Isle Royale is a wilderness gem, an island archipelago in Lake Superior. There are no cars allowed to cross to the island, and all must reach here by boat or float plane. There is one lodge on the main island, where we stay, and miles of beckoning trails. Isle Royale National Park and the Rock Harbor Lodge concession staff provide a host of interpretive programs; we can choose from these and our own inspirations. At one time two MILES of ice covered this island, set in the largest freshwater lake in the world. Today the park is recognized as a Biosphere Reserve, a pristine example of Northern Biome forests, lakes, bogs, and island shorelines. Its rock spine is ancient, and scored by the movements of retreating glaciers, some 10,000 years ago. We spend four nights on the island, and our tour price includes the round-trip ferry from Copper Harbor, about a three-hour ride. Plan on an active trip, with opportunities to hike and paddle (canoe or kayak), yet return to nice accommodations and dining at day’s end.
We access Isle Royale via Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, a geologist’s and naturalist’s wonderland that once held rich copper mines. It is a fascinating and beautiful place in its own right to explore, spending our final night in Houghton, on the waterfront. We see a good portion of the Keweenaw, jutting out into Lake Superior, the peninsula’s coastlines and rugged beaches are superlative, while a mountain spine that runs the length of the peninsula affords outstanding views.
Sat., Aug. 31 Arrival in Houghton/Hancock
Arrive today at Hancock Airport (CMX), a small city at the base of Michigan’s scenic Keweenaw Peninsula. Flights typically hub from Chicago; as we write this itinerary (Oct. 2011) there are two flights a day, arriving 10:36PM or 2:19PM If you need to arrive on the late flight please come in the day previous, we will work with the arrival time of the afternoon flight, and depart at approximately 3PM from the airport to drive up the Keweenaw, stopping en route at some historic sites, from a time when copper was “King.” Few realize that the Copper Rush here brought in 10 times the fortune of California’s Gold Rush. Today the story is told by abandoned mines, ghost towns, and a new National Historic District near Calumet, part of our National Park system. Accommodations will be in Copper Harbor, where we enjoy a welcome dinner.
Accommodations in Copper Harbor, MI (D)
Sun., Sept. 1 Keweenaw Peninsula / Copper Harbor
From our lodgings nature is close at hand and this morning, after breakfast at your leisure, we explore trails through lush boreal forests. The understory plant life is that of an elfin realm, with ferns, mosses, club mosses and late-summer wildflowers. This is migration time for songbirds and we’ll network with local birding enthusiasts to see where our best viewing will occur. Throughout our stay, we watch for Moose and Bald Eagles. In the afternoon, we drive along the rugged Lake Superior shoreline and up Brockway Mountain Drive for a great overview of the Keweenaw Fault, Lake Superior, and Copper Harbor. Here, some of the oldest rock formations known in the U.S. are boldly exposed as part of the Canadian Shield. Quaint shops and a small museum dot the streets of Copper Harbor, while on a nearby beach we look for agates. The Lake Superior shoreline is close at hand, and in birch and conifer forests we look for Red and White-winged Crossbills, and up to twenty species of wood warblers. Dinner tonight is at your leisure, either at one of the town’s restaurants, or in the cozy dining room of our lodge.
Accommodations in Copper Harbor, MI (L)
Mon. - Thurs., Sept.2-5
At 8:00AM, we set off on the Copper Harbor Queen IV, bound for Isle Royale. From this point it is a three-hour ride to the island, so we arrive in time for lunch at the lodge. We have two half, and three full days on the island, and each days we will provide a mix of hiking, opportunities to canoe or kayak, boat excursions with a local naturalist, birding, studying geology, and just relaxing. This is a wilderness park, with just the one lodge, and little other development other than trails and the marina. We time the visit for lack of crowds, and lack of pesky mosquitoes and black flies.
This is a treasured Biosphere Reserve, a fine example of the Northern Biome, with forests, lakes, bogs, and Lake Superior shorelines. There are trips to outlying islands to experience local and natural history, park ranger talks, and a water taxi available so we can do shuttles to facilitate the best hiking. Depending on scheduled options for our days there, we hope to see Passage Island Lighthouse, Lake Louise Lookout, the Island’s north shore and McCargoe Cove, Middle Island Passage, Raspberry Island and more. Avid hikers can return from one of our trips on the trail that follows the Island’s backbone, the Greenstone Ridge. Those that enjoy fishing can find the time and place to do so with ease. All meals are at the lodge, or picnics that we take with us from the lodge. We plan to visit the Peterson Wolf Research Center and Peg will provide information on wolves and moose over time, as this is the longest-running predator-prey study known, commencing in 1958. This is one of our most remote National Parks, and the sense of place one gains here is profound. It is also a fascinating place to find wildlife.
Accommodations at Rock Creek Lodge, Isle Royale (L,D Sept. 3; B,L,D Sept. 4-6; B,L Sept. 7)
Fri., Sept. 6 Isle Royale / Copper Harbor
We have the full morning to enjoy Isle Royale, and our return boat typically leaves for Copper Harbor at 2:45PM. We plan to return to our cottages at Keweenaw Mountain Lodge for a relaxing evening. Dinner is at your leisure.
Accommodations in Copper Harbor, MI (B,L)
Sat. Sept. 7 Exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula
We make a full day of our return to Houghton (if done straight through an hour and a half drive…). We follow the scenic outer lakeshore route, stopping to see the historic lighthouse at Eagle Harbor, and further along, to search for agates on wild beaches. If we hear of a good place (a fairly recently burned forest area) we’ll try to find Black-backed Woodpeckers. We enjoy a couple of short hikes in varied habitat, one at Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary at Bare Bluff, and plan to see some of the Calumet area historic sites. Our final dinner is in an out of the way place we drive to from Houghton, at Freda, a great local restaurant near a historic stamping mill on the edge of Lake Superior.
Accommodations at Super 8, on the Waterfront in Houghton (L,D)
Sun., Sept. 8 Departures from Houghton
Plan on departures convenient for you today, the airport is a quick drive from our hotel. Those taking the afternoon flights can enjoy the local walking trail, or the arts and shops of Hancock.
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COST OF THE JOURNEY
$2690.00 from Houghton, Michigan. This is based on double occupancy and includes airport transfers, all accommodations, most meals as specified in the itinerary, round-trip ferry ride to and from the island, professional guide services, local guides, local park entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. It does not include roundtrip airfare to Houghton County Memorial Airport, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, gratuities for porterage, or personal services. Single supplement is $695.00.
You are responsible for planning your arrival to Houghton County Memorial Airport, in Hancock, MI (CMX). Please plan to arrive by 3PM. There are typically two flights per day into Houghton/Hancock, one arriving afternoon and one late-evening; most flights route from Chicago. If you need to arrive the night previous due to scheduling the later flight, we recommend staying at the Super 8, Houghton, which has a great location on the water with a walking trail out your door (906) 482-2240, 1200 East Lakeshore Drive, firstname.lastname@example.org. For this early arrival, you will need to take a taxi to the hotel, which costs about $10.00, about a five mile distance. We will meet the afternoon flight at the airport, and pick up those staying at the Super 8. Departing flights are either 6:44AM or mid-afternoon (currently 2:45PM) so we plan to stay in Houghton the night previous in case you do need the early flight. We will provide transport for either of these flights.
If you are driving, you can leave your car at the Hancock airport, or at the Isle Royale ferry terminal. We can also check with Super 8, depending on your plans and preference.
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Michigan North Country sunset, seagulls, Chestnut-sided Warbler and lake scenic, Richard Becker; Isle Royale map and Moose, Wikipedia; Red Fox, Greg Smith - www.flickr.com/photos/slobirdr/; Rock Harbor Lodge banner, ferry and lighthouse, Rock Harbor Lodge; Michigan, Keweenaw Historic Park, NPS; all other photos by Peg Abbott.
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