Isle Royale National Park

History: How Isle Royale Was Formed

©2006 National Park Services Exposed bedrock at Pickerel Cove was laid bare by receding glaciers, which left  parallel ridges across the island.

In Isle Royale National Park, you are truly in the forest primeval. A long ridge extends along the length of the island; its landscape has been complicated by eons of geological upheaval and sculpting by glaciers.

Isle Royale was born as glacial ice withdrew during the last Pleistocene ice age 10,000 years ago. The island's high ridges rose above the great basin that eventually would become Lake Superior, and glacier-scoured gouges in the barren rock became the island's lakes. 

Wind and water forged a lovely coastline punctuated by numerous inlets and quiet little coves. Soon the first migrants, including mosses, lichens, and wind- and bird-borne seeds, arrived and found little nooks and crannies in which to begin the arduous work of building soil and vegetation.

Animals also found their way to the island, and a unique ecosystem began evolving. Moose, the island's largest inhabitants, are believed to have swam over from the mainland or were perhaps brought by humans. Wolves, the island's most famous residents, crossed the ice in the 1940s during a particularly cold winter when lake ice permitted such a passage.

History of Isle Royale: Inhabitants and Exploration

Humans probably came to Isle Royale about 4,500 years ago. There are more than 1,000 small copper mining pits scattered around the island, some of them dating to around 2500 B.C. Canadian and American Indians would canoe to this remote island of woods, lakes, streams, and ponds to dig for copper from which they made tools, jewelry, and cookware.

European explorers first visited Isle Royale more than 200 years ago. Since the late 1950s, scientists have used the island's isolated ecosystem as a natural laboratory in which to study the relationship between wolf as predator and moose as prey. In recent years, however, the wolf population has dropped significantly, and scientists are not sure why.

With its hiking, kayaking, camping, historical sites, and access to unspoiled wilderness, Isle Royale National Park offers diversions aplenty for the outdoors enthusiast.

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