Isle Royale Kayak Trip

My wife and I are planning a trip to Isle Royale (Lake Superior) this summer. I have read all of the stories and I have maps, etc. I know the dangers of the west end of the island (cliffs for 15 miles with no takeout and treacherous Lake Superior). Has anyone on this board taken the trip? I am not interested in portaging, so we will keep to the shoreline. Any camping spots better than others? Any advice is appreciated. This is a trip where planning is crucial.

Most of the shoreline around Isle Royale is exposed to the weather lake Superior doles out. Therefore, a good weather radio is very important! I always carry a waterproof VHF to get the weather and communicate on marine channels if necessary. A good kayak with appropiate gear that you have thoroughly tested is necessary. Conditioning is also important, so you can handle it if the conditions get demanding. Be prepared to back country camp if you intend to paddle away from the areas close to Rock Harbor or Windigo. Lake Superior has made me camp in places I didn’t plan on during every paddling trip I’ve made there. If you like wilderness camping, you’ll like most of the camping spots on Isle Royale. The weather won’t conform to your plans, so you need to conform your plans to the weather conditions you get on a daily basis.

I just did this trip in September
There were 5 of us and we had a blast. Definately talk to anyone you can about their experiences on the Island. John, thanks for all your input. :slight_smile: We chose September to miss the bugs and big crowds and we were all happy with our choice. We always slept in a shelter making packing every morning go a little quicker.

The plan was to go around Blake point and do the Northwest side of the Island. Once you get there it is more protected. But we had a backup plan for the South side just in case. Definately know the mileage between each campsite and have a weather radio.

We camped at Duncan Bay Narrows, Belle Isle (2 nights due to bad weather), McCargo Cove (only place we shared a site with others), Pickerel Cove (very small site, but well worth the stay), Lane Cove, Merrit Lane and the last night at Rock Harbor. Due to incoming weather we had to get back around Blake point and stay at Merrit Lane after our longest day of paddling. The weather also made us spend the last night in Rock Harbor. So we explored raspberry island, which is really cool and some of us paddled down to Tookers too.

All the campsites I saw were awesome, I was not expecting outhouses. Belle Isle has a huge pavillion and a stone fireplace. We couldn’t have picked a better place to hang out for a weather day. My only complaint is that there aren’t any hiking trails on the island. Merritt Lane was a little breezy and does not have a fire pit. Of course that was a cold and windy night, so I wasn’t crazy about that site.

Be prepared to spend an extra day on the island, we came very close to having to do just that. This means having extra food along, a lot of the hikers were very worried because the store and marina were closed. Unfortunately the waves died down to only 6 ft or so and we made the rough crossing back. I stood outside hanging onto the side of the ferry the whole 4 1/2 (coming over was only 3 1/2) hours. My friends thought they lost me a couple of times, but it was way better than being inside.

Here are my pictures, be forewarned there are a lot of them!

Feel free to ask me any questions that you might have,


Isle Royale
Thanks for the input. What is you kayaking skill? How big were the waves? I have paddled both Georgian Bay and St. Lawrence Seaway (with the whales). How would this compare? How was the weather in September? I am thinking mid-August for my trip.

More questions to come.

p.s. I can’t get your link to the pictures to work.

Isle Royale
I got the photos to work - must be a work blocking thing. They are great. I think we will be taking a similar track. It seems like the best all around route, and if the weather turned to poop you could always portage (gasp) to get back to Rock Harbor. The weather looked pretty warm for September. The waves looked good as well (they always look smaller in pictures). We have all the proper gear - Explorer kayaks and all the necessities. What did you take that you didn’t need, what did you need that you didn’t take, and what was indispensable on the trip?

glad you got the pictures to work
We had great weather for September, it only started to get really cold the last two nights. I think since we stayed land bound the really windy day we didn’t have anything over the occasional two foot swell.

That was on our way back around Blake point. I was hoping for a chance to stretch the legs and take a quick bathroom break before we went around. But the waves crashing on the rocks at any possible landing spot did not look like fun. I’m an intermediate paddler who still has lots to learn. But we practice our rescues and rolls and I was comfortable the whole trip.

I bought a dehydrator for this trip and also used vacuum sealing for the food. I really tried to condense everything, so therefore I actually had food leftover. I paddle an eddyline nighthawk which holds a lot of stuff. My digital slr camera was in a pelican drybox behind my footpegs. Believe me when I say I had everything that I needed. Although my friends were begging for more hot cider & rum that last cold night at Merritt Lane!

Being a girl I had an extra set of clothing and tevas that I didn’t need. LOL! I could have done fine with just hiking and paddling booties. I also packed way more fuel than was needed, especially since we shared meals.

What was indespensible…hmm…most obvious is my drysuit & my new 0 degree sleeping bag. I was actually too warm most nights. I know, overkill, but I’m new to camping and hate being cold. After that would be my goretex pants and jacket. They really stopped the wind and kept out the rain while on land. They were always my top layer and I thought I’d never get them clean again.


Definately buy the waterproof map of isle royal and become familiar with it. There are also ferries that go around the island and will drop you off at different spots. If you made it to Windigo you could ferry back to Rock Harbor.

Sleeping Bags
This is the only area I need an upgrade. My wife and I plan on trips to Isle Royale, Georgian Bay and Tobermory this year, so it would be a good investment. What bag did you buy?

I have the maps and the “right” book and have been studying the map. I know it pretty well now.

I’m going to study the weather patterns to decide the best time to go.

It looks like you are from lower Michigan (Hell Trip). Where abouts? We did a Hell trip as well this year. Did it later in the year and avoided all the power boats. Lots of fun.

Be careful
I paddled Isle Royale in August of 'O7 and had a wonderful time. I would echo what has been said in previous posts. We camped at Duncan Narrows and Belle Isle - the portages between these two were not easy with a loaded kayak - should have left those cantaloupes at home. You have heard this before, but beware of Blakes Point. Our first time around was not a problem. Coming back, we ran into 8-12 ft waves and there was no turning back. If I live to be a hundred, I don’t need to experience those conditions again. We also enjoyed our time at West Caribou Island because we paddled over for a nice visit with Rolf and Candy Petersen. Very hospital people.

Isle Royale

– Last Updated: Dec-22-08 3:45 PM EST –

I have paddled the North Side and a good part of the South Side.

Couple of questions:
Do you know where you want to go while there?
What ferry do you plan to take?
How much time do you plan on spending there?
What part of summer?

Good Source of info:

I would be willing to swap info about IR for info about paddling with whales, I assume Tadoussac?

Isle Royale
Do you know where you want to go while there?

I am thinking we will go around Blake’s Point and paddle the north side. A backup plan would be to do the south shore if weather keeps us off the north side.

What ferry do you plan to take?

I think we will be taking the Queen IV since it runs much more often and fits our schedule better.

How much time do you plan on spending there?

We will be there from Saturday to Saturday - probably six paddling days.

What part of summer?

We are planning August 8-15. I know - it’s peak season, but this is the only window we have unless we do it in June.

Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

Yes, Tadoussac. What a fabulous place to paddle. The Fin whales are 70 feet long and one day we were surrounded by seven of them. Imagine an animal the size of a submarine surfacing next to you. Now imagine seven all around you. It was a bit unnerving, but we only had one close call. They lose track of you when they are feeding - the surface screws up their sonar a bit. Anyway, fire away with questions.


The North Side
Blake Point is your biggest problem in going to North Side. If the wind is NW,N or NE stonger than say 15 knots, the waves will stack up on Blake Point. When we go around, we will head out fairly far from shore where clapotti waves are less of a problem.

The other “lively” spot can be the paddle from Locke Point to Hill Point. There is a reef that will give you some protection along the way. You can then duck in to Five Finger Bay.

If you make it as far as Duncan Narrows (a nice place to stay) you could always paddle down Duncan Bay and portage through to Five Finger Bay if the lake is kicking up.

Belle Isle is a wonderful place to stay, one of my favs on IR. You can spend 3 days there bascamping and see a lot, and it gives you lots of options depending on the wind. Keep up on the Open Lakes forecast, something you probobaly know if you have paddled Georgian Bay on either your VHF or weather radio.

If you elect to go to MacCargoe Cove/Birch Isle, the paddle from Amygdaloid to Indian Point is exposed and can be rough. You can always duck back into Herring bay/ Pickerel Cove. Birch Isle in nice, MacCargoe can be crowded. I will mention this also, boaters like Birch Isle, Duncan Narrows and Belle Isle. Keep Pickerel Cove in mind when coming back as an option if the Lake is kicking up, it is a nice paddle back to Belle Isle.

Crystal Cove on Amygdaloid is nice, an old fishing camp with old cabins.

Johnson Island is also nice, a family still has a life lease and may be around, nice cabins also.

A lot of people, particularly backpackers love Lane Cove and it is nice to visit, but I prefer Belle Isle.

The nice thing about going in August, is historically, that is a fairly “calm” time-but don’t count on it. If you want to spend more time paddling the North side, you can take the Voyaguer back to Rock Harbor as an option from MacCargoe Cove. Of course you would need to make arrangements ahead of time. Normaly, the Voyaguer would pick you up w/o reservations but may be full.

If you elect to paddle the South Side, you could get down to Malone Bay and back w/o too much trouble.

Make sure to stay at Chippewa Harbor or at least duck in for a break.

Daisy Farm will be busy, Caribou usually has boaters. If you get over there, visit Edison Fishery, Rock Harbor Light and the Petersen’s place to see the amazing collection of moose skulls!!

That should get you started.

Here is my Album of among others Isle Royale trips, feel free to peruse:

A few ?? about Tadoussac, did you paddle on your own or with a guide?

Where did you paddle?

Did you camp and if so where?

How was it paddling in the tidal zones?

How close do the whales come?

Any pics?

Any specific places you recommend?

Moskey Basin is one of my favs’ for hanging out.

Thanks for the Great Info
I appreciate it.

To your questions:

Did you paddle on your own or with a guide?

We paddled with a guide. The water is 35 degrees (in August) and the tides are wicked (15 foot change twice a day). I would not go there without a drysuit, although I saw people paddling in shorts and a rash guard (nuts). We were paddling with some friends - relative newbies - and wanted a guide for all the obvious reasons.

Where did you paddle?

The beauty of a guide is that they know where the whales are. There are many, many whales there (I think we saw about 50) but they are in pods of course. We paddled from Bergeronnes to Escoumins one day (about 18 miles) and Bergeronnes to the kayak campground (between Bergeronnes and Escoumins - can’t remember the name) another day.

Did you camp and if so where?

We took a motorhome ($$$) and camped at Camp Tadoussac. This is mainly a motorhome campground. There is a kayaker campground (mainly tents and VW microbusses) further down the river. That campground is kayaker heaven. You can also sit on the rocks and the whales come right to shore, The water is 60 feet deep right at shore, so the whales come in close. It is between Bergeronnes and Escoumins.

How was it paddling in the tidal zones?

We did not paddle in the fjord, where the tidal zones can be treacherous. The tides on the river were strong but manageable. If you are smart, you go with the tide. If you are not smart, you may end up out to sea.

How close do the whales come?

Well, the Minkes come right next to the boats. “You will hit one with your paddle if you are not careful” close. Minkes are 25 feet long. The Fins (70 feet long) don’t come as close, but some were 30-50 feet away. We also trailed a Humpback, and watched it breach. Priceless. One Fin surfaced and was headed right for me (broadside). Pounding on the side of the kayak gets ther attention, and this one turned away. Whales do not hit kayaks on purpose.

Any pics?

Plenty, but I will have to upload them.

Any specific places you recommend?

Go to Tadoussac and get a guide. We used Azimut Aventure. Pierre was great, and was so friendly he offered to paddle with us on his off days. You will see much more, and the safety aspect is important. I believe you get 5 minutes in the water with a wetsuit, maybe ten more with a drysuit. Rescue drills are critical. Launch from Bergeronnes. From there you can go either way on the river, and you are right in the middle of the preserve. I hear the fjord is very cool (Belugas mainly there). You are not allowed to approach a Beluga at all. They are fiercely protected. Of course, if they come to you…


Thank you!!!
We are so excited about this trip!!

Paddle to hell is fun…
unless there are lots of motorboats. I don’t enjoy sucking down the fumes thru the channels.

I’m in St. Clair Shores and enjoy going different places to paddle. Check out the sklake group on yahoo. Starting in the spring I usually paddle every sunday and will post for anyone to join me. You might meet some others who have also been to Isle Royal. Also keep an eye out on the message board for the South Bass Island Rendezvous. It is a fun get together in June and I talked to a lot of people there who have done the IR trip.

I actually bought my sleeping bag at Dick’s sporting good store. I never go there, but had a gift certificate. I stayed away from down and chose a new synthetic bag by Quest or named Quest, can’t remember. It’s small enough that I don’t have to struggle too much to get it in the back hatch.

Something else that was really useful was a mesh duffle bag. As kayakers we have lots of little bags, whereas the hikers just have one bag with everything in it. So the mesh bag helps to keep your stuff together when it is thrown down into the cabin of the ferry and then back onto the dock at Rock Harbor. It’s also very helpful getting stuff from the water up to your campsite. Wish we would’ve thought of this when we went to Georgian Bay a few years ago:)


I’ m goin too!
I’m goin up too!

I was going on my own, but will be looking for some paddlers to make this trip with me.

I am a retired Ranger and have excellent survival skills and paddling skils. My wife dosen’t like long paddle trips and likes to stay close to home for our five kids.

But I would very much like to get a group together for a sucessful expediton aroun d the island.


circumnavigating Isle Royale
Joel, I’ve circumnavigated Isle Royale three times and would enjoy doing it again. When do you plan to do it, where will you start from, and how many miles per day are you up to paddling?

Ready when you are!

2005 circumnavigation
I did my trip in August/September 2005, starting at Rock Harbor and paddling clockwise in our circumnavigation of the island. We nearly spent our entire 10 day budget due to a storm that blew up while on the North Shore that presented 50 knot winds and 10’ seas. Since we had planned wisely with our weather radios, we weathered the storm in a nice sheltered spot and ate fish for two days before resuming our trip. The real pay-off was the storm chased out all the power boaters so when we got into the Five Fingers area and Bell Isle we had the nicest spots of Isle Royale all to ourselves.

This was our itinerary:

Day One: Rock Harbor to Chippewa Harbor

Day Two: Chippewa Harbor to Hay Bay

Day Three: Hay Bay to Long Point

Day Four: Long Point to Hugginin Cove

Day Five: Hugginin Cove to Birch Island

Day Six: weather day at Birch Island

Day Seven: Birch Island to Belle Isle

Day Eight: Belle Isle to Merrit Lane

Day Nine: Merrit Lane to Rock Harbor

Day Ten: Drinking beer at Rock Harbor

Photos of my trip can be found here:

Be safe and enjoy your trip!


exposed parts of IR
I think that the most dangerous part of Isle Royale is the section between Little Todd and Hugginin cove. It’s difficult to do this exposed section in less than four hours, so you need a very good weather window. Although Blake Point is very exposed you can go from protected areas on one side to protection on the other in less than an hour. Any of the exposed shoreline of Isle Royale is dangerous in bad weather, and most of it is difficult or impossible to land on in rough weather.

We paddled that section at night
We left Little Todd Harbor late in the day after being windbound for a day, and paddled to Hugginin Cove. We arrived there about 11:30pm. We watched a storm fall apart over the Canadian Shore. I fell getting out of my boat at Hugginin as paddling in the dark had changed my “balance” and getting out of the boat was awkward. There aren’t many places one could pull out along the bluffs.