Backpack Isle Royale NP's Greenstone Ridge Trail

Windigo Visitors Center, Eagle Harbor Township, Michigan, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Fishing, Photography, Kayaking, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking, Diving

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    35 Miles

Swimming Hole

Hike the backcountry of one of the least visited National Parks and ferry across the largest freshwater lake in the world. From this trip, you'll have the opportunity to scuba dive around the ruins of old shipwrecks and explore the many islands and bays of the park by kayak and canoe.

Isle Royale National Park consists of Isle Royale, a fifty mile long and nine mile wide island in Lake Superior, and about 45 smaller islands around (and within) it. Remote and undeveloped, the shores can be visited by watercraft, but the only way to see the interior is to walk across it. Because the island has only one large predator population (wolves) and one large prey population (moose), it has become the subject of a long term ecological study on predator/prey relationships and is an ideal place to observe these two iconic species.

Getting There
From Minneapolis/St. Paul, take I-35 to Duluth and Scenic Hwy 61 along the north Shore of Lake Superior to Grand Portage on the Canadian Border. From Grand Portage, you can take a ferry to Windigo on the far west side of Isle Royale where you will start your hike. Be sure to book your ferry ride ahead of time through Grand Portage-Isle Royale Transportation Line and be aware that they only offer service to and from the island two or three times a week, so plan accordingly. There are also ferry ports from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The Hike
From Windigo there are two primary routes across the island. The Minong Ridge follows the north coast of the island about 30 miles one way, ending at Minong Mine where you can catch the ferry back to Grand Portage. However, I suggest taking the longer Greenstone Ridge Trail, which travels along a high ridge in the center of the island offering a more diverse landscape and providing open views and overlooks. The trail will take you through mature birch groves, bogs filled with orchids and other wild flowers, along interior lakes, and up to the treeless greenstone ridge itself.

Depending on how long you have, there are various exit points from the Greenstone Ridge Trail where you can catch the ferry back. The closest is Malone Bay followed by the ports at Daisy Farm, Three Mile, and Rock Harbor. Hiking from Windigo to Rock Harbor is around 45 miles and depending on how ambitious you are, usually takes about a week. It you only have three or four days to hike, catch the ferry at Daisy Farm at mile 35 - you will still get to experience most of what the island offers. I never recommend hiking more than 10 or 12 miles a day on short backpacking trips like this, especially if you are a novice backpacker. It allows you to enjoy the environment and gives you the freedom to relax and take breaks.

Other Ways to Explore
If you have an extra day or just aren't that into backpacking, consider exploring the park by canoe or kayak. Camp on some of the smaller islands, day hike, and check out some of the lighthouses or old copper mines. With ten major shipwrecks throughout the park, scuba diving is become a popular activity. If you plan to go on your own, make sure you get a scuba permit. Be aware that Lake Superior is very cold (usually 35-50º F) and shipwrecks can be dangerous and challenging underwater terrain, so even if you are an experienced diver, consider going with a local outfitter.

On your drive back from Grand Portage, make sure to stop in Grand Marais for dinner and a brew at the Angry Trout or legendary pizza at Sven and Ole's.

Pack List

  • Backpack
  • Hiking Boots
  • Water Bottle and Filter
  • Lightweight stove (fires are generally not allowed)
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Insect Repellent
  • Rain Jacket
  • First Aid Kit - especially for treating blisters
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Overall rating: 

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Having spent a year in the backcountry of the US National Parks, the Greenstone Ridge Trail was the absolute first trail that I trekked across. It was the first 50 miles of what would end up being thousands. The Greenstone Ridge trail set the bar sky high. Daisy Farm in particular will always hold a special place in my heart. Spectacular views, chilling water, unhindered stargazing, and great friends.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

I hiked Isle Royale (we called it Izzle Rizzle) on a 7 day loop with YMCA Camp Menogyn and it was awesome. Absolutely gorgeous views, especially hiking on the many different ridges and looking out over Lake Michigan at the island within Isle Royale which is fucking badass. It's a doughnut and I approve

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

This is a big island and as such it takes a lot of time to see the whole island. I spent 4 days there and only saw the western half of the island with highlights at Lane Cove, Daisy Farms, Mt. Ojibway, and Rock Harbor. My group did a loop hike but the above review does a good job of discussing the ferry options that are available on the island that allow for hikers to travel longer distances without having to worry about hiking all the way back to where they started from.

over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

Here's some more helpful information: Isle Royale is actually in Michigan (in fact, it's Michigan's only National Park), though if you want to hike the Minong Trail, taking the ferry from Minnesota is your best bet. But there's lots to discover about the island besides the Minong Trail! The Greenstone Ridge is another great hike — but be warned, seven miles on Isle Royale is like 14 miles on most other trails. The terrain is rocky and unsteady, and has chewed up many of an experienced hikers' feet. Rock Harbor is the main campground and visitor's center on the island — in fact, there's even a lodge there for visitors who don't want to spend the night in a tent (or in one of the lovely shelters built at a number of the island's campgrounds). You won't be able to get a phone signal on the island, and the lodge's wireless (reserved for guests) is spotty at best. Also, while the ferry service is fairly reliable, we ended up staying an extra day on the island when there were gale force winds that kept the boats from running (we were happy to have the delay to explore even more of the island!). As of this writing (Aug. 2015) there are only likely two wolves left on the island. The National Park Service is currently studying whether it will intervene and bring more wolves back or just let nature take its course. That being said, when we backpacked there last month, we could hear the wolves howling at night (the animals are very reclusive, so it's a rare, RARE treat if you actually see a wolf!). We also saw a moose, walking right through the middle of the Rock Harbor campground early one morning! I love Isle Royale and can't wait to go back, but next time I'll bring my kayak (as I imagine I might still be healing from the blisters I received last time I was on the island)!

over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

Joe Whitson Explorer

Minnesota Native. Check me out on Instagram: @joewhitson and feel free to shoot me an email if you want to talk more about things to do in Minnesota:

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