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Camping World’s Guide to RVing Isle Royale National Park

Water is the main star at Isle Royale National Park. With over 400 islands inside the park boundaries, visitors traverse the waters of Lake Superior to then navigate channels and waterways by kayak or canoe, sailboat, or fishing vessel, all for a little island hopping.

SCUBA divers find treasure in the waters here as 10 shipwrecks offer up their secrets. Wildlife on Isle Royale harbors a mystery, too, as to how they crossed the depths to arrive here more than 100 years ago. This park will quench your thirst for adventure and exploration.

Why Visit Isle Royale National Park in an RV?

This is one of those parks where an RV doesn’t quite fit in, unfortunately.

Visitors will be relegated to parking it on the mainland in Michigan or Minnesota and taking a boat or seaplane to the island. The Isle Royale National Park is worth leaving your rig behind because it’s unlike any other national park in the country.

When to Visit Isle Royale National Park

Photo Tripping America - Isle Royale - Camping World

The Isle Royale National Park opens every year from April 16 to October 21. From November 1 to April 15, Isle Royale and its surrounding islands are closed to visitors because of the harsh weather conditions. However, the waters of Lake Superior are open to boaters year-round.

Isle Royale National Park in the Spring

Spring offers breathtaking views as the park comes to life with daily high temperatures hovering around 65 degrees.

Isle Royale National Park in the Summer

Summer in the park sees a plethora of water activities and hiking opportunities with daily high temperatures reaching 76 degrees.

Isle Royale National Park in the Fall

Fall offers stunning vistas and fall foliage that rivals a movie set with daily high temperatures of around 58 degrees.

Isle Royale National Park in the Winter

The park is closed during the winter season.

Where to Stay

Rock Harbor Lighthouse Isle Royale National ParkImage: Shutterstock

When it comes to staying inside the park, there are over 30 different small campgrounds. They offer little to no amenities and you’ll need a permit to stay. Follow the National Park System’s guidelines on camping in Isle Royale National Park.

Staying Outside the Park

Since you won’t be taking your RV into Isle Royale National Park, it is best to dock it in an RV park (like the one below) in one of the three towns (Houghton, MI; Copper Harbor, MI; Grand Portage, MN) that offer boat access to the islands and use that as your home base.

Happy Land RV Park. About an hour away from the park.

Invest in a Good Sam Membership and save 10% on nightly stays at Good Sam Campgrounds.

How to Get Around Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park FerryImage: Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock

There are two ways to get to Isle Royale: by boat or by seaplane. Both leave from three different ports on the mainland. If you are coming from Minnesota, depart at Grand Marais. If Michigan is your departure state, you can leave from Houghton or Copper Harbor.

Once in the national park, there are no motorized or wheeled vehicles allowed except wheelchairs. Travel is by foot or by boat. There are several services that ferry visitors between islands, and many bring their own kayaks or canoes to enjoy the waters. Rentals are also available at Rock Harbor.

Places to Go

The islands of Isle Royale National Park provide a variety of sections to visit. Here are the three regions with a list of services available in each.

Houghton Visitor Center

Photo Tripping America - Isle Royale - Camping WorldRanger III – Photo Credit: NPS by Joe Hudzinski

Located on the mainland of Michigan, Houghton is the home to the park’s ferry, Ranger III. The visitor center has a bookstore, park movies, restrooms, and information about Isle Royale. Boating permits can be obtained here, as well.

Rock Harbor Visitor Center

Photo Tripping America - Isle Royale - Camping WorldPhoto Credit: Ray Dumas (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Located on the northeast end of the park, this visitor center has area displays, park information, and backcountry permits available. Services available in the Rock Harbor area:

Dockage with Power and Water Pump Out Service Fuel Rock Harbor Trading Post Showers Laundry Potable Water Restaurant Lighthouse Boat Rentals

Windigo Vistor Center

Windigo Port Isle Royale National ParkImage: Shutterstock

Located on the southwest end of the park, Windigo has ranger programs, park information, and displays. Backcountry permits are issued here as well. Services available in the Windigo area:

Pump Out Service Fuel Windigo Store Showers Laundry Potable Water Windigo Camper Cabins

Things to Do in Isle Royale National Park

Sunrise Sunset Isle Royale National ParkImage: Shutterstock

With over 8 million acres, there are a lot of activities that can be enjoyed in the park. Here are a few of the most popular ones:

Hiking

A great way to spend a day at Isle Royale is to hike the many trails. There are trails of varying distances and difficulties, and hikers should be prepared for uneven terrain.  Check out Rock Harbor trail maps and Windigo trail maps.

Backpacking

Spend several days exploring the islands of Isle Royale National Park by backpacking and canoeing through the region. A permit is required, but there are numerous small campgrounds for just this purpose. Be sure to look at which campsites are accessible by water, and which are accessible by land.

Camping

The islands have several small campgrounds scattered throughout for campers, providing overnight stays along waterways and off hiking trails. Permits are required and there are limits to the number of nights allowed.

Chippewa Harbor Isle Royale National ParkImage: Shutterstock

Fishing

Catch your fill of lake or brook trout in Lake Superior, or any of over 40 species of fish when you cast a line at Isle Royale. Michigan fishing licenses are required to fish in Lake Superior. However, no licenses are needed for inland fishing.

Boating

The most efficient and enjoyable way to experience the park is by water. If traveling by canoe or kayak, your boat must be at least 15 feet long to handle rough water and not swamp. Only sea kayaks are useful here, as recreational ones are not appropriate for the marine environment. Canoe routes and portages are located on the eastern half of the island.

Sailboats and motorized boats have several docks where they can tie up. Boats with motors are not allowed on lakes, and no personal motorized vehicles are allowed within the park.

SCUBA Diving

Because of the harsh weather and difficult navigation on Lake Superior, many ships were lost here. There are ten shipwrecks within the park boundaries, preserved for SCUBA diving enthusiasts and photographers.

Divers must register at one of the visitor centers before diving, and mark dive spots with a flag. Isle Royale Charters is the only company licensed to guide SCUBA trips within the park.

What to Bring and How to Prepare

Isle Royale National Park SeaplaneImage: Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock

Since Isle Royale National Park is a collection of islands, all visitors have to cross Lake Superior’s cold waters. By seaplane, travel time one-way can range from 35-45 minutes. By ferry, travel time one-way ranges from 1.5 hours to seven hours contingent upon departure and arrival locations.

There are very limited services within the park. Plan to bring everything you may need during your visit, such as:

Layered clothing Rain gear Food Water

Cell service is also unreliable. Do not plan your trip dependent on your cell phone. Signals are rare and typically become available on a high ridge only and only on occasion. Public Wi-Fi is not available.

Brief History of Isle Royale National Park

Photo Tripping America - Isle Royale - Camping World

Sitting in Lake Superior, Isle Royale is part of the state of Michigan, although the park is closer to Canada and Minnesota. None of those designations existed when copper was first found here thousands of years ago.

Several copper implements were discovered in Indian settlements, dating back to 3000 BC. The copper for these items was mined on Isle Royale, which was called Meinong. But it was the Chippewa who lived here until the mid-1800s when they relinquished the island to white settlers.

By the turn of the century, the island became a vacation destination for the wealthy. Walter Singer built a hotel and cabins along the shore at Washington Harbor, purchasing a boat to bring guests to “Island House Resort.” Soon competition appeared on the island and tourism grew a bit.

By 1912 the Washington Harbor Club, a group of wealthy businessmen who owned railroads through northwestern Minnesota, evidently transported moose from there to the island, creating their own private hunting club.

The moose remain, but the hunting club was gone by the time the region came under the protection of the national park service, becoming Isle Royale National park in 1940.

Plan your next trip to the national parks in an RV. Rent an RV, trade-in your RV, or buy a new or used RV and start traveling for less than $5 a day.

What do you think of Isle Royale National Park? Leave a comment below!

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