room was perfectly clean and though a little outdated, was charming.

Isle Royale National Park: Bella Vista Motel in Copper Harbor, MI

We arrived in Copper Harbor in the early afternoon which gave us time to explore. We walked through the town to look around ending up at the Copper Harbor Visitor’s Center. We hadn’t decided what we were going to do for dinner and here we bought some frozen broccoli cheddar soup that was being sold as a fundraiser for the new town playground.  Combined with some chicken apple sausages I had in our cooler, we were set for dinner. We then walked to the Lake Superior shore where the ducks and geese clamored for bread. While we were there, the Isle Royale Queen IV returned from the day’s ferry to the island.  It was exciting to see the ferry pull up and know we were going to be getting on it in the morning!

Isle Royale National Park: Isle Royale Queen IV

After a while we all headed back to the motel to make dinner and play.  The kids enjoyed the basketball hoop while Dave and I grilled the sausages on our portable grill and made the broccoli cheddar soup over our camp stove. Voila! Cheap and easy dinner.

Isle Royale National Park: Basketball Bella Vista Hotel, Copper Harbor

Isle Royale National Park: Maya at the Bella Vista Motel

Dinner was great and we decided to splurge and get ice cream for dessert at the Berry Patch which was a little ice cream shop and gift store near the motel. We each got a scoop and sat at the bar talking to a couple of the servers who told us about their adventures on Isle Royale and the Upper Peninsula.  Feeling full and happy we walked back to the motel to settle in and make sure our backpacks were ready for our journey.  We had at 5:45 AM wake up set for the morning and we needed a good nights sleep.

When the alarm went off in the morning, we all jumped up to get ready.  I took a shower since I knew it would be my last one for a while! I also passed out dramamine to the kids and Dave and I put on a scopolamine patch that I had gotten a prescription from my doctor for. We had heard the voyage could get bumpy and no one wanted to get sea sick that’s for sure! Dave drove the car over to the long term parking area for the Isle Royale Queen IV passengers, and we put our packs on the front porch while we walked to the Pines Restaurant for breakfast. We all filled up on eggs, pancakes, bacon, coffee and hot chocolate. It was delicious! Naomi read all through breakfast because she was at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and she wanted to finish it before we left.  She definitely didn’t want to carry that huge book in her pack (like Sophie did on the AT!).

Isle Royale National Park: Garrett at the Pines Restaurant

Maya at Pines Restaurant

Naomi trying to finish her book before departure!

Isle Royale Queen IV

The ferry for Isle Royale National Park departs at 8 and we wanted to be at the dock by 7:30 so we quickly finished breakfast and walked back to the motel to pick up our packs.  Putting them on our backs, we walked to the dock.  It was finally time to leave!  All the prep and planning was for this and we were all very excited.  The dock was bustling when we arrived.  We passed our packs up to workers loading gear on the top of the boat.  The ferry was full with backpackers, kayakers and those staying at the Rock Harbor Lodge. There was also a group of college kids from Michigan Tech there for a weekend camping trip.

Loading the Isle Royale Queen IV

Getting Ready to Board Isle Royale Queen IV

Isle Royale National Park: Ready to go!

We stepped on the boat and found seats at a booth inside the main cabin.  We sat down and waited for the 3 hour voyage to Isle Royale National Park to begin. Before we knew it, Captain Ben was sounding the horn and we were on our way and leaving beautiful Copper Harbor.  It was a gorgeous warm day and lucky for us Lake Superior was calm.

Leaving Copper Harbor on the Isle Royale Queen

To pass the time on the ferry we visited with other passengers, read, walked out on the deck, and slept off the dramamine (which by the way, did the trick- no sea sickness!!). There was also soda, coffee, and baked goods for sale which we didn’t need since breakfast had been fantastic. We did use the magazines and blankets left out for passenger use which were welcome since it was cold on deck! We also payed our park fees which were $4 per person, per day and checks or cash were accepted.

Journey to Isle Royale National Park on the Isle Royale Queen IV

Journey Across Lake Superior to Isle Royale National Park

Rock Harbor

The journey went by quickly and soon we could see Rock Harbor in the distance. The ferry pulled into dock and a Park Ranger came out to meet us. We were separated into two groups- campers and lodge stayers, and given our safety instructions.  A main safety concern at Isle Royale National Park is drinking water treatment. Because of the possibility of tape worm cysts present in all lake water found on the island, all water must be filtered or boiled. The tape worm cysts are present in the water because of the wolves and moose who live on Isle Royale. The cysts are in wolf scat which runs off into the water supply and infect the moose.  When the wolves eat the moose, they ingest the tapeworms as well and the cycle is continued.

What this meant for us is that we had to be especially careful to properly treat our water. Tapeworms were not a souvenir we wanted! We usually use a SteriPEN Handheld UV Water Purifier to treat our back county water which we love but it is not effective against tape worm cysts so for our trip to Isle Royale we had purchased a Katadyn Base Camp Water Filter to use while on the island. We ended up loving our filter! While a bit heavier than our Steripen, it filtered our water quickly and for a larger group, it is a great way to quickly get drinkable water. Now we switch back and forth between the two depending on the size of our group. In addition to leave no trace principles, the park ranger also discussed the need to keep an eye on gear as sneaky foxes like to run off with people’s things. Once the ranger was sure we all understood how to safely camp on the island, the trip leader (that’s me!) went into the ranger office to fill out our planned itinerary and receive our permit.  I picked up a map and Junior Ranger packets for Maya and Garrett and we were free to go.

Coming in to Rock Harbor on the Isle Royale Queen

Rock Harbor at Isle Royale National Park

Our first stop was to the Greenstone Grill which is part of the Rock Harbor Lodge. We ate a quick lunch since we were hiking to Lane Cove that afternoon, about 7 miles away.  We all enjoyed our burgers and salads and filled up on iced tea and lemonade before we prepared to hit the trail. Before leaving, we weighed our packs on the hook scales located behind the ranger station. We were going to be hiking for a week, so our food packs were FULL!  Maya and Garrett at 9 years old carried their bedding, clothes and a couple of small items each. They also carry their own snack bags. These are bags I pack for each person with all their snacks for the trip.  They are then allowed to ration their snacks as they see fit. With their water and snack bags, their packs were about 20 pounds each.  Sophie and Naomi each also carried some communal gear and with their water and snacks their packs were about 30 pounds.  The main load was on the adults- I carried 55 pounds and Dave carried 65 pounds. Our packs definitely felt heavy! Luckily, our main weight was food so our packs got lighter each day.

Maya's pack in Isle Royale National Park

We stopped to take a picture at the Isle Royale National park sign and got on the trail to Lane Cove which is located on the north shore of the island. You can look at a campground map here. We were now on our way!

Isle Royale National Park

Have you visited Isle Royale National Park? What did you think?

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I love to plan family travel adventures with our four kids. Encouraging time in nature, National Parks travel, backpacking and hiking are my passions and I love to write about them.

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