You may have noticed Isle Royale National Park back in the news lately. The 42-mile long island in the cold waters of Lake Superior made headlines in recent weeks as the National Park Service announced new wildlife management plans. This sparked new interest, including questions about what’s there and when is the best time to visit Isle Royale National Park.
We can’t say enough about Isle Royale since our June 2016 trip.
We loved the rocky shoreline, the remote wilderness, and we loved that it’s only a 5-hour drive north from the Minneapolis-St Paul area where we call home.
Today we’re sharing a few other reasons why Isle Royale should be on everyone’s vacation bucket list:
1. It’s one of the least visited national parks. But that’s changing.
In 2015, just over 18,000 people ventured to visit Isle Royale National Park. It’s one of the least visited parks in the NPS.
However, in the past two years, Isle Royale has seen a dramatic increase in visitation. In 2017 the park service reported 28,196 visitors to the park. While still a fraction of what Yellowstone and Yosemite see, the increase does raise concern about protecting Isle Royale’s wilderness.
If the park continues to see visitation gains of 3,000-5,000 visitors per year changes will be made. The park service may adjust campgrounds, backcountry permits, and ferry operations. Increased visitors can mean increased waste management needs, noise and light pollution, and risks to native plants and animals. While the National Park Service has yet to publicly show issues related to the increase in visitation, the trends only point that direction.
Visit Isle Royale National Park now before these changes happen.
2. The Lighthouses.
Long before Isle Royale became a national park in 1940, settlers hoping to find copper came to the island. They experienced the rocky shores and turbulent waters of Lake Superior and shortly after built lighthouses around the island. Settlers built the first lighthouse–Isle Royale Light–in 1875. Three others stood by 1910.
Today the Isle Royale Lighthouse, Rock of Ages Lighthouse, Passage Island Lighthouse, and Rock Harbor Light all stand in tribute to the history of Isle Royale National Park. Lightkeepers and their families maintained these beacons even in the coldest, darkest nights of winter on the island. Most were abandoned or automated by the mid-1970’s. They are now all on the National Register of Historic Places.
In summer months, the park service offers guided tours of the historic areas around the Passage Island Lighthouse and Rock Harbor Lighthouse. Tours depart from the Rock Harbor Lodge Office in Rock Harbor.
3. New wildlife management plans may change Isle Royale forever.
Since the 1958 Isle Royale has been home to the longest-running large mammal predator-prey study on earth. Wolves arrived on Isle Royale via an ice bridge sometime in the winters of the mid-1960’s. Biologists and researchers closely studied the island’s moose and wolf populations since then. Their predator-prey relationship impacts hundreds of other plant and animal species in the National Park.
In recent years, the steady decline of wolves on Isle Royale has resulted in destabilization of the moose population and increased risk to many critical plant species. Without a natural predator, the moose population has remained unchecked creating higher rates of disease and overfeeding on trees and plants.
Researchers have determined that the wolf population on the island no longer can produce any offspring (the remaining 2 wolves are siblings.) In addition, the warmer winter climate changes in Northern Minnesota has decreased the chance new wolves will arrive via ice bridge.
In 2018, the National Park Service announced plans to reintroduce wolves to Isle Royale National Park. Over a three to five-year period, the NPS will introduce between 20-30 wolves on the island. Careful study of the two species will continue in hopes that the moose population returns to more stable and sustainable levels.
Regardless, these changes (combined with the increase in visitors) will likely create major changes to the island. We think you should visit Isle Royale National Park now, before the impacts of these changes are felt around the park.