In the late 1970s, my dad and his friend ventured to Isle Royale National Park for a backpacking trip.
“He asked if I wanted to go to Isle Royale, and I probably said, ‘Sure, what’s that?'” he said.
He quickly learned about — and fell in love with — the 200-square mile island out in Lake Superior.
And for years, he shared stories and photos from that trip with my brother and me — the moose cow and calf standing in the creek outside his tent, endless thimbleberry plants lining the trail, the expansive overlooks of Lake Superior and the island’s inland lakes and the National Park’s remoteness, accessible only by boat or seaplane.
Framed photos from his trip and a map of the island hung on our basement walls.
“We have to go there,” he’d tell us.
So for at least the past decade, the three of us talked about going to the island but could never quite put it on the calendar before school, activities, jobs and other commitments got in the way.
Finally, we blocked off five days and four nights in mid-May this year for the trip so we could backpack the same 30-mile loop taken by my dad and his friend 40 years ago.
I have no clue how we ever ended up settling on mid-May. There might not have been any bugs out yet, but temperatures were low overnight.
We may have had second thoughts as we shivered through the two-hour long ferry ride aboard the Voyageur II from Grand Portage to Isle Royale’s Windigo Visitor Center — one of its first trips to the island this season.
When we arrived on the island, the park ranger welcomed us and the 20 or so other ferry passengers at the dock.
“You guys are pretty much the only people on the island,” she said.
While the weather was comfortable when we were hiking or setting up and tearing down camp, we got cold as soon as we stopped moving. We slept warm-ish, at least on most nights.
The trip proved challenging yet rewarding. Each day’s hikes, ranging from four to 10 miles per day, carried us up and down ridges and through mud and water, all while bogged down by backpacks filled with additional warm clothes and extra food, just in case the ferry’s return trip was delayed by a day or two due to weather.
But the three of us spending time together — rarer now that my brother started college and I started work — and finally seeing places like Feldtmann Lake overlook and Washington Creek that we had heard about for years, made the trip worth it.
Eager to return to the island and share it with more people, I left the island likely feeling similar to how my dad must have felt after his trip 40 years ago, but I also worried that camping in the cold weather might have negatively impacted my dad’s and brother’s experiences.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
“Five days on Isle Royale with my sons was one of the highpoints of my entire life — seriously,” he said after we returned to mainland Minnesota and warmed up.
As for my brother?
“I’d do it again if it’s warmer,” he said.