Fifty-two Miles

This is Part 4 of my Isle Royale backpacking travelogue. If you haven’t read the other parts, you’ll want to start there! [part 1, part 2, part 3]

July 27 (Day 6) continued

After our 11 am rest break we find fresh moose prints along the trail, heading the same direction we’re going. That’s exciting, as we’ve seen moose scat and shed antlers on the island but no actual moose.

Those who’ve heard of Isle Royale might know it as the place with the moose and wolves.

This island is home to the longest running scientific study on the relationship between the two species. Moose originally crossed to Isle Royale in the 1900’s, and wolves followed in the 1950’s. Today, the rangers estimate there are 1,600 moose on the island, but only two wolves remain – a father and daughter.

Isle Royale isn’t big enough to support a viable wolf population, their numbers depends on cold winters where the lake freezes over to allow new animals to cross and enter the gene pool. This hasn’t happened often in recent years, and so the wolves have dwindled.

There’s been a lot of talk about what should be done about the wolves, and this fall there’s going to be a vote. Meanwhile, the moose population is up due to a lack of natural predators which theoretically means we have a better chance of seeing one.

In a boggy clearing, the tracks disappear. We look out over the tall grasses, but don’t see any moose. Darn.

Not long after, we meet up with one of the Ferry Guys coming the other direction. They stayed at Desor last night, and then one of their number had to head back to Rock Harbor to catch his ferry on Saturday morning. If you do the math, that means he needs to get from Desor to Rock Harbor in less than a day and a half, a distance of 29.4 miles. He’s very tall with very long legs, and is moving fast. We stop to say hi and wish him a good hike, and he continues on his way. I imagine he’ll make it.

We reach South Lake Desor campground at 1 pm having not stopped for lunch, meaning our eight mile hike was completed in a record five hours. It ends up being our fastest hike of the trip. We’re the first to arrive at the campground and opt for site 1 at the end of the road. It’s technically on the lake, but like Hatchet it’s a steep slope down to the water. Lunch is enjoyed on the boulders down by the shore.

This was actually taken during supper prep some hours later

The group camping sites have the best water access, and like Hatchet are in birch forest. This is the only sandy beach I see this whole trip. You’ll notice though that we’ve only gone swimming in Lake Superior, and there’s a reason for that. The interior lakes have leeches and swimmer’s itch.

Jul 28 (Day 7)

Julie and I have talked a lot about what to do today. We can either make it a short day and go to Island Mine campground at 5.5 miles, or go 11.3 miles to Washington Creek campground at Windigo. The rub is there’s no guarantee that Island Mine will have water, the creek there runs intermittently, and we don’t carry enough water to spend the night without a source. But 11.3 miles in one day… I’m not so sure about this.

Today the woods isn’t dominated by pine or birch, but by maple and oak. For most of the way there’s little underbrush and our pace is pretty good. We reach the turnoff for Island Mine and meet a youth group working on the trails coming from that direction. They say there’s water, so we could stop there, but we opt to go the whole way to Windigo. I do sort of regret that decision in the afternoon.

I’ll spare you complaints about my shoulders again. One thing I will say though is that my feet and legs have been doing quite well. I’ve been wearing my tennis shoes from Amazon for this trip (I don’t care for hiking boots) and had been worried about blisters and not enough cushioning. Yeah, my feet are sore by the end of the day (rather like at Amazon), but not extremely so. They’ve worked quite well and I have no blisters or rub spots. This’ll be the last outing for these shoes as they’re starting to fall apart, but they’ve done well by me.

Around 4 pm, we arrive in Windigo. Woohoo, we made it! All told, we hiked 52 miles on this trip.

The campground is packed. This is by far the largest campground I’ve seen on this trip (Rock Harbor is probably a similar size I imagine) with five campsites and 11 shelters (not including the group sites). All the shelters have been claimed and we’re stuck in one of the last tent sites, overgrown and farther from the water for a night (the next night we get a shelter).

There’s potable water here. And flush toilets, and a convenience store! First we stop at the visitor center, which despite its small size is very well done. My favorite display is the old 2nd Order Fresnel lens from Rock of Ages Lighthouse which stands off Isle Royale’s southwest point. This lens helped guide ships safely around the island from 1910 to 1977. The lighthouse is still in operation today with an automated acrylic light running on solar power.

There’s also a shower house at Windigo, but the tokens cost a whopping $5.88 for 5 minutes, yikes! Julie and I skip the shower, and jump off the dock in our swimsuits again, earning the grins of several boaters who are tied up there. “Is it cold?” “Just a bit.”

Oh, and I finally get my moose! A cow and bull are eating seaweed out of Washington creek, visible from the campground. My best photo comes the next day though when they’re farther up the creek.

As always, my phone camera can’t zoom for good wildlife photos

In the evening, Julie and I go back down to the docks. On the way we see the other three Ferry Guys and inform them that as of yesterday their buddy was still alive and well. While lounging by the shore two Merganser ducks with their ducklings swim past.

We talk about everything and nothing for over an hour. The temperature drops noticeably as the sun gets closer to the horizons. Three b oats are still at dock, an done is cooking fish. Loons cry in the distance. It’s a good end to the day.

July 30 (Day 9)

Yesterday Julie and I mosey around Windigo and generally have a lazy day, it feels great. Today we board the Sea Hunter II back to civilization.

Lake Superior Day, a local holiday started in Thunder Bay the 1990’s, is held the third Sunday in July and is now celebrated in several coastal towns with activities, food, and beach cleanup. The rangers at Windigo celebrate too, but have delayed it because of weather for the last couple weeks. Word goes around that today is that day, and that those of us departing on the Ferry today are in for a special treat.

We board as a dozen or so rangers – most in uniform but sans shoes – line up at the end of the dock. Ah, I can see where this is going. I pull out my camera and record the whole thing, snapping this picture afterwards of them all in the water.

Not far out of the harbor, the ferry slows, and Rock of Ages lighthouse comes into view. It’s under renovation right now and the exterior has been stripped of paint, giving it a derelict air. The dark clouds rolling in from the west add to the mood.

We punch through the storm on the way back to Grand Portage, MN, and for a while the ride is quite choppy. The horizon and shore disappear and our world becomes gray. Good thing the boat isn’t real full today and everyone can squeeze inside.

Julie’s car is still in the lot where we left it and in fine shape. We stop in Grand Marais for supper (Sven & Ole’s pizza – decent). And later at Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors for desert (also decent). After spending the night at Super 8 in Superior, WI, we finish our drive back to Madison.

So, my takeaways on this first backpacking trip.

I’ll keep this short and to the point. First off, the weight of the pack makes a huge difference in how easy or hard backpacking is. Julie and I knew this when we started on this trip, but didn’t really understand until we got to experience it. Next time, I’ll make a bigger effort to keep the weight down.

Two, I didn’t end up needing many more calories than I normally do, those sites that say bring 1,000 more than your daily recommendation are full of it. Well, maybe for some people that’s true, but that sure wasn’t the case for Julie and I. I weighed myself the night we stayed at the hotel on the way home (we’d brought a scale with us to weigh the packs), and I’d lost only one pound, a negligible difference. Julie was the same.

Three. Rather like RVing, not every moment of every day backpacking will be fun. Some days the weather won’t cooperate. Some days the hiking just doesn’t feel good. But I did always enjoy the evenings once the work was done and I could just sit back and relax in the middle of nowhere. So yes, I will go backpacking again, although it may be a while before I pick up my own gear – the light weight stuff isn’t cheap.

* *

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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. Norm H. on August 25, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    A little late to this post, but wanted you to know how much I enjoyed reading your backpacking account. Loved the pictures, too. Congrats on your newest outdoor hobby. Backpacking is what led to RVing for my wife and I, got tired of sleeping on the ground! lol. BTW, I’m sharing your blog of Isle Royale with a brother of mine who did that trip about 45 years ago! He’ll enjoy your account, I know! Thanks for sharing.

    • Becky on August 25, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      You’re welcome Norm and I’m glad you enjoyed this travelogue. Thanks for sharing it with your friend too, most of my new readers come through word-of-mouth. 🙂 Isle Royale is a pretty amazing place and I’m so glad I hiked it!

  2. JOHN W SIMPSON on August 25, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    So much enjoyed your account of backpacking on Isle Royale. I just found out about this place recently. I definitely want to make this a destination. I am totally new to this RV nomad thing. I just acquired an Escape 19 in May, and retired from work August 1. I have a lot to learn but I am taking it all gradually. I am situated in an RV park outside Elko to get used to living on a retirement income and to establish myself as a Nevada resident. I appreciate the information and the wisdom of all those, like yourself, who share freely the ups and downs of this lifestyle. Thank you. I look forward to seeing you when our paths may cross.

    • Becky on August 25, 2017 at 8:29 pm

      You’re quite welcome John and congrats! Welcome to the open road and have a fun time, it does take a while to get a rhythm down for RVing, the first few months are the hardest and it gets easier from there.

      Isle Royale is a pretty special place and should definitely be on your list for someday, you’ll just need to find somewhere to park the RV while you do so.

      Safe travels and happy trails.

  3. desu on August 19, 2017 at 3:24 am

    looked like a fun trip once you relax and pace yourself

  4. Dawn in MI on August 18, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you so much for doing this series. Now I feel a little like I was there, and certainly I got to see parts of it I’ll never see on my own. I love Michigan, and I love Lake Superior, so glad you (mostly) enjoyed yourself in my state.

    • Becky on August 20, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      You’re welcome Dawn! Glad you enjoyed this. 🙂

  5. Diane Ely on August 18, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Becky: When will you be starting at Amazon this fall? And which site will you be working at?

    • Becky on August 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      I’m actually not doing Amazon this fall Diane! Further details about that will be coming in a future post.

  6. S. Kaeseman on August 17, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Sounds like a backpacking trip I would love to go on. However, I really Love reading about your adventure and all the recommendations you have made. Thanks for telling us about your life as always. Glad you and Julie had a good time. Both of you be safe on your next adventures. God Bless,
    S. Kaeseman

    • Becky on August 20, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      You’re welcome S and I’m glad you enjoyed following along!

  7. Kim on August 17, 2017 at 9:23 am

    That was fun following you on your backpacking trip. I do have to say when you came across the moose tracks I did get excited for you. Being from California I have seen lots of bear, but not moose – they are on my bucket list. Looking forward to your next adventure!

    • Becky on August 20, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      They aren’t the easiest animals to spot being rather shy, but that makes it even more special when you get your first viewing Kim, I hope you don’t have to wait long. 🙂 You’re welcome and thanks for reading!

  8. Candace H. on August 16, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    WOW what a first backpacking adventure! I really enjoyed each episode and wished they came closer together …..good writing made me want to keep reading. 🙂

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Candace, thanks for following along!

  9. Pamelab on August 16, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Becky, you certainly can pat yourself on the back, if not too painful, for your effort in a new adventure. Good for you. What a great experience. Thanks for sharing. Happy Trails.

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 7:01 pm

      You’re welcome Pamela, I hope things are going well for you and your Casita. Take care!

  10. Jodee Gravel on August 16, 2017 at 10:50 am

    What a fun trip!! Glad you enjoyed it and learned what will make the next time even better.

    Nice moose sighting, we’ve yet to see one and are looking forward to our first!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Across the Water and Under the HazeMy Profile

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 6:58 pm

      For as big as they are, moose are surprisingly stealthy!

  11. Donna on August 16, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Thank you for sharing your trip. I got to go virtual backpacking with you the past few days and it was very enjoyable. I’m so glad you got to see the moose – they’re beautiful, aren’t they? Your writing is very good, and very informative. I wish you more happy adventures!

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks Donna and I’m glad you’re enjoying my writing! I would have been rather sad if I hadn’t gotten to see a moose, so I was very glad to see them there at the end. In fact, it almost felt like a reward for hiking all those miles, haha!

  12. Anne on August 16, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Yay, you did it! Thanks for taking us along for the ride…

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      You’re welcome Anne, thanks for coming along.

  13. Susan on August 16, 2017 at 7:37 am

    I do enjoy reading your blog and look forward to receiving it each week. Thanks for all the information and just plain fun. Keep up the good work.

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      You’re welcome Susan, glad you’re enjoying IO!

  14. Ingrid on August 16, 2017 at 7:34 am

    Loved following along. Brought back fond memories. We used to canoe and backpack north of Grand Marais MN. Beautiful country. Keep enjoying those adventures!

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 6:29 pm

      I sure will Ingrid, thanks for following along!

  15. MnDreamer on August 16, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Hi Becky-
    Being from Minnesota, it was lots of fun to read this. I’m not in good enough shape to do the kind of hiking you did on Isle Royale, but I hope to at least make a visit there some day. Experiencing the hike vicariously, through your wonderful writing, was such a treat! Thank you for continuing to share your life with us readers. Seeing that there’s a new post in IO always gives me a lift.
    I’m getting closer to my Casita dream— got my tow vehicle last week– woo hoo!
    Take care!

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 5:12 pm

      Woohoo Mn, that’s great news! I hope the two vehicle treats you well.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post and hope you get the chance to visit Isle Royale someday, even if you can’t hike it end to end.

  16. jmuser on August 16, 2017 at 6:23 am

    Awesome trip! For future backpacking, focus on the big three for going light: Backpack, shelter, and sleeping bag. Those three tend to be the “heavy” hitters for things that aren’t food. Also, backpack fit is crucial. If the pack fits good, a heavier load is still comfortable. Research backpack fit and adjustment. Made a huge difference for me.
    Start with those and go from there. Thanks for the report!

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 5:05 pm

      Yep I talked about backpack fit in the second part of this series, mine was definitely not optimized for me (it belonged to Julie’s dad). I’ve learned so much from this trip!

      You’re welcome and I’m glad you enjoyed this. 🙂

  17. Ursula Currie on August 16, 2017 at 5:47 am

    Hi Becky! I enjoyed reading about your backpacking trip, and seeing your photos. Looks like a beautiful place you were in. I encourage you to get light weight equipment for your next hike! I know it’s expensive, but having to carry 15 lbs less is priceless!
    Living on the road now, and heading for BNA3 in October!
    Stay well!

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      Have fun at BNA3 Ursula! I’m glad you enjoyed this post, thanks for following along and take care.

  18. Teresa on August 16, 2017 at 5:12 am

    Wow – what a trip. I’d love to hike the island, but not sure I could handle much of a pack for any kind of distance. It’s great that you did, even if it was quite a test :O

    Bit late now, but I thought when I read part one that you guys would have benefitted from swapping some of your food for freeze dried. Depending on what you chose it’d probably be healthier & tastier and much lighter in weight.

    If you decide to have another go at a big hiking trip, all kinds of quality gear can be found on Steep & Cheap. Obviously you can’t walk around in the pack before buying, but you could return or exchange if it didn’t fit.

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      Yes Teresa it wasn’t always fun, but it was so worth the hardships!

      Thanks for sharing, I’ve never heard of Steep & Cheap before but I’ll add it to my backpacking info list.

  19. Rita on August 16, 2017 at 5:06 am

    In the end, standing by the sign, you looked like a real pro. Congratulations.

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      Thanks Rita.

  20. RGupnorth on August 16, 2017 at 5:05 am

    Nice travelogue – unique experience visiting IRNP.

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      Thanks RG.

  21. Ron on August 15, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    I read all four parts, even without photos I think I could visualize your trip from your descriptive writing. We used to camp and canoe the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness. Not only did we have to carry our packs but we carried our canoes on our backs across some very long and rugged portages. If you have not canoed and camped the boundary waters I highly recommend it. The beauty is amazing. Also saw many bear and moose.

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      Julie’s parents canoe the boundary waters regularly Ron and it’s something I’m interested in trying someday for sure – Julie wants to do that too. I’m glad you enjoyed this!

  22. Kim on August 15, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    I’m from MN and everywhere along the North Shore and Lake Superior is beautiful. Glad you got to experience it, even though the water is super cold to swim in!! My aunt and uncle have a cabin on the lake just south of Grand Marais, so much fun to walk on the rocky shoreline and look for agates. Betty’s Pies is a fun spot and my husband and I were there in July while on our Duluth trip. You’ll have memories of this trip to last a lifetime…it was fun to read about your adventure.

    • Becky on August 16, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Grand Marais would be a great place to have a cabin Kim, I imagine you enjoy visiting them a lot! Yes, I’m so glad I had this opportunity and I’ll remember this for years to come! Thanks for following along.