The Best National Park in Wisconsin

December 16th, 2022  |  Apostle Islands National Lakeshore | Lake Superior Wisconsin


I admit my bias up front, with apologies to the other amazing sites managed by the National Park Service here in Wisconsin.

National Parks are one of America's most successful ideas, protecting and preserving important landscapes for the enjoyment of current and future generations. These protected areas are home to many rare and endangered species, as well as important habitats for a wide range of plants and animals. Additionally, national parks provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and the promotion of a healthy and active lifestyle. They also have cultural and historical significance, as many of them contain important historical and archaeological sites. It goes without saying: national parks play a crucial role in the conservation of the country's natural and cultural heritage.

sea cave porthole sunrise with blue skies on stockton island apostle islands


Lake Superior sunrise from a porthole sea cave on Stockton Island in the Apostles.


Today, however, we're going to talk specifically about my personal favorite National Park, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore here in northern Wisconsin. The Apostles are a group of 21 islands located on beautiful Lake Superior, just off the coast of Bayfield, Wisconsin in the United States. The Apostles are known for their natural beauty, diverse wildlife, including bald eagles, ospreys, and black bears, and cultural and historical significance. Visitors can enjoy activities such as hiking, camping, boating, and kayaking, as well as exploring the islands' rich history and cultural heritage. The waters surrounding the islands are also home to several shipwrecks, making them a popular destination for scuba divers.

sunset reflections in a wave pool at west landing on devil's island in the apostle islands


Soft evening clouds reflect in a wave pool at West Landing on Devil's Island in the Apostles.


The islands were named after the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ by French missionaries in the 17th century. Yes, there are actually 22 islands, including Madeline Island, so who knows what the missionaries were thinking. The Apostle Islands were designated as a National Lakeshore by the United States Congress in 1970. The National Lakeshore proper includes 21 of the islands (excluding Madeline Island), as well as the adjacent waters of Lake Superior and a small portion of the mainland. The National Park Service administers the National Lakeshore, which is managed to protect the islands' natural and cultural resources while providing opportunities for public enjoyment and recreation. The National Lakeshore was officially dedicated on September 15, 1976, a day which should be a national holiday imo. But I digress.

The Apostle Islands have a rich history that dates back thousands of years. The Native American Ojibwe tribes lived on and around the islands for hundreds of years before European settlers arrived. The Ojibwe hunted, fished, and gathered wild rice on and around the islands. Madeline Island, in particular, has cultural significance for the Ojibwe even today.

French traders arrived on the islands in the 1600s, and quickly established fur trading outposts along the route that would come to be known as the Voyageurs Highway. Logging camps followed in the mid-1800s, and lumbermen began harvesting the abundant white pine forests. The logging industry was the main source of income among the islands for many years. There remain pockets of virgin, untouched old-growth timber on several of the islands today. Outer and Raspberry both have stands of gigantic White Pine.

Commercial fishing in the Apostles is an industry that has thrived since the advent of railways. There are several types of commercial fishing that take place in the Apostle Islands. One of the most common is gillnetting, which involves using a net with small mesh size to catch fish by the gills. Gillnetting is often used to target lake trout, whitefish, and herring in the waters around the islands.

The economic impact of commercial fishing in the Apostle Islands is significant. Fish caught in the area are sold to markets and restaurants both locally and nationally, providing a source of income for the local community. In addition, the tourism industry in the Apostle Islands benefits from the popularity of recreational fishing, with many tourists visiting the area specifically to try their luck at catching one of the many species of fish found in the waters around the islands.

Despite the many changes that have occurred on the islands over the years, the Apostle Islands remain a unique and beautiful destination today that offers something for everyone.

A sea stack on Stockton Island in the Apostle Islands with bright sun star in sky


A picture perfect day spent paddling the coastline of Stockton Island in the Apostle Islands revealed this stunning scene.


There are several ways to see the Apostle Islands. The most popular way is to take a boat tour, which offers the opportunity to see the islands from the water and visit some of the more popular destinations. You can also explore the islands on your own by kayak or boat, provided you take the necessary precautions and have the required skills. Many of the islands also have hiking trails, and several have campgrounds where you can spend the night. The beaches on the islands are popular for swimming in the summer months, and the waters are also a haven for both commercial and recreational fishermen. You can also visit the mainland portion of the National Lakeshore, which boasts visitor centers, hiking trails, and other amenities.

amazing ice arch with frozen sea stack on stockton island in the apostle islands national lakeshore on lake superior


An incredible ice arch discovered during a winter excursion into the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior along the frozen coastline of Stockton Island.


Whether you're a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or simply looking for a peaceful getaway, the Apostle Islands have something for everyone. Here are a few things to do while visiting the islands:

sandstone sea cave with underwater structure in clear green water on devil's island in the apostle islands


Devil’s Island sea cave in subtle morning light, on a warm and sunny summer day in the Apostle Islands.


The Apostle Islands are home to a number of historic lighthouses, which were used to guide ships through the treacherous waters of Lake Superior long before modern marine navigation was available.

The Sand Island lighthouse in the Apostle Islands was built in 1881. The Lighthouse was built using sandstone quarried right there on Sand Island, and is considered one of the most strikingly beautiful lighthouses on all of Lake Superior. It stands 44 feet tall and is still in operation today, albeit automated since 1921, like all the other lighthouses.

Another popular lighthouse on the Apostle Islands is the Raspberry Island Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built in 1862 but didn't begin operating until the summer of 1863. It is one of the lighthouses on the islands that is open to the public, with Park Rangers providing interpretive tours. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse to enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area.

The Devils Island Lighthouse
is another notable lighthouse on the Apostle Islands. This lighthouse was built in 1891 and is located on the remote Devil's Island, the furthest northern point in all of Wisconsin. It is an 82' tall steel structure built to withstand the the gales of Lake Superior. Devil's Island is the only lighthouse in the Apostles to retain its original Fresnel lens, and was also the last lighthouse in the Apostles to be fully automated in 1978.

The lighthouses on the Apostle Islands are not only important for their historical value, but also for their beauty. They offer breathtaking views of the surrounding islands and waters and are a popular destination for photographers and history buffs alike.

devil's island lighthouse with red light illuminated and the milky way rising over it in dark night skies


Brilliant late season Milky Way over the Devil's Island lighthouse in the Apostle Islands.


One of the most popular and well known attractions in the Apostles are the Mainland Sea Caves, located near Meyers Beach which is roughly 18 miles from Bayfield, Wisconsin. These caves were formed by waves eroding the sandstone cliffs, and can be explored by kayak or on foot along the mainland hiking trail during the summer months. In the winter months, the Mainland Sea Caves are transformed into the world famous Apostle Islands Ice Caves.

Easily the best and most popular way to explore the sea caves is by kayak, as it allows visitors to get up close and personal with the caves and the surrounding scenery. It is important to note, however, that the sea caves can be dangerous to explore, as the water can be rough and the caves themselves can be slippery and treacherous. As such, it is recommended that only experienced kayakers or those accompanied by a guide attempt to explore the sea caves.

Despite the risks, the sea caves are well worth the effort to visit. The caves themselves are a sight to behold, with their tall, narrow openings and winding passages that lead to hidden chambers. The water in the caves is crystal clear, and the light that filters in through the openings often creates a magical, ethereal atmosphere.

sunset through a porthole ice cave at the mainland ice caves in the apostle islands


A December canoe trip, while dodging icebergs, to the Mainland Ice Caves revealed this gorgeous scene at sunset.


The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a beautiful and unique destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you are looking to explore the natural beauty of the islands, learn about the area's rich cultural history, or simply relax on the beach, the Apostle Islands have something for you.

Questions about any and all things Apostle Islands? DM me on Instagram.


Posted in How-To, Scenic.