Photos courtesy of Ray Dumas (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The least visited of the United States’ national parks (outside of Alaska) celebrated its 80th anniversary this April. Isle Royale National Park, located in the heart of Lake Superior, attracts travelers from around the globe seeking backcountry experiences. The remote paradise is only accessible by boat or seaplane.
But those who do make the journey find themselves coming back again…and again. In fact, Isle Royale visitors typically stay there 3.5 days, while the average visit to a national park is about 4 hours.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially established the 45-mile long island as a national park on April 3, 1940, but it was first acquired by the U.S. from the Ojibwa tribe in 1843. It was added to the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1976, and over 98% of Isle Royale is now federally owned land that is open to the public. In 1981 the United Nations designated Isle Royale as an International Biosphere Reserve, giving it global scientific and educational significance. It is still a location for extensive biological, historical and ecological research.
The park, consisting of the main island (Isle Royale) and approximately 400 smaller islands, offers incredible hiking, fishing, camping, and paddling opportunities to its visitors. And because of its almost complete absence of light pollution, the park makes for one of the best locations to observe the majestic aurora borealis (Northern Lights) and truly dark skies.
The park is best known for the local moose and gray wolf populations, but visitors may also stumble upon other small mammals like beavers, red foxes, snowshoe hare, minks, and river otters. The haunting call of loons, which nest along the shorelines, is one of the most memorable experiences.
“No other national park offers such an intimate experience with the outdoors,” explained Brad Barnett, executive director for the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Isle Royale’s remoteness and undisturbed ecology are precisely why visitors love the island.”