Isle Royale National Park
800 East Lakeshore Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931-1869
WELCOME to Isle Royale!
A Superior Wilderness
Isle Royale�s physical isolation and
primitive wilderness challenged human use for centuries; ironically
today it has become the Island�s main attraction.
Accessible only by boat or seaplane,
visitors come to experience this island park through hiking its
trails, paddling its inland waterways, exploring its rugged coast, or
venturing into the depth of its shipwrecks.
The Ranger III, located in
Houghton, Michigan, is the largest ship owned and operated by the
National Park Service. The Ranger III is also the largest ship
which supports and provides transportation services to Isle Royale
Nature and Science - an Overview
In the northwestern portion of powerful
Lake Superior exists a unique and remote island archipelago. Isle
Royale National Park preserves 132,018 acres of land-based wilderness
that was federally designated on October 20, 1976.
The park consists of one large island
surrounded by about 400 smaller islands, it encompasses a total area
of 850 square miles including submerged land which extends 4 1/2 miles
out into the largest fresh water lake in the world. Due to Isle
Royale's biological and ecological uniqueness, it was designated an
International Biosphere Reserve in 1980.
These isolated islands have barely 20
species of mammals compared to over 40 found on the surrounding
mainland. Some species have come and gone, often due to the influences
of humans. The heavily forested shoreline of Isle Royale appears
similar to the mainland�s landscape prior to development. Gulls,
ravens, and an occasional eagle or osprey dot the skies; squirrels,
toads, mice, and spiders move about the forest floor.
The Ecological Study of Wolves on Isle
Royale, now in its 46th year, is the longest running large mammal
predator-prey study on earth. Research has shown that all members of
the Isle Royale wolf population have descended from a single female,
which arrived during the late 1940s.
This intense level of inbreeding has
led to a 50% loss of genetic variability within the population today.
Genetic information suggests that the island�s moose population is
most closely related to moose in northwestern Minnesota�perhaps
challenging the long-held idea that moose swam across the lake to
reach Isle Royale. Did humans bring them here?
A venture by foot, canoe or kayak into
the parks interior can transport one back thousands of years into it�s
prehistoric past. Around 11,000 years ago, 2 miles of ice lay on top
of Isle Royale, pressing it down into the earth and sculpting its
The same ice sheet gave birth to
powerful Lake Superior as well as hundreds of inland lakes, ponds and
bogs. The Greenstone Ridge, which forms the backbone of Isle Royale,
is thought by many geologists to be a portion of the largest lava flow
The Ranger III, one of the most unique ships to
sail the Great Lakes.
Unlike other Isle Royale ferry
services, the Ranger III was designed by the National Park Service
specifically to bridge the gap between the mainland and the Island. It
was built to withstand the Lake�s fierce storms and its ice breaking
capabilities assist in opening the park in the spring.
An experienced nine-member crew take
great pride in not only maintaining the vessel, but in serving its
passengers. The Ranger III�s Captain, Bill Hanrahan, a graduate of
the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, has over 30 years of experience; the
crews combined experience is just under 200 years.
The ship is just a tool for the crew to
use, and as all tools it must be maintained. Major maintenance is
conducted every five years when the ship goes into dry dock.
During this dry docking, the ship
is inspected, cleaned, painted, and upgraded with state-of-the-art
equipment. This inspection is conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and
the American Bureau of Shipping. The Ranger III is then stringently
inspected twice annually by both the U.S. Coast Guard and American
Bureau of Shipping.
Your Isle Royale journey starts at this
vessel�s home port of Houghton, Michigan. The 73 mile journey takes
5 hours. During the first hour of the trip, the ship navigates the
scenic shores of the Keweenaw Waterway, passing under the world�s
largest lift bridge.
Once on the open water, the journey
creates an opportunity to appreciate the size and breadth of the big
lake. This allows visitors to shed the hustle and bustle of everyday
life, preparing them for their wilderness adventure. As Isle Royale
approaches, a picturesque seascape is revealed through the historic
Rock Harbor Lighthouse.
An hour later seafaring ends at your
destination, Rock Harbor; but your backcountry adventure is about to
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