Boating on Lake Superior

By Marty Richardson
Published: April/May 2013

Adventurous boaters can find a remote paradise on Michigan's Isle Royale.

If you want to tour the island the way Hiawatha did, Isle Royale is a natural paradise for canoes and kayakers. These boaters occupy campsites adjacent to the docks, and the park has 244 campsites dispersed among 36 campgrounds. Each summer, hundreds of backpackers hike the island's 165 miles of well-marked trails. Canoers and kayakers portage from one inland lake to another, or on the rare days when Superior is calm, venture along the outer shore.

Isle Royale's boreal forests of paper birch and balsam sustain more than 700 different species of plant life, and wildlife abounds here. We spotted a cow moose and two calves from Monarch's aft deck while we were docked at Windigo Harbor. Moose arrived early in the last century, probably swimming from Ontario, and with no natural predators, they grew to alarming numbers, nearly deforesting the island. In the 1940s, wolves crossed to the island on winter lake ice, and proved to be the predators the moose population needed. Since then, they've performed an intricate biological balancing act, the longest continuously studied predator-prey system in the world.

Otters frolic in the water — we watched one play next to the boat one afternoon after a hike near Moskey Basin — and foxes have been known to board docked boats and steal shiny objects and sweat-flavored hiking boots. The island is also home to 100 nesting pairs of loons — we saw flocks of 10 or more of the normally solitary creatures swimming together throughout our visit and were serenaded by their haunting cries.

Most of the docks provide easy access to hiking, and if the romantic folklore of Longfellow wears thin, there's plenty of real history to check out. It's a short dinghy ride from the dock at Caribou Island to a restored family fishery, and beyond that, the Rock Harbor Lighthouse serves as a museum, with historic photos and shipwreck memorabilia, and a panoramic view of the harbor from atop the lighthouse.

Bronze age visitors left their mark on the island as well. Beginning some 4,500 years ago — the island served the native peoples of Minnesota and Ontario, who traveled there to dig for copper with stone tools. Early mining pits can still be seen near a natural, water-carved arch near Belle Isle and McCargoe Cove. The early travelers used the island for hunting and fishing as well, arriving just as we did, in boats, from the shores of the Gitche Gumee, "by the shining Big-Sea-Water."End of story marker

Marty Richardson and her husband Jerry have logged nearly 12,000 miles on their 52-foot trawler Monarch since buying it in 2007. Their travels have ranged from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and they make their home in the Detroit area.


Superior Charters, Bayfield, Wisconsin, 83 nautical miles from Isle Royale. Bareboat and captained charters.

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