From a distance, Isle Royale looks foreboding to travelers. Boreal forest juts up from dark volcanic lakeshore cliffs—the rock near-vertical and the taiga as thick as the morning fog.

Also known by its Ojibwe name, Minong, it is one of the largest islands in a freshwater lake in the world and far away enough from the mainland that it is not often visible. When I first set eyes on the island 15 years ago while sailing Lake Superior’s northern coast, I knew then, as quickly as I have ever known anything, that I wanted to one day step foot on the shore, run the trails and explore the interior.

Isle Royale is located in the northwest corner of Lake Superior, or Gichigami, which means “great sea.” The island is closer to Canada and Minnesota but is designated as a US national park and wilderness area within the state of Michigan. It is only accessible to visitors by boat or seaplane, and the closest urban areas are three to six hours away by car from each of the ports. Because of its remote location and difficult access, Isle Royale consistently ranks among America’s least visited national parks.

Even so, it’s also said to be the most revisited. Isle Royale “certainly gets a hold on people,” one park service employee told me. After years of wondering about the Isle, I finally went this May. But planning a running trip was full of uncertainties. Few runners visit on any given year, making reliable information scarce.


Read the essay online at Patagonia The Cleanest Line.

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