Slice of Paradise

Superior Photos

Specializing in photographing Lake Superior, Craig Blacklock is one of the country’s most distinguished nature photographers, internationally renowned for his inspiring landscapes, nudes and technical virtuosity. Photographer/author of seventeen books, Blacklock is regularly featured in photography magazines such as American Photo, Fine Art Photo and Outdoor Photographer. His original prints hang in museums, private collections, and healthcare facilities throughout the U.S. His background of more than 30 years working in large format is evident in his digital images, with precise, exquisite compositions and hyper-real clarity. Blacklock has taught photography workshops since 1982. He teaches each year at Madeline Island School of the Arts. For a full list of upcoming workshops, visit www.blacklockgallery.com

Events and Transportation

Ferries, Outfitters & More
Apostle Islands Cruises: www.apostleisland.com

Apostle Islands Kayaks (La Pointe): www.apostleislandskayaks.com

Dreamcatcher Sailing Adventures: www.dreamcatcher-sailing.com

Living Adventure Inc. (Bayfield): www.livingadventure.com

Madeline Island Ferry Line: www.madferry.com

Real-Time Wave Reports: www.seacaveswatch.org

Superior Adventures Dive & Kayak Center: www.superioradventures.net

Wilderness Inquiry (Bayfield): www.seakayakapostles.org

Winter Fun
Bayfield Winter Festival: www.bayfieldwinterfestival.com

Mt. Ashwabay Ski & Recreation Area: www.mtashwabay.org

Winter Recreation Report: www.bayfield.org/winter-recreation-report

Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing / Howl Clothing and Adventure:
www.wolfsongadventures.com
www.wolfsongwear.com
www.howlinbayfield.com

Resources

Slice of Paradise

By Heather Steinberger
Winter, spring, summer or fall… Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands and the communities of Madeline Island and Bayfield, Wisconsin, offer year-round activities set against a stunning backdrop of equal parts pristine, sugar-sand beachfront and lush, unspoiled wilderness.

Our multicolored beach towels and assorted sand toys were the only objects marring the unbroken, sweeping crescent of golden sand, shimmering in the warm midsummer sun. Incredibly, no one else from the nearby campground decided to join us, and the day-trippers from the mainland and from the island’s yacht club marina hadn’t yet arrived.

Rimmed by lush, emerald forest and dune grasses, the beach sloped gently to meet the purling, gin-clear sea. Delighted shrieks echoed from water that boasted almost swimming-pool-like temperatures, as my husband tossed our daughter into the air and caught her again with a magnificent splash.

Anyone viewing our joyful little scene would be forgiven for assuming that we were in the Florida Keys or on a Caribbean island. But our sea was an inland one — and not just any inland sea, at that. This was Lake Superior, the celebrated Gitche Gumee, and our little slice of island paradise was Big Bay State Park on Wisconsin’s Madeline Island.

Welcome to the Apostles

Upper Great Lakes destinations run the gamut, from charming coastal towns, to quaint island communities, to stretches of true wilderness that have changed little since the French voyagers first set eyes on them centuries ago. Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands are unique in that they offer all three versions of lakeland nirvana, and they do it in exceptional style. 

This archipelago of 22 islands lies scattered across a whopping 720 square miles of Lake Superior just off northwestern Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula. The former lumbering and fishing village of Bayfield, platted in 1855, is now the gateway to the Apostles and has become a beloved vacation destination in its own right. Madeline Island, the largest and only inhabited island, has a year-round population of nearly 250 people and is a seasonal hotspot for boaters and landlubbers alike.

And then there’s the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, comprising the remaining 21 islands and a 12-mile stretch of mainland coast. This is an unforgettable wilderness of rocky cliffs, sea caves, sandy beaches, verdant temperate and boreal forests, and the clear, unspoiled waters of the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Thanks to the islands’ proximity to one another and to the mainland, and to their numerous protected anchorages, the Apostles have become a premier Great Lakes cruising destination. And, since they are within easy driving distance of the Midwest’s major metro areas, summertime streets in Bayfield, and in La Pointe on Madeline Island, teem with tourists. The national lakeshore’s waterways are dotted with myriad watercraft of every size, shape and design.

The Apostles’ human history reaches back hundreds of years. The islands were home to the predecessors of today’s Native Americans as well as to the modern Ojibwe people, and the Sioux, Huron and Ottawa also may have resided here. 

After European contact, the islands became a significant waypoint for French explorers, fur traders and the Jesuit missionaries. Communities like La Pointe took root as fortified outposts in the late 17th and 18th centuries, a time when Great Britain, France and the then young United States battled for control in the New World. 

Then, in 1855, the Soo Locks opened Lake Superior’s doors to ships from around the world. Everything changed.

Lighthouses and their keepers became essential for protecting mariners, and fishing camps, logging camps, stone quarries and farms arose throughout the islands to take advantage of their abundant natural resources. Communities like Bayfield were established, and a few resorts even found a niche.

While the remains of those original enterprises have since been reclaimed by the wilderness, doors to the Apostles remain open. New generations are discovering the islands each year — only now they are tourists, cruising boaters, anglers, backpackers and kayakers rather than fur-traders, fishermen, lumberjacks, brownstone quarrymen and farmers.

“Best Little Town in the Midwest”

Whether you’re traveling aboard your own cruising boat, hauling your trailerable or simply driving the family car, you’ll want to start your Apostles exploration in the friendly, laid-back waterfront town of Bayfield. If you’re looking to stay minutes from the heart of downtown, the Winfield Inn and Gardens offers accommodations with warm ambiance, gracious hospitality and what some say is the “finest public garden in Wisconsin.”

Located on the edge of a high bluff overlooking Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands National Park, this family-owned and -operated inn is the perfect place to experience this exceptional area.

Winfield Inn also handles the vacation rentals of privately-owned cottages, condos and houses to give you a variety of lodging options.

For those wanting a secluded getaway, Bodin’s Resort is 9 miles south of Bayfield, nestled among majestic pines on Lake Superior’s south shore. This resort, which has been in the same family since 1938, offers cottages, large, sandy beaches, spacious lawns, and a small craft boat launch on site. 

Tie off the docklines or unload bags at your hotel, condo, cottage or campground and hit the streets.

Touring on foot is a pleasure in what’s known as “the Best Little Town in the Midwest,” largely thanks to the Bayfield Historic District. Filled with historic houses-turned-inns, churches, businesses and even a Carnegie Library, visitors will get a sense of what Bayfield was like in the late 19th century, when well-heeled Victorians traded the city heat for genteel hotels and cool lake breezes.

Consider exploring the community with Bayfield Heritage Tours, named one of the Midwest Travel Writers Association’s top tourist attractions in 2005. The organization offers family-friendly historic, ghost and cemetery tours in the afternoons and evenings. If the guides sufficiently whet your appetite, stop at the Bayfield Heritage Center and the Bayfield Maritime Museum to learn more about this 150-year-old community and the colorful cast of characters who called it home.

It’s not all about the past in Bayfield, however. The town has a thriving business district, and it’s easily walkable. Peruse the titles at the independent Apostle Islands Booksellers, choose just the right work of art from one of the many galleries and studios, take an art class at the Bayfield Area Recreation Center, and try on premium outdoor wear at the wilderness outfitters’ shops.

To that end, if you enjoy winter sports, don’t miss the brand-new Howl Clothing and Adventure store in downtown Bayfield. The experts at Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing are behind this exciting enterprise, in which they designed, produced and tested outdoor clothing that would be ideally suited to active winter sports. It’s all locally made with materials such as durable, warm Woolrich Wool, comfortable Malden Mills 300 weight polar and Martexin Original Wax waxed canvas.

Then there are the flavors of Bayfield, and that doesn’t just mean the 20-plus restaurants, pubs and cafes in town. At All Sisters Winery and Bayfield Winery, visitors can sample a selection of wines made from locally grown fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, currents and more.

After all, you are in the “Berry Capital of Wisconsin.” With its proximity to the big lake and its many hills, Bayfield has a microclimate featuring cool temperatures and moist air throughout the growing season. That means this is ground zero for apple and cherry orchards and bumper crops of every type of berry imaginable. Fourteen orchards, berry farms, country stores and markets in the area sell regional fruits, and many have special events throughout the year.

You’ll also have an impressive choice of outdoor activities. Family hiking is a must along the Lake Superior shoreline or the easy Brownstone Trail. More hardcore hikers can tackle the cross-country trail network at Mt. Ashwabay, just 3 miles from Bayfield, or the Meyers Beach Hiking Trail, which takes you past the mainland sea caves to a single campsite that’s 4.5 miles from the trailhead. 

Then there’s golfing at the Apostle Highlands Golf Course, located 500 feet above the lake with outstanding views of Chequamegon Bay, the islands and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; acclaimed performances and productions at the celebrated Big Top Chautauqua; and casino gaming, hearty meals and sweeping views at Legendary Waters Resort & Casino, which opened in August 2011.

The Sacred Island

Madeline Island is a major highlight on anyone’s Apostles travel itinerary. Located just a 25-minute boat ride from Bayfield, the island and its Town of La Pointe are easily accessed by ferry, courtesy of the Madeline Island Ferry Line, or by private boat; if you do cruise to the island, make arrangements to tie up at the Madeline Island Yacht Club and Marina.

MIYC is a full-service marina with transient and seasonal dockage on a space-available basis. The staff provides well-rounded knowledge of the area and is committed to creating an enjoyable experience for all boaters and guests that visit the marina. 

Consider staying overnight, whether it’s on your boat, at the Big Bay State Park or Big Bay Town Park campgrounds, an island inn, or rental cottage.

Now you’re ready to experience one of the most memorable, and mystical, islands in the Upper Midwest. Legends and stories abound about this place, which is considered to be the traditional spiritual center of the Lake Superior Ojibwe people, also known as the Anishinaabe. According to Anishinaabe legend, the Great Spirit Gitche Manitou led the community to the sacred island and to the wild rice beds in Chequamegon Bay. 

Some of the original native people remain in the area, due to the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe that secured permanent reserves for them. The Red Cliff Indian Reservation lies nearby on the mainland, and the Bad River Indian Reservation has a nearly 200-acre “exclave” tract of land on the island’s eastern end.


While you’re here, visit the Madeline Island Museum, play a round of golf on the Robert Trent Jones-designed course at the Madeline Island Golf Club, take a stroll through time at the Madeline Island Heritage Center, and maybe even sign up for a class at the Madeline Island School of the Arts.

Rent bikes or mopeds in La Pointe to explore the island’s quiet lanes, hop into a canoe or kayak to paddle alongside its cliffs and caves, or simply hike through its untrammeled countryside. And, before you go, make sure to check out that sublime crescent beach.

The Wilderness Experience

Although we delighted in Bayfield’s shops and restaurants (particularly Greunke’s First Street Inn) and Madeline Island’s rustic lanes and lovely Big Bay State Park, we also wanted to experience the Apostles’ more primeval side. So we returned to the islands prior to peak fall color, chartering a boat from Sailboats Inc.’s Bayfield base and exploring the islands for three midweek nights. 

The majority of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is wilderness. In fact, 80 percent of it was added to the National Wilderness Preservation System in 2004 under the name Gaylord Nelson Wilderness, Wisconsin’s largest. So there’s much to explore: The famous pink “singing sands” of Julian Bay, Stockton Island’s many hikes and informative visitors center (complete with a stuffed black bear named Skar), the ruins of the old fishing camp on Rocky Island, the archipelago’s six postcard-pretty lighthouses, and, of course, the miles upon miles of pristine hardwood and pine forests, savannas, bogs, sand dunes, tombolos, lagoons, cliffs, and sea caves.

You don’t need to have your own boat, however. National Park Service management allows impressive access to visitors, which means this is a hiker’s paradise as much as it is a boater’s. Ferries from Apostle Islands Cruises carry day-hikers and backpackers to public docks throughout the islands, where more than 50 miles of trails link backcountry camps with countless scenic, historic and educational sites. 

For those who are simply interested in sightseeing, both above and below the water, the cruise operator also offers glass-bottom boat tours to area shipwrecks and a “grand tour” that incorporates Basswood, Hermit, Oak, Otter, Devils, Bear and Raspberry islands. If the glass-bottom boat tour isn’t enough, talk to the folks at Superior Adventures in Bayfield. They offer guided snorkel and scuba trips throughout the islands, with particular emphasis on wrecks and sea caves.

There are plenty of fishing and sailing charters available. For example, with Dreamcatcher Sailing, you can cast off the docklines for a day tour, or sign up for an overnight adventure. If you’d like to learn about sailing and play an active role on board, you may; if you’d rather simply relax and enjoy the outing with friends and family, that’s fine too.

Then there are the kayak outfitters. The Apostles’ sea caves are legendary in paddling circles, and enthusiasts converge on the archipelago from around the country — and even the world — to see how mighty Lake Superior has reshaped the face of the islands.

Nowhere is this more apparent than along the north shore of Devils Island. Here, billion-year-old red sandstone is continually sculpted into massive, interconnected sea caves and soaring pillars. In fact, the island’s interior is a labyrinth of holes — which prompted the Ojibwe to christen it “Evil Spirit Island.” 

It’s not difficult to understand why, especially when sun turns the surreal land- and waterscape a startling reddish-orange, and the surge gurgles ominously in the hidden netherworld. Although Devils Island is a smiling watersports playground on a calm day, avid kayakers would do well to remember that this is a place for the experienced, and the island can show its teeth if the wind shifts.

No Such Thing as an Offseason

Arriving in and touring the Apostle Islands by boat is pure magic, particularly in the early autumn. On our three-day charter, we had anchorages all to ourselves. The savory smells of dinner cooking wafted through the cockpit, we watched the night sky twinkle to life while wrapped in warm blankets, and steaming mugs of coffee greeted each cool, uninterrupted morning. Eventually, however, boating season does end, and the offseason begins.

Except in Bayfield, there is no offseason. As soon as the summer tourists have packed up their sunscreen, flip-flops and beach bags, the leaf-peepers come to frame that perfect photograph, visit the markets overflowing with the year’s bountiful harvest, and join the revelry at the annual Apple Festival.

It’s an innocuous name, but this is a big deal. Each year, roughly 60,000 people arrive on the Bayfield Peninsula to take part in what Wisconsin Trails magazine called “The Best Festival in Wisconsin” and the Society of American Travel Writers proclaimed one of the “Top 10 Autumn Festivals in North America.”

Later, after the annual tree-lighting ceremonies and holiday celebrations, the winter fun gears up. And it gears up in earnest with the annual Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race on February 1-2. Boosters call this a shorter and livelier version of the Iditarod; the event incorporates an eight-dog, 80-mile race and a six-dog, 60-mile race. There’s also a 40-mile Sportsmen’s Race, a 6- to 8-mile Family Race, and a 6- to 8-mile Youth Race for mushers ages 16 and under. 

The Blue Moon Ball, a “prom for adults” at the restored, historic Bayfield Lakeside Pavilion, then takes place on February 8, followed by the Bayfield Winter Festival on March 1-3. A fundraiser for the Bayfield Area Recreation Center and the Mt. Ashwabay Ski and Recreation Area, this extravaganza incorporates a “Freeze Your Glass Off” deck party at the Bayfield Inn, a candlelight walk on the Brownstone Trail with the Bayfield Regional Conservancy, a Polar Bear Plunge into Lake Superior, a “Run on Water” event, and the Mt. Ashwabay WinterDASH and WinterBASH. 

If your wintertime trip won’t coincide with any of these events, however, don’t worry. You’ll still have plenty to do. Just imagine: 100 miles of snowshoeing trails, 130 miles of groomed cross- country skiing trails, 13 runs and a chairlift for downhill skiers and snowboarders at Mt. Ashwabay, dog-sledding expeditions through Wolfsong Adventures, and countless spots to set up an ice-fishing camp. 

Then there’s the “ice road” to Madeline Island, allowing you to drive, ski or hike across the frozen lake; the dazzling, cathedral-like ice caves; and 600 miles of snowmobile trails. That’s not a typo; you have 600 miles of trails to explore here.

So, if you’re thinking you might want to plan a so-called “offseason” Apostle Islands trip as well as that summertime cruise, you’re not alone. As we reflected on our Madeline Island state-park sojourn and our three-day charter through the islands, we realized we’d only had a small taste of what the archipelago and its communities have to offer.

There’s so much more. More miles, more islands, more must-stops, more friendly faces, more views, more events, more adventures… more fun. Always more fun.