A Lifetime of Exploration

Michigan Travel Ideas photographer Aaron Peterson might be visiting Isle Royale National Park on assignment, but that doesn’t stop him from soaking up rugged scenery, paddling in the clear blue waters of Superior and hiking the web of trails covering the park’s interior. Aaron explores the park often, but this time, he sees it in a whole new way.

I’m making my fourth trip to Isle Royale National Park, but today is the first time I’ve arrived by plane. My aerial view allows me to watch the lush, green island materialize from foggy Lake Superior. I can’t believe how close this remote slice of Michigan is to Canada! The towering hills of Thunder Bay, Ontario, loom about 15 miles beyond the island.

I’m flying with Royale Air Service; they operate daily seaplane flights between Houghton and Isle Royale. We fly over freighters and the sun-dazzled whitecaps of Superior on our 30-minute flight. The plane banks and descends into the sheltered waters of Tobin Harbor on Isle Royale’s northeast tip. We made it.

All of my previous visits to the park have been by ferry from Copper Harbor. Traveling by ferry is affordable, and you can bring canoes and kayaks, but flying by seaplane? It’s just plain cool! The views are amazing. Plus, you get there in a fraction of the time (30 minutes versus 3 hours.) 

I’m traveling light on the seaplane (max baggage = 50 pounds) with one camera body, two lenses and basic video gear in a camera backpack that also holds a change of clothes and emergency rations (beef jerky!). Friends are bringing a canoe, sea kayak, camping equipment and the rest of my photo gear on the ferry.

We meet up on land to tackle the hiking portion of the shoot. Our focus is the gorgeous Stoll Trail near Rock Harbor Lodge. We finish up quickly, and load up the canoe and kayak. We’re headed through the island maze in Tobin Harbor. Our paddling journey takes us along the shoreline near Blake Point, we see some of the most spectacularly jagged islands and channels on Isle Royale, which I shot for the magazine.

My assignment complete, I pause to reflect. I have yet to find a place—anywhere—that is as good for both paddling and hiking as Isle Royale. Even if you hike every trail in the entire park, you still only see a sliver of what’s there. With so much of the island accessible by water only, Isle Royale offers a lifetime of exploration.

Freelance writer and photographer Aaron Peterson lives and works in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is thankful for this region’s clean air and water, plus the elbow room to raise down-to-earth, outdoorsy kids.