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Isle Royale NP: Greenstone Ridge Trail
The Greenstone Ridge, the backbone to Michigan’s unique island national park, is also responsible for the state’s best long; distance hike; the Greenstone Ridge Trail. This is the trail where many hikers first break-in their shoulders hauling their gear and become backpackers for the rest of their lives. This is where many people forgo their cell phones, MP3 players, their cars, and their emails for five days and from then on embrace the wilderness concept. This is where children and their parents head into the woods and discover they can not only live without Coke-Cola and potato chips, but not even miss them.
This trail is a Michigan classic, a beautiful and personally fulfilling hike from one end of our largest island to the other. Every backpacker should hike the Greenstone at least once. Lucky you if you get to experience it twice.
Although the trail is rated moderate and is easy to follow, there are eight high points that exceed of 1,300 feet and often knee-bending climbs between them. Experienced hikers in good shape can cover the 40-plus miles in 3 days, but the Greenstone can also be a good trail for beginners if they come with light packs and have 4 or 5 days to walk it.
The Greenstone is technically a 40-mile trail that extends from Lookout Louise near the east end of Isle Royale to Windigo on the west end. Few hikers take the time to arrange boat transportation from Rock Harbor across Tobin Harbor to Hidden Lake, the start of the Lookout Louise Trail. Instead most hikers begin with the Rock Harbor Trail and spend their first night at Three-Mile Campground. The following day they take the Mount Franklin Trail to the Greenstone.
It is debatable which is easier: starting at Rock Harbor or Windigo. The steeper grades are encountered just outside of Windigo, and many hikers prefer to get them over with on the first day. Others like to begin at Rock Harbor and have the rapid walk down Sugar Mountain for the final leg. For most hikers, transportation arrangements determine where they start. Ironically one of the most scenic stretches of the Greenstone – from Lookout Louise to Mount Franklin – is the portion most often skipped. ctivity is banned from the national lakeshore trails.
The Greenstone Ridge Trail is covered in detailed with maps in Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes by Jim DuFresne. To order the 184-page guide to the Greenstone Ridge Trail and the rest of the wilderness island, Click Here.
In the Upper Peninsula, on the way to Isle Royale National Park, the best place to pick up equipment is Downwind Sports which has two stores at 514 N Third St. in Marquette (906-226-7112) and 308 Shelden Ave. in Houghton (906-482-2500). Once on the island, information, maps and backcountry permits can be obtained from the Rock Harbor or Windigo Visitor Centers at the foot of the ferry wharf. There are also small stores at each entry port with limited and very expensive supplies.
Isle Royale National Park opens April 16 and closes on Nov. 1 to all visitors for the winter. All park visitors who plan to camp overnight at campgrounds or cross-country sites are required to obtain a camping permit. This permit can be obtained free of charge at the visitor center at Windigo or Rock Harbor when you arrive or on board Ranger III on the way to the Island. The park has a user fee of $4 per person per day or an annual pass for $50. Advance reservations are not required to obtain a backcountry permit.
The cost of intra-island passage on the Voyageur II depends on where you are picked up and dropped off. Reservation for the ferry are strongly recommended in July and August.
To return to Rock Harbor from Windigo after hiking the Greenstone most backpackers book passage on the Voyageur II. After arriving at Windigo from Minnestoa, the ferry circumnavigates the island clockwise and overnights at Rock Harbor Lodge. The following day, it continues with possible stops at Daisy Farm, Chippewa Harbor Campground, Malone Bay Campground, and Windigo before returning to Grand Portage. The trip not only gets you back to Rock Harbor but provides a view of Isle Royale not seen from the crest of the Greenstone Ridge.
For more information on the Voyageur II contact the Grand Portage – Isle Royale Transportation Line (651-653-5872, 888-746-2305; www.isleroyaleboats.com).
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