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The Best Time to Visit Isle Royale in 2023 | When to Go

The Best Time to Visit Isle Royale in 2023 | When to Go

With scenic hiking trails and many campgrounds for nature lovers, Isle Royale draws travelers ready to embark on a journey into the wilderness. If you’re wondering when the best time to visit Isle Royale is, it varies depending on what you’re hoping to get out of your trip.

If you’re looking for nice weather, you’ll need to visit in a different season than if you were, say, looking to avoid the high-season crowds.

In any case, to make an informed decision based on what works for you, you need to learn what each season offers and what activities are possible during that period. So without any further ado, let’s dive straight into the subject at hand!

The Best Time to Visit Isle Royale

Park ranger in warm clothes greets an incoming ferry during the overall best time to visit Isle Royale National Park, the summer

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA, August 24, 2022 A Ranger with the National Park Service greets a visitor aboard a ferry boat/Reel Creative/Shutterstock

The best time to visit Isle Royale is in June, July, and August. The weather’s ideal for hiking, camping, wildlife-observing, or simply touring the park.

The days are long, giving visitors plenty of time to enjoy nature and explore each corner. Visitors heading to Isle Royale during these three months should expect temperatures within an average range between highs of 75.2°F and lows of 46.4°F.

July tends to be a much more popular month than, say, June and August, so if you’re on the lookout for more tranquility, opt for the latter months.

If you’re traveling with kids, as summers are holiday months, keep in mind that the park has child-centered activities:

  • Junior Ranger Program — with the possibility of obtaining a Junior Ranger badge;
  • The Wilderness Ranger Program, providing a Wilderness Ranger badge upon completion;
  • Paddling the Tobin Harbor or Washington Harbor waters and visiting older lighthouses or science research stations.

Cheapest Time to Visit Isle Royale

The cheapest time to visit Isle Royale is in September, right after Labor Day.

Note that although there will be noticeable expenses reaching the park regardless of when you decide to visit, opting for accommodation in some of the nearby towns at this time will be much more affordable.

Plus, September has relatively mild temperatures, but the days are shorter, so factor that in when you plan your stay and the overall activities you wish to engage in once you’re there.

Keep in mind that there are expenses that also never change, irrespective of when you visit, such as the $7 per person entrance fee (children aged 15 or younger are exempt).

There are several fee-free days throughout the year, though:

  • Monday, January 16 — Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Saturday, April 22 — First Day of National Park Week
  • Friday, August 4 — The Great American Outdoors Act
  • Saturday, September 23 — National Public Lands Day
  • Saturday, November 11 — Veterans Day

Then, there’s the so-called Isle Royale Season Pass, which costs $60 and is valid within the April 16–October 31 period.

It’s a cost-effective solution for up to four visitors (three adults and the pass holder). Finally, the cheapest way to reach Isle Royale is by sticking with the Ranger III ferry.

Least Busy Time to Visit Isle Royale

Moss-covered walking path running through the Isle Royale National Park with nobody around, taken during the fall, the overall least busy time to visit

Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock

The least busy time to visit Isle Royale is in September. This month has temperatures between 62.6°F and 44.6°F. Kids are back to school, summer holidays have come to an end, and overall, travel comes to a halt.

That said, as Isle Royale is one of the least visited US national parks, it’s worth noting it never gets extremely crowded anyway, so you’ll probably see moderate crowds whenever you go.

Plus, by September, the presence of insects significantly diminishes. Given fall’s changing colors, chances are you won’t be preoccupied with crowds in Isle Royale at all.

Going in September allows you to have a quick look at the upcoming foliage changes, so make sure to enjoy it to the fullest, and don’t forget to take a photo or two!

Worst Time to Visit Isle Royale

The worst time to visit Isle Royale is in April. It’s when Isle Royale opens (mid-April, to be more precise), and not everything is in full swing yet.

Animals are just coming out of hibernation, and not all activities are possible or even enjoyable at that time, given that the average temperatures in April range between a high of 46.4°F and a low of 26.6°F.

Still, Isle Royale is a beauty regardless of when you visit. Even if the weather’s not at its best, you’ll still manage to make the most of it by simply unwinding in the park and soaking in nature’s vibes.

Things to Consider

View of the Rock Harbor Ferry area pictured during the overall best time to go to Isle Royale National Park

Arlene Waller/Shutterstock

Going to a remote location such as Isle Royale means you need to be armed with all the useful information you can get, which is why we believe the following tips and details will help you prepare for your visit much more effectively.

Consider the following:

  • Public WiFi isn’t available unless you’re an overnight guest at Rock Harbor Lodge. This brings us to the next point.
  • Download the NPS app before you arrive so that you can access necessary information while offline. The app is available for both Android and iOS devices.
  • Isle Royale National Park doesn’t accept cash for entrance fees anymore — only credit cards. The park store in the Rock Harbor and Windigo Visitor Centers also accepts just credit cards. That said, Rock Harbor Lodge and the stores in Windigo and Rock Harbor accept both credit cards and cash.
  • Certain park activities may require you to obtain so-called special permits. Such activities include group camping (seven or more individuals), weddings, commercial services (tour groups, for instance), commercial filming and still photography, and any other special activity or event that’s outside of regular park use.
  • Cats, dogs, or other types of pet mammals are prohibited. Pets on a leash are allowed only in the outdoor area at the Houghton Visitor Center and the Headquarters complex. Service dogs, however, are more than welcome. Either way, make sure you obtain the necessary service dog permit prior to your departure to avoid any unpleasant situations. To do so, you need to consult a licensed veterinarian 15 days before your trip at the latest and have the permit signed by a park representative.
  • There are several lodging options — make sure to choose the one you’re most comfortable with. Some options include backpacking, and you can hike to a different campsite every day, base camping, or staying in the same campsite all the time; sleeping in a boat and pulling it near the dock at night, or staying either at the Rock Harbor Lodge or in the Windigo Camper Cabins.
  • There are two restaurants in Rock Harbor Lodge — Greenstone Grill and the Lighthouse Restaurant.
  • The camp stores in Windigo and Rock Harbor provide only some basic items; most backpackers and boaters arrive with their own food.
  • Showers are only available on the northeast end at Rock Harbor and then on Windigo’s southwest end. That said, the official website suggests that showers aren’t available to early spring and late fall visitors.
  • No storage lockers are available. However, Windigo’s and Rock Harbor’s’ concession operations can store your items for a fee (unless the items include food or stove fuel).
  • You can purchase a navigational map for your water/land trips via the Isle Royale & Keweenaw Parks Association.
  • Get travel insurance before you leave on your trip!

Frequently Asked Questions

White Rock Harbor Lighthouse pictured overlooking the bay on a hazy day with still water in the front and pine trees in the background

Steven Schremp/Shutterstock

What are some fun facts about Isle Royale?

Here are some fun facts about Isle Royale:

  • It wasn’t until 1940 that Isle Royale was turned into a national park.
  • The main reason why Isle Royale was established as a national park was to keep its wilderness.
  • UNESCO designated the park to be an International Biosphere Reserve.
  • Isle Royale is said to cover more than 571,000 acres of land.
  • The highest elevation is Ishpeming Point (about 705 feet above the lake’s level); the lowest is at Lake Superior (601 feet).
  • Isle Royale is an archipelago made up of around 450 smaller islands.
  • Isle Royale has a Wolf Relocation Program.
  • The park’s also known for its spooky history of deadly fires. In fact, according to the information provided on the park’s official website, there were 31 fires only in the 1847-1898 period. That said, one of the most disastrous fires was the one in 1936, burning one third of the entire island (27,000 acres), which led to serious consequences on the wildlife and overall vegetation.
  • Ten shipwrecks have happened at Isle Royale National Park including: America, Chester A. Congdon, George M. Cox, Emperor, Glenlyon, and the Monarch
  • Isle Royale is the only US-based national park that completely closes during its off-season.

How do I plan a backpacking trip to Isle Royale?

To plan a backpacking trip to Isle Royale, you need to know what essential items you need to pack. Here are some ideas to help you (they’re taken from the park’s official website, so they’re Isle Royale-approved!):

  • Comfortable shoes/boots
  • A high-quality backpack
  • A waterproof tent
  • A sleeping bag
  • Raingear  
  • A water filter
  • A water bottle
  • A backpacking stove  
  • Cooking gear
  • First aid kit
  • A pocket knife
  • SPF cream
  • Matches/lighter
  • A compass
  • A whistle
  • Food
  • A headlamp (+ batteries!)
  • A topographic map
  • Insect repellant
  • Trash bags
  • Stove fuel in suitable containers
  • Quick-drying clothing items (poplar or cotton)
  • Lightweight pants
  • T-shirts
  • Hats
  • Shorts
  • A lightweight jacket
  • Thermal underwear
  • A sweater
  • Swimsuit (if necessary)
  • Medications
  • Sunglasses
  • Eating utensils

Does anyone live in Isle Royale?

Nowadays, Isle Royale has no permanent residents whatsoever — Scandinavian fishermen used to inhabit the area but were removed by the United States National Park Service after Isle Royale was transformed into a national park in the ‘40s.

Are cars allowed on Isle Royale?

No, cars aren’t allowed on Isle Royale in an attempt to protect the park’s authenticity and natural wilderness. In fact, any kind of wheeled device is prohibited.

The only exception is for wheelchairs and bikes (the former is only allowed at Windigo and Rock Harbor). The only acceptable modes of transportation are boating, kayaking, hiking, and canoeing.

How long can you stay on Isle Royale?

It depends on the campsite, as each one has its own set of rules. Usually, the stay limit for most is between two and three nights.

For instance, Washington Creek has a limit of three nights, whereas the Three Mile and the Rock Harbor campgrounds have a one-night consecutive stay limit.

How long is the ferry to Isle Royale?

It takes a little over three hours to reach Isle Royale National Park.

Can you swim at Isle Royale?

Swimming in the Isle Royale National Park isn’t really recommended, mainly due to Lake Superior’s low water temperatures. That said, you can swim in the inland lakes, but note there are neither beaches nor lifeguards in the area.

What months is Isle Royale open?

Isle Royale National Park is open each year from April 16 to October 31. The park remains closed outside of that period due to the harsh winter conditions.

What wildlife is on Isle Royale?

In the Isle Royale National Park, you can come across the following species:

  • Red fox
  • Wolves
  • Moose
  • Beavers
  • Otters
  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Salamanders
  • Newts
  • The northern red-bellied snake
  • The common garter snake
  • The western painted turtle
  • Mussels
  • Various bird species
  • Numerous fish species
  • Biting insects

Over to You — Book Your Trip Today!

To wrap up, the best time to visit Isle Royale is in summer, in the June–August period. These months are perfect for the myriad of recreational activities available in the park.

The cheapest time to head to Isle Royale is in September, right after Labor Day. While avoiding the entrance fee is somewhat challenging and requires you to visit on specific dates, securing more affordable accommodation in some of the nearby towns at this time is more than certain.

Although Isle Royale never gets cramped like other national US parks, the absolute least busy time to visit is in September. The upcoming fall landscape is an added bonus!

The worst time to visit Isle Royale is in April. It’s when the park basically opens, so not many things are running full steam, and it’s still rather cold. Yet, even if you end up heading to Isle Royale in April, you’re not going to regret it, as the park’s captivating beauty is always present.

All in all, irrespective of when you decide to visit Isle Royale, you’re bound to have an amazing experience in the wilderness. So what are you waiting for — book your trip today. Happy travels!