The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Luckily, as a midwesterner, the shores of Lake Superior are not too far away from me. The culture and landscapes of these lakeside destinations are very different from the landlocked communities that surround me. We found our trip to the Apostle Islands to be full of nature, history, and the nautical charm you would expect along the Atlantic ocean. Oh, and the cool breeze coming off the lake is very refreshing indeed!
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About the Apostle Islands
The Apostle Islands are a chain of 22 islands on Wisconsin's Lake Superior. All but one island (Madeline Island) is considered part of the National Lakeshore. There is a good chance you have seen pictures of this iconic destination. The red rock cliffs and sea caves are stunning all year round. The Apostle Islands are a popular destination for those seeking adventure, natural recreation, and the charm of the midwest.
Did you know? Black Bears can swim, and because of this, they can be found on any of the Apostle Islands at any given time. However, they are most commonly found on Stockton, Sand and Oak Islands.
Bayfield - Gateway to the Apostle Islands
The best way to gain access to the Apostle Islands is through Bayfield, Wisconsin. Bayfield is an adorable town situated on the northern tip of western Wisconsin. Their streets are lined with quaint shops full of local art, homemade ice cream and candy shops. Possibly, more importantly, Bayfield is where you will find your unique means to explore the islands, whether that is a narrated boat tour or by kayak. Maybe you prefer to sail or even scuba dive. Whatever path you decide to take, Bayfield is where you will want to start.
Ways to Explore the Apostle Islands
Here is a list of some of many great ways to experience the Apostle Islands. There are enough activities to keep you busy here for days. When you only have one day to visit, narrowing down this list can be tough…
• Go camping (overnight camping allowed on several islands)
• Take a guided kayak tour or rent your own
• Choose from several narrated boat tours
• Discover historical shipwreck sites
• Scuba dive the wrecks and more
• Guided lighthouse tours
• Experience the sea caves
• Explore the ice caves (during certain winters only)
• Go for a hike
• Take a water taxi
• Go island hopping
• Book a fishing charter
• Take a personalized power boat tour
• Charter a sailboat
• Learn to sail (several day excursion)
• Rent a boat
• Ferry to Madeline Island
Apostle Island Cruises
We unfortunately only had one day to explore the Apostle Islands so tackling that entire list of excursions was out of the question. Also, I was traveling with my parents, so my options were a little limited. We decided to go on the Grand Tour through Apostle Island Cruises. This 3-hour cruise was a lot of fun! The narration was excellent, very educational without being dry or dull.
The Grand Tour covers 55 miles and is their most popular tour. You get the chance to view lighthouses, a quarry site, and the magnificent sea caves. The scenery is beautiful throughout the entire trip. Typically, you have the opportunity to see each of the islands (even if from far away). However, fires in nearby Canada made for poor visibility, and we didn't get the chance to view them all.
Travel Tip: Even in the summer the breeze coming off Lake Superior can be a little bit chilly. You might want to consider bringing a sweatshirt on this tour. Also, there was a decent amount of spray from the boat at times. I loved the natural facial mist - my mother did not.
Dining in Bayfield, Wisconsin
There were many restaurants to choose from in Bayfield. Most had great outdoor seating options and even rooftop decks! I found great vegetarian options, and my parents appreciated some freshly caught fish. If you enjoy a good beer, I highly recommend a pour from the New Glarus Brewing Company. This local Wisconsin beer is only available within the state, so scouting it out is an essential part of any trip here.
Take the Ferry To Madeline Island
After lunch, we decided to ferry over to Madeline Island to explore for the remainder of the day. Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle Islands. It is the only island that allows development and therefore is not included as part of the National Lakeshore.
The ferry to Madeline Island takes about 20-25 minutes. You can easily take your own vehicle over as well. The ferry frequently runs during the summer – check out their schedule for exact times.
Best Things to Do on Madeline Island
Once we arrived at Madeline Island, we were impressed by how cute this island is. It definitely has that vacation vibe to it! We slowly made our way to Big Bay State Park. This park offers excellent options for swimming and hiking as well as camping, picnicking and fishing. We decided to check out the beach first. We walked along the shore with our feet in the water, and it felt great! While the water might be a little too cold for me to swim in, that wasn't stopping the several families that were enjoying the beach that day.
Big Bay State Park has 7 miles of trail. We hopped on the section of nature trail located near the beach. We hiked through beautifully lush forest bursting with ferns. We then walked along the cliffs with gorgeous views of the lake. We noticed a small footpath off of the main trail and decided to follow. We then found a rope hanging off the edge. We took turns climbing down the steep slope onto the rocks below. From here we watched some boats go by and enjoyed the sounds of the waves. The view was great! It is hard to believe you are not looking out on the ocean. The Great Lakes are massive bodies of water.
The trails were in great condition, and we ran into very few people during our hike. We would have loved to stay longer, but we needed to catch the next ferry off Madeline Island.
Sunset at the Apostle Islands
We ended our day with an ice cream cone each as we slowly meandered our way back to the car. We still had a decent drive back to our lodging and plans to hit the road early the next morning for a trip up Minnesota's North Shore. The Apostle Islands were a wonderful introduction to the beauty of Lake Superior. I am so glad we had the opportunity to explore around the many islands and can't wait for a chance to go back.
Inspiration - The Apostle Islands
Despite all the grandeur of the Apostle Islands, I found myself admiring many of the tiny things found along the way. I loved hiking through the forest with all the little forest floor plants. The teeny mosses, fairytale-like mushrooms, and delicate ferns. The forest floor was covered in a miniature version of its self! After experiencing all of the plant life, I had to watercolor some leaves.
Cheers! To sea caves & cute plants!
Freelance Graphic Designer
This trip took place during the summer of 2018. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.