How does one get to Michigan from Minnesota without going through any other state?
Via Lake Superior on a boat, of course!
Our last park was a lake, this one is an island in a lake. A very big lake. In fact, the largest lake in the country, Lake Superior, which has a surface area of 31,700 square miles.
Isle Royale National Park was established on April 3, 1940 to protect 571,790 acres in this island habitat located in the northern most reaches of Michigan, close to the border of Canada and Minnesota. The quickest route to get to Michigan’s only National Park is actually via a boat ride from Grand Portage, Minnesota and takes about 90 minutes. By way of comparison, the boat ride from Copper Harbor, Michigan takes 4.5 hours and from Houghton, Michigan takes 6 hours.
So, on Sunday 8/27/2017 we departed Kabetogama and Voyageurs National Park bound for Grand Portage, MN which would be our base to explore this island park on Lake Superior. We didn’t expect this, but, Grand Portage was a great place too. It’s home to Grand Portage National Monument, a very cool bonus from this trip. And check out this campground on the shore of Lake Superior, what a beautiful spot.
Grand Portage National Monument is located on the shores of Grand Portage Bay in the northwest portion of Lake Superior. It is the eastern terminus of the 8.5 mile Grand Portage between Lake Superior and Fort Charlotte on the Pigeon River. Back in the day, French-Canadian voyageurs would each carry two 90-pound packs (yeah, thats right, 180 pounds of trade goods) the entire route to reach the inland headquarters of the North West Company. Each summer, members of the company’s management team would travel from Montreal across Lake Superior by canoe to meet here with trappers and members of the Native American Ojibwe tribe who brought pelts to trade for glass beads, wool blankets, woven cloth and iron implements.
While in Grand Portage, we had a day to explore the area so off we went in the Jeep in search of a microbrewery or two. A town about thirty miles south called Grand Marais looked like it may have what we wanted and we were rewarded with another beer that will make it to the next Craft Brew post update…
On Wednesday, August 30, we took the 8:30 AM passenger ferry, Sea Hunter III, from Voyageurs Marina for the 90 minute voyage to Windigo on Isle Royale National Park for the day. Once there, we would have four hours to explore this section of the 45 mile long x 9 mile wide Isle Royale, the main isle of the 400 or so isles in this archipelago.
The ferry ride was certainly interesting. The website warned passengers to come prepared for bad weather and we did. Good thing because they did not mention that only about one third of the passengers would get a seat inside while the other two-thirds would be sitting outside, exposed to the weather. This day, the wind was blowing hard from the north and creating serious spray that drenched most of us that ended up outside the cabin. Our rain suits were worth every penny we spent on them! There were a few times when the waves crashed over the bow putting a lot of icy-cold water on the top of the cabin. When it came pouring off the top, it doused Siobhan and everyone else sitting on that row of benches. (Fortunately for me, I guess, I was standing just under the cabin roof as there was such limited seating.) Also, the air temp was only in the 50s out on the water so it was a brisk-feeling morning! Still a blast though, being out on the water again.
Shortly before we arrived at the island the ferry’s captain trolled past the wreck of the passenger ship America which sunk here in 1928, its bow visible just below the surface. It is one of 25 ships claimed by the rocky shoals, fog banks and storm winds around Isle Royale. Once on land, we spoke with the Park Ranger at the Windigo Visitor’s Center and chose the 3.8 mile Feldtmann Lake Trail that took us to Grace Creek Overlook and back just in time for the return trip to Grand Portage.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that this island is best known for the experiment founded by scientist Durward Allen in 1958 known as the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study in which this island serves as the laboratory to study the interactions of the two species and their habitat when virtually removed from human influence. Here, wolves are the only large predator since there are no bears, coyotes or cougars. This is the longest continuous predator-prey study ever undertaken and is still active to this day (for more info, refer to isleroyalewolf.org). Most fascinating is that neither species is native to the island and both likely arrived here in the first half of the 1900s from Minnesota’s north shore on Lake Superior.