I am a Highpointer, that is those that visit the highest point in each state for fun and exercise. Nearby is Eagle Mountain, the highpoint of Minnesota. For my first visit to the North Woods of Minnesota, I had heard wonderful things about the Boundary Waters Canoeing. I also had long been curious to visit Isle Royale, so we planned a trip to get a taste of the "Isle."
In late July 2013 ,we had about 3 days for a trip following some canoeing in the BWCA North of Grand Marais. We planned a backpack trip based on the boat schedules out of Grand Portage, Minn.
We would board the Sea Hunter to Windigo on a Friday morning and start hiking the Greenstone from there. The boat captain said that the hearty men and younger folk should ride on the bow and the outsides of the boat leaving the back cabin for the older folk and children. Ha, we dutifully sat up there and it wasn't long before we got drenched with 43 deg water by bouncing through the Lake Superior swells. Memorable! I had my synthetic fiber clothing on, so I dried out quickly after we got off the boat anyhow. They said the lake water never got more than about 45 deg. F all Summer and then the lake nearly froze over in Winter '14--almost never happens. Somehow global warming caused this historically unusual cold water?--don't get that.
After arriving in Windigo, we looked around at the bathrooms/showers, the Visitor Center where backpackers check in and the small store where they sell snacks, souvenirs and ice cream. We bought a scoop knowing we'd easily burn off the calories and we wouldn't have any frozen treats for a while. Those 3 buildings seem to be the entire Windigo community and then we started walking on a trail leading East from the store. From there we wound up at a couple houses that were apparently ranger residences. A friendly person that was living there asked us where we were going, and redirected us to the Greenstone Trail down a little side trail. We weren't far away, but if you're in Windigo the Greenstone Trail leaves from where the bathrooms are, not where the store is.
Back on track on the Greenstone, our objective for the night was the Desor S. campground. This is about 10-11 miles from Windigo, so I was good and tired going that far. The trail is nearly impossible to get lost through there, it is obvious and well trafficked. The only markings are the junction for the Feldtmann Trail toward Island Mine and then the spur trail to Desor S. campground, there are signs at both Junctions. There are only a couple spots where the trees thin and you have some nice views over into Canada where there are some hills over by Thunder Bay (see photo). Otherwise you're in the deep woods. We made a point to summit Mt. Desor, 1394' the Isle Royale highpoint just steps off the Greenstone Trail. We got to the campground where there were 2 other parties camping but it was quiet and peaceful.
Up in the morning, we broke camp to get back on the Greenstone. More obvious trail to the tower at Ishpeming Point. This was an old fire lookout, and was staffed in years past. We read a book about people living there in the 60s and 70s. Nowadays, they don't let you up on the deck of the tower to look around. Also the surrounding vegetation has now grown higher than the tower so you couldn't see a view anyway.
The tower is at a junction with the trail leading to Malone Bay. I believe it is called the Siskiwit Trail as much of it is alongside Lake Siskiwit. Not far off the Greenstone Trail, we realized this trail was much less popular and had not been cleared of overgrowth for quite some time. This has to be one of the least travelled trails on the Isle. You must concentrate in spots to stay on route. After dropping elevation, It is great for solitude and quiet and contains long stretches of board bridges to stay out of the boggy terrain. These are still in good shape but can be really slick in spots. Then you reach a view of Lake Siskiwit, and you walk alongside it for maybe 4 miles. At that point you get to a small creek with some cascades and falls where Siskiwit drains to Lake Superior. Next to it is the trail to Malone Bay which doubles as a canoe portage if you canoed through here. A short stroll and you reach the campground at Malone Bay on the South shore of the island. This was the prize, what a beautiful view of the big lake from any of the 5 shelters. You have to really try to get to Malone Bay, and we had only one other group camped there that night. They were kayaking around and across the inland lakes which seemed like a fine adventure.
We quickly found an available shelter and it was nice to not have to set up a tent. They have picnic tables which was nice too. I decided to check out the tent sites at the group campsites in the woods. When I did, I encountered a huge bull moose in there. He was nice enough to pose for several photos and then started to walk toward me (see photo). I thought I'd walk away then, and go tell my friends about him. I did and we went back but he decided to walk further into the woods by then.
Nice to be in the shelter that night as it started to rain. The next morning we ate breakfast in the shelter and we had arranged to catch the Voyager II boat picking us up at 10am. Down the lake shore 1/4 mile or so is a ranger station. The boat dock and little visitor cabin is there. No one was staffing any of this and we waited on the porch of the closed visitor cabin in the rain. Sure enough the boat showed up at the dock at 10 to take us back to Windigo and then Grand Portage.
All in all, I see why this National Park has the highest return visitation rate. This taste of Isle Royale left me curious for more. The park is like a backpacking park with a huge moat around it to keep out the crowds. I will go back, and for my next trip I'd like to canoe across the network of inland lakes, sheltered passages and portages.
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