Isle Royale History

In the Ojibewa language the Island was called Minong, which means "a good place to be"

As Howard Siverston put it in his book titled,Once upon an Isle, "Islands have always held a fascination for people - and none more than Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Born of fire and lava and shaped by faults and flowing ice, this cluster of rocks first appeared during a glacial retreat 11,000 years ago."

Isle Royale

Isle Royale's climate is characterized by short, cool summers and long winters with heavy amounts of snow. The island averages fifty eight to seventy eight inches of snow in the winter months, frequently reaching depths of twenty-three to twenty-seven inches deep in January and February

Aerial Photo of the Northeastern tip of Isle Royal.

Isle Royale National Park was authorized by Congress March 1931 and officially established in April 1940. The park was designated part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1976, under the Wilderness Act. In 1981 Isle Royale was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, giving it global scientific and educational significance.

The crystal clear waters and rugged shoreline of Lake Superior can be explored by kayak, but paddling this waterway should be combined with a high level of experience needed to make good decisions in both navigation and weather. This wilderness archipelago is 45 miles long and nine miles wide at it's widest point. The park encompasses a total area of 850 square miles including submerged lands which extends four and a half miles out into Lake Superior. The archipelago is composed of many parallel ridges resulting from ancient lava flows which were tilted and glaciated. Isle Royale has 165 miles of scenic hiking trails and 36 campgrounds for backpackers and recreational boaters. There is excellent fishing, historic lighthouses and shipwrecks, ancient copper mining sites, and plenty of spots to observe wildlife. Road less Isle Royale is accessible only by boat or float plane. Isle Royale is relatively untouched by direct outside influences and serves as a living laboratory and Unites States Biosphere Reserve.

The park is open to the public from April 15 though the month of October.  Boats and Seaplane service runs from early May through October.  There is over 165 miles of hiking trails on the island ranging from easy to difficult.  Besides the exterior Lake Superior shoreline, there are many inland lakes that are better suited to people with less experience paddling Canoe or Kayak.  It is the the least visited National Park but, has the most repeat visitors.  More people go to Yellowstone National Park in a day than go to Isle Royale in a year.  Due to it's location, it is not an easy place to go to and takes quite a bit of planning.  Once on the island, there is very little available so, you must bring everything you need with you.

Isle Royale National Park is characterized by Wolves and moose, the wild North Woods forest, ever changing weather and a cool climate

Wolves are highly intelligent and social animals that form well organized packs. Every individual from the dominant pair to the weakest pup has a place in the pack hierarchy. Few wild animals can match the wolf's devotion to its young. In late spring the pregnant female will dig a den and prepare it for the pups. Before and after the pups are born, the pack remains close to the den, they are cared for by all pack members



Long before Europeans saw Isle Royale, American Indians mined copper her. Using hand-held beach cobbles they hammered out chunks of pure copper from the hard bedrock. Archeologists have excavated shallow mining pits, some dating back 4,500 years. The French claimed the island in 1671. In 1783, it became a US possession; it was defined as Chippewa Territory until 1843. Modern copper mining took place off and on from the mid-1800's until 1899. During that era large areas were burned, the forest was logged, and settlements developed. The 1700's saw the advent of commercial fishing. The American Fur company used the ancient method of gill netting to take whitefish, lake trout, and siskiwit. This tradition has been handed down through the fishermen's families. Early this century Isle Royale became popular for summer homes, excursions, and as a wilderness retreat. Detroit journalist Albert Stoll sparked the fight for the national park, which was established in 1940.

Isle Royale frozen in the grip of winter. Similar to the cold 1948-49 winter when the wolves crossed from mainland canada to the island.

Photo Borrowed from Ecological Studies of Wolves on Isle Royale
Annual Report—1996-1997 by
Rolf O. Peterson, School of Forestry and Wood Products.
Michigan Technological University
Houghton, Michigan U.S.A. 49931

report available at ann_rep_pdf/ISRO_ann_rep96to97.pdf

During the exceptionally cold winter of 1948-49 an ice bridge formed between Canada and the island, and a small pack of Eastern timber wolves crossed over to Isle Royale. Since then additional packs have become established on the island - offshoots of the original pack. The wolves are important to maintaining a healthy moose population on Isle Royale. Very young, very old, sick or injured moose are the wolves most likely prey. By culling the weak and the old, wolves contribute to the overall health of the moose population. When the number of the predators decrease, the number of prey increases and the dynamic cycle begins again.


The red fox is yet another animal that inhabits Isle Royale; red foxes mainly feed on snowshoe hares and occasionally scavenge on moose, or any other meat a wolf leaves behind. Wolves do not commonly kill foxes, but have occasionally taken ones that get too close to a moose kill site. Although wolves will tolerate the Red Fox and typically inhabit the same area without incident wolves do not tolerate Coyotes. Coyotes populated Isle Royale but soon after the wolves appeared upon crossing the Ice bridge the proceeded to seek out the coyotes and subsequently hunted them to extinction. I have witnessed a wolf killed coyote on my property in Clearwater county.