ipl Isle Royale Travelog

Isle Royale Travelog

The History of Isle Royale

The island of Isle Royale has had a long and varied history. The island itself came into being around 1.2 billion years ago in the Precambrian era. Continuous pounding by wind, rain, and glaciers have molded the island into its current configuration, a wilderness measuring 45 miles long by 8.5 miles wide, and covering an area of more than 850 square miles. The island lies some 40 miles north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and 18 miles south of Ontario, Canada in the heart of Lake Superior.

It is estimated that man may have arrived on the island as early as 7000b.c. White explorers, namely French, began to explore the region in the late 17th century in search of copper. They also bestowed upon the island its formal name, Isle Royale. The possible importance of the island as a source for natural resources was not overlooked in 1783 when Benjamin Franklin negotiated the Treaty of Paris, insisting that the island be included in United States territory. Although the island lies closer to the state of Minnesota, Michigan gained control of the island in 1873.

Industry on the island has come in two forms, fishing and mining, both of which have had difficulty in sustaining a livelihood for settlers. While exploration had begun in the late 17th century, real attempts at taking advantage of the island’s resources did not begin in earnest until the 1800’s as fisherman moved into the area in search of trout and white fish. Even so, the life of commercial enterprises on the island were often short-lived due to the remote and rugged characteristics of the island. The American Fur Company began a fishing camp on Belle Isle in 1837. Within 2 years they had opened 7 camps and employed 33 people, only to close down the operation in 1841. Attempts at mining began in 1843 and continued on and off until the end of the 19th century. Minong Mine became the largest mine in the 1870’s and the town was home to approximately 150 workers and their families. In 1875, Isle Royale County was established with the town of Island Mine being the county seat and the Minong settlement being a separate township. Lack of prosperity led to the decline of both the mining and fishing industries, although a small fishing enclave still remains today.

Wildlife is a large part of Isle Royale and one of the main attractions for visitors and researchers. The fluctuating moose and wolf populations have been a source of research and study for years. Other species inhabiting the island include bats, fox, beaver, red squirrels, hares, American toads, several types of frogs, and the western painted turtle. Birds visible and audible on the island include the common loon, various types of geese, ducks and gulls, hawks, eagles, osprey, owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, warblers, wrens, swallows, sparrows, thrushes, and kingfishers.

Additional points of interest for visitors include the trees and plants of the island. Prominent tree species include birch, aspen, spruce and fir. Wood lily, wild prickly rose, Canada dogwood, eastern columbine, wild iris, and thimbleberry are among the many flowering plants visible among the forests of the island.

The island was designated a National Park on April 3, 1940 and designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. Tourism remains the largest industry on the island, which serves as a destination for avid hikers, campers, and kayakers. The island includes more than 165 miles of hiking trails, two visitor centers (Rock Harbor and Windigo) and several campgrounds.


DuFresne, Jim. Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1991.

Larson, Karen. "Wild Archipelago". Cruising World. August 1994: 46.

Isle Royale National Park. National Park Service. 15 October 2001 <http://www.nps.gov/isro>.

Isle Royale Travelog
Conceived and developed by Alexandra Van Doren and Carol Whittaker
Photographs by Alexandra Van Doren
Text by Carol Whittaker and Alexandra Van Doren