Isle Royale: Primitive Grace
Yes, they’re out there. Grey wolves. By last count, 21 of these big-shouldered hunters are running in three packs on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale.
Chances are slim that you ever will see one. But have no doubt, they are there. And moreover, they know exactly where you are. Perhaps they have seen you. To be sure, they have caught your scent. Yours is not a smell they like.
No one has ever been harmed by a wolf on Isle Royale. But knowing the wolves roam there – grey ghosts back among the trees – shapes your sense of island space. They are what makes Isle Royale a true wilderness and not some outsized city park. Here, man is no longer at the top of the food chain.
Isle Royale National Park is a 45-mile-long slash of evergreens and rock 53 miles north of Copper Harbor. The park also embraces some 200 adjacent islands, all of which make for wonderful kayaking, especially around Five Finger Bay, on the island’s northeastern fringe.
Casual hikers love the easy Stoll Trail that starts at Rock Harbor (the main dockage), passes ancient Indian copper mine sites and ends with dramatic views of Lake Superior from Scoville Point. For experienced hikers, the Rock Harbor shoreline trail passes 19th-century copper mines and, with an extension, can end up at Chippewa Harbor, one of the prettiest coves on the island. For those with sinewy thighs and a sense of mission, try Greenstone Ridge trail, which runs along the high backbone of the island to the outpost of Windigo at the island’s southwest end.
Along the way, plan on a camera-full of wildlife. Moose (though their numbers are down to about 400) regularly wander through campsites. Also expect otters, 150 different species of birds – including the eerily joyful loons – snowshoe hares and bushy tailed foxes that seem to have no more fear of humans than farm dogs do. Just don’t expect to see a wolf.
Best time to visit: Anytime is good, but come in early June and September for fewer people and fewer bugs. – Gerald Volgenau
For details on the ferry to the island, park fees, hiking, camping, paddling and fishing, and an information packet, contact Isle Royale National Park at www.nps.gov/isro or call 906-482-0984.