How to Visit Devil's Island in Wisconsin
DEVIL'S ISLAND IN WISCONSIN
If you’ve been dreaming of a vacation full of adventure and outdoor fun, look no further than the Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin. And if you’re looking for the ultimate Apostle Islands experience, it needs to include a visit to Devil’s Island.
As one of the twenty-one islands that make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, Devil’s Island is the furthest northern point in Wisconsin and is without question one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see. Dramatic sea caves and red sandstone cliffs, majestic arches, sunlight bouncing and reflecting in crystal clear waters, and an historic lighthouse keeping watch over it all.
Sound good? Let's go!!
Another spectacular summer day comes to an end from inside a sea cave on Devil's Island.
HOW DO I GET TO DEVIL’S ISLAND?
There’s only one way, and it’s across the water. You're going to need water transport of some kind.
For those that have a power boat that is a) adequate for Lake Superior and the unpredictable nature of big water, and b) possess the skill, knowledge and safety equipment to skipper a boat on this lake, there are public launches in Bayfield, Red Cliff, and Little Sand Bay that put Devil's within reach. The advantage a private vessel gives you is probably obvious - you'll get to experience all that Devil's Island has to offer at your own pace.
A final word of caution: make sure you check the Marine Forecast for Waters Beyond Five Nautical Miles before venturing out towards Devil's. What can begin as a gorgeous, calm, flat water day can very quickly turn ugly, even dangerous. You'll be a long way from safe harbor if the weather turns on you.
Another great option, if you’re up for a serious challenge and have the requisite skills and equipment - you can kayak out to Devil’s and then explore the sea caves and rugged coastline for an experience few ever get. Considering the distance from the mainland, this is an excursion that is probably best combined with an overnight on one of the other islands. Standard disclaimer applies: Lake Superior is notorious for unpredictable weather, cold water, and fog. Unless you are a VERY experienced big water paddler and have bomb-proof self rescue skills, it’s best to book this trip with a local outfitter.
Easier, safer, but no less fun - book a tour with a private charter boat, some of which bring kayaks and paddle boards along for guests to use once they reach Devil’s Island, and some that will bring your kayak along for the ride. Either way - sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride while cruising through the islands. If the weather cooperates and you're able to paddle the sea caves (all the photos here were made from a kayak) once you arrive at Devil's, it's absolutely an experience that can't be topped. Life changing, even. A charter boat trip also gives you the option to hike across Devil's Island and see the lighthouse, keepers quarters, and other historical items up close and personal. If you're comfortable hiking off-trail, there are several gigantic old-growth White Pine to be found in the depths of the forest. If you haven't guessed - This option is BY FAR the best choice if you want more than the "typical" scenic tour as described below.
While those ^ are all great options for seasoned adventurers, most people who visit Devil’s Island do so aboard a tour boat operated by Apostle Islands Cruises in the beautiful harbor town of Bayfield, Wisconsin. During the narrated Grand Tour, you’ll learn about the history of the Apostle Islands while reveling in the natural beauty that abounds here.
Pro Tip: Take the Evening Grand Tour for a chance to see an amazing Apostle Islands sunset.
Sunlight and sandstone shimmer and sway in the quiet evening waters of Devil's Island.
THE MOST EPIC WAY TO VISIT DEVIL'S ISLAND
I'll start by saying in no way does what I'm about to share imply that I either encourage or condone anyone else to attempt this - it's purely for your reading enjoyment, if you're still following along here on this blog post.
Pull up your chair, get a fresh cup of coffee, and come along for the ride of a lifetime.
DEVIL'S ISLAND OVER THE ICE
The grand prize. The holy grail. Reaching Devil’s Island over the ice had been on my bucket-list of adventures for years and years. There were too many swings and misses to count along the way. Everything, and I mean everything, has to be perfect to attempt it. Ice. Wind. Snow. And all the intangibles that Lake Superior is notorious for.
I won't say I lost hope, but with the winter season being what it is these days and ice coverage on Lake Superior often... lacking, it looked bleak for several years. We sometimes reached other islands across the ice during those years, but all too often we'd watch with excitement and anticipation as an ice bridge would form between Bear and Devil's, or Rocky and Devil's, and then watch as a big wind event blew it all out the next week.
It was discouraging.
But then - it finally happened. One particularly brutal winter we crossed it off the list with back-to-back excursions on two consecutive days, but it was far from a sure thing. We knew from studying satellite images the entire north end of the island was open water, and a large pocket of open water appeared just off the west coastline in between Devil's and Bear Island as well.
It left us with an ice bridge stretching between Rocky Island and the south end of Devil’s.
Everything lined up perfectly during the week leading up to our Devil's Island attempt. Bitter cold weather continued building the ice shelf, and moderate winds did no harm to existing ice. No new snow fell, so we had confidence the ice we were seeing on satellite was real, and not dangerous skim ice with a dusting of snow.
We were as ready as we would ever be.
When the Big Day arrived we launched our snowmobiles from Red Cliff at first light and proceeded to cautiously weave through the Apostles following trails we'd been using for several weeks by that point. We reached the southwest tip of Rocky Island without difficulty, and continued up the coastline as planned to our jumping off point where we'd begin the crossing to Devil's. There was no small bit of trepidation as we left the relative security of Rocky Island and began to work our way across the channel, drilling with our ice augers as we went.
Further and further, until finally, unbelievably, we were standing on Devil's Island.
There were smiles all around, and our spirits couldn't have possibly been higher as we carefully made our way up the east side of Devil's. We soon had to abandon our snowmobiles due to massive fields of jagged pack ice, and then continued on foot all the way up to the north end near the Devil's Island lighthouse where open water finally stopped us.
Having seen ice caves on nearly every island in the Apostles many, many times over the years, the raw ferocity of what we experienced on Devil's Island that day was on another level entirely. There's a fury Lake Superior saves for these islands that exist out on the edge. A rage the inner ring of islands are never exposed to. What's left behind for the intrepid explorer to discover is nothing short of astounding.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR ADVENTURE IS OVER
After you've had your fill of sea caves, sandstone cliffs, wildlife, and lighthouses, don't forget there's ample opportunity for more fun back in Bayfield, where you'll find family farms with fruits and berries to pick, orchards with every variety of apples imaginable in the fall season, and so much more.
If that isn't enough, just a short ferry ride across the channel from Bayfield lies Madeline Island, which is probably worthy of a vacation all its own.
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