Northlandia: There's no such thing as Moose Boulder on Isle Royale. This mom and son went there to prove it

The viral social media posts claiming it's "the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake in the world" are wrong.

A man and woman take a selfie in a canoe
Roger Dickey and his mom, Ellie Talburtt, land on Ryan Island in Isle Royale National Park to prove Moose Boulder doesn't exist.
Contributed / Roger Dickey

ISLE ROYALE, Mich. — Maybe you’ve seen this post circulating on social media: “Isle Royale, the largest island on Lake Superior has a lake which has an island which has a pond which has a boulder. So the boulder becomes the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake in the world.”

Sometimes a photo accompanies the viral post, with an arrow pointing to a rock surrounded by water. That, the posts claim, is Moose Boulder, the supposed Russian nesting doll of islands.

Postcard aerial scene of Duluth
This is Northlandia: a place to bring your curiosity, because you will find curiosities. In this series, the News Tribune celebrates the region's distinctive people, places and history. Discover the extraordinary stories that you just might miss if you're not in the right place, at the right time, ready to step off the beaten path with no rush to return.
Adelie Bergstrom / Duluth News Tribune

Well, the posts are wrong. Moose Boulder doesn’t exist.

Roger Dickey and his mom, Ellie Talburtt, can prove it.

In August 2019, the duo traveled to Isle Royale National Park to try to see Moose Boulder for themselves. And while there is a lake inside Isle Royale — several, in fact — and there are islands within those lakes, there’s not a pond on those islands with a boulder in it.


The fact-finding journey began when Talburtt shared an article on Atlas Obscura, a website devoted to odd travel destinations, about Moose Boulder.

“I did all this research and just really went down the rabbit hole,” Dickey, of San Francisco, said in an interview with the News Tribune last week.

The myth of Moose Boulder had proliferated by then. In addition to the Atlas Obscura piece, the Wikipedia page for Isle Royale’s Siskiwit Lake presented the myth as fact. And high-profile social media accounts had spread those posts, including the U.S. Coast Guard Great Lakes Facebook page.

Dickey’s sleuthing was detailed in a March 2020 Atlas Obscura article , and the site acknowledged its earlier error and removed the erroneous report on Moose Boulder.

He contacted some of the Wikipedia editors who had added mentions of Moose Boulder to the online encyclopedia. One said their source was the book “Superior Wilderness: Isle Royale National Park” by Napier Shelton. But Dickey told Atlas Obscura that he ordered the book and it did not mention the boulder.

Ryan Island in Isle Royale.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

He even tracked down the source of that picture purporting to be Moose Rock. While it was taken on Isle Royale, it was just a rock protruding from Lake Superior near the island’s south shore. The photo was taken by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on a research trip to the park, Dickey told Atlas Obscura.

But he also found the supposed location of the Moose Boulder: Ryan Island, which is a real island in Isle Royale’s Lake Siskiwit.

So even though he had confirmed Moose Boulder was a myth, he wanted to see its location for himself.


“In the process of doing all that research, I kind of fell in love with the park and the idea of going out there and taking the trip with my mom and at least making it to Ryan Island,” Dickey told the News Tribune.

Talburtt, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, enthusiastically agreed to join him. After all, she had emailed him that article about Moose Boulder, sending him down the rabbit hole.

“This was really something quite unusual, and he was the perfect person to go with,” Tallburtt told the News Tribune.

She just didn’t want to camp while on Isle Royale.

The two took a seaplane from Houghton, Michigan, to Isle Royale’s Rock Harbor, on the northeast end of the island, where they stayed in the lodge.

Then a water taxi ferried them and a rented canoe from Rock Harbor to Malone Bay, an over-20-mile boat ride along Isle Royale’s southeast shore.

A woman poses for a photo while in a canoe on a lake
Ellie Talburtt paddles on Siskiwit Lake en route to Ryan Island in Isle Royale National Park.
Contributed / Roger Dickey

Front there, they portaged to Siskiwit Lake and paddled to Ryan Island, the supposed home of Moose Boulder.

“We made a couple of landings on Ryan Island," Dickey said. "I think we made at least two landings on different sides of the island. We circled the island.


“I went on the island and hiked around a little bit, looking to see if I could find Moose Pond, which has Moose Boulder in it,” Dickey said. “Did not find anything. At that point, we had found the source of the hoax online so we kind of knew that it was fake but figured we’d go anyway."

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Having confirmed no Moose Pond or Moose Boulder existed, the mother-son team now needed to return to Rock Harbor.

The plan was to make the round trip all in one day, but the water taxi to take them to Malone Bay in the morning was delayed by about three hours.

After some more paddling through two more lakes and a few more portages, including a 3-mile-long portage, they reached Moskey Basin, which was still a 10-mile paddle to Rock Harbor Lodge on a somewhat protected stretch of Lake Superior.

But it was getting dark. So they left their canoe at Moskey Basin and tried to hike back. They figured they could get a water taxi the next day and pick up their canoe.

Hiking by headlamp, they passed through a rock outcropping and couldn't find where the trail restarted.

A selfie of a man and woman wearing headlamps in the dark
Roger Dickey and his mom, Ellie Talburtt, lost at night on Isle Royale.
Contributed / Roger Dickey

“I mean, we got lost is basically the long story short of it. … We did a lot of bushwhacking,” Talburtt said. “It was amazing. We actually walked 19 miles and didn’t get back to the hotel.”

Eventually, they found where a park ranger was staying. They woke him up and he let them borrow a tent for the night. The next day, the ranger hailed them and their canoe a water taxi back to Rock Harbor Lodge.


Talburtt’s condition of not camping on the trip was broken, but that didn’t matter.

“I was so proud that we did it and of all the people to go with was Roger. Neither of us looked at our watches, neither of us freaked out, neither of us got mad. We were both patient,” Talburtt said. “It was just really fun.”

“I was a little more terrified than that,” Dickey said.

Back on the mainland, Dickey had photos from the trip disproving the Moose Boulder myth. He debated whether to share the photos and his story, but he ultimately did.

It’s tempered the spread of those incorrect social media posts a bit, but they still circulate every now and again.

“The legend of Moose Boulder was so much fun,” Dickey said. “It’s more fun for people to think that’s real than not.”

The Duluth high school closed in 2011. STC Building plans to redevelop the site into a mixed-use development.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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