Where to find them and how to get there
When many people think of the Apostle Islands, their first thoughts include visions of incredible sea caves, mind-blowing sandstone formations, historic lighthouses, and during the winter - the world famous ice caves of Lake Superior. The spectacular beaches found on many of the islands are somehow often overlooked.
I'm here to fix that today, so let's go discover the best beaches in the Apostles and put them on your must-visit list this summer.
Peak fall colors and a warm, sandy beach in October. Oh, and a happy Yellow Dog. What's not to love?
First things first - getting there
We may as well have this conversation right up front: you're going to need water transportation to reach any of the beaches in the Apostles that we'll be talking about here. Yes, you can take your private boat if you've got the requisite experience and safety gear to navigate on Lake Superior, which is well known for her mood changes. Same goes for paddling your kayak. First, you'll need an actual sea kayak. No, your SUP isn't going to cut it and neither is the flat bottomed, open kayak you paddle on Grandpa's pond. You'll need big water paddling experience, and solid self-rescue skills before you even consider launching. If none of those things sound appealing to you; no worries. There are a number of water taxis that operate out of Bayfield, Wisconsin and the surrounding area that will take you to any of these beaches and bring you safely home again with none of the stress and worry that can accompany boating on Lake Superior.
A private, deserted beach on Stockton Island. Deserted, except for the little Black Bear that strolled off into the sunset on this evening.
Julian Bay - Stockton Island
With a seemingly endless beach that stretches nearly all the way around Julian Bay proper, this is an easy favorite for more reasons than just the famed "singing sands" that are found here. The isthmus of sand connecting Presque Isle Point in Julian Bay to the rest of the island is a unique geologic feature called a tombolo. It hosts a fascinating variety of sand dunes, a bog / lagoon and pine savannahs. The Julian Bay bog is home to various flora and fauna and, during peak season, a "few" mosquitoes. Ha. You'll also find hiking trails here and plenty of peace and solitude.
Stockton Island hosts a multitude of nearby campsites, so consider making it an extended visit if you go. As is the case for all campsites in the Apostles, reservations are required and are most easily made using the Recreation.gov mobile app.
One note: fires aren't allowed in Julian Bay, so plan accordingly if you had visions of a crackling beach fire and a glass of wine during sunset.
Crystal clear Lake Superior water shimmers under summer sun on Julian Bay
Outer Island Sand Spit
The Outer Island spit is a clear case where the reward is almost always worth the sometimes substantial effort required to visit. Located over 20 miles from the mainland and Bayfield, Outer Island is the furthest and most remote of the Apostles. A successful journey to Outer is never a sure thing - with open exposure to the expanse of Lake Superior, you'll be at the mercy of the wind and waves. But when it all comes together, there's almost nothing that compares to standing alone on the sand spit, far from people and civilization.
Considering the commitment required to reach Outer Island, many people will opt to camp at the campsite located along the spit on the south end of the island. Check this article for insider tips on camping in the Apostles, including everything you need to do while camping on Outer.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the night skies on Outer. If you've never seen the Milky Way shimmer and dance in the perfectly dark night sky in the absence of light pollution, it is life changing.
The Outer island sand spit under a glowing summer sunset
Michigan Island Sand Spit
The ultimate destination for a day-trip, the spit on Michigan Island is absolutely postcard perfect. Long, sweeping sand dunes intersect with the deep, clear waters of Lake Superior to make this another easy favorite. Tie your boat up at the NPS dock near the historic lighthouse(s) and hike ~1 mile along the beach to reach the spit, where you'll have unobstructed views of Stockton and Outer island on the distant horizon. Keep hiking around the bend and you'll find the Michigan Island bog, with nesting Loons and other wildlife.
If you are fortunate enough to stay though the evening, the spit collects more dry driftwood than nearly any other beach in the Apostles. This is a place that seems made for a beach fire as the sun drops toward the western horizon.
August clouds drift lazily across the sky as the warm evening sun illuminates the Michigan Island spit
South Twin Island
Boasting an NPS dock and several stunning campsites, South Twin Island deserves a place on your list of beaches to visit. Remote enough to dissuade all but the hardiest boaters and paddlers, this is another spot that probably needs to be combined with a camping trip to make it worthwhile. You'll find solitude in abundance here as you stroll the spit, warm sand between your toes.
If you camp here, you'll be treated to amazing sunsets from one direction on the beach and equally stunning sunrises from the other. South Twin doesn't have great established hiking trails like many of the other islands, so if you do camp be prepared to either spend your time relaxing and chilling, or know that you'll need to boat or paddle elsewhere for entertainment if passive days aren't your game.
An absolute banger of a sunrise from the South Twin spit
As one of the closest islands to the mainland, Long Island is ideal for an afternoon get-away with miles and miles of sandy beach to be explored. Interestingly, Long Island isn't an island at all today, as it is currently connected to the mainland as a peninsula. Lake Superior has a way of rearranging things as She sees fit, and Long Island has been separated from the mainland by fierce storms only to be rejoined time and time again over the millennia.
This is an island you won't have to fight for elbow room on as you search for your own little piece of private beach - the outside coastline stretches nearly 10 miles from the tip of Long near the lighthouse to the mouth of the Bad River. Note: the beach east of the NPS boundary is controlled by the Bad River Tribe.
There are no hiking trails maintained on Long, and while off trail hiking is fine, beware that Long Island is unique among the Apostles in that Poison Ivy is abundant there.
Toby DeWitt and the Yellow Dog enjoy a summer swim on Long Island
Bonus Round - Bear Island
Yes, I know: "The Five Best Beaches" and here we are with number six. But I feel I'd be doing you a disservice by omitting one of my all-time favorite places in the entire Apostle Islands - Bear Island. While the sand spit on the south end of the island is worthy of all the acclaim it receives, there's a tiny little beach tucked into the NE corner of Bear that has long been a destination of choice for family and friends on warm summer days. The shade trees lining the beach provide a welcome respite from the hot afternoon sun, and there's a great jumping rock located on the rocky point just south of the beach for those who like to swim. For the more daring among you, there's also a natural pool with an underwater tunnel leading out to the lake that can be dove and swam through.
The very definition of idyllic - food on the grill, a decent bottle of wine, and the Regatta rounding Devil's Island in the distance.
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