Sea Kayaking at Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14202A, Kayak


  • Sea kayak and hike surrounded by moose, wolves, and loons
  • Enjoy the peace and solitude of one of the most primitive and least visited national parks
  • Visit the Wolf/Moose Research Center


  • Ferry transport to and from the island and a water shuttle around the island     
  • All meals, including a lodge dinner the last night and lodge breakfast the last morning
  • Stay in the small camps that are only accessible by watercraft


DatesAug 10–17, 2014
StaffJane Jontz
Photo: Carl Ter Haar

Trip Overview

The Trip

Being on Isle Royale is like going back in time. This 45-mile-long island in Lake Superior is a peaceful and beautiful destination. We will spend our week among moose, wolves, loons, and mergansers. The forest will surround us with maples, birch, and pine, all the while being encircled by Lake Superior. Isle Royale is in the largest inland freshwater lake, and what is thought to be part of the largest lava flow, on earth. It is a place like no other. 

This trip will provide us with six sea kayaking days that average about five miles between camps. After arriving in camp, we will take to the water to explore.  On any of our days we can choose to treat ourselves to afternoons of relaxation by the water to think and enjoy the beauty of nature. We will enjoy six different lovely camps: four are accessible only by boat and two will give us access to hiking trails.


Day 1: We will meet at 4:00 p.m. in Judge Magney State Park, Grand Marais, Minnesota, where we will check our gear.  Over dinner we will get to know each other and orient ourselves to the journey.
Day 2: We will ferry over to the island on the Voyageur II. This journey will show us our proximity to Minnesota and Ontario, while transporting us into another world -- the world of the loon, wolf and moose. It is a uniquely quiet place, in the middle of our country but far away from everything.  We will disembark the ferry at McCargoe Cove and paddle the cove down to our camp at Birch Isle in the afternoon.   
Day 3: We will paddle to the ranger station at Amygdaloid Island and then onto our camp at Pickerel Cove.
Day 4: We will paddle to our camp at Lane Cove and then take a six-mile day hike to the Greenstone Ridge. This ridge spans the length of the island and from the summit of Mount Franklin we have a nice view of the island and Thunder Bay.
Day 5: We will paddle to our Duncan Bay camp while exploring Five Finger Bay and Duncan Bay. 
Day 6: We will paddle to our Belle Isle camp. From there we can explore Belle Harbor, Robinson Bay, Crystal Cove, and the Amygdaloid Channel.
Day 7: After exploring in the morning, the water shuttle will pick us up at 1:30 p.m. and transport us to Rock Harbor. Once in Rock Harbor we will reacquaint ourselves with showering and then motor boat down to the Edison Fishery, the Rock Harbor Lighthouse, and the Wolf/Moose Research Center to learn more about the longest running predator/prey study, now in its 54th year. Afterward we will enjoy a fine dinner at the Rock Harbor Lodge.
Day 8: After a hearty breakfast at the Lodge, we will board the Voyageur II for our journey home. Motoring around the island gives us a different perspective as we take in all the coves, rocks, trees and the moose. It is a time to think about what we have learned about ourselves and this beautiful planet as we continue to enjoy our view of the island and Lake Superior.



Getting There

We will meet at 4:00 p.m. in Judge Magnus State Park, Grand Marais, Minnesota. The closest large airport is in Duluth, Minnesota, which is three hours southwest, following the shore of Lake Superior. We will be providing you your fellow participants' names so you can discuss carpooling arrangements.

Accommodations and Food

The first meal provided is dinner on day one and the last meal will be lunch on day eight. Included in the trip price is our dinner and breakfast at the Rock Harbor Lodge on our last night and our last morning. Meals are prepared with the guidance of the leaders in the traditional Sierra Club way, with each participant serving on a cook crew for several meals during the trip.

We will be staying at campsites in Grand Marais and on every night on the island. In Rock Harbor there are showers, laundry facilities, a grocery, cafe, and restaurant. Each campsite has outhouses.

Trip Difficulty

Kayaking is a wonderful way to explore the wild and often otherwise inaccessible Isle Royale shoreline. It requires boating skills and experience, stamina and preparation. Although our paddles will not average more than five miles between camps, the variables of a one-mile open water crossing, weather, and potentially strong winds merit a moderate difficulty rating for this outing. Adequate pre-trip fitness preparation, paying particular attention to shoulder, arm, torso, abdominal and back muscles is essential and will enhance your enjoyment. If not already doing so, you must begin a rigorous weekly exercise regime, which may include lifting weights and doing stretches focusing on the upper body. Since all wilderness kayak trips are somewhat strenuous, you owe it to yourself, as well as the group, to get in the best possible physical condition before the trip. When everyone is well-conditioned and well-prepared we all will have a great time.

This trip is open to adult participants who are comfortable with wilderness camping and unpredictable weather. You must have previous kayaking experience and be able to swim. You will also want to enjoy being in a small boat surrounded by cold water, beautiful scenery, and possibly cool air, just inches above a very deep lake. You should feel safe and comfortable paddling for up to five miles, in winds of up to 14 miles an hour, in waves or swells of up to two feet. At times winds and waves arrive without advance warning. Some days may demand your inner resources to meet moderate or possibly strenuous (windy) conditions; other days may be mostly quiet and leisurely. Additionally, it is necessary that you can do a wet exit, an assisted rescue, and a self rescue with a paddle float. If you have any questions about whether your kayaking experience is suitable for this trip, please contact the leader.

We will also be exploring the island on foot at our various lunch, break, and camping destinations. Everyone needs to be able to help carry the gear and boats, including our portages, as we set up or take down camp. This can be hard work after a day of paddling, yet it is also a great way to build camaraderie among all of us. Despite the effort required, being in proximity to moose, wolves, and loons on these wilderness islands will make it all worthwhile.  

Equipment and Clothing

The cost of the trip does not include the kayak rental. There are two options for kayaks and kayaking gear: 1) You can bring your own kayak (subject to leader approval to insure that it is suitable for this trip). You will need to bring a PFD or life jacket which must be worn at all times while on the water.  You will also need to bring a wet suit (or dry suit), paddle, spray skirt, rescue float and bilge pump, or 2) Kayaks and associated gear can also be rented from an outfitter in Grand Marais and transported to the ferry at Grand Portage. The trip leader can inform you about the rental options.

Additionally, you will need dry bags (10 liters or smaller) that are suitable for stuffing into the small hatches of your kayak; one for your sleeping bag and one for your personal clothing and gear. All personal gear must be in dry bags and should fit in the bow or aft hatch. The other hatch will be needed to carry group gear and/or food.

You will need to bring your own small high-quality tent and pad. While the summer months are generally warm and sunny (72-54 degrees), showers are always possible and evenings can get chilly. All your clothing should be made of synthetic materials or wool to retain their warmth when wet and have the advantage of quick drying. Cotton items should be avoided. Rain gear is necessary. The trip leader will send you a detailed equipment list when you are accepted onto the trip and answer any questions you have about gear. The trip includes food, cooking equipment, a first-aid kit, and water purification equipment.   


The following books/websites/maps will give you more insight into the area: 


  • Peterson, Rolf, The Wolves of Isle Royale, a Broken Balance.
  • Peterson, Candy, A View from the Wolf's Eye.
  • Ter Haar, Carl, The Belle Isle Journals.



  • The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map is a detailed map of the island. The leaders will also have maps you can study.


Isle Royale has hosted the longest predator (wolves) / prey (moose) research study -- it is going into its 54th year. We will discuss the study and what it has taught us about global warming. Dr. Peterson's book will explain the study to you, using great photographs that really bring it to life. We welcome your thoughts on the specific issues that concern you the most. 

We will practice Leave No Trace techniques throughout the trip. We will also be sensitive to the wolves, moose, and loons. The island serves as an environmental monitoring station, where scientists can collect data at the Mount Ojibway lookout tower.

Isle Royale is a nearly pristine gem surrounded by the historically cool waters of Lake Superior. As an island, it has been protected from many of the ecological threats we experience along the more accessible shoreline areas, but this is changing. The island and its resident populations of wolves and moose, plants, aquatic organisms and soils are being adversely affected by the global change threats of warming and exotic species. The island is home to the  world's longest running predator prey study. Data collected over the last 54 years presents a picture of incremental and sudden changes brought on by the effects of man's actions.  We will interact with researchers when we visit the summer home of the Wolf Moose Study, view the island from water and trail-based activities, and immerse ourselves in one of the last relatively untouched wilderness areas in the continental United States. This is a learning adventure. Isle Royale is a unique study area of the effects of global climate change.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Isle Royale National Park.



Jane Jontz has led Sierra Club backpacking trips on Isle Royale for five years. Isle Royale is one of her favorite places on the planet and she loves sharing her passion for it with trip participants. She has also led trips for Sierra Club in Yosemite, Point Reyes National Seashore, the Trinity Alps and in Pioneer Basin. Jane's kayak experience has been in Penobscot Bay, Maine where the waves and the Atlantic's chilled water have prepared her for Lake Superior. In addition to leading Sierra Club National Outings Jane is also a National Ski Patroller and triathlete.

Assistant Leader:

Leanora Kovacs has previously led trips for the Sierra Club in Alaska, the north woods of Minnesota, Newfoundland, Ontario and Maine. She has extensive outdoors and wilderness experience. Her energy, humor and love of the outdoors is inspiring and often contagious. When not canoeing, kayaking or snow shoeing, Leanora works as a lawyer in the New York State court system. She makes her home in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

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