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17 Top Isle Royale Packing List Items for 2022 + What to Wear & NOT to Bring

What to bring to Isle Royale
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Some travelers like the bright lights and excitement of the city. Others prefer to find a place to get away from it all. If you are seeking a beautiful and remote destination for your next adventure, it would be hard to find a place more suitable than Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale is located 60 miles north of the Upper Michigan Peninsula and 15 miles south of Canada and is the least visited national park in the lower 48 states. It’s the largest island in Lake Superior and one of the largest freshwater islands in the world. Since the entire island is a national park, you won’t find any permanent human residents or busy cities here, but it is home to hundreds of small islands and lakes, 170 miles of uncrowded trails, and a small population of moose and wolves.

In this article, you will find everything you need to pack for a safe and fun adventure to Isle Royale. We have also included information on what to leave at home and common FAQs.

What to Pack for Isle Royale - 17 Essentials

  • 1. Windproof Travel Umbrella

    Part of the mystique of Isle Royale is its ever-changing weather. The frequent tempests keep away the faint of heart. But if you take the time to be prepared, you can enjoy the solitude in comfort. This umbrella provides adequate protection for two people when open, but packs down small enough to easily fit in your daypack.

  • 2. Tent

    There are only two places on the entire island where it’s possible to rent a room or cabin, so in order to really experience the island, you will need to camp out. This lightweight backpacking tent will keep you and one traveling companion protected from the elements at one of Isle Royale’s 36 wilderness-style campgrounds.

  • 3. Cooling Towel

    Between Lake Superior and the many smaller lakes on Isle Royale itself, there are a lot of opportunities for swimming on the island. Since you will have to carry everything yourself, it’s a good idea to take the lightest, most packable towel available. This Hero Supply Cooling Towel is one of the best travel towels on the market, and it comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee.

  • 4. Backpacking Pack

    This is one of the most important items on your packing list. If you plan to trek across the island, you will depend on a reliable pack that can hold all your gear and that’s strong enough for Isle Royale’s extreme conditions. I have used Kelty packs on hundreds of hiking trips over the past two decades and have come to rely on them completely.

  • 5. Portable Charger

    These days, most people bring electronics even to the most remote wilderness destinations. The Anker Powercore 5000 portable charger will keep your phone, tablet, camera, and other electronics charged up when you are far from the nearest power outlet. Its small size will fit in your pocket, but it’ll save the day if your phone runs out of battery at the wrong moment.

  • 6. Packable Daypack

    Once I have set up basecamp, I like to leave my heavy pack in the tent and explore the surrounding area. But it’s not practical to bring two full-sized packs on a backpacking trip. The Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack will hold all the necessities for a day hike in the woods, but packs away into a small carrying case when not in use, so it takes up almost no extra space. I bring mine on almost every trip.

  • 7. Lifestraw Water Bottle

    One of the essentials on any camping trip is some kind of water purifier. With the Lifestraw water bottle, you don’t have to worry about pumping or boiling water, just scoop it up directly from the lake and drink. This bottle makes your water safe to drink without any added chemicals or wasted time, and since it’s a multipurpose item, it saves you space and weight.

  • 8. Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

    Wilderness travel is not without its risks, especially somewhere as remote as Isle Royale. Since there is no reliable cell service on the island, you need a different way to contact the authorities for help if disaster strikes. This personal locator beacon sends out a distress signal via satellite directly to a nearby emergency responder team.

  • 9. Travel Insurance

    Travel insurance is a good idea for any trip, especially when you are traveling to a wilderness area. Like the distress beacon, you hope to never need it, but if you ever do, it could save your life. World Nomads covers all sorts of extreme travel and has been trusted by adventurers all over the world for years.

  • 10. Garmin InReach Messenger

    This is my favorite wilderness communication device. With no cell service and only one wifi hotspot on the island, satellite communication is the only way to go. The Garmin InReach can be used to send text messages to a phone or email, obtain weather data, track your position, speed, or altitude, and even navigate with maps. It also has an SOS button that can serve as a backup to your PLB.

  • 11. Packing Cubes

    There’s nothing worse than having a pack full of disorganized clothing and gear and not being able to find that important item when you need it. I like to use packing cubes to avoid this problem on the road. This set comes with a variety of sizes to organize all your gear and even has two extra laundry bags for dirty clothes.

  • 12. Sleeping Bag

    Nights on Isle Royale can get very cold, especially if you choose to visit in the spring or fall season. That’s why it’s very important to bring a sleeping bag that is suitable for extreme conditions. This Kelty bag is rated down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so it should be more than adequate for the tourist season.

  • 13. Quick-Dry Travel Towel

    When you travel to a wet and windy place like Isle Royale, it’s impossible to bring too many towels. I find it useful to alternate between two so that one has a chance to dry while the other is in use. This towel measures 24 by 48 inches, so it’s perfect for drying off after a quick dip in the icy waters of Lake Superior. Plus it comes with a free hand towel too!

  • 14. Jetboil Stove

    Open fires are rarely allowed on Isle Royale, so it’s best to plan on doing most of your cooking with a camp stove. If you are going for light and efficient, you can’t find anything better than this Jetboil stove. The Jetboil system is designed to direct every bit of heat into the cooking pot, thus saving fuel and boiling water faster than any other camp stove. It’s also incredibly light and packs down perfect for backpacking.

  • 15. Universal Waterproof Phone Case

    Whether you plan to spend your vacation on Isle Royale kayaking, trekking, or scuba diving, chances are high that you will get wet. Protect your phone from damage with this handy and affordable waterproof case. This case protects your phone from water, snow, dust, sand, and dirt and it allows you to dive up to 100 feet below the surface.

  • 16. Headlamp

    If you have ever spent much time outside after dark, you know that one of the most useful items to have in your pocket is a headlamp. Unlike a regular flashlight, a headlamp will allow you to keep your hands free while moving around after dark. I first ordered this light before sailing from California to Hawaii and now I rarely step out of the house without it.

  • 17. Bear Spray

    This item may seem counterintuitive since there aren’t any bears on Isle Royale, but bear spray can be used to protect yourself from a wide variety of creatures. Isle Royale is famous for its local pack of wolves, and there are hundreds of moose who call the island home. If you keep your distance and follow the park rules, it’s unlikely that you will ever have a dangerous encounter with animals here, but just in case, bear spray is your best bet.

What to Wear in Isle Royale

As you pack for Isle Royale, thinking about the weather should be your primary concern. There are no fancy dinners or cocktail parties to think about, just staying warm, dry and comfortable – no matter the conditions.

Once you have a little experience in climates similar to Isle Royale, it’s not hard to dress smart for the elements. You want to start with a warm base layer and then add enough layers to stay insulated from the cold. Finish with a windproof and waterproof shell, and protection from the sun. If you get too hot while hiking or paddling, simply strip off the outer layers until you are dressed for the current temperature.

What should WOMEN wear in Isle Royale? – (Click to expand)

Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).

Wear comfortable base layers to begin with. Dressing in layers is key as the temperature will change from chilly in the morning, to warm in the afternoon, and chilly again in the evening. Athletic shorts and tank tops will be perfect for all of the outdoor activities you’ll be doing throughout the day. Be sure to pack weather-resistant outer layers in case the weather takes a turn for the worst. Comfortable shoes for hiking and water sports are a must.

What should MEN wear in Isle Royale? – (Click to expand)

Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).

Warm base layers will keep you comfortable on chillier days. Be sure to layer up with a good jacket, hat, and wool socks. You’ll be spending most of your time outdoors and being active so be sure to pack good hiking and water sports shoes.

Dressing for the Seasons

SPRING – March, April, May:

Isle Royale National Park officially opens on April 15 each year, so that’s the soonest you will be able to visit the park. Even by mid-April, there is still a good chance of encountering extreme weather and freezing temperatures. Dress for spring with lots of warm layers that are easy to remove as temperatures climb. Don’t forget your sweater, waterproof jacket, and hiking shoes. Keep in mind that average temperatures for this time of year hover between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

SUMMER – June, July, August:

Summer is when Isle Royale is most pleasant, and this is by far the busiest time of the year. While packing for a summer adventure to Isle Royale, it’s logical to bring lots of t-shirts, shorts, sandals, and sun protection. But don’t forget your rain gear and sweaters. Temperatures can drop drastically at any time of year and most people get into trouble with hypothermia in the summer when they least expect it.

The warmest month of the year on Isle Royale is July, with typical highs in the low 70s. June highs hover around 65 and August is just slightly cooler than July, with highs just above 70.

FALL – September, October, November:

After August, temperatures on Isle Royale quickly plummet and by October the average temperatures range between 33 and 49 Fahrenheit. By November, the average low is already down to 21 degrees, but since the island is closed, only the wolves and moose will have to worry about it. If you visit Isle Royale in early fall, prepare for a wide range of conditions, from crisp, sunny days to rainstorms that feel like the monsoon. That means bringing a warm base layer , plenty of sweaters and coats, a waterproof outer shell, and a solid pair of hiking boots.

WINTER – December, January, February:

Isle Royale is closed between November 1st and April 15th every year due to the extreme weather that the island experiences in the wintertime. This isn’t such a bad thing, because most visitors wouldn’t be interested in braving the sub-zero winter lows to make it to the island.

Dressing appropriately for the activity in Isle Royale – (Click to expand)

Hiking:

Most visitors to Isle Royale spend a lot of time hiking. Whenever you hit the trails, make sure to bring a daypack with water, snacks, warm clothes, some type of communication device, and a survival kit. If the weather is warm, I like to wear hiking sandals, otherwise bring a pair of hiking boots, lots of warm layers, hiking pants, and a dependable coat to fight off the cold and rain.

Paddling:

Paddlers on Isle Royale fight a constant battle to keep their gear dry. That’s why it’s so important to pack your gear in waterproof bags. When I take a summer paddle near Isle Royale, I like to wear boating shoes, shorts, a waterproof jacket, and a sunhat. In the spring of fall, take waterproof pants and extra layers.

Camping:

It’s likely that a lot of your time on Isle Royale will be spent around camp. That’s why it’s important to bring clothes that are comfortable both on the trail and back at base. Pack a sturdy pair of comfortable shoes, as well as jeans, a sweater or two, and a rain jacket just in case.

Sailing:

A sailboat is one of the best ways to see Isle Royale since you can bring all the comforts of home along with you. It’s like a floating microhouse that is propelled by the wind. If you go on a sailing trip to Isle Royale, wear sandals or boating shoes, water-resistant pants, and a windproof jacket.

What NOT to Bring to Isle Royale

  • 1.DON'T BRING Heavy Equipment

    There are no cars or roads on Isle Royale, so you’ll have to carry everything yourself. Whether you kayak around the island or hike on the trails, you’ll have to move every pound of weight with your own muscles. So keep your pack as light as possible and leave the unnecessary heavy equipment at home.

  • 2.DON'T TAKE Fragile Electronics

    The humid environment and extreme temperature variation on Isle Royale is a very bad environment for temperamental electronics. Unless it’s designed for extremely rugged conditions or kept in a waterproof case, leave your electronics on the mainland. You’ll have more fun without them anyway.

  • 3.DON'T PACK Unnecessary Clothing

    Fancy suits and extravagant dinner dresses are fun for social events back home, but they won’t last more than a day on the rugged trails of Isle Royale. Dress for the elements and keep your fancy clothes ready to celebrate the trip with friends when you get home.

  • 4.DON'T BRING Wheeled Vehicles

    Isle Royale National Park regulations forbid visitors from bringing any kind of wheeled vehicle to the island, except for wheelchairs. So don’t bring your scooter, bike, skateboard, unicycle, car, or motorcycle – unless you want the rangers to hit you with a heavy fine.

  • 5.DON'T PACK a Laptop

    You’ll be spending your time on Isle Royale trekking, fishing, camping, cooking, paddling and generally having a great time in the outdoors. And since there is only one place on the entire island with wifi, a laptop won’t help you much here. Leave it at home.

  • 6.DON'T BRING Forbidden Products

    Each national park has a list of items that are forbidden in the park. On Isle Royale, visitors are banned from bringing any kind of pets (besides service animals), fireworks, loud radios, drones, and wheeled canoe portaging devices. Also, remember that national parks are federal land, so even though marijuana is legal for recreational use in Michigan, it’s still banned in the national park.

What NOT to Wear in Isle Royale – (Click to expand)

Just like on any wilderness adventure, there is no need to bring your formal attire to Isle Royale. They will only be ruined by the extreme conditions on the island. Also, forget your classic summer beach vacation clothes. Isle Royale has plenty of stunning beaches, but they have more in common with Alaska than Cancun. Think a quick dunk in the icy cold water and a mad dash back to the campfire. Finally, definitely leave your lumberjack outfits at home. The locals in Northern Michigan would rather chat with you about your home city than laugh at you trying to disguise yourself with an absurd outfit.

FAQs About Isle Royale

  • 1. Can I visit Isle Royale in the winter?

    Many fans of winter travel wonder if it’s possible to experience the beauty of Isle Royale in the off-season. Unfortunately, the winter conditions on and around the island become so extreme that the entire park is closed to visitors from November 1st to April 15. I know, it would be amazing to sleep in a cabin on the lake and look out for the aurora borealis. But the park closure in the winter is designed to keep visitors safe.

  • 2. Are there wolves on Isle Royale?

    Isle Royale is famous for its small pack of timber wolves. Historically, there were no wolves on the island, and the only large mammals here were the Canada lynx and the boreal woodland caribou. These mammals were eventually wiped out on the island due to human activities and wolves arrived in the 1950s. It’s unclear if the wolves were introduced or came to the island naturally. When the wolf population drastically declined in recent years, more wolves were introduced from Minnesota.

  • 3. Are there moose on Isle Royale?

    While the wolves are considered a mascot animal for Isle Royale, you are much more likely to encounter one of the many resident moose. Typically, the island is home to around 25 wolves and 1000 moose, although both populations fluctuate year by year. The moose are believed to have arrived on the island between 1905 and 1920. While some people claim that they swam to the island or crossed via a natural ice bridge, most experts believe that they were introduced by humans.

  • 4. How can I get to Isle Royale?

    Isle Royale is serviced by passenger ferries during the summer months – two from Michigan (Copper Harbor and Houghton) and one from Minnesota (Grand Portage). While most visitors come by ferry, it is also possible to get to the island via floatplane or private boat. If you choose to make the crossing on your own vessel, make sure that you and your boat are up to the hazards of the crossing. A passage across Lake Superior can be just as dangerous as any voyage on the open ocean.

  • 5. Do people live permanently on Isle Royale?

    Since Isle Royale is a national park and is closed during the winter months, nobody lives here permanently, although during the tourist season it is temporarily home to a variety of park rangers and service people who work hard to keep the park running. Before the park was created the island was home to a small population of pioneer families, but they were forced to leave with the opening of the park. Today there are only ten small private inholdings that are mostly used for vacation homes.

  • 6. Is there cell or internet service on the Island?

    The only internet access on Isle Royale is for overnight guests of Rock Harbor Lodge. Since there is no reliable cell service on the island, it’s a good idea to bring along some kind of satellite messenger to keep in touch with friends and family.

  • 7. How long does it take to hike across the Island?

    Isle Royale is long and skinny, so in most places you can hike across the island north to south in a day. The most popular trail on the island is the Greenstone Ridge Trail, which runs 40 miles from one end of the island to the other. Most experienced hikers are able to complete the trek in three or four days.

  • 8. What should I do if there is an emergency during my visit?

    With remote campsites, unpredictable weather, lots of wild animals, and few people, it’s easy to get into trouble on Isle Royale. That’s why it’s so important to bring a distress beacon and an alternative mode of calling for help in an emergency. There are rangers stationed at various locations around the island who can come to your assistance in an emergency once you have alerted the authorities.

  • 9. Can I buy food and supplies on Isle Royale?

    The only store on the island is the Windigo Store, a small general store located near the ferry dock on the west end of Isle Royale. This store carries many types of food and supplies, but it’s best to bring most of your own provisions. All food sold on the island must be shipped in from the mainland, so that drives up the cost. However, it’s nice to know the store is there, so you won’t starve if you run low on food.

  • 10. How much time do I need for a proper visit?

    This depends entirely upon what you want to do. Some visitors come on the ferry and stay for only a few hours, although you are unlikely to get a real feel for the island in such a short time. I would recommend three to four days to experience one or two of the campgrounds and hike on a few of the trails. Crossing the length of the island takes most hikers four days, but for the ultimate Isle Royale experience, you can spend two to three weeks circumnavigating the island by trail or paddle.