WHERE TO SEE PEAK FALL COLORS IN THE APOSTLE ISLANDS
If you've ever visited the Apostles during the summer season and wondered how incredible it might look in autumn during peak fall colors, the answer is - ABSOLUTLEY AMAAAAZING!! Northern Wisconsin, and the Apostle Islands in particular are one of the best places in the entire Midwest to view fall colors.
Let's get to it -
Timing is Everything
*** Fall 2023 Update ***
October 12th, 2023
I managed an overnight on Oak Island this week but didn't get past the inner ring as *wind* happened. Those islands in the inner ring are ready to pop. They are currently at about 15-20% - this will be the week of peak fall colors, so if you are thinking about visiting the Apostles, now is the time.
Although you might expect the opposite, Lake Superior provides a moderating effect on the Apostle Islands in the fall season. While the fall colors on the mainland might peak in late September or early October, the islands, especially in the outer ring, are almost always weeks behind. It takes all summer for the water temperatures on Lake Superior to build and warm up (and that is a relative term), but once it does the water functions as a gigantic heat sink, keeping temperatures in the islands warmer than on the neighboring mainland. All this leads to a later peak color season in the islands than you'd probably guess.
Also, and this is a biggie - for all intents and purposes bug season is over by time leaves begin to change. And as a bonus, you'll likely find far fewer people out and about exploring the Apostles in late autumn when peak fall colors are popping.
1) The Mainland Sea Caves at Meyer's Beach
You won't need a boat or other water transportation to see the colors along the mainland trail at Meyer's Beach (located just off State Highway 13 about 17 miles west of Bayfield), and as such it's a good choice for anyone that's not intimidated by a ~6 mile out-and-back trail. The NPS has made significant improvements to the trail in recent years, adding boardwalk and bridges across some of the steepest ravines.
New this season is a campsite tucked along the trail, which lends perfectly to enjoying the fall season in the Apostles.
And don't worry - you won't need to hike the entire length of the trail to see fall colors or the sea caves, as the first section is less than two miles long and winds through a gorgeous hardwood forest before weaving out towards The Lake and the first of the sea caves, including the famous "Crevasse".
If you're still game and wanting to hike further, the next leg of trail is roughly 1/2 mile long and provides more breathtaking views of the sea caves from various overlooks and outcrops along the coastline.
2) Historic Manitou Island Fish Camp
You'll need water transportation to properly visit the Manitou Island Fish Camp, which has been brilliantly preserved by the NPS, but it's well worth the effort, and during the fall season the hardwood forest bordering the fish camp sets a beautiful scene. The collection of ramshackle outbuildings you'll find there are all that remains of what was once a small transient community of commercial and recreational fishermen eking out an existence in the Apostles.
The net reels, especially, are an interesting glimpse back into the past.
Don't miss out on the fall hiking while you're there - take the short 3/4 mile spur trail over to the south tip of the island where you'll find a beautiful sandy beach, or better yet, the ~ 2 mile trail across to the campsite along the west coastline. There's an ancient stand of hemlock along the trail that has become one of my favorite places in the entirety of the Apostles.
3) Visit Devil's Island
If you're gonna dream, dream big!
The usual and typical difficulties involved in any visit to Devil's Island (see this article I wrote for details on visiting Devil's) are compounded in the fall season, when The Lake seems in a foul mood more often than not. Not surprisingly, this is also what makes any successful journey to Devil's all the more rewarding - when the effort required to make the trip is complimented by good conditions on Lake Superior, you've already won the day.
Fall colors are just the icing on the cake.
While Devil's isn't an island dominated by hardwoods that burst with fall colors like some of the other islands in the Apostles, there are enough hardwoods sprinkled throughout the forest to make a fall visit worthy of a place on your list.
After all, it's Devil's Island for crying out loud.
Once you're there, hike the flat and easy trail from the south end of the island through a spruce bog 1 mile across to the historic lighthouse and keepers quarters, where you'll enjoy spectacular views from above the world famous Devil's Island sea caves. Take the short spur trail over to east landing, and stand in amazement at the delicately layered sandstone at the waters edge. And since you've made the effort to get to Devil's, you may as well take the trail over to west landing and catch the sunset.