The first part of my road trip journey around the Midwest Great Lakes had been more about driving, re-adjusting, and re-planning on the go, but now I woke up at four in the morning in my Duluth hotel to prepare and set off to my first scheduled destination, Isle Royale National Park. Because of the early start, I was going to have to miss the included hotel breakfast amenity, but my lunch was already set. Before starting on journey, I had made and wrapped in plastic bags five sandwiches, which I placed in a small ice chest with five apples and diet sodas. I put the ice chest in the trunk with a small tote bag filled with five cookie packs, providing me with five simple lunches to save time and money on the trip. On the first two days of my journey, a rest area stop and a fuel stop were the locations of my first two lunches, but now I realized, after going over the boat schedule for the Isle Royale visit, that I had inadvertently and properly prepared the only option I would have for lunch on the island. I started driving up a state route to Grand Portage, the boat departure location to the national park.
Grand Portage was a small town, and the boat was docked against a singular short wooden pier next to a small wooden office cabin and extending from a small grass and gravel lakefront lot with ill-defined parking strips. The cars of my fellow passengers pretty much filled the small lot, and the captain with his two crew members gave us a short safety presentation before checking us on board. I took a seat on the outside of the cabin, holding my lunch tote bag and camera tightly in preparation of a rolling journey. After an hour and a half on the water, the boat came up along the southwest corner of the island where the captain pointed out a hundreds-of-years old ancient tree that had survived on the tight rocky coast. The island’s forest stretched tightly against the shoreline, barely providing any sort of beach area. The boat then headed into the Washington Harbor inlet within the island’s southwest tip to a short pier next to the visitor check-in center named Windigo. After covering my entrance fee and getting input from one of the park rangers, I decided to hike a small trail up to an overlook on the southern part of the island. I only had a few hours to explore before the boat return check-in, so it seemed to be the best choice. Even though the island has a decent population of moose and wolves, I did not come across any of these creatures, perhaps luckily. However, the trail was tight within the vibrant forest, forcing me into a balancing act of a walk in many sections. The colorful assortment of small red, white, and blue berries gave a natural American tone to the flora. At the overlook, I could just barely see over the trees a small pond on a small open grass field. I enjoyed my lunch, stashed the trash in my tote bag, and hiked back down the trail to the visitor center, taking some beautiful camera shots. Because of the isolation of the island, the rangers requested that visitors avoid using waste receptacles near the visitor center, taking trash back to the mainland for disposal, due to the meager schedule of waste pickup service at the island from the mainland. I made it back in time for the boat departure check-in, and I and my fellow passenger were given a close view of the lighthouse just beyond the harbor on our way back to Grand Portage.
As we were informed, Isle Royale National Park is the least visited national park in the lower forty-eight states, but it was very obvious why. With only a few low passenger boat transportation options to the island and a very short summer visitation season, Isle Royale is one of the hardest national parks to visit. The only other option a potential park visitor has beyond the small commercial group of transportation boats is some type of personal access to a lake boat or sea plane to take one to the island. I truly lucked out in getting that last seat available on the commercial transport to be able to visit a remarkable national park.
Once I made it back to my hotel in Duluth, I realized that I would need to find another hotel for the next night after I made my trip to Voyageurs National Park. I went online in my hotel room and lucked out again as a motel just a few blocks away had one open room available for the following night. At the same time, due to nearly missing out on Isle Royale, I went online to check out the boat tour schedule two days away for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and was able to book one of the last remaining seats on the second Grand Tour boat. The next morning, I finally enjoyed the breakfast amenity I had missed the day before and then checked out of the hotel before heading northwest towards Voyageurs National Park.
My original idea was to head to the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center around the southwest corner of the park for the possibility of a lake boat tour, but I had just discovered that this option was not currently available, so I headed to the Ash River entrance and visitor center along the south central side of the park. This location provided several hiking trails and overlook spots at its location along a tight section of Kabetogama Lake. The park ranger at the visitor center gave me the best trail options in the area and suggested I also check out the lake overlook behind the visitor center. In a calming moment, when I walked up to the overlook, I found five young woman stretched out on the rocky overlook, reading in their relaxed state, while a few motor and sail boats enjoyed the waters below. It was a relaxing state for me as well. On one of the other trails recommended to me, I reached an overlook viewing a large pond created by dams made by beavers in the park. Basically, my visits to Voyageurs and Isle Royale had provided me with a new perspective on the forest and lake environment of the Midwest. I enjoyed my next tote bag lunch on the last trail head, and then headed back to Duluth to check in to the second hotel, so I could plan for the next phase of my trip, after which I could claim that I have been in all fifty states in the US.
To be continued…