Isle Royale, an island archipelago in Lake Superior, is a true wilderness gem. There are no cars allowed on the island, and all visitors must come ashore by boat or float plane. There is one simple lodge on the main island, where we stay, and miles of beckoning trails. Isle Royale National Park and the Rock Harbor Lodge concession staff provide a host of interpretive programs; we can choose from these and our own inspirations throughout the trip.
Far away from the rest of the world, enjoy an immersion in North Woods nature. At one time two miles of ice covered this island, set in the largest freshwater lake in the world. Today the park is recognized as a Biosphere Reserve, a pristine example of Northern Biome forests, lakes, bogs, and island shorelines. Its rock spine is ancient and scored by the movements of retreating glaciers some 10,000 years ago. We spend five nights on the island, and our tour price includes the round-trip ferry from Copper Harbor, Michigan. From Houghton at the start of the trip, we take a full day to explore the beauty of Michigan’s U.P., in particular the Keweenaw Peninsula, where natural and cultural highlights abound.
This is a sampler trip with time for birding, natural history, scenery, and geography; we explore to gain a wonderful sense of place. Plan on an active trip with opportunities to hike, paddle (canoe or kayak), and take short boat trips to nearby islands of the archipelago and before returning to nice accommodations and dining at day’s end. Hikes can be gentle or challenging; each day we have a group activity with our leader, or you can choose to explore on your own—we give you options to fit your energies each day. Experience the slowness of island time; the sense of place we gain on Isle Royale can be profound.
We time this trip for the bonus of fall migration as it peaks the last week of August on the Lake Superior shorelines. To get the most of your trip and add some birding highlights, we highly recommend our four-night extension to Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands and the Duluth, Minnesota area. Following the Lake Superior shoreline, we work our way west, with two nights in Bayfield, Wisconsin and enjoy a boat trip out to the picturesque Apostle Islands. Continuing on to Duluth, we focus on two excellent birding hotspots: Hawk Ridge, which has a professional staff monitoring the hawk migration, and Park Point, a legendary birding hotspot where the species mix changes each day of the migration.
- Experience history and grand scenery on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula
- Witness peak fall migration along Lake Superior's scenic coastline
- Cross the ocean-like waters of Lake Superior to Rock Harbor on Isle Royale
- Enjoy five nights in lakeside accommodations on Isle Royale, one of our most remote national parks
- Watch for Moose and listen to Common Loons
- Learn from experts about the exciting Isle Royale Wolf Project
- Walk trails through aspen and pine forests amid Lilliputian plants and Snowshoe Hare
- Watch Beaver feed and busily work on structures in their ponds
- View amazing night skies and relax by a lakeshore campfire
Thurs., Aug. 26: Arrival in Houghton/Hancock, Michigan
Welcome to Michigan’s Copper Country, a fascinating area for history, geology, and a sample of birds and natural history in Michigan’s famed U.P. (Upper Peninsula). Today is a day to arrive and settle in; if some are in early enough, we do a bit of local birding.
Our hotel sits right on the waterfront of Portage Lake, a partially natural, partially manmade waterway that cuts across the Keweenaw Peninsula, making the Keweenaw effectively an island. A lift-bridge makes it possible for large ships to pass. We plan to meet on the porch for introductions, have dinner, and then with luck we watch the sunset over the lake—a great start to the trip!
Accommodations at the Super 8, Portage Lake Waterfront, Houghton/Hancock (D)
Fri., Aug. 27: Keweenaw Peninsula | Copper Harbor
Today we set off to explore many of the highlights of the Keweenaw Peninsula, taking in natural and cultural sites. Few realize that the Copper Rush here brought in 10 times the fortune of California’s Gold Rush. Today the story is told by abandoned mines, ghost towns, and a new National Historic District near Calumet, part of our National Park system. The whole peninsula hosts sites of Keweenaw National Historic Park with excellent signs and interpretation of life here during the copper mining boom. If we drove straight through it’s an hour up to Copper Harbor—we take most of the day to do it.
There are picturesque lighthouses, a nature reserve where we walk the trails, and at Calumet we take a look at the excellent displays and a local Theater/Opera House (circa 1900) built of gorgeous Jacobsville red sandstone.
We explore the Lake Superior shoreline near Eagle River, where we find granite-eroded sands of the Canadian Shield, picturesque coves, offshore rocks, and often resting Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. We may find a mixed flock of warblers high in the canopy of pines. Magnolia, Myrtle (Yellow-rumped), Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Green and Northern Parula are likely to be in on the action. For sure we find the Jam Pot, a bakery and store for jams and chutneys run by Byzantine monks … delightful.
The shoreline around Copper Harbor can be quite good for finding warblers and migratory songbirds in shrub habitat beside the harbor. A must here is to see the scenic Brockway Mountain Drive from Copper Harbor west, a route on which we stop at several overlooks before reaching the grand view of the very spine of the Keweenaw Fault. The viewpoint is over 700 feet higher than the lakeshore, and on a clear day it is possible to see all the way to Isle Royale, some 50 miles away. This landscape is richly clad in vegetation and dotted with lakes; several ridges run parallel before us adjacent to Lake Superior’s pebble-clad shore.
As evening approaches, enjoy some time to walk around the small village of Copper Harbor. Enjoy a delicious dinner at a favorite local restaurant (try the local Lake Superior Whitefish!), then rest up before our adventure—five fabulous nights on Isle Royale National Park!
Accommodations in Copper Harbor (B,L,D)
Sat., Aug. 28: All Aboard the Ferry to Isle Royale National Park
This morning after an early breakfast, we head down to the ferry docks to join other comrades going to Isle Royale.
We set off on the Isle Royale Queen IV, a 100-passenger ferry, for a three-hour crossing to Rock Harbor. There is comfortable seating in several lounges and plenty of room on deck. Before you know it, the Rock Harbor light comes into view and soon staff members from the National Park Service are welcoming us ashore. We arrive at the island in time for lunch. As we wait to check into our rooms later that afternoon, we orient to the canoe docks, Visitor Center, trailheads and general Rock Harbor area.
Enjoy the smell of pines and sound of lapping waves on the shoreline as we settle into our rooms. Those that wish can meet for a first walk and some local birding. Dinner is in the lodge’s cozy dining room; our rooms have porches overlooking Lake Superior!
Accommodations at Isle Royale Lodge (B,L,D)
Sun., Aug. 29 – Wed., Sept. 1: Isle Royale National Park
With five nights here, we have four full days to explore the island, and each day we offer a mix of hikes at varied paces, opportunities to canoe or kayak, boat excursions with a local naturalist, island birding, studying geology, learning about the Moose and Wolf studies, exploring a true bog with pitcher plants and sundews and–free time to just relax.
This is a wilderness park, with just the one lodge, and little other development other than trails and the marina. Fall asleep to the lapping of waves on Lake Superior. Enjoy the simple rhythm of all meals at the lodge, unpack once for the five nights, and immerse yourself in North Woods nature. We time the visit for lack of crowds, and lack of pesky mosquitoes and black flies. We also time our visit for fall migration, and we hope for a good show of warblers!
Isle Royale is a treasured Biosphere Reserve, a fine example of the Northern Biome, with forests, lakes, bogs, and Lake Superior shorelines. Enjoy learning more at park ranger talks and explore from our home base at Rock Harbor; a water taxi is available so we can take shuttles to facilitate the best hiking. Avid hikers can return from one of our trips on the trail that follows the Island’s backbone, the Greenstone Ridge. You might even enjoy fishing or an evening kayak or canoe. Isle Royale is the home of the Peterson Wolf Research Center which provides information on wolves and moose over time, as this is the longest-running predator-prey study known, commencing in 1958. A strong supporter of conservation, Naturalist Journeys helped to fund the recent restoration of additional wolves to the island by providing matching funds of $2500 and encouraging donors for this vital project.
Accommodations at Rock Harbor Lodge, Isle Royale (B,L,D each day)
Thurs., Sept. 2: Isle Royale | Copper Harbour | Houghton/Hancock
It’s always hard to say good-bye to island life, so blessedly removed from the busy pace of life for the rest of the world.
We still have the full morning on the island, as the ferry departs at 2:45 PM. The journey across is three hours, so we arrive with time to drive back to Houghton at a lovely time of day. We may stop for supper at Eagle River or another scenic location. We return to the Super 8 in Houghton so if you wish to store some belongings there you can do so. We want to be here so those that need the early morning flights out can take them as there are not that many flights a day. We will have transport down from the ferry to Copper Harbor, and will have dinner either on the way, or once we arrive to Duluth.
Accommodations at the Super 8 on Portage Lake, Houghton/Hancock (B,L,D)
Fri., Sept. 3: Departures
Those flying out today can depart at your leisure. If possible, we encourage you to join our extension and continue on to explore Wisconsin and Minnesota’s Lake Superior shores and the Apostle Islands. (B)
Lake Superior shores and the Apostle Islands Post-Tour Extension
Fri., Sept. 3: Extension Begins!
For those participating on the extension, we load up our van after breakfast and head west to explore the western Upper Peninsula and the Lake Superior shore of Wisconsin. This is new territory for Naturalist Journeys, so we’ll visit a variety of sites that friends, and colleagues have suggested and that seem interesting to us—prepare to enjoy this part of the Great Lakes region! As we work our way west, we explore several areas that have good birding, natural history, and some hiking. We’ll have lunch en route and continue our explorations, driving and stopping, until we get to our destination for the evening: Bayfield, Wisconsin, the jumping off point for our Apostle Islands visit. We have time to settle into our hotel and freshen up before we meet for dinner and discuss plans for the next day.
Accommodations at the Bayfield Inn, Bayfield (B,L,D)
Sat., Sept. 4: Bayfield | Apostle Islands
For those interested, we’ll have an early breakfast and depart for a short hike and birding trip at the nearby Bayfield Fish Hatchery; those who want to sleep in can have breakfast at their leisure. If the weather permits, we will then head to the nearby boat dock for our 10:00am, 3-hour boat tour of the Apostle Islands. The Islands are Wisconsin’s “crown jewels” and we see lighthouses, sea caves, stunning natural scenery, and plenty of wildlife.
Returning from the boat tour, we will undoubtedly be hungry, so we head for lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch and a brief break, we reconvene for an afternoon outing at the Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The hike is about 4.5 miles and we’ll have a chance to explore at close-range the sea caves from the land side, as well as hope to catch some of the fall bird and insect migration.
We return to our hotel in Bayfield at the end of the day and meet to discuss the day’s adventures and have dinner.
Accommodations at the Bayfield Inn, Bayfield (B,L,D)
Sun., Sept. 5: Wisconsin Lake Superior Shore
The schedule for today depends on whether we were able to take the boat trip the previous day. If not, we’ll try again at 10:00am. If we were successful at the boat tour, after breakfast, we spend the day exploring other sites along the Wisconsin shore of Lake Superior. There are many excellent sites to choose from, depending on the weather, what we have seen and visited previously, and how much time we have. We will try to visit the Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area, a birding and wildlife hotspot right on Lake Superior and, if time permits, continue westward to the Port Wing Boreal Forest State Natural Area. After lunch at a restaurant, many other sites await us south of Bayfield near the town of Ashland including the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, Prentice Park, and Bayview Park. It will be hard to stop, but we will return to Bayfield, relax, meet to discuss and review the day, then head for dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodations at the Bayfield Inn, Bayfield (B,L,D)
Mon., Sept. 6: Minnesota Lake Superior Shore | Duluth
After breakfast at our hotel in Bayfield, we load the van and continue west toward Duluth, Minnesota. We spend this day doing some local birding around Duluth. Depending on the weather and how migration is going, we may explore Wisconsin Point (near Superior, Wisconsin), Park Point (just south of downtown Duluth), and/or Hawk Ridge. Wisconsin and Park Points are thin strips of land that jut into Lake Superior and almost reach each other; in fact, the channel between them is the state line. Both have the open water of Lake Superior on one side, and the harbor where large barges deliver goods on the other. During migration these are fantastic spots for unusual sightings.
Hawk Ridge is a high point on the north edge of Duluth; here one of nature’s remarkable spectacles can be witnessed each fall. Most raptors are reluctant to cross large bodies of water; when they migrate and encounter Lake Superior, the birds naturally veer along the lakeshore. Broad-winged, Sharp-shinned, and other hawks concentrate in impressive numbers here and are thrilling to watch as they traverse the ridge, often at or below eye-level. The Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve has over four miles of hiking trails; you can explore the geology, flora, and wildlife.
Lunch today is a picnic at Park Point or at a favorite local restaurant, the Duluth Grill, depending on weather and the intensity of migration. After a full day of birding, we head to the New Scenic Café, located about 10 miles north of Duluth. The menu is creative, and the food is fantastic. Plus, it has a great view of Lake Superior! We return a bit early today, allowing everyone a chance to rest and then we gather one last time for our farewell dinner at a nearby restaurant. Relieving our journey in and around Lake Superior and celebrating the new friendships made.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Duluth (B,L,D)
Tues., Sept. 7: Departures
You may depart at your leisure on this day. For those with flights out after lunch, we will have a morning birding trip to Park Point, just south of downtown Duluth, for a final attempt at viewing the fall migration. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the tour is $3590 DBL / $4390 SGL from Houghton/Hancock, Michigan. Price of the Extension is $1550 DBL / $1995 SGL
The tour price includes airport transfers, all accommodations, most meals as specified in the itinerary, round-trip ferry ride to and from the island, professional guide services, local guides, local park entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.
It does not include roundtrip airfare to Houghton/Hancock, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, gratuities for porterage, or personal services.
You are responsible for planning your arrival to Houghton, Michigan. You may depart at any time convenient for you on August. 26. You may depart at any time convenient for you on September 3. We do highly recommend you consider joining our Apostle Islands extension. If so, your departure would be from Duluth, Minnesota, at your convenience on Sept. 7
Photo credits: Banners: Moose by Sandy Sorkin; Hiking Isle Royal by Peg Abbott; Waterbirds on Isle Royal by Peg Abbott; Grey Wolf by Greg Smith; Lake Shore, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Common Loon, Naturalist Journeys Stock; White-throated Sparrow, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Sunset, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Happy Hikers, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Moose Antlers, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Sunset over the lake by Peg Abbott; Admiring the view by Peg Abbott; Canoeing by Peg Abbott; Scenery by Peg Abbott; Michigan Scenics, Peg Abbott; Overlooking Lake Peninsula, courtesy of Courtney Celley via Flickr; Boats, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Broad-winged Hawk, Peg Abbott; Michigan group, Peg Abbott; Canoe Panoramic, Peg Abbott; Magnolia Warbler, Doug Greenberg; Pileated Woodpecker, Sandy Sorkin; Moose, Greg Smith; Magnolia Warbler by Doug Greenberg; Moose taking a drink by Peg Abbott; Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Peg Abbott; American Redstart by Mahlon Hale; Chestnut-sided Warbler, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Pileated Woodpecker by Sandy Sorkin.