My Honeymoon: Hiking Isle Royale
written by Amber Mudd, Girls Who Hike Kentucky Ambassador
My husband, Andy, and I love the outdoors. We knew we wanted an outside wedding surrounded by nature and we knew that we wanted to do something different for our honeymoon. We decided to take a backpacking trip because why not? We worked on a list of places we wanted to go separately and both ended up listing Isle Royale, the least visited national park. We had our destination! Time to start planning.
Andy was a more experienced backpacker than I. He had been backpacking since high school with his dad. I, on the other hand, had not done more than one night in the backcountry, so I knew it was going to be a challenge for me. But I was up for it. To prepare we did a two night backpacking trip a couple months before. It was a piece of cake, so I thought I should have nothing to worry about on our trip, it cannot be much harder than a weekend, right?
The day finally got here and we left for our first adventure as a newly married couple. We loaded up the car and drove from Louisville, KY up to Copper Harbor, MI. Copper Harbor is on the Upper Peninsula and is one of the few places you can catch a ferry ride to Isle Royale. The ferry ride was a four hour ride across Lake Superior. The ferry ride was relaxing and it was like being out on the open ocean, the water was so blue and beautiful. It was July 4th and I couldn’t think of a better day to be celebrating the birth of our nation then to be visiting one of its beautiful parks.
July 4th: We finally made it to the Rock Harbor Visitor Center. First thing we had to do was make reservations for our backcountry campsites. This must be done in person. We had sites picked ahead of time and hoped they were available and they were! The first night we stayed at the campground next to the visitor center since we needed to catch another ferry to the other end of the island the next morning.
After we set up our site we went to explore and were happy to find cheap canoe rentals. We hopped in one and decided to chart the unknown territories of Tobin Harbor. We took off without too much thought, but knew we wanted to find a trail that we could hike to get a better view of the island. On the map I spotted a trail that went out to an overlook, Lookout Louise Trail. We canoed about a mile to get the trailhead and found good place to get out of the canoe. It was about a two mile hike to the lookout. The view was breathtaking! We could see Canada.
July 5th: The next day we awoke early to catch the ferry to the other end of the island, our plan was to hike the entire island from west to east. The visitor center is on the far east side and was also where we were scheduled to leave from on July 9th. The ferry ride was about two hours, pulling into different docks to pick up and drop off people. We finally made it to the beginning of our backpacking trip.
We ate lunch at some picnic tables near the Windigo Visitor Center and started up the climb to the ridge. We were hiking the Greenstone Ridge Trail, it is a trail that stretches pretty much right through the middle of the island from west to east and is 40 miles long. Our first campsite was a 6.9 mile hike to Island Mine. The hike was relatively easy since there is not much elevation gain. Island Mine had multiple sites to choose from and we had them all to ourselves. This part of the park reminded me of a deciduous woodland forest: it was open with big hardwood trees. The only source for water was a small creek that resembled more of a ditch. It was filled with leaves and leaches and our water was the color of rust, but it was still tasty. You have to treat, boil, or filter water with a ceramic filter in order to kill or filter of the tape warms that live in the waterways on the island.
July 6th: We awoke to a downpour, which is never something you want when backpacking, especially on the second day in! We had not had a way to check the weather the last few days so we did not know how long the rains were going to last. After eating a quick breakfast we packed up and started for the next site. We had planned to hike to Hatchet Lake, which would have been a 13 mile hike. The rains, however, did not stop. We ended up having to camp at an unplanned site along the way, Lake Desor. This was still an 8 mile hike. It was nice to stop, get dry, and eat after being in the cold rain all day long. Since this was my first real backpacking trip, I learned that my rain gear was not sufficient. It was hard for me to plan ahead for possible rain when I’d never backpacked in it. Lake Desor was beautiful and ended up being a great spot to camp for the night.
July 7th: Since we had to stop early the day before, we knew it would be a long day making up the 5 miles to get to our next site. We know had to hike 15 miles to get to Chickenbone Lake, but the weather was perfect and we had daylight hours on our side. The elevation on Island Royale is not bad, but the trails are rough. They are littered with huge rocks, roots, and plenty of mud! So, the 15 mile hike ended up taking us about 8 hours to complete, with a few breaks to eat and rest. By the time we got to Chickenbone Lake, we were exhausted and the sun was quickly falling. On Island Royale, when the sun goes down, you go to bed! A slight humming buzz takes over all surrounding sounds, definitely a little creepy. Mosquitoes are so bad that it is near impossible to stay outside, the girl at the campsite next to us was wearing a parka and snow pants…in July! I figured that had to be because of the mosquitoes. After we ate, in the tent we went. The mosquitoes literally spend the whole night sticking their proboscis through the tent screen, hoping to score a meal.
July 8th: We set off this morning with plans of stopping at Three Mile campsite, which would have been a 12.5 mile hike. The rough trails were starting to take their toll on my feet after the day of walking in water a few days before. I had blisters and they were becoming increasingly painful, not to mention the constant battle with mosquitoes. They never really go away, they are much worse at night, but during the day they are out and they follow you everywhere! By the time we finally made it to Three Mile, I looked at my husband and asked if we can just get out of here. I was ready for a shower and to have peace from the constant buzzing of mosquitoes. He agreed, so we hiked past the site and continued on to Rock Harbor, which was your guessed it, three more miles. We ended up hiking 15.5 miles back to Rock Harbor. Once we arrived we had to make the choice to stay that the campsites there or stay in the lodge, since we had to wait until the next morning to catch our ferry back to Copper Harbor. We decided that we deserved a night in the lodge after the last few days! It was the best spent money and the view from our lodge window was amazing.
July 9th: It was time to catch the ferry back. We packed up and headed out. We had a couple hours until the ferry would arrive, so we took advantage of the extra time. We had lunch at the only restaurant, it was decent but being an island they have limited resources and goods, so the menu didn’t have much. I was glad to see a few vegetarian options though. There is also a small store that sells food, camping supplies, and beer. A good craft beer hit the spot after the days in the wilderness with the rain and the mosquitoes. The ferry finally arrived, as we pulled off from the island my husband and I couldn’t hep but to start planning our next trip back. Next time we plan to go and kayak around the north side of the island, this I am sure will help to keep those pesky mosquitoes at bay since there is a contact breeze blowing on the north side.
We returned to our car in Copper Harbor and headed for Painted Rocks in the UP, a short stop on our way back home. This was my first real backpacking trip. It taught me a lot and for that I am forever grateful! I thought I was prepared, but realized you can never be prepared for everything, you have to learn to go with the flow and take it one day at a time. If you go into nature thinking you know it all or have it all, you will not be able to learn from the gifts nature provides! Best of of gifts from nature are usually free. I learned that I was a lot stronger than I ever thought. I had just backpacked across an entire island that is classified as a wilderness area. I had hiked forty miles in 3.5 days with a forty-five pound backpack strapped to me, with mosquitoes chasing me and a rain soaked day. I felt like I was on top of the world and ready to conquer anything and everything!