Across Isle Royale by Foot

Life on the Trail
Of Wolves and Moose

Wolves and moose have done a lot to popularize Isle Royale as a backcountry destination, but it was not always so. The first reports of moose occurred in the early 1900s, and wolves didn't make it to the island until the late 1940s.

Only one hundred years ago, coyotes, lynx, and caribou were the main large mammals on Isle Royale. The lynx population is thought to have been trapped to extermination prior to the wolves' arrival, and the caribou, last seen around 1927, are believed to have retreated north and farther inland. The fate of the coyote is probably tied with the wolf, as they disappeared only a few years after the wolves' arrival. The smaller red fox still makes its home here, apparently benefiting from the coyotes' absence after the wolves' arrival.


During the day I see signs of life all along the trail. Big life. Moose life. There are tracks cast in mud, clumps of hair, scat, and other indicators visible to the observant hiker. At night I scan the lake for large game and am rewarded when a shadowy figure transforms into a large cow moose. I watch as the great deer slowly wades, alternately drinking and nibbling at vegetation as water streams from its body. I scramble to my pack and try to dig out a camera but it's too late when I return. The moose has moved on and I'm left only with the lake and the memory.

Since arriving on Isle Royale, I have also been keeping a vigilant eye out for the elusive timber wolf. In contrast to the moose, signs of the wolf have been limited to vocal wailings at night.

At daylight, I backtrack along the Indian Portage Trail south to the Greenstone. Here, the trail leads through a pocket of dense woods, skirts a creek, and turns skyward once more on its way toward Mount Siskiwit. It's huff and puff time for the next several miles, with some relief occurring on flat sections. The climb becomes well worth the effort as new views of the surrounding lakes open up. Behind me the sun glints off of Chickenbone Lake and Lake Livermore. To the south are Intermediate Lake and Siskiwit Lake; the latter, at seven miles long and 140 feet deep, is the largest and deepest lake on Isle Royale.

Passing Mount Siskiwit, the path drops into another bog, over a small stream, and up again to the crossing with the Hatchet Lake Trail. Hatchet Lake Campground lies a half mile north along the trail, and I figure it is a good place to set up camp, since the next site is more than eight miles distant.

Throughout my trip I have been living with Isle Royale's infamous blackflies and mosquitoes, which to my dismay view me as a culinary delight. This night, however, I am visited by another insect, one that is perfectly harmless and undeniably beautiful. The giant luna moth often comes into camps, sometimes attaching itself to tents. Its fuzzy green body sports broad, feathery antennae and supports wings that can exceed seven inches in span and end in a pair of graceful swallowtails.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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