Arriving at Rock Harbor in Isle Royale National Park

Published: July 21st 2018
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Isle Royale Queen IVIsle Royale Queen IVIsle Royale Queen IV

Heading to Rock Harbor!
Nervous would be an understatement.

Last time Andrew and I were in a small boat for an extended period of time, everyone on it got seasick. Vomit was splashing over everyone, and I’d considered jumping overboard to end the horrific ordeal.

So, that brings us to our boat to Rock Harbor at Isle Royale. We were going with our two kids, and I was having nightmares of our kids getting that seasick on the trip over. We got Dramamine. The waves were low, so I started each kid with a quarter tablet. Oliver swallowed his, but Jo would not. I went in the store on shore and found some chewables. Thankfully, that worked better for Jo. I then started worrying about the cold if we spent a lot of time outside, spewing over the railing. I bought us each a $20 souvenir hat that was fleece-lined, and I threw in a fleece blanket for good measure. That was $100 spent on fear.

As it turns out, the boat ride over on Isle Royale Queen IV was pretty smooth. We had some rocking at the start, but none of us felt sick at any point. The Dramamine might have been a good idea, though, because we shared a seating booth with another couple, and I’m glad our kids weren’t squirming and wanting to run all over the place.

The ride over took nearly four hours. There was a point when we could barely see any land at any point around us. When we pulled into Rock Harbor, it all seemed worth it. Isle Royale is stunning. The border of the island, where we were, is mostly pine and other conifers. Inside, there are more deciduous trees. As we stepped off our boat, we were greeted with a fresh pine smell and wilderness off to our left. We listened to a ranger as she talked about expectations at the park. Isle Royale is 99% wilderness. We need to stay on the trails, even at muddy points, and not go around, as that creates new paths and greater human impact. We’d already cleaned our shoes back in Copper Harbor to prevent taking seeds with us, but we cleaned them again at Rock Harbor. She talked about how we can pick things up and examine things that interest us, but make sure to put everything back where we found it.

We then walked over to our lodge and checked in for our three nights. I later went back and booked two tours during our trip, the first one for later in the evening. Our room wasn’t ready, so we decided got lunch and then decided to make the short hike to Smithwick Mine. On the way, we passed a couple coming out who said they just saw a moose. We were excited, of course, but we never saw it ourselves. We made a point to make a little noise as we hiked to avoid surprising any animal, and I’m sure that also warned the moose away.

The old mines weren’t much to write home about. They were literally just holes in the ground. We hiked a bit more, keeping our eyes peeled, but didn’t have much luck spotting animals besides a rabbit and a red squirrel.

When our room was finally ready, we dropped off our things. Andrew was happy to set down his computer backpack that was full of our electronics. We set off toward Suzy’s Cave. We started on the south side of the loop, and we walked through fields of wild flowers. It was absolutely breathtaking. On our hike, we spotted moose scat and moose tracks, but we didn’t see any moose. About 30-45 minutes into our hike, we came upon parts of the path that were mostly thick mud. It was getting late and buggy, so we decided to turn around and try again later this trip. We hiked back to share a small pizza before setting out on our sunset cruise to Raspberry Island.

A small boat called the Sandy took us to Raspberry Island. It had about a ½ mile loop around the island. Most people went right when they arrived, so we decided to go left. Our path was densely forested, and we didn’t see any raspberry plants. We’d sprayed with bug spray, but it wasn’t enough. Any time we slowed down, we were mobbed by mosquitoes. We decided a better name for Raspberry Island would be “Mosquito Island.” We kept moving, not taking much time to stop and appreciate what was around us. It was still a beautiful place, but we just couldn’t enjoy it fully. We arrived at the bogs, which we crossed on some boards, and we walked through clouds of mosquitoes. We didn’t want the kids to rush and fall off the boards into the bogs, so we got a lot of bites. Our trek might have been worth it, though, because we did get to see some carnivorous plants like the pitcher plant. When we got to the end of the loop, an information board informed us that Raspberry Island got its name back when people used these islands for mining. They burned most of the vegetation to the ground, and so raspberry plants flourished in the resulting full sun of the island. Today, the island is forested again, and so the raspberry plants are few and far between.

After Raspberry Island, we were boated out around to the north side of Isle Royale, where we had a good view of the setting sun. We stayed on the lake until the sun set and then headed back to Rock Harbor.

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