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A game plan for your getaway

July 21, 2012
By Kelly Fosness ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - Some visit Isle Royale to recharge. Others go to fish.

No matter what lures travelers to the island, park officials said there's quite a bit of planning to consider before crossing Lake Superior.

"It's important to plan in advance because the ferry services can fill up," said Liz Valencia, chief of interpretation and cultural resources for Isle Royale National Park. "People need to decide when they're going to go and then make their reservations."

There are a number of ways visitors can get to the island, Valencia said. The Ranger III, owned and operated by IRNP, is the largest of the vessels. Docked at the park headquarters next to Dee Stadium in Houghton, the 165-foot ship can carry 128 passengers.

"One of the reasons people like to ride the Ranger III is because there's food service," Valencia said. "We also have (educational) programs that we offer on the way there and the way back."

The Ranger III runs twice a week - Tuesday and Friday. The six-hour journey takes passengers to Rock Harbor.

"Being that the Ranger is bigger, it's a little smoother ride," she said.

Another option is to board the Isle Royale Queen IV. Docked in Copper Harbor the Queen takes about three to three and a half hours to the island, depending on the weather.

"Those who want a lot of flexibility in their schedule one of their best options is to travel on the Isle Royale Queen," Valencia said. "In August they run every single day."

The Isle Royale Queen IV departs at 8 a.m. and arrives on the island by 11:30 a.m., Valencia said.

Visitors can spend a few hours exploring before returning to Copper Harbor in time for dinner.

Those who prefer air travel can opt for the sea plane, Valencia noted.

Based at Houghton County Memorial Airport, a one-way trip to Isle Royale can be made in under an hour.

Dave Mundt, who has been the pilot of Royal Air Service for the past six seasons, said there's two primary reasons visitors choose to fly to the island.

"It's a lot quicker; you're in the air for about 30 to 35 minutes," he said. "And they don't have to worry about getting seasick."

Not only that, Mundt said passengers see the island from a different perspective.

"It's a lot more scenic," he said. "Oftentimes they see moose from the air."

Travel accommodations are also offered out of Grand Portage, Minn.

The Voyager II is the only vessel that takes passengers all the way around Isle Royale, Valencia said.

There's also the Sea Hunter, which offers day trips to Windigo.

"That's a really short trip," Valencia said. "It takes about an hour and a half to get out there."

Valencia said several visitors make day trips out to the island to hike trails, visit souvenir shops and have lunch at the Greenstone Grill.

Private boats are welcome.

Next to consider, Valencia said, is overnight accommodations.

Isle Royale has 36 campgrounds as well as hotel rooms at Rock Harbor Lodge.

All campsites are first-come, first-serve, Valencia said, unless visitors are traveling in a group. Groups are limited to 7 to 10 people and must make reservations in advance.

Seventeen of the campgrounds have group sites available and 19 have three-sided shelters with screen fronts.

Valencia said the campgrounds are primitive, however the sites closer to the developed areas have potable water that can be consumed.

"The rest of them you have to filter or boil the water," she said.

Rock Harbor Lodge has 60 rooms, all of which face Lake Superior. Twenty duplex cottages and two new rustic cabins are additional overnight options, she said.

While some choose to pack the food they're going to eat during their stay, Isle Royale does have a full-service restaurant and snack bar.

"The best way to figure out what to do when they get out there and even how to get there, is to get The Greenstone newspaper," Valencia said. "That has all the trip planning information."

Valencia said hard copies are available at park headquarters or copies can be sent via mail upon request.

"They can also get it on our website (," she said. "There's a pdf version with all of the updated trip planning information."

Park staff are always available to help people plan their trips to Isle Royale, Valencia said, and there's a visitor's center on the island as well.

From hiking and backpacking to fishing and shipwreck diving, Valencia said opportunities for recreation are endless.

"We have a lot of repeat visitors," she said. "It's a chance for them to recharge, relax, listen to the loons and just kick back and get that little break they need."

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