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Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park - BEST Places to Picnic

800 East Lakeshore Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931-1869

Visitor Information
(906) 482-0984

WELCOME to Isle Royale!

A Superior Wilderness

Isle Royale�s physical isolation and primitive wilderness challenged human use for centuries; ironically today it has become the Island�s main attraction. 

Accessible only by boat or seaplane, visitors come to experience this island park through hiking its trails, paddling its inland waterways, exploring its rugged coast, or venturing into the depth of its shipwrecks.

The Ranger III, located in Houghton, Michigan, is the largest ship owned and operated by the National Park Service. The Ranger III is also the largest ship which supports and provides transportation services to Isle Royale National Park.

Nature and Science - an Overview

In the northwestern portion of powerful Lake Superior exists a unique and remote island archipelago. Isle Royale National Park preserves 132,018 acres of land-based wilderness that was federally designated on October 20, 1976. 

The park consists of one large island surrounded by about 400 smaller islands, it encompasses a total area of 850 square miles including submerged land which extends 4 1/2 miles out into the largest fresh water lake in the world. Due to Isle Royale's biological and ecological uniqueness, it was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. 

These isolated islands have barely 20 species of mammals compared to over 40 found on the surrounding mainland. Some species have come and gone, often due to the influences of humans. The heavily forested shoreline of Isle Royale appears similar to the mainland�s landscape prior to development. Gulls, ravens, and an occasional eagle or osprey dot the skies; squirrels, toads, mice, and spiders move about the forest floor.

The Ecological Study of Wolves on Isle Royale, now in its 46th year, is the longest running large mammal predator-prey study on earth. Research has shown that all members of the Isle Royale wolf population have descended from a single female, which arrived during the late 1940s. 

This intense level of inbreeding has led to a 50% loss of genetic variability within the population today. Genetic information suggests that the island�s moose population is most closely related to moose in northwestern Minnesota�perhaps challenging the long-held idea that moose swam across the lake to reach Isle Royale. Did humans bring them here?

A venture by foot, canoe or kayak into the parks interior can transport one back thousands of years into it�s prehistoric past. Around 11,000 years ago, 2 miles of ice lay on top of Isle Royale, pressing it down into the earth and sculpting its topography. 

The same ice sheet gave birth to powerful Lake Superior as well as hundreds of inland lakes, ponds and bogs. The Greenstone Ridge, which forms the backbone of Isle Royale, is thought by many geologists to be a portion of the largest lava flow on earth.

The Ranger III, one of the most unique ships to sail the Great Lakes.

Unlike other Isle Royale ferry services, the Ranger III was designed by the National Park Service specifically to bridge the gap between the mainland and the Island. It was built to withstand the Lake�s fierce storms and its ice breaking capabilities assist in opening the park in the spring. 

An experienced nine-member crew take great pride in not only maintaining the vessel, but in serving its passengers. The Ranger III�s Captain, Bill Hanrahan, a graduate of the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, has over 30 years of experience; the crews combined experience is just under 200 years.

The ship is just a tool for the crew to use, and as all tools it must be maintained. Major maintenance is conducted every five years when the ship goes into dry dock.

 During this dry docking, the ship is inspected, cleaned, painted, and upgraded with state-of-the-art equipment. This inspection is conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping. The Ranger III is then stringently inspected twice annually by both the U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping.

Your Isle Royale journey starts at this vessel�s home port of Houghton, Michigan. The 73 mile journey takes 5 hours. During the first hour of the trip, the ship navigates the scenic shores of the Keweenaw Waterway, passing under the world�s largest lift bridge. 

Once on the open water, the journey creates an opportunity to appreciate the size and breadth of the big lake. This allows visitors to shed the hustle and bustle of everyday life, preparing them for their wilderness adventure. As Isle Royale approaches, a picturesque seascape is revealed through the historic Rock Harbor Lighthouse. 

An hour later seafaring ends at your destination, Rock Harbor; but your backcountry adventure is about to begin.

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