Hiking Isle Royale National Park

This is part 3 of my Isle Royale backpacking travelogue! If you haven’t read part 1 and part 2 yet, you’ll want to start there!

See the frog by Julie’s hand?

July 25, Day 4

But before we go, Julie and I filter more water for our packs.

I’m pretty sure this trip marks the first time that I’ve drank lake water. Julie’s been doing the filtering up until now (we got water from Lake Superior at our previous two camps) while I’ve been busy with other chores so I haven’t watched exactly how it’s done. Plus, my camelbak and her water bottles are colored, so I’ve been able to pretend that it’s just normal tap water. I get thirsty enough hiking that I don’t notice a taste difference.

But this morning I assist and can’t help but notice that Chickenbone Lake has yellow tinted water, even after filtering.

Filtering requirements differ from location to location. Here at Isle Royale, the rangers say the water needs to be at a rolling boil for at least two minutes, or you need a filter of at least 0.4 microns. Our filter goes to 0.2 microns which is good, but somehow in my brain equated filtering with making the water clear. Filtering water removes bacteria and viruses, but does not remove other toxins so no matter what you do there is some risk. Well, we haven’t died yet.

Once the filtered water is back in my pack, I can pretend it’s regular old tap water again.

The vegetation varies across the island, and elevation plays a part. Up on the ridge there’s more open ground, offering tantalizing views of Lake Superior, but the island is too forested for a good photo. We find several blueberry patches today, although their closeness to the ground inhibits picking while walking.

While National Parks have rules about not picking flora, here on Isle Royle it is legal to eat berries. They’re delicious.

We also come across our first birch forest today. It quickly becomes my favorite type, the white trunks contrast with the green leaves and underbrush nicely, and the canopy is more open – meaning there’s more of a breeze here and less mosquitoes.From now on, you can just assume that by the end of the day my shoulders are sore, whether I specifically write it out or not. But today was much better than yesterday, despite having nearly as much up and down.

Again, we don’t make spectacular time and nab the second-to last site at Hatchet lake – Site 4 – which happens to be right next to Site 3, where the Ferry Guys have set up camp. When we arrive only one of them is there, so we leave him be while putting up the tent and settling in. This is perhaps my second favorite camp of the trip as it’s in a birch forest.

Later in the evening the other three ferry guys come back and we spend a good hour or longer chatting with them. They keep getting the best sites because one of their number is a early riser and likes hiking alone. He leaves camp at dawn and always arrives early at the destination to claim their spot. The other three like sleeping in more (like us) and arrive later. Julie and I ask how long it took them to do today’s hike, and all four made it in about 3.5 hours. In comparison, it took Julie and I 6.5 hours to make it here from Chickenbone, heh. But hey, we’re managing!



The three who showed up later arrived at Hatchet around 1 pm and then decided to do a day hike to Todd Harbor on the north shore of the island – about 8.2 miles round-trip, meaning they hiked about 16.1 miles today, phew! It makes me tired just listening to them.

But it gives Julie and I an idea. At the top of the ridge at lunch today I was able to get enough of a phone signal to check the weather, and there’s a chance of thunderstorms tonight, the stronger wind today had us wondering. Other than that, the weather looks good up until the night we leave. So we decide to take an extra night at Hatchet to avoid potentially having to pack up a wet tent and hike in the mud again, and tomorrow we’ll do Todd Harbor as a day hike.

We also unload a bunch of Kind bars on the guys, less weight for us! By now we have noticeably more room in our packs, which also might be contributing to feeling less like death upon arrival.

July 26, Day 5

It’s dry when we wake up, but one of the Ferry Guys had to use the outhouse at 4 in the morning and says he did see lightning off in the distance, the storms missed us. We’re taking our rest day anyhow, the trip is half over and it looks like the 8 mile days will work just fine.

It’s glorious to not have that big pack on! It turns out that the top of many backpacking packs (ours included) can be detached from the main bag to be used as sort of a fanny pack for day trips, how ingenious. We pack lunch and our swimsuits and start off down Hatchet Lake Trail.

Since we’re heading to the shore from the ridge, much of the way there is downhill. We stop for a break at a nice little creek. The fact that an eight mile hike now constitutes a casual day trip tells you something about the mindset of a backpacker. Hiking is just so much easier without all that weight.

Todd Harbor is busy. A troop of Boy scouts is doing a service project, cleaning up the campground. I’m rather glad we decided not to bring all our gear down here to camp. This side of the island is less protected, and the water is more choppy and I swear, colder than the water on the south side. Julie and I change anyway and rinse our clothes and get in to rinse ourselves.

We watch the bay for quite a while after lunch, at one point a sailboat comes into the harbor. Some of the Boy scouts change into swim trunks, but they don’t actually get in the water.

The hike back is uneventful. The wind isn’t as strong today so the mosquitoes are worse near sunset. Julie and I escape into the tent early, and leave the fly off knowing that there’s no chance of rain. I rather like this photo I get from bed.

July 27, Day 6

It’s a still morning on Hatchet Lake as we fill up on water for the next leg of our hike. Today we continue west of Greenstone Ridge Trail to South Lake Desor campground, another 8.1 miles. But today we’d set an alarm and got up 6:30….or maybe 5:30. Isle Royale is technically part of Michigan, putting it in the Eastern time zone despite being physically located in Central time zone. I’m not sure if my phone has switched to Eastern time or not as non-existent as the signal here is, so Julie and I have actually not really known what time it was since we left Rock Harbor. As we’re not on a tight time table though, it’s an inconvenience that amuses us more than anything else.

Yes, my phone is still working. I’ve turned on Airplane mode to keep it from wasting battery trying to find a signal which helps a lot, but my new battery pack has also done a wonderful job of charging it up.

I bought an Anker PowerCore 20100 specifically for this trip, as this is the first time I’ve had to camp without electricity for such an extended period of time (for newer readers, my Casita has solar for when I camp without hookups). It was advertised as being able to charge an iPhone six times, which I figured should be enough to keep it in action as my only camera for this trip. Last night was the first time I had to use it, it’s amazing how much longer a smartphone battery lasts when you’re not getting online with it. It worked like a charm, and took less than two hours to bring the phone battery from <20% to full.

We leave Hatchet at 8 am (7 am? First ones out at any rate!) and make amazing time…for us anyway. We’d discerned from maps that the fire tower on Ishpeming Point was roughly halfway between Hatched and Desor and decided on that as our lunch stop. But we get there around 10:30 am having not had a single break and aren’t yet hungry, so we keep going.

Today we find the Thimbleberries, another edible that kind of resemble Raspberries. They have the distinct advantage over the blueberries of being about chest height, which makes picking while walking much easier. They’re also tasty.

I walk in front today and Julie has the phone, so there are about two hundred pictures of me, quite unusual for this normally solo traveler. Here’s one of an almost-obstacle (by now we’ve had to climb over and duck under several fallen trees) that is just out of reach, it’s funny how much your arm movement is restricted with a pack on, I can’t quite touch it.

We do finally stop around 11 am but still aren’t hungry for lunch, so it’s a sausage stick (the cheese ran out a couple days ago) and trail mix break. So far, so good.



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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Suzanne on August 15, 2017 at 7:56 am


    The trip looks amazing so far. Thanks for the correction on my last conment. I always get Presque Isle and Isle Royale mixed up when speaking…and obviously writing! We were recently in the Presque Isle area on vacation.

    A few years ago my husband and I did a small backpacking trip in the Porcupine Mtns in the U.P. I think my pack weighed about 25 lbs. It was hard! My husband carried more than me..thank God. I don’t know how you did it with 50 lbs!!! You are pretty amazing!

    Thank you so much for your blogs. They are always so inspirational…and so are you!

    • Becky on August 15, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      25 pounds Suzanne! That would have been amazing to me, haha. I hope you had a good time in the Porcupine Mountains, I’ve heard of those too!

      You’re quite welcome of course, thanks for following along on this great adventure!

  2. Jodee Gravel on August 13, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    What an adventure, and so fun to be sharing it with the BFF!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Across the Water and Under the HazeMy Profile

  3. Anne on August 13, 2017 at 8:46 am

    I’m so enjoying this day-by-day account of your trip. My shoulders are sore in sympathy! I can’t wait for the next episode. I had the same time zone issue in Arizona — where the state does not observe daylight saving time, but the Navajo nation does. I gave up trying to keep track.

    • Becky on August 13, 2017 at 1:43 pm

      You’re welcome Anne, glad you’re enjoying it. Yes, I was traveling through AZ after daylight savings started and passed through Navajo country on the way to Monument Valley, so confusing!

  4. marijka on August 12, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Yep, that upper part of a pack is called a “brain” ! 🙂 It’s nice to be able to remove to go lighter, or to use when basecamp hiking (staying in one spot for a while and radiating out for day hikes). What great scenery in your photos! Loving this trip from afar.

    • Becky on August 13, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      A brain? Haha, what a funny name. I’m glad you’re enjoying this Marijka.

  5. Dawn in MI on August 12, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    I’ve picked plenty of wild blueberries when I lived in the Keweenaw, and yes they are way low to the ground, not so accessible when you’re carry a pack I suppose. Might have been worth stopping and taking the pack off though because they are amazing! Thimbleberries I’m not so fond of. I’ve tried…but I just don’t like them much. Have made jam of them, that’s OK (they have their own natural pectin so you don’t have to add anything but sugar).

    My brother lives on the GA/AL line, AL is in central time zone, GA is in the eastern time zone. I never know if my phone is changed between the two either. I rely on an old fashioned watch…and even then I have to stop and think about what time it really is, especially when I have a plane to catch. So I get that confused feeling…but it’s also kind of nice not to care which hour it is! Enjoy!

    • Becky on August 13, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      I did eat a few blueberries Dawn. Those aren’t as novel to me as my family home has wild blueberries on the property, I may have been spoiled. 😉

      Yes, it’s a lot like that! Same as when I boondock on the border of AZ and CA. Gets so confusing doesn’t it?

  6. Regis on August 12, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Don’t know if you’ve heard of the full time rv movie that is being made. You should be on it.

    • Becky on August 13, 2017 at 1:34 pm

      I’ve heard of it Regis, but am not featured. A good friend of mine is though.

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