Coffee On The Trail | A Father Son Backpacking Trip To Isle Royale National Park

After five months of pandemic quarantine our entire family was beyond stir crazy as many of you can probably relate. Our company CEO had just communicated by email that we should be encouraged to use our time off to prepare for a busy and hectic 4th quarter. I took this advice and began preparation for a getaway trip for my son and I to Isle Royale National Park. My  son will head off to college in the fall of 2021 and a chances of a father son trip like this would lessen as he will head off to college, summer jobs, internships, career and eventually family of his own. We both share of love of backpacking, hiking, camping and enjoying nature and Isle Royale is a backpacker's delight as there miles of trails, plenty of wildlife, scenic views and no bears!

After some weather delays in Houghton Michigan our seaplane departure for the island took off on Friday August 21, 2020.

Isle Royale Seaplanes, Hancock, Michigan

Upon arrival in Rock Harbor we met with the Park Service Ranger who covered some safety issues and discussed our planed itinerary. This was important this year as COVID-19 had impacted their staffing and if we encountered a problem they may have challenges trying to get to us.

We geared up and headed to our first destination, Daisy Farm campground. Our plan was to take the Tobin Harbor Trail to the Mount Franklin Trail and then traverse the Greenstone Ridge to descend down to Daisy Farm on the shore of Lake Superior.

As we merged onto the Mt. Franklin trail we encountered a stretch of rock where we lost the footpath. After back tracking we decided to head up the rocky spine however it wasn't long before we realized we had lost the trail. We found ourselves consulting the map, compass and we were still getting a signal from Google maps. Despite this we found ourselves in a marshy area of lakes and bog. Our steps were hazardous as a few times one leg fell deep into water up to our waist. I prayed with my son and reassured him not to panic. We both used our leadership skills to push on and he said to me "Dad let's head to those birch trees. Those trees do not grow in marshy soil" So, we put our plan into action and we found ourselves out of the marsh on higher ground but clearly still off trail. Using our compass we began bushwhacking in the general direction of the Daisy Farm trail which would lead us to the campground. 

The bushwhack was tough, rugged and exhausting. About 1 1/2 hours in we could see a glimpse of a lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior. This was a good sign and I reassured my son. He was growing more weary and our water supply was getting low. I encouraged him to press on. On a couple of occasions we off-loaded our packs and rested for a few minutes. Light was getting dim so we donned our headlights and continued our journey through the rugged pines and rocky undergrowth. At about 9:15 pm we could begin to hear the occasional ringing of a bell. After consulting our map and phone GPS I knew we had to be close to the trail that would lead us into camp. We again encountered some wetlands so I began to lead us down the slope.

Hike from Rock Harbor to Daisy Farm Isle Royale National Park

Eventually at about 9:30 I saw a picnic table. I told me son who was drained and dehydrated "we made it, we made it."  I looked and found a shelter where I his pack off, off his feet, and quickly made it down to the shore where I began to filter water and start rehydrating and restoring our energy.

I knew our off-trail bushwhack had scared my son a bit. So in the morning as I was brewing my coffee I sensed that he was a bit depleted from the ordeal.

Daisy Farm Campground Isle Royale National Park

I asked him if he wanted to stay with our plan to hike the 44 miles to Windigo (the southern terminus of the island) where our seaplane was scheduled to pick us up in five days on Wednesday the 26th, or if he wanted to abort our plans, and head back early from Rock Harbor? I was amazed when he confidently and bravely said "Dad, I want to go to Windigo."   

Both of us were so glad that we carried on. The rest of the trip was amazing. We altered our plans slightly as some fellow backpackers told us that yes, the trail is at times difficult to see on the rocky "spine" of the island.  We opted to make our way to West Chickenbone via Moskey Basin.Here's a favorite photo of my son on day two when we finished lunch at Moskey Basin.

Young Man Backpacking Isle Royale National Park

Every morning started with two cups of coffee. It was a chance to easy my weary body into moving again for the day and enjoy the beautiful sunrises. It also helped warm me up from the chilly Superior nights. While I would have loved to pack my hand grinder and whole bean coffee roasts; I used Starbuck's Instant Coffee as I was trying hard to go "ultralight" on this trip (more on later.)

Coffee on Isle Royale National Park

We enjoyed beautiful scenery during our remaining days on the island. We had a 15 minute encounter with a moose when leaving West Chickenbone. Here's a few more photos of days three through five.

Sunrise from West Chickenbone Campground

Sunrise from West Chickenbone


 Hatchet Lake Campground

Hatchet Lake Isle Royale National Park


One of our daily selfies

Isle Royale National Park

We finally reach our destination at Windigo after our longest day of 11 miles on the trail. We had some weather delays getting off the island as it was rainy and overcast which caused difficulty for the seaplanes as the pilots rely so much on visual navigation.

Washington Harbor, Windigo, Isle Royale National Park

After an eight hour delay our plane finally arrived to take us back to Hancock. Of course, every arrival brings new visitors so as they were offloading they asked us how long we were on the island and if we hiked from Rock Harbor to Windigo? We exchanged some chit chat and while the pilot was loading our backpacks he asked "how long were you on the island again?" I replied "five days" to which he replied "wow, your backs are really light, you did an amazing job of packing" to which my son and I grinned from ear to ear.

Excited to leave Isle Royale National Park

If you've enjoyed this personal blog about our trip to Isle Royale National Park, have a love for coffee in the great outdoors, or have a similar backpacking trip experience to share (whether you lost trail or stayed on) feel free to leave a comment and sign up for our newsletter where we'll share more about our love of coffee, home coffee brewing, or outdoor adventure.

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