Isle Royale Traverse

Trekking and packrafting through the rugged island on Lake Superior.

Isle Royale is one of the least visited National Park, but has one of the highest rate of returning visitors. The Island is pretty rugged and offers good wilderness outside of the main tracks.

Where is Isle Royale?

Many backpackers opt for a classical traverse and others canoe loop around it. I went for a mix of trail, off-trail, coast and lake packrafting with some portaging. This is a recipe where packrafting shines!

Late arrival in Houghton, MI and an early Sea Plane flight to land at Windigo on the West side of Isle Royale.

I got an easy start for picking up the permit, a gas canister and refilling water. Cloudy skies but humid warm when the sun points its nose. Nevertheless, the mosquitoes are here.

So far it was an exceptionally dry year (no rain in July), but this dry spell will be broken on day 1.

Some pretty colorful plants I had never seen

But the trail was still try and most of the wooden gateway too as well as most of the streams. I got some reminiscence of the West Coast Trail in Canada on how slippery/swampy it could be here.

The first miles towards Feldtmann lake and Rainbow cove offer the first views. Most of the trails on the West side don’t have much visibility and are under the tree coverage.

Walking-up on the beach shore to avoid the strong wind and waves, with a mix of social trail to skips the small cliffs, relatively easy.

I walked up until the Head, then inflated the packraft. The route was still going against the wind (more SE than W here) with a few showers here and there.

No bears on the island but some moose and wolves.

After a late push to Attwood beach, I was soaked and made camp, before meeting a large moose and going to sleep.

The Beach walk is good and full of animal prints, similarly to the Alaskan Lost Coast.

The morning was calm and I decided to start by walking the shore as it was chilly and it seemed faster than packrafting.

Meeting lot of animal (and wolves) prints. This is a remote side of the island, wetter and many animal must gather here.

I opted to not shortcut through the woods (dense bushwhacking) and inflated the packraft to go around via Houghton points (very scenic) and back to Sisiswit camping (and not daring to do the large Sisiswit Bay crossing on a packraft).

Then I switched to walking mode and went up the crest trail. The Island is pretty flat, the trail is well maintained and comes with rapid progress. When the sun shows up it even gets warm quickly.

Meeting more insects there too. After several miles, I stopped for the night not far from the Malow trail and set up the tent 2 minutes before a storm opened-up.

Back to the forest

In the early morning and the sky is grey and heavy. The trail is slightly overgrown but without too many down trees.

Dense vegetation and better feeling of remoteness on an ok trail

I get soaked quickly via the surrounded leaves and then a big storm breaks. By the time I arrive to Sisiswit camp the storm was clearing out though. What a contrast with the past 2 hours!

I meet one canoeing person, then inflated the raft to cross the big lake. For the first time of the trip the wind was pushing in the direction I was going!

A low point figuratively and litterally

It was very scenic, quiet with a series of short portages among small lakes until back on the crest trail. One of my favorite part of the trip!

Then it is more busy (sharing section on the main trail traversing the island) and I passed a few campground to make it to McGrove Cove. Now the sun was shining an the wind more contained inland so the floating condition were good.

The last bits of walking before committing to finish the trip paddling as the next two days have a fair forecast.

I paddle up the cove to the top of the island for another highlight of the trip. The next day was sunny, windy but just enough and good from the WSW which is perfect for making ground with the packraft (not the best for open big water). The tiny portages and series of islands are truly splendid.

I pushed to the last possible portage, then back to finish the crest trail towards the Louise look-out (well worth the detour).

There are great views, nobody around and could see a last moose. The water is emeralds blue, a delight. It even gets pretty warm on this side of the highland.

Then last float to the end of the Rock Harbor island, which finishes in a cute scenic cove!

At the end of the island!

Now it felt like back to civilization and I walked on the pleasant coastal trail with good views, traversed Rock Harbor and did a couple of miles to a spot for the night overseeing the lake.

The next day was a little stroll back to the visitor center for checking out and flying back with an impressive last turn over the island.

It is good to know that people sail/canoe/kayak around but it requires good wind, even inland. The island is better visited by boat as most of the trails have no views, except on the Rock Harbor ridge and Louise look-out. It can get very warm if sunny, cold quick when rainy, and pretty buggy. Most of the inland had no water this year.

People cross the island in general in 5–7 days at a leisure pace. If you avoid the crest trail and mid day hours and it should not be busy. Backcountry camping is doable, but there are not many options.

All in all, a great experience and excellent preparation for the Iceland Traverse!

A mix of paddling, walking and portaging!




Trips & treks, kayak, packraft, climbing, mountaineering adventures around World

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Romain Rigaux

Romain Rigaux

Adventuring & Smart Data Querying |

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