Greetings - We are planning a first ever trip on Isle Royale. Is it reasonable to believe that a group of 4 to 6 mid-level kayakers could paddle from Malone Bay to Rock Harbor in 2 days? From what I can see that trip is about 22 miles. I realize that there are a number of variables involved. We typically paddle the BWCA each year. We have all been out on knife lake in 30 - 40 MPH wind. I realize that the conditions that I described are not much compared to what we could face on the big lake. I am just describing the worst conditions that the group has paddled in. Also, we usually paddle approx. 70 miles in 5 days in the BWCA.
Ready when you are!
Rock Harbor to Malone Bay
If the weather is favorable, it is not difficult to paddle from Rock Harbor to Malone Bay in one day. If you paddle at 3 mph it will take seven hours, at 4 mph just five and a half paddling hours. The weather is more of a factor than the distance.
30 to 40 mph wind on Lake Superior will produce much bigger waves than what you saw on Knife. You’d probably end up seeing 5 to 6 footers. Pretty fun, but also exhausting if you’re paddling into it.
With the right weather, you could do it in a day.
It all depends on how fast you paddle.
Let’s go try it now!
South Shore can be rough
The south shore of Isle Royale is made up of sloping broken rock with only a few protected bays and no beaches along the section you'll be paddling. There are also only a few islands between Malone Bay and the Rock Harbor lighthouse that can provide any protection. Needless to say, this can make landings very difficult in strong winds and waves that build across miles of open Lake Superior fetch--particularly if that wind is from the south.
During my 2005 circumnavigation of Isle Royale we paddled from Rock Harbor to Hay Bay in 1 1/2 days with a constant westerly headwind and choppy waves ranging from 1 - 5 feet. It was one of the more exhausting legs of the trip due to these conditions.
Generally speaking, winds and waves build in the afternoon hours of the day and become calm again in the evening. A good plan is to start paddling early (before 7AM) so you'll enjoy calmer conditions and leave yourself some time in camp to lounge, hike, and fish.
Chippewa Harbor is a nice spot to camp and a logical distance between Malone Bay and Rock Harbor. Also take some time to stop and check out the Rock Harbor Lighthouse.
Time is of course, everything, but I would recommend you take more than just two days to paddle if you can. Extending your trip to four days with an additional weather day thrown in would make a very nice trip from Windigo to Rock Harbor and allow for some really stunning scenery.
Be safe and have fun!