Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
I drove straight to Voyageurs National Park, where my first stop was the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center. I picked up a map and learned that – while most of the park is only accessible by boat, canoe, or kayak – there were several trails I could reach by car. I spent the afternoon hiking and then camped at nearby Woodenfrog State Park.
The next morning I packed up and drove to Grand Portage, a tiny town on the edge of Lake Superior. Just 22 miles from Isle Royale National Park, Grand Portage offers the shortest ferry ride out to the island. It took me a while to locate the ferry dock, and when I finally found it there was bad news: that day’s ferry had already left, the next day’s ferry was sold out, and the day after that there wouldn’t be any ferry at all.
Cooling my heels for three days didn’t sound particularly appealing, so I decided to drive all the way to Copper Harbor, Michigan, where another company ran a ferry to Isle Royale. I stopped that night on the shore of Lake Superior, woke up early for sunrise photos, and then drove through Duluth, across the northern edge of Wisconsin (the first time I’d ever been to that state), and into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
And that’s all I did. After the mandatory welcome briefing at the Rock Harbor Visitor Center, I headed out on the loop trail to Suzy’s Cave. Light rain fell sporadically, but nothing heavy came down until –
conveniently – I’d reached cave. Dry and comfortable, I sat inside the natural shelter and listened to the low roaring of the rain as it swept over the leaves and rocks outside. Once the brief storm passed I returned to the dock and caught the afternoon ferry back to Copper Harbor.
Kobuk Valley: 2,092.
National Park of American Samoa: 3,589.
Lake Clark: 7,463.
Gates of the Arctic: 10,627.
Isle Royale: 15,505.
Voyageurs , by comparison, is the 14th least-visited park, with 230,086. Great Smoky Mountains, the most-visited park, averaged 9,332,091, more than twice any other park.
I wish I could report that Isle Royale is a hidden gem, but – like Voyageurs – it didn’t strike me as being any more remarkable than other nearby wilderness areas. I enjoyed both parks, but they’re just not playing in the same league as a Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Zion. Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio was my next target. From Copper Harbor I drove south through Michigan, stopping briefly in Ann Arbor for a nostalgic walk around my alma mater.