WHERE TO SEE THE BEST SEA CAVES IN THE APOSTLES
Situated immediately adjacent to the Bayfield peninsula in far northern Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is comprised of 21 islands and an amazing 12 miles of mainland coastline. Madeline Island, the largest and only inhabited island, is not included in the National Lakeshore, although it's definitely worth a visit if you have time to spare.
But we're here to talk about sea caves, so let's get started.
Devil's Island sea cave in subtle morning light
WHAT ARE THE SEA CAVES?
Often referred to as the "Crown Jewels of Lake Superior", the Apostles are a wilderness destination worthy of all the accolades they receive. With endless sandy beaches, rugged sandstone cliffs, historic lighthouses, and sea caves, it's easy to see why visitors are drawn to the area.
And no visit to the Apostles is truly complete without experiencing the famous sea caves. Carved and sculpted over the centuries from sandstone formations by the water, waves and ice of Lake Superior, what remains today are caves, arches, and soaring chambers that are nothing short of spectacular.
The sea caves in the Apostles are dramatically different in summer vs. winter. The warm, red sandstone and crystal clear green waters of summer are transformed into the world renowned Apostle Islands Ice Caves in the winter months.
More on that later!
An impromptu waterfall pours over a sea cave on Outer Island
BEST WAY TO EXPERIENCE THE SEA CAVES
While it's possible to view the mainland sea caves from the Meyers Beach hiking trail that meanders along the cliffs above the caves, those caves (and all the others) really need to be seen and explored from the water.
Luckily, some of the BEST sea caves in the Apostles are also some of the easiest to reach via water (weather permitting). Connect with one of the local kayak outfitters in the Bayfield area for a guided trip to the Mainland Sea Caves that will take you into and through some of the most amazing places in the entire archipelago. Paddle into the famous "crevasse" for an experience that'll blow your mind.
If you have more time and are up for a bigger adventure that includes an open water crossing, book a trip to see the Swallow Point caves on Sand Island. It's generally less crowded and arguably more scenic than the mainland caves, although that could just be my own bias showing. Sand Island also has a lighthouse to visit, and a great hiking trail. And several gorgeous sandy beaches.
The coming sunrise glows on a Sand Island sea cave
DEVIL'S ISLAND SEA CAVES
Hands down, the best and most spectacular sea caves to be found in the Apostles are on Devil's Island. The breadth, variety, and number of caves and sandstone formations on Devil's are simply without compare. It is a reward that requires some effort, however - these caves aren't reachable via a kayaking day trip. You'll need a power boat to get to Devil's and back in a day. I recommend booking with a charter service that also provides kayaks or SUPs to explore the caves once you reach Devil's Island. Trust me when I say it is worth the effort, as paddling and exploring the sea caves on Devil's is an experience very few people get.
Check this article for a detailed review of exactly how to visit Devil's Island and have an experience you'll never forget.
Sandstone arch illuminated by morning light on Devil's Island
APOSTLE ISLANDS ICE CAVES
No serious discussion of sea caves in the Apostle Islands is complete without mentioning the Mainland Ice Caves of winter. Nearly everyone remembers the year when, thanks in large part to social media, the Apostle Islands Ice Caves became a household name. Thousands and thousands of people from all around the world made the trek along the frozen coastline of Lake Superior to revel in the unbelievably rugged beauty of the caves in winter. It remains a spectacle without compare, as recent winters have not allowed for safe travel across the frozen surface of Lake Superior, resulting in the NPS restricting access.
Someday, hopefully someday soon, we'll get another "real" winter here in Wisconsin and all the stars will align to allow safe access to the caves again.
Until then, everything you need to know about planning your trip to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves can be found right here.
A phenomenal day spent paddling among icebergs at the Mainland Ice Caves
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