Why is Isle Royale Having Difficulty Attracting Visitors?

ISLE ROYALE, Mich. — The National Park Service has released its report on the popularity of America’s National Parks over the last twenty years, and while the visitation rates overall are breaking records, there is one particular park in Michigan that is lacking support.

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Photo by Ray Dumas.

From 1996 to 2015, Isle Royale National Park has seen an average of 18,216 visitors, beating out only two parks in Alaska and one in the American Samoa.

The top five parks for average annual visitors over that period were: Great Smoky Mountains (9.57M), Grand Canyon (4.45M), Yosemite (3.62M), Olympic (3.22M) and Yellowstone (3.16M). In fact, there were 20 national parks that saw annual visitors of over one million, while only nine saw fewer than one hundred thousand.

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Photo by Ray Dumas.

The lack of visitors to Isle Royale is disappointing, but it is not quite shocking. It is a very isolated park, located completely on an island in northern Lake Superior. This isolation, while providing unique opportunities to study wildlife interactions, like the wolves and moose, makes it extremely taxing to reach.

Transportation to the park is also limited. There are four ferries—two operating out of Grand Portage, Minnesota, one operating out of Copper Harbor, Michigan, and one operating from Houghton, Michigan—and a seaplane service. The park has limited hours and seasons of operation as well, only open from mid-April through October.

For overnight trips, the park offers 36 campgrounds, both on the shores and inland. Some provide shelters, but they all provide tent sites and water sources, according to the official website.

To Michiganders who like to get outdoors and experience a pristine wilderness, Isle Royale is the perfect place. Thick with forest and littered with its own inland lakes, the only national park in the state offers guests an experience that epitomizes Pure Michigan.

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