On day three, we packed up and hit the trail early for the return trip to the Three-Mile Campground on Isle Royale’s southern coast. Refreshed for the steep ascent out of Lane Cove, we soon reached the trail junction and took the short spur trail up to the summit of Mount Franklin. From there we had fantastic views of Thunder Bay, Canada, some 15 miles across the lake. The trail junction also offered good views of the south side of the island.
I found quite a few newly ripened thimbleberries to snack on. Hector was afraid to try them at first, but when we saw how much I enjoyed them, he did sample a few. All along the trail I spotted blueberries, too, and stopped frequently to gather as many as I could to supplement our meager backpacker diet with some fresh fruit.
We made it to camp in time to grab a shelter and have lunch, then left our packs behind to explore the coastal and inland trails in a more leisurely fashion. Hector in particular enjoyed walking without a pack, and he had a hard time deciding which trail he liked better — the coastal Rock Harbor trail or the lovely forested Tobin Harbor trail. In addition to great hiking, one could easily spend a full day paddling in the calm, protected waters of Tobin Harbor, checking out several small islands and miles of shoreline. We regretted not bringing our kayaks with us on the ferry out of fear that Lake Superior waters would be too rough for our inflatables to handle. And it’s too bad we couldn’t spend one extra day on the island exploring some of the protected coves and harbors in rented kayaks.
On day four we got our usual early start and hiked back along the Tobin Harbor Trail to Rock Harbor, where we would spend our final night at the campground near the ferry dock. Very few other hikers were on the trail that early, but as the relative civilization of Rock Harbor neared, we began to see clean and fresh-looking people who obviously had either just arrived by seaplane or on the morning boat from Copper Harbor, or were staying at the Rock Harbor Lodge. Like our fellow grubby backpackers, we were just glad to have access to flush toilets and sinks instead of the foul-smelling pit toilets in the backcountry campgrounds, and to get a decent meal at the Greenstone Grill after three days of freeze-dried food.
Our final hike, once again without our packs, took us out to Scoville Point. According to one ranger, Backpacker Magazine has rated this one of the top 100 trails in the country. We found that it indeed merited such a rating. Following the south shore, the trail weaves through forest of spruce, fir, aspen and birch, eventually popping out to the rocky shores of Lake Superior.
The peninsula juts out between Tobin Harbor and Lake Superior and overlooks tiny islands, some of which are forested and others that are bare rock home to gulls and other seabirds. After enjoying the views from the point, we looped back on the inland side in welcome shade on this warm and sunny July afternoon. Unbelievably, the trail also was absent any mosquitoes as we hiked along Tobin Harbor.
The following morning, our return trip to Houghton on the Ranger III was even smoother sailing than our trip out to Isle Royale. In fact, luck was with us during our entire stay, weather-wise — no clouds and no wind, with the perfect temperature for hiking and sleeping outdoors.
We both enjoyed the scenic beauty of Isle Royale’s coastline and forests, with ripe blueberries and thimbleberries along the trail as a nice bonus. Despite seeing no moose, we did see plenty of birds and experienced a true feeling of wilderness.
However, due to the first-come, first-served camping system, each day we rushed through our hikes to get to the next campground rather than taking our time to rest and enjoy the scenery as much as we would have liked. My recommendation for those who are not big backpackers anyway would be to stay several days at the Rock Harbor Lodge — perhaps taking the faster ferry from Copper Harbor to maximize time on the island — and enjoy some of the best the east side of the island has to offer via day hikes and kayaking in the coves. Of course, we experienced just the tiniest slice of this 894-square-mile park, and even though we didn’t live like kings during our visit, we found this out-of-the-way jewel to be out of this world.