Note: This blog post is off topic, covering a road trip we recently made to northern Minnesota.
Our day began with a drive up the lakeshore. Just a few miles before the Canadian border, we turned down a desolate road, arriving at a field. The morning breeze felt cold on my face, as we wrestled our backpacks out of the car.
I peered down towards the water, looking for our “ferry” boat. What I saw contrasted with my vision, when I spied a somewhat beat-up boat, that looked more like a deep sea fishing boat. Surely this couldn’t be our ride to Isle Royale?
But when I spied the boat’s name, Voyageur II, I knew we would be riding in this vessel for the next two hours.
We joined the line of other backpackers standing on the dock. Our fearless captain appeared, clutching a clipboard. He embodied a sea captain, sporting long salt and pepper hair, curling at the nape of his neck, with a grizzled beard to match.
“Who’s going to Windigo? What’s your name?”
Just his voice seemed intimidating.
“Brodhead and Lawrence. We’re going to Windigo.”
“Yep, I’ve got you down.”
He checked in the rest of people, and then waited, seeming agitated.
“We’re still waiting on some McCargoe Cove people.”
Two cars rolled into the parking lot and he got on his bull horn.
“You in the parking lot. Hustle up if you’re planning on going to Isle Royale!”
Finally our group is checked in, and our packs are loaded. I’m feeling cold despite wearing two jackets over my t-shirt. We’ve been standing on the dock in the cold for more than a half-hour.
We board the boat and try to find a place to sit. We meet some other people sitting across from us who are also going backpacking.
“Where are you headed?”
“We’re doing a 4-day trip on the Feldtman Lake loop. How about you?”
“We’re just doing an overnight, and are hoping to camp at Hugannin Cove. It’s a little confusing figuring out the permit process.”
Bryon and I head out to the bow, but don’t stay for long.
“Maybe we should re-enact the Titanic scene?” he jokes with me.
Just trying to stand is challenging enough, as the boat rocks up and down on the waves of Lake Superior. As the boat hits another wave, a cold spray of water hits me. I head inside.
At first, we see a thin strip of land far off in the distance. Then we see a lighthouse, seemingly standing on top of the water just off the coast of the island. Finally, we round the corner, and the trees and boat docks come into view.
As we arrive, we are greeted by a Park Ranger.
“Welcome to Isle Royale National Park! Can I have everyone gather in a circle while we do our orientation?”
She seems perky, blonde, and very rehearsed. She’s probably done this talk a thousand times.
Finally, we are done with our talk and head up the hill. Thankfully, we get a permit for the area we want to camp in, but no assigned site. Isle Royale is a bit different than most of the parks I’ve backpacked in the west. They have no way to reserve a camping site or permit in advance. Which feels a bit risky when you’ve just forked out $142.00 for a round-trip ferry ride.
With permit in hand, we head off to Hugganin Cove. Giant leaves of thimbleberry greet us as we follow the trail through the forest. We go up and down through the marshes and bogs, frequently walking narrow wooden planks to make our way through the wetlands. After about two hours of walking, we arrive at our destination.
We’ve been told that Tent Site #1 is the best, so we make our way to the lakeshore and to our delight, find it uninhabited. It’s easy to see why everyone wants to camp here. It’s very private off to the side, right on the shore of the cove, and dramatic views of Lake Superior.
Perhaps the best part is the tranquility and solitude. Our only companions are two large snowshoe hares who pop out of the forest as we finish our dinner. We perch on a rock, staring across to the rocky shoreline of Canada. As the sun slips down out of the sky, we enjoy the final glow of a perfect day ending. While falling asleep, the only sound I hear is the lapping waves of water washing along the shoreline.
All is right with the world at Isle Royale National Park.