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Jonathan Stull | 07.14.2017

We tend to think of islands as resolute and solitary confines well away from the mainland, isolated in the middle of oceans and characterized by sandy beaches and salt in the air. Look at a map of Hawai'i and imagine yourself there, dwelling on a tropical island thousands of miles from the nearest land, and realize that this isn’t always the case. Many of the most enjoyable aspects of an island can be found much closer to land. Sandy shores, the quiet lap of waves, a cool breeze, and relaxation on the water is not exclusively the province of the ocean. In fact, these places can be found in an alpine tarn or along rivers in the West, and the Great Lakes are vast freshwater seas with islands of their own and water that is much easier to drink.

Many of these humble islands are small and make great places to relax after a float or a swim. Some are large, with wilderness preserves, backcountry camping, and hiking opportunities to take advantage of. And others still are highly developed, places to awe over for more than their natural beauty. In whatever case, take a trip by paddle, motor, or swim to one of these inland islands for an adventure that is all on its own.

Oregon and Washington

  • Piety Island in Detroit Lake has campgrounds for an island overnight.
  • Crater Lake National Park has one of the more unique island experiences. Tour the lake via the Crater Lake Boat Tour or tempt the beast and land on a volcano within a volcano at Wizard Island, which offers a summit hike.
  • Sauvie Island on the Willamette River offers numerous opportunities for adventure. Sturgeon Lake has fantastic wildlife and birdwatching, Collins Beach, and the unmarked Warrior Rock Lighthouse Trail, among organic farms and cycling on its paved roads.
  • A kayak trip on Lake Pateros is ideal for exploration and birdwatching.
  • Ross Lake is a sea kayaker’s paradise, and Cougar Island and Little Jerusalem Island are highlights.
  • Tour by kayak the multi-million dollar estates on Mercer Island.


  • Fannette Island in Emerald Bay is Tahoe’s only island, and it features a small building called the Tea Room. Water landings can be a little awkward.
  • Near Tahoe, Island Lake has little islands for swimmers and explorers to check out.


  • Old Dillon Reservoir features many smaller islands, which may be accessible to paddlers and boaters.


  • Backcountry camping is allowed on Frank Island in Yellowstone Lake, and visitors can explore some of the other islands on the lake, including Stevenson Island.

New York

  • The small rock islands of humble Francis Lake can serve as isolated beach hangouts to escape the heat.
  • The island campsites along the Beaver River Canoe Trail offer a unique camping experience and some seclusion.

The Great Lakes

  • The Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan offer much larger islands for hiking and exploring. The island is big enough to allow for two or more days of adventures and includes Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
  • The Apostle Islands on Lake Superior offer both paddling and ice caves.
  • Also in Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is a solitary, carless, 893-square-mile island near the Canadian shore with dive sites, hiking, and backcountry camping.


  • Among the petroglyphs in Dinosaur National Monument, Ford Island sits in the Green River at Island Park and may be accessible by river crossing.


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