Isle Royale National Park
Existing outside of Michigan’s system of underwater preserves, Isle Royale holds a special place in Michigan’s inventory of diving resources as a National Park administered by the National Park Service. It is more than 45 miles long and 9 miles wide and the largest island in Lake Superior. Geologically, it is formed by rock formations lying on edge creating a complex tangle of island outcroppings and rocky shoals that have formed traps for passing ships.
Most Isle Royale dive sites are only accessible by boat. The National Park Service places buoys on many of the wreck sites. Several dive charters provide services to the island. There are no dive shops or air stations on the island. The use of portable dive compressors is restricted as to hours. You should familiarize yourself with National Park Service rules before planning a dive trip or use a dive charter licensed by the National Park Service.
Because it is a national park, divers planning to dive at Isle Royale will need to register with the National Park Service. Details can be found at the Isle Royale section of NPS.gov. In addition to registration information, lists of licensed dive charters and descriptions of dive sites can be found there.
In addition to scuba diving, Isle Royale offers abundant outdoor opportunities for camping, sightseeing, wildlife observation, hiking and the like. More details on those activities can also be found at NPS.gov.
Shipwrecks & Dive Sites
|Wreck Name & Year Lost||Depth||GPS/LAT/LON|
|Algoma (1885)||10′ to 80′?||N 48° 06.431 W 088° 32.335|
|America (1928)||2′ to 80′||N 47° 53.628 W 089° 13.345|
|Chisholm – engine (1898)||115′ to 155′||N 47° 51.450 W 089° 19.796|
|Chisholm – hull (1898)||20′ to 60′||N 47° 51.459 W 089° 19.679|
|Chester A. Congdon – bow (1918)||70′ to 110′||N 48° 11.559 W 088° 30.815|
|Chester A. Congdon – stern (1918)||20′ to 220′||N 48° 11.620 W 088° 30.881|
|George A. Cox (1933)||100′||N 47° 51.460 W 088° 30.881|
|Cumberland (1877)||20′ to 80′||N 47° 51.465 W 089° 19.650|
|Emperor – stern (1947)||100′ to 170′||N 48° 12.018 W 088° 29.606|
|Emperor – bow (1947)||25′ to 60′||N 48° 12.003 W 088° 29.525|
|Glenlyon (1924)||15′ to 60′||N 47° 57.178 W 088° 44.824|
|Kamloops – bow||240′ to 260′||N 48° 05.121 W 088° 46.031|
|Kamloops – stern||180′ to 260′||N 48° 05.118 W 088° 46.000|
|Monarch (1906)||10′ to 80′||N 48° 11.334 W 088° 25.957|
|Tug in Five Finger Bay||10′ to 17′||N 48° 09.325 W 088° 31.303|
Among the best shipwreck dives in the Isle Royale National Park are:
This steel freighter was built in 1910 and was lost in June 1947 when she ran aground on a rocky reef off Isle Royale. She was a 525 footer owned by the Canadian Steamships Line. She sank quickly with the bow resting in 25 to 60 feet of water and the stern settling into deeper water. Most divers approach her as two dives with less experienced divers focusing on the shallower bow area. More experienced divers can explore the stern at 100 to 170 feet. The ice has damaged the shallow portions of the wreck and the pilothouse is gone. However, anchors and much of her deck equipment remain to be explored in her forward section. Her stern includes her rudder and propeller, engine room and numerous cabins.
The Congdon was launched in 1907 and ran afoul of rocks on Isle Royale during a November storm in 1918. She was off course when she ran up on Canoe Rocks at the North end of the island. The 532 foot steel bulk freighter broke apart as the storm continued. The bow portion including the pilothouse broke off cleanly and now resides upright in 70 to 110 feet of water. The remainder of the ship settled into much deeper water on the opposite side of the reef. This is an excellent dive for intermediate divers who can explore the decks, open pilothouse and mast.
Lost near the Rock of Ages Lighthouse, the Cumberland was 204 feet long and built in 1871. She sank in 1877 and her remains lie in 20 – 80 feet of water. The wreckage is broken and scattered with portions of her wooden hull, side-wheel and boiler in the debris field.
Launched in 1898, the America was a 182 foot long passenger and package freighter that spent her life servicing the Isle Royale community by providing transportation to the mainland, mail and provisions. On her first run of the 1928 season, she was under the command of an inexperienced first mate when she struck a rocky reef off Port Washington at the south end of Isle Royale. In an attempt to intentionally ground her, she was run hard aground just offshore. Subsequent efforts to salvage the wreck failed for technical or financial reasons. Starting in the 1950’s, the wreck became popular with sport divers because of her close proximity to Port Washington and her depth ranging from the bow nearly at the surface to the stern at 80 feet. Ice damage is evident to a depth of 30 feet but much of the America’s deck gear including her windlass remains. The engine room is remarkably intact with its piping, engine and other equipment. The boilers did not explode in the sinking and are intact. Crew quarters and numerous cabins can be reached and examined.
This shallow wreck lies in 15 to 60 feet of water. The Glenlyon was a bulk freighter built in 1893 and lost in 1924 by grounding on rocky shoals. Because of its shallow depth, the wreck’s remains lie scattered about the reef. Some larger pieces including the propeller, engine and boilers are open for inspection.
George M. Cox
The passenger steamer George M. Cox was lost when she ran aground at Rock of Ages Lighthouse in 1933 on her foggy maiden voyage for her new owner. A very dramatic photo exists showing her run up hard aground with the bow high above the lake. Built in 1901 and 259 feet long, she was not salvaged and eventually the weather and rocks claimed her. Today she rests in water 40 to 100 feet deep with her wreckage scattered. Her machinery, equipment, propeller, and steel plates are visible on the bottom.
This Canadian package freighter went missing in 1927 and her loss remains somewhat clouded in mystery. It is believed that at least one of her lifeboats reached shore. Bodies of crew members were found on Isle Royale the following year leading to the conclusion that she was lost somewhere near the island. This led to years of searching for the wreck in the vicinity of Isle Royale. Her hull was finally located in 1977 by sport divers searching for her. She was a fairly new freighter when lost having been launched in 1924 as a canaller at 250 feet long. The ship now lies on its side in deep water ranging from 180 – 260 feet deep, well outside the limits for recreational divers. The reason for her loss is unclear. Based on a survey using a submersible, a report by the National Park Service suggested that the ship’s engine may have broken down and was being repaired. According to this theory, snow or ice may have built up on her topside and, coupled with a strong northwestern storm, caused her to capsize. Because of the circumstances of her loss and her extreme depth, the wreck is a very well preserved time capsule with much for qualified divers to explore.