Isle Royale June 2015 – Day 1 – Rock Harbor to Three Mile


Trail Miles: 2.7   Total Miles: 2.7

On Thursday, June 11th, Andrew and I took off from work an hour or so early to try and and get up to Houghton as quickly as possible.  After a 6 hour drive, we made it to the Country Inn and Suites in Houghton around 11:30 Eastern time.  To help us pass the time, we listened to the audiobook of A Game of Thrones, which Andrew has read, but I haven’t.  Definitely a good way to pass the time!

We woke up excited on Friday morning and headed out to the dock to board the Ranger III.  Houghton definitely seems like the kind of place you could easily spend an afternoon exploring, which I think would be a lot of fun some time that we’re in the area in the future.  We got to the Ranger III at about 8 AM, an hour before the boat was leaving, so we grabbed our souvenir – a pin to place on our map of NPS locations visited.  We also got our National Parks Passport stamped.  It was chilly and somewhat foggy, but everyone was very excited to get going to Isle Royale.

One thing that was poor planning on my part – your packs get checked into cargo, so if you want to have anything on the boat, you’ll need to pull it out ahead of time.  We grabbed our Kindles, my notebook and cell phone, camera, and Dramamine and we were off.  I’d recommend either bringing a small day pack or filling a dry bag with entertainment, a snack, your camera, a water bottle, and a warm jacket (like a down coat) before getting to the boat.  Lesson learned for next time!


The Ranger III

The Ranger III kind of feels like it belongs in a Wes Anderson movie, if it had a bit more pink.  It is comfortable, but definitely dated.  I was a bit surprised at how many families were on the boat with young children.  It made me super happy to see that there were kids as young as 10 or so who were just as excited as we were to get on the island.  I never went backpacking as a kid, but I hope that eventually when Andrew and I grow our family that we can take our kids into the wilderness as well.  The 6 hour boat ride to Isle Royale includes a LNT orientation and issuing of backcountry permits.  After we boarded, we quickly grabbed a pair of seats by the window and watched the Keweenaw Waterway go by.

I took a Dramamine as a preventative measure and took a nap as my GoPro recorded a time lapse.  Later on in our trip, I read the park newsletter, the Greenstone, checked out the map, and we submitted our intended path for our permits.

Double checking the path we planned to take

Double checking the path we planned to take

At 2:00, we started entering Rock Harbor and dropped off some rangers at Mott Island, the park’s headquarters.  Excitement was definitely growing on the boat – we were nearly there!  We landed at Rock Harbor at just about 3 PM, grabbed our packs and water and were ready to go!  Fully loaded with food, fuel, and water, my pack weighed 34 pounds, and Andrew’s weighed 48.  We didn’t hang around – we were ready to get hiking!  We set off on the Rock Harbor trail at 3:15.

The Rock Harbor Trail looks very flat on a map, but topo lines are deceiving – most of the hiking is done on exposed rock between Rock Harbor and Three Mile.  The trail rarely is more than 25 feet above Lake Superior, but the slanted rocks can be hard on the feet.  The views of Lake Superior and Rock Harbor were absolutely breathtaking.  The lake is extremely clear here, giving it a sapphire blue color where it gets deep.  There wasn’t much wind, so the glassy surface of the lake looked even smoother.

Day 1 on the Rock Harbor Trail

Our route, in red

Halfway between Rock Harbor and Three Mile is Suzy’s Cave.  It’s accessible from both the Rock Harbor Trail and the Tobin Harbor Trail.  It’s definitely worth a stop – we took our packs off, ate a Kind bar, and checked it out for a few minutes before moving on.  We made it quickly down the trail, even though it was rocky, arriving at Three Mile an hour and a half after leaving Rock Harbor.


The Rock Harbor Trail

Three Mile is one of the busier camp sites at Isle Royale and has a one night limit to stay there.  Several of the shelters were already taken, but we found shelter number 10 was open with a great view of the lake on the western tip of the camp site.  I didn’t really know what to expect with the shelters, but they are great!  Super roomy – you could absolutely fit 6 adults in a shelter.  Most of them were heavily graffitied with names and dates and locations stayed.  My favorite graffiti from our shelter was either “#glamping” or “repost this to three shelters or you’ll DIE.”


The shelters have 3 wooden walls, with the fourth wall as screen to protect you from bugs.  Each type of site (both shelter and tent) also has a picnic table.


Three Mile has two docks, a longer one on the eastern side of the site and a shorter one near shelters 10 and 11.  When we got there, there was a group of teenagers jumping into freezing cold Lake Superior!  We chatted with some of them for a bit as they tried to warm up in the sun, and they were on their last night of 10 on the island with one of the teachers from their high school in Indiana.  A few of them had done the trip last year, and they were definitely a chatty group.  They’d explored lots of areas on the east end of the island and had seen two moose.  I was impressed, both with the teacher for guiding a trip with 8 teens, and with the kids for taking such an interesting summer vacation.  They planned to wake up at 4:30 the next morning to return to Rock Harbor and catch their boat!  So early!

It was sunny but brisk out, with temperatures in the upper 50s.  There was very little wind as we cooked dinner.  We rehydrated some beef & broccoli, which Andrew liked, but I certainly did not.  I wound up eating a Clif bar instead.  The first day or two of hiking, I’m never very hungry, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to have a more limited dinner.  The bugs hadn’t been too bad for most of the afternoon, but as the sun started to sink a bit between 8 and 9, they started to come out and bite.  Andrew and I spent time chatting on the dock and retreated to our shelter to read and relax around 9:30, and it was still incredibly bright out!  Sunrise was at 5:58 AM and sunset at 10:01 PM, but twilight wasn’t until significantly later.  Here in Madison, sunset was at 8:40 for the same day – quite a difference that far north!

We didn’t have any neighbors in the shelter next to us until 10 PM, when we heard two very loud girls talking in the shelter.  It was still pretty light out when I went to the bathroom around 10:15 (there are several outhouses at each campground, which is nice), and the girls were actually rather rude – you could easily hear them several hundred feet away.

Our first day was a success!  The next day would be a longer day, heading to Moskey Basin via Daisy Farm.  I thought it would be nice to wake up and see the sunrise, so we set the alarm on Andrew’s watch and went to sleep as the lake and sky blended together in a soft, misty sunset.

Continue to Day 2

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