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America's Wild Island

Updated on December 29, 2014

Isle Royale: Perfect Wilderness

If you were America's least visited National Park, would you feel left out? Lonely? Would you long for more visitors, or would you enjoy the peace and solitude? For millennia, Isle Royale has stood far out in Lake Superior, enduring the pounding waves and brutal storms of our deepest Great Lake. Standing alone, in perfect natural solitude, it's an incredible destination point for those who want true wilderness surroundings.

The stunning beauty of the island is matched by it's history, and it's mystery. Ancient natives mined copper from Isle Royale, and Native American legends tell of fair-haired "marine men" or "sea people" who came to mine the copper 3000 years ago!

Since 1946 it's been a National Park. The least visited in the United States, and our only island national park.

An inland marsh on Isle Royale
An inland marsh on Isle Royale | Source

Isolated and Unforgiving.

Isle Royale remains isolated because the only way to get there is by boat or seaplane. There are no roads. No medical facilities. If you get injured or fall ill, you are basically on your own. It could be hours or days before you get help. (At your own expense). It's a vacation that requires research and preparation.

Depending on the time of year, you may be sharing your trip with mosquitoes, black flies, and bad weather. The island has many micro-climates. One minute you're on a sunny, rocky crest...enjoying magnificent scenery. The next, your trail becomes a muddy swamp that requires you to cover every inch of bare skin from the biting swarms of insects.

Boaters must be experienced. There are at least 25 shipwrecks surrounding this rocky island, the earliest recorded wrecks being the Madeline in 1839 and the Siskiwit in1840.

The weather on Lake Superior can change in an instant, presenting challenges and frustrations for hikers, but especially for those on the water. Kayakers and boaters need to be experienced, and anyone traveling by canoe is very strongly advised to stick to the inland lakes and channels.

There are 50 inland lakes on Isle Royale, and the island itself is surrounded by over 400 smaller islands.

Moose Vs. Wolf

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1000 Moose, 8 wolves....and no deer!

There is not a single deer on Isle Royale, but there are an estimated 1050 moose. They have only one predator to contend with. Wolves. In 1980 there were 48 wolves on the island. Today....there are 8.

Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich are currently the lead scientists for a wolf/moose study that has lasted for 56 years (the longest running study of it's kind anywhere in the world) exclusively on Isle Royale. The fascinating results of their work can be found here:

The wolf/moose predator/prey relationship has a direct effect on the ecosystem of the entire island. Imagine an unchecked moose population on a confined island. In 1996 that population reached 2,500, only to collapse to an estimated 500 within 2 years due to a severe winter combined with an unexpected outbreak of ticks.

The National Park Service now has to make a decision. With the wolf numbers at less than a dozen, and the pack heavily inbred, extinction is a real possibility for Isle Royale's wolves. Do we let them go extinct? Do we introduce new wolves, and new genetic lines? This past April the Park Service decided NOT to introduce new wolves to the island....preferring a wait and see attitude. This is after 2 years of dragging it's feet on this issue. Scientists Peterson and Vucetich are quoted as being "disappointed" and plan a response to the NPS decision.

The severe winter 2014 allowed ice bridges to form on Lake Superior, and a radio-collared female left the island. She made it to the Minnesota shoreline where she was found dead. An autopsy revealed that she was shot in the chest.

Wolves vs. Moose
Wolves vs. Moose | Source

Hiking Trails Into History

Over 160 miles of hiking trails spread across Isle Royale. They cover a wide variety of terrain and offer stunning and scenic views that can only be fully appreciated in person. Pictures and video cannot convey the essence of this place.

Hiking to the Minong Mine via The Minong Trail is worth the effort. You pass prehistoric mining pits, where native Americans and mysterious visitors alike dug for Great Lakes copper. You walk into the caves where massive ingots of copper were dug by native, and possibly foreign miners.

It has been estimated that up to half a billion pounds of copper were mined in tens of thousands of pits on Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan by ancient miners over a period of a thousand years. Purity studies on Bronze Age copper found in Europe match the purity of Michigan copper. That type of purity is not found in copper from the European continent. This mystery has yet to be explained.

One prehistoric mine on Isle Royale held a large copper boulder that sat on cut timbers that carbon date to 3000 years ago. One theory is that the Minoans made their way here and took copper back to Europe.

Other trails lead to much history involving mining, trapping, and commercial fishing. Some of these historic sites can only be accessed by boat, canoe or kayak. No matter how you travel on Isle Royale, there is a deep history that waits to be uncovered for those willing to look for it.

Boat docks at Rock Harbor
Boat docks at Rock Harbor | Source

Off Limits In Winter

Isle Royale National Park is officially closed to all visitors from November 1 through April 15 annually. The area of closure extends 4.5 miles out into Lake Superior from the island. The park reopens April 16, 2015 with ferry service beginning the first week in May. Ferry service is available from various departure points.

Official information is always available from The National Park Service.

Looking east over Tobin Harbor.
Looking east over Tobin Harbor. | Source

Did You Know?

  • The Greenstone Ridge, which forms the backbone of Isle Royale, is thought to be a portion of the largest lava flow on earth.
  • The waters surrounding Isle Royale contain the most productive native fishery and genetically diverse lake trout populations in Lake Superior.
  • Edible berries on Isle Royale include Thimbleberries, Raspberries, Blueberries and Sugar Plums.
  • The 50 inland lakes on Isle Royale are home to an amazing range of invertebrates. Freshwater clams, sponges, bryozoans, snails, and insects exist in a variety of forms and in huge sizes not seen since the late 1800’s.

One Of A Million Views - Isle Royale
One Of A Million Views - Isle Royale | Source

Preserve It!

If you carry it in - You carry it out! Do not take anything from the island! Except pictures and great memories! Absolutely no pets. A visitors dog caused the outbreak of canine Parvovirus that killed many wolves in the early 1980s. In 2 short years the wolf population dropped from 50 to 14. Dogs are now prohibited from a radius of 50 miles from Isle Royale! No campfires permitted except in designated fire rings. Fuel stoves are permitted on the island, and it's the only practical way to cook. Most of these rules were put in place because of previous problems.

Today, our National Parks face dangers ranging from budget cuts to changing environmental conditions. These public treasures are some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

It should be common sense to preserve and protect this island paradise for future generations. We are only temporary stewards of this planet. It's the very least we can do. We owe them.

Loon and hatchlings on Isle Royale
Loon and hatchlings on Isle Royale | Source

Had you ever heard of Isle Royale National Park before seeing this blog?

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    • Revolution Kev profile image

      Kevin K 3 years ago from U.S.A.

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! Most people I talk to about Isle Royale have never heard of it. I'm sure this is why it remains our least visited National Park. Personally, I like the seclusion. It's an awesome getaway!

    • profile image

      Candice 3 years ago

      I liked reading this. Never heard about this before.

    • Revolution Kev profile image

      Kevin K 3 years ago from U.S.A.

      I would like to thank everyone for the kind words!! It's very much appreciated. I certainly didn't expect to receive the HOTD award, and I'm humbled.

      I'm glad that I could reach some people, and introduce them to this amazing place.... My article does not do justice to the island. It's something that has to be experienced to truly grasp the wonder of it.

      The situation for the wolves has not improved, so maybe more awareness is the answer. Please do some research on the island and the wolves. It's people like you folks, that read and understand, who are the key to the future....for all of us!! Thank YOU!!

    • GoldenQuinn11 profile image

      GoldenQuinn11 3 years ago from US - NY

      Congratulations on the HOTD award :D

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi, That a place I would love to hike. The wolves are beautiful, and I would like them to survive. A very ice hub, Stella

    • RC Zephron profile image

      RC Zephron 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      A nicely written hub! I would definitely love to visit the Isle Royale. A deserving HOTD! Great job!

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 3 years ago from U.S.

      This is a beautifully written page! I've been to Isle Royale twice -- once in high school (a long time ago in the early 1970s), and once in the 1980s. The first time was from Grand Portage MN to Wendigo on the west side of the island, and the second time was from Copper Harbor MI to Rock Harbor. We saw plenty of moose on both trips, but no wolves, even though there were more than there are now. I really want to go back again, especially after reading this!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      Congratulations for the HOTD, you certainly deserve it a beautiful article with lots of information about a National Park I have never heard of until reading this.

      I feel for the wolves in would be sad to see them disappear all together, maybe remove all the male wolves of the land and introduce a new male, and see what happens after that. (Just my thought's).

    • profile image

      Ethan Digby-New 3 years ago

      Great hub, and nice job getting the Hub of the Day. I found your Hub very insightful, and the place just as intriguing. Nice Hub!

    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 3 years ago from Connecticut

      Great Hub and congrats on Hub of the Day! Very interesting national park. I wonder if the lake will freeze up enough again this year to create a land bridge...might be nature's way of introducing new wolves to the island naturally.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

      Congratulations on the HOTD award! This is indeed a very informative and useful hub that I have read today. Beautiful places to visit, too.

    • Artois52 profile image

      Artois52 3 years ago from England

      What a beautiful looking place. Another one to my add my list of places I'd love to visit! Congratulations on getting Hub Of The Day too.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 3 years ago from Minnesota

      It looks a lot like where I live. I would feel right at home.

      Beautiful place.

    • Pawpawwrites profile image

      Jim 3 years ago from Kansas

      Wow, what a unique and fascinating place.