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Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park
IUCN category Ib (wilderness area)
An aerial view of Isle Royale
Map showing the location of Isle Royale National Park
Map showing the location of Isle Royale National Park
Location Keweenaw County, Michigan, USA
Nearest city Thunder Bay, Ontario
Area 571,790 acres (231,400 ha)[1]
Established April 3, 1940
Visitors 15,892 (in 2011)[2]
Governing body National Park Service
Detailed map of Isle Royale National Park.

Isle Royale National Park is a U.S. National Park on Isle Royale and adjacent islands in Lake Superior, in the state of Michigan. Isle Royale National Park was established on April 3, 1940; designated as a National Wilderness Area in 1976; and made an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. The park covers 894 square miles (2,320 km2), with 209 square miles (540 km2) above water. At the U.S.-Canada border, it meets the borders of the future Canadian Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area.


  • Geography 1
  • History 2
    • Prehistoric 2.1
    • 19th & 20th centuries 2.2
  • Natural history 3
    • Flora 3.1
    • Fauna 3.2
    • Additional references 3.3
    • Links 3.4
  • Taxonavigation 4
  • Name 5
  • References 6
    • Primary references 6.1


Isle Royale, the largest island in Lake Superior, is over 45 miles (72 km) in length and 9 miles (14 km) wide at its widest point.[3] The park is made up of Isle Royale itself and approximately 400 smaller islands, along with any submerged lands within 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of the surrounding islands (16USC408g).[4]



In older times, large quantities of copper were mined on Isle Royale and the nearby Keweenaw Peninsula by the indigenous peoples. The region is scarred by ancient mine pits and trenches up to 20 feet (6.1 m) deep. Carbon-14 testing of wood remains found in sockets of copper artifacts indicates that they are at least 5700 years old.

In Prehistoric Copper Mining in the Lake Superior Region, published in 1961, Drier and Du Temple estimated that over 1.5 billion pounds (630,400 t) of copper had been mined from the region. However, David Johnson and Susan Martin contend that their estimate was based on exaggerated and inaccurate assumptions.[5][6]

19th & 20th centuries

In the mid-1840s, a report by Douglass Houghton, Michigan's first state geologist, set off a copper boom in the state, and the first modern copper mines were opened on the island.[7] Evidence of the earlier mining efforts was everywhere, in the form of many stone hammers, some copper artifacts, and places where copper had been partially worked out of the rock but left in place. The ancient pits and trenches led to the discovery of many of the copper deposits that were mined in the 19th century.[5]

The island was once the site of a resort community. The fishing industry has declined considerably, but continues at Edisen Fishery. Because numerous small islands surround Isle Royale, ships were once guided through the area by lighthouses at Passage Island, Rock Harbor, Rock of Ages, and Isle Royale Lighthouse on Menagerie Island.

Within the waters of Isle Royale National Park are several shipwrecks. The area’s notoriously harsh weather, dramatic underwater topography, the island’s central location on historic shipping routes, and the cold, fresh water have resulted in largely intact, well preserved wrecks throughout the park. These were documented in the 1980s, with follow up occurring in 2009, by the National Park Service Submerged Resources Center.

Natural history

Tobin Harbor Trail through Laurentian Forest habitat, at sunset.


The predominant habitats of Isle Royal are within the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province. The area is a Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests biome transition zone between the true boreal forest to the north and Big Woods to the south, with characteristics of each. It has areas of both broadleaf and conifer forest cover, and bodies of water ranging from conifer bogs to swamps.[8]

Conifers can include: Jack pines (Pinus banksiana); Black and White spruces (Picea mariana and Picea glauca); Balsam firs (Abies balsamea), and EasternRed junipers (Juniperus virginiana).

Deciduous trees can include: Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides), Bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa), Paper birches (Betula papyrifera), American mountain ash (Sorbus americana), and Red maples (Acer rubrum), Sugar maples (Acer saccharum), and Mountain maples (Acer spicatum).[9][10]


Moose swimming at Isle Royale.

Isle Royale National Park is known for its wolf and moose populations which are studied by scientists investigating predator-prey relationships in a closed environment. This is made easier because Isle Royale has been colonized by roughly just one third of the mainland mammal species, due to it being so remote.[11] In addition, the environment is unique in that it is the only known place where wolves and moose coexist without the presence of bears.[12]

There are usually around 25 wolves and 1000 moose on the island, but the numbers change greatly year to year. In rare years with very hard winters, animals can travel over the frozen lake from the Canadian mainland. To protect the wolves from canine diseases, dogs are not allowed in any part of the park, including the adjacent waters. In the 2006-2007 winter, 385 moose were counted, as well as 21 wolves, in three packs. In spring 2008, 23 wolves and approximately 650 moose were counted.[13]

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