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Backpack Isle Royale 'Eastern Half' Loop

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan



60 miles

Route Type



Added by Jacqueline H

A great loop of just under 60 miles that takes you across a large portion of (mostly) the eastern side of the island! Each campground destination is unique and is a great way to see a lot of what Isle Royale has to offer. Make sure you plan all food and water accordingly, as you'll need to carry 8-days worth with you.

My boyfriend and I did this loop in August of 2018. This was our first trip to Isle Royale, and we planned out this specific loop based on our previous hiking experiences, as well as to try and see a lot of different areas of the island in the limited time frame we had. The weather was fantastic except for 1-2 nights of a little rain, and not much trouble from bugs (I honestly don't remember any at all). 

Here is our daily route with some added details and tips from what we experienced! Additionally, we would always wake up relatively early and be out of our site as early as possible (but without rushing). For most days we would make it to our destination around or just after lunchtime, and so would only take one or two snack breaks during our hikes to avoid unpacking and re-packing our lunches on the trail.

DAY 1 - Rock Harbor to Moskey Basin (~11 miles) 

Arrive to Rock Harbor the earlier the better. We chose to take the Seaplane from Houghton since it got us there quickly and we were able to start our first day early. Make sure you stop at the camp store to get stove fuel if you take the Seaplane since you aren't allowed to carry it on there. Fill up your water containers at the spigot on the backside of the store building, and then head off for Moskey Basin! If it isn't feasible to make it all the way to Moskey, then stopping at Daisy Farm is good second choice (we almost did). This will cause a repeat of a campground later (not a bad one to repeat though, but it gets busy there) and also makes for a longer second day of hiking. We got to Moskey relatively late (around like 3 or 4pm) and had to double up at a campsite with 2 other guys. It worked out totally fine, but Moskey is popular so it can definitely fill up. We went into the lake to 'shower' (which for us is just jumping in, trying to wipe all the sweat off, and running out!) which I highly recommend at any campground near Lake Superior, and then made dinner.

DAY 2 - Moskey Basin to Chippewa Harbor (~6.5 miles)

Getting an early start out of Moskey is advantageous if you are hoping to get a shelter at Chippewa Harbor. There are only 4 available, and people can stay there for up to 3-nights in a row. This was our favorite place that we stayed. We used the first shelter out of the trail as it gave a great view of the harbor. Again we jumped and rinsed off in the lake near the dock, and then walked around and found this old schoolhouse/one-room structure that is just a short hike away from the dock and tent sites. We didn't know much about it, but one other gentleman who was staying solo at a shelter said that way before families in the fishery business used to send their kids there. So it's something cool to investigate if you feel like it.

DAY 3 - Chippewa Harbor to W. Chickenbone (~8 miles)

Head back out the same way from Chippewa Harbor to head for Chickenbone Lake. You do have to cross the Greenstone here but going down into W. Chickenbone isn't too bad (except for you know what you have to climb out of there the next morning). Be aware of algae blooms here at this lake, too. There were no warning signs when we camped, so we filtered water and boiled it for dinner and used it just fine, except to find out when we finished our loop back at Rock Harbor that a warning against filtering/using water at Chickenbone Lake had been given starting the day we camped there... but we didn't have any issues! *knock on wood*. We stayed at one of the only tent sites right next to the lake. It's one of the first ones you pass once you make it down the ridge and it is close to one of the pit-toilets as well. If you have to wade in the lake to get water, be weary of leaches that that will be quick to get attached. Camping here was a great experience due to a loon that called (tremolo'd) throughout the afternoon and evening. We could see it swimming around the lake, too. It did continue to make a long, drawn out monotonous call a little through the night, but it all just added to the experience.

DAY 4 - W. Chickenbone to Todd Harbor via the Greenstone Ridge (~12 miles)

We decided to take the 'long way' to Todd Harbor to avoid back-tracking out the same trail the next day, and to spend some time on the infamous Greenstone Ridge! Hiking back out of W. Chickenbone onto the ridge was definitely not as bad as I expected (since it's a pretty short climb). Then once on the Greenstone it seemed quite thick with a lot of tree cover for a while until all of a sudden you can see clear to Canada. It's definitely worth taking the longer route. Our ridge experience was pretty wet since a lot of the plant leaves encroaching onto the trail are very wet in the morning due to the dew, and needless to say my hiking pants were soaked from the waist/hips down for the majority of the hike (since I was leading). We stopped for a quick lunch at Hatchet Lake, and quickly continued on the rest of the way to Todd Harbor to try and get a shelter. Unfortunately for us, Todd Harbor is another popular site and all of the shelters were taken, but we did end up with a nice and secluded tent site. Definitely recommend rinsing off the sweat in Lake Superior here as well, the water is pretty cold in the harbor, but was 100% worth it after not 'showering' at W. Chickenbone. 

DAY 5 - Todd Harbor to McCargoe Cove (~7 miles)

From Todd Harbor to McCargoe you get to hike along the Minong Ridge which I've heard for some people is their favorite trail, or for some is intimidating since it's not the easiest of terrain. We didn't have any issues, but kept our routine of packing up early, keeping a quick pace, and made good time to McCargoe Cove to get a great shelter that was up and off of the main hiking trail. McCargoe is another great campground that we enjoyed, mainly because it's right off the Lake Superior. We rinsed off in the water and there were a couple guys fishing off the end of the dock. 

DAY 6 - McCargoe Cove to Daisy Farm (~8 miles)

Heading for Daisy Farm we went up and crossed the Greenstone by E. Chickenbone (again to avoid some trails we had already done), and then added a little extra distance on the Greenstone by going to the Mount Ojibway lookout tower. Our weather was a little cloudy, but we had made very good time and were happy to get a good vantage point from the middle of the island. I would recommend this extra stop if the weather is nice and you're still feeling good hiking. Daisy Farm is quite large, but can be a busy due to its proximity to Rock Harbor, so getting there early is beneficial. And, out of all of the secluded and quiet places we stayed, how we ended up seeing our first moose at Daisy Farm I have no idea. But we had been waiting and hoping to see one the whole trip, and were obviously ecstatic and a little dumbfounded to hear that there was a bull moose just a little ways up the trail from us near the camp pit-toilets.

DAY 7 - Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor (~7 miles)

It's the last day of hiking, and shelters/tent sites at Rock Harbor only have a 1-night stay limit, so head out early to beat the boats and Seaplane bringing over more visitors! It definitely feels good to get back to a little more of 'civilization' after staying at so many different spots on the island. We made it in time to get a shelter, and then headed for the camp store in Rock Harbor to grab some extra snacks for the last lunch we had packed. We added on some more miles of hiking by taking an afternoon 'stroll' out to Scoville Point. I highly recommend this! It's an easy trail and the views at the end are amazing. No one else was out there when we went, either. After we walked back we got take-out burgers from a small restaurant near the harbor and then sat at a picnic table with some Isle Royale inspired *beverages* from Keweenaw Brewing to celebrate successfully completing our loop.

DAY 8 - Leaving Rock Harbor

Make sure you book your travel to accommodate for anything you want to stay and do that afternoon, or get a mid-morning Seaplane flight out (like we did) so that you can sleep in a little bit, eat breakfast, and then pack up and go. If you have extra time, exploring Tobin Harbor is on my list for our next visit.

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