Adventures, Backpacking, Multi-Day Trips

2020 Isle Royale National Park 4 Night Backpacking Trip

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Date(s) - 09/01/2020 - 09/05/2020

Isle Royale National Park Ranger lll, Houghton Michigan

Isle Royale National Park Ranger lll


Explore a rugged, isolated island, far from the sights and sounds of civilization. Surrounded by Lake Superior, Isle Royale offers unparalleled solitude and adventures for backpackers. This is a guided trip that will offer a abundance of wonder, fun, awe, and leave you talking about it for years. This 4 night 5 day backpacking trip will traverse through the natural settings of the island including covered shelters with screens, docks that you sit relax and watch the sunset on, and the possibility of a Moose stopping by. But that’s not even the beginning! If you dare, don’t be so quick to go to bed. Northern Lights could make an appearance and that is when the Wildlife come out to play. We will also explore ancient copper mines that date back to early eastern cultures. Not too mention if it’s warm or you dare to feel the invigorating chill of the water, jump off one of the docks and go swimming. So much to do and see!

We have done this route multiple times dating back to 2008 and think it’s by far the best scenic route on the island. However, weather, trail conditions, and other factors may change the planned route.


Isle Royale, the largest island in Lake Superior, is over 45 miles in length and 9 miles wide at its widest point. The island is part of Michigan, though you will actually be physically closer to Canada than the US. Canada can be seen from the highest points on the Island. Isle Royale is a seasonal National Park and can only be accessed via boat or seaplane due to it's remote location. Access to the island is restricted from mid-April to early September. 

Isle Royale's iconic Moose are abundant on the island but rarely seen. However, we have encountered them on almost every trip so far - set your exceptions low but keep positive! NEVER leave gear or food unattended on the picnic table near your shelter. Fox are on the island will steal anything they can carry in a instant, trust us on this!

Generally this time of year temps will average in the low to mid 60's during the day, and mid to low 40's at night. So plan accordingly for cool nights. Weather conditions on the island can range from sun, rain, fog and high wind. It's not uncommon for gail force winds to whip the island at any given time. Our campsites will be on or very near the water front and therefore can be rather exposed to winds. Rain gear will be a MUST for this trip. 

As with any backpacking trip, a shelter is typically required. This route is designed to have an option for either using your own tent or to sleep in a shelter, if one is available. Due to the popularity during this time of year, we require that you bring a tent regardless of your sleeping preference while on the Island. Shelter availability is not guaranteed, though each of our campsites will have several to choose from if not already occupied. Each shelter on the island can accommodate up to 8 people – there are multiple shelters available at each campgrounds we will be staying at, and an option for your use as desired. All shelters are wooden, having three walls with the front entirely screened in and a door. If we find that we are alone at the campground, you may have the option to have a shelter to yourself, though do not count on it. You may likely be sharing the shelters with others outside of our group. All members of our party will be expected to remain reasonably close together for the duration of the trip and not allowed to camp outside the boarders of the campgrounds. 

The Dockside Store is located on the main dock of the Island, close to the Rock Harbor Lodge. There they offer standard though limited groceries as well as freeze dried foods, fishing tackle, camping and hiking accessories, camping fuel, photo supplies, boating accessories, post cards, apparel, souvenirs, and sundries. Shower and laundry facilities are also available. If you are flying in from afar, you will NOT BE ALLOWED to carry fuel on general commercial flights. Please plan to purchase fuel prior to arriving on the island as nearing the end of the season, fuel for purchase at their Dockside or Rock Harbor Lodge Stores may be very limited or not available at all. Per preference, you can pack a SMALL lightweight bag with a clean pair of clothes for the Ranger III ride home. Rock Harbor Lodge will hold your bag for the duration of our backpacking trip. The bag must NOT exceed 25lbs. The cost for this is $3.50 per bag, per night. This cost will be incurred by you. Cash is a preferred method of payment. 

Itineraries for our 4-Night/5-Day and 5-Night/6-Day trips follow a similar route, with minor differences. Please note, the Itinerary listed below is the route for our 4-Night/5-Day Trip. 

Day 1 - 

Leave on the Ranger III at 9:00 AM from the National Park Service dock in Houghton, MI (800 E. Lakeshore Dr. Houghton, Michigan). The Ranger III has all the comforts you'll need. They have indoor/outdoor seating along with a small diner down in the galley, cash only. As we come into Rock Harbor you will get a glimpse of the Rock Harbor Lighthouse where it's been stationary for almost 100 years. We will arrive at Rock Harbor on Isle Royale at 3:00 PM. This is approximately a six hour boat ride. 

After we unload, you will be required to take a brief Leave No Trace Awareness discussion with a Ranger in order to get your permit. There will be an opportunity to get any last minute provisions needed for resupply before packing up, and hiking 2.7 miles to our first destination. Along the route, we have the opportunity for exploration of a cave directly off shore. While it's a short hike, it's a great acclimation to the island 's terrain with ample time allowed at camp to relax and enjoy the beauty and wildlife of Isle Royale!

After arriving at 3 Mile, we will select an available shelter or tent site and unpack. Each shelter can sleep 8 people. They are very clean and have screens with a spring door. Privy's are very close to the shelters.

Weather permitting, we can all sit on the 3 mile dock and have dinner together. After dinner we'll kick back and watch for the nightly show of fox coming into camp and try and steal hiker's belongings! 

Day 2 - 

We will backpack 8.1 miles to Moskey Basin. Moskey Basin is very unique and located directly in a quiet bay. We will be hiking through some thick forest and on top of bogs in some areas. Watch for Moose tracks on this route. If you like sleeping directly under the stars this is the place to do it! We will show you a great spot and watch for the potential of the Northern Lights that might come out at this time of year and make an unbelievable appearance. Fingers crossed! Otters often come up directly on the dock at Moskey Basin looking for food. While they are not to be fed, they are friendly and interactive with humans. 

The sunrise here offer a special impact to start your day, pending weather conditions.

Day 3 - 

We will get an early start around 9:00 AM backpack from Moskey Basin to McGaroe Cove – a total of 8.3 miles. We will hike over the Greenstone Ridge and stop at a beautiful inland lake to have lunch.

After we reach McGaroe Cove and unpack we will have an option to go swimming (depending on weather and perhaps just how brave you are to plunge in the near frigid waters near Canada - trust us, it's invigorating)! But rest up, after setting up camp and swimming we'll still have some hiking to do. Yup, that's right! We will explore an ancient copper mine that was cut by hand. Ancient explorers dating back to China carved this mine using only stones. We will guide you through some of these oldest copper mines in the United States with further self-exploration if that wasn't enough!


Day 4 - 

This will be our earliest “wake up time”. Starting at 8:00 AM we'll make our way back to 3 Mile along the Greenstone Ridge Trail for 12.4 miles. This route offers us passing along the highest point on the Island. We will guide you to a special outlook where you can clearly see Canada as well as the entire length of the island. This is where we'll stop for a moment to have lunch this day. 

Once we select an available shelter or tent site, get to unpacking and elevate those feet after a well deserved break...momentarily of course! You won't want to miss out on the enjoyment of one hec of a shin dig back on the dock where dinner will be provided for you! Libations included for those interested in partaking! This is our well deserved reward to you to enjoy during our last night on the island. 

Day 5 - 

We'll have an early start again this morning in order to get back to Rock Harbor by 8:00 AM. We will only be hiking the 2.7 miles back to the dock to catch the Ranger III. The Ranger III leaves Rock Harbor at 9:00 AM. It is approximately a 6 hour boat ride back to Houghton, MI

Unfortunately, the trip is over at this point. However, on our return night it is optional to have a group dinner together as desired. 

This is a suggested list of gear to make your trip successful!


*A fitted backpack than can carry 5 days worth of food – 65 Liter Backpack gauge though you can easily go smaller

*Pack Cover (covers your backpack if it rains)

30 Degree Down Sleeping Bag – (expect chilly nights)

*Sleeping Pad

Lightweight Tent

*Headlamp (extra batteries as needed)

Hiking Poles are highly encouraged, as the terrain is uneven - rocky, rooted and muddy at times

*Good Hiking Boots or shoes with good traction 

*Water Filtration (we will be getting our water from Lake Superior) *includes a “dirty” water bag

3 liter hydration  or equivalent water bottle system

*First Aid Kit – primarily for blisters, burns, cuts, and aching muscles



*Cooking Stove MSR Pocket Rocket or stove that uses Isobutane Fuel

*Cooking Pot to boil water/ and eat in

*Drinking cup

*Lighter – purchased AFTER flights


*Food Storage Bag (we will NOT have to hang food via “bear bag” system)

All of these can be shared if you have a partner.

**CLOTHING: this does NOT include clothing for the trip home

Base Layer

SmartWool NTS Mid 250 Zip-T Long Men’s Underwear Top
REI Lightweight Base Layer Half-Zip Top – Women’s

Long sleeve shirt (merino wool is a good option)

Long underwear

Wool hat

Wool Socks


Arcteryx Men’s MX Hoody (great insulated soft shell)

Arcyeryx Men’s Delta AR Zip Neck Midlayer

Insulating Layer

Rab Microlight Jacket Men’s
Marmot Women’s Jena Jacket

CAMPING or Sitting by the Fire

A lightweight Goose down jacket is highly recommended and / or long sleeve Fleece jacket

Long sleeve shirt

Rain Jacket or Wind Breaker (should be same thing)


Base Layer Short sleeve or lightweight long sleeve

Long Pants that can unzip into shorts

Hiking socks

Hat or Bandanna


(3) pair of socks

(2-5) pair of underwear

(1) pair of hiking pants

(3) shirts (1) Long sleeve (2) Short Sleeves

(1) pair of long underwear to sleep in

(1) pair of shorts *unless your pants unzip into shorts

First Ascent Men’s Telemetry Freeride Pants Men’s
Marmot PreCip Waterproof Rain Jacket Men’s
Marmot PreCip Waterproof Rain Jacket Women’s

(1) hat or bandanna

(1) sandals or lightweight shoes for camp

**Rain pants are optional. However plan in case it downpours and what you will hike in the rain in.


Miscellaneous Gear:

Compression sack for sleeping bag **Sea to Summit eVac Dry Sack Recommended

Compression sack for ALL clothing **Sea to Summit eVac Dry Sack Recommended

Food Bag **Sea to Summit Stuff Sack Recommended

Plastic Zip Lock Bags for Food and Garbage

Camera and waterproof camera case (iPhones should be protected incase it rains)

small pad to sit on

If you have any questions e-mail: 



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In 2003 I completed a Thru-Hike on the Appalachian Trail. Since then I have over 12,000 miles underfoot and 20 years of backpacking, and camping experience. Certifications include WFA, WFR, LNT Trainer, and belong to AORE. Have been guiding backpacking trips for over 10 years. The outdoors has taught me one thing. Trusting the Trail! really does provide everything a person needs.

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