“A very challenging hike that provides some of the most stunning views available on Isle Royale.”
— Aaron Levine
Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Spring · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife · Commonly Backpacked
Isle Royale National Park is closed from November 1 through April 15.
The Minong Ridge is typically traveled from east to west. This allows for a lighter pack on the trail, especially on the later, more strenuous segments. Visitors are also treated to the most spectacular views on the later days. For an added challenge, hikers could begin in Windigo and head towards McCargoe Cove.
Segment 1: McCargoe Cove - Todd Harbor: 6.7 miles
McCargoe Cove Camp: This is a larger campsite, and is very popular with boaters. Try to arrive here early in the day so you can get a good location. The tent sites are good distance above the cabins, and quite secluded. The shelters here are very well positioned to provide great views of the cove. There is also a communal fire ring available near the water.
Trail Details: The journey out of McCargoe Cove is quite strenuous, but once you are up on the ridge, the trail is not too difficult. Much of the path leads through forested areas, and is well marked and easy to follow. There are segments on the exposed rock ridges marked by cairns. Some of the ridges have some challenging climbs. At the .8 mile mark, you come to a spur to the Minong Mine. This is one of the largest mining site on the island and is worth exploring. Budget some time here to explore the area. There is also some shelter at the mine if the weather is bad.
Todd Harbor Camp: There is only one shelter here, so if you are anxious to have access to it arrive early! There are some very nice tent sites here, close to the water. The Pittsburgh and Isle Royale Mine is a short journey from the camp site. This is a good spot to explore once you have made camp.
Segment 2: Todd Harbor - Little Todd Harbor: 6.7 miles
Trail Details: This segment is fairly easy. There are a few short challenging climbs, but the day is not too strenuous. The descent into Little Todd Harbor is quite steep. The trail crosses some marshy lowlands on the approach to Little Todd Harbor. Be prepared for soggy socks! There is also a very challenging log crossing. Trekking poles are a near necessity here.
Little Todd Harbor Camp: This is a beautiful, secluded campsite. There are only 4 sites here, but they are all good, with easy access to the harbor. This is a great place for a swim/shower/laundry! Sunsets here are famously beautiful.
Segment 3: Little Todd Harbor - North Lake Desor: 5.7 miles
Trail Details: This day is shorter, but the demand is significantly higher. Do not under-estimate the challenge of this short day. There are several sections of tough ascents with technical scrambling. This segment also provides some of the first great views of Isle Royale and Lake Superior from the ridge.
North Lake Desor Camp: This is another nice, very secluded campsite. There are three tent sites. It is possible to spot a moose from your lakeside campsite.
Segment 4: North Lake Desor - to Washington Creek Campground / Windigo Ferry: 12 miles
Trail Details: This long stretch makes for a big day on the trails, but with a net descent making the going a bit easier. That being said, the trail does have quite a few ups and downs so don't expect this section to be easy. Some of the uphills to the ridges are steep, and there are some sections where the trail can be a bit overgrown. The views from the high points are very scenic though so you'll be rewarded for your efforts. The trail eventually ends near the Washington Creek Campground. You can choose to spend another night here or take a ferry back to the mainland.
Flora & Fauna
Wildflowers and plants grow in abundance. There are hundreds of unique species of fungi and lichen on the island and many are seen along the trail.
Almost all of the lakes support a pair or two of loons. (REMINDER: Loons are very territorial, and do not like to be too close to humans. Respect their space, and enjoy them from a distance!)
You can also see the ever-present red squirrels, some rabbits, moose, bald eagles, foxes, and ducks.
There are many species of fish on the inland lakes, but there are no fish in Lake Desor, so keep that in mind if you are planning on fishing for food.