WHAT TO DO IN THE APOSTLE ISLANDS
So, you've been contemplating a vacation to the Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior this summer? Awesome! Here's your concise guide to the best, can't-miss highlights of any visit to the Apostles.
Sea Cave Sunrise on Stockton Island | Apostle Islands National Lakeshore | Lake Superior Wisconsin
1) PADDLE THE MAINLAND SEA CAVES
If you do nothing else during your visit, make plans to book a kayak tour with one of the local outfitters to see the Apostle Islands mainland sea caves. World famous in the winter season for the "Ice Caves", this amazing stretch of sandstone cave and cliff is equally impressive in the summer. The Apostles are widely regarded as the Jewels of Lake Superior, and are a bucket-list destination for many kayakers. It's easy to see way - You'll witness soaring arches, sea caves you can paddle through, and the sprawling cathedral known as the "crevasse". There's a reason it's one of the most popular guided kayak trips in the Apostles.
As the conditions on Lake Superior can change quickly, the best and safest bet for most paddlers will be a guided tour led by one of the expert kayaking outfitters located in and around Bayfield. It's worth repeating: If you aren't an experienced big water paddler, please consider booking a kayak tour with a guide.
A breathtaking late summer afternoon spent paddling the coastline of Stockton Island in the Apostles revealed this stunning scene from the depths of a sandstone crevasse
2) HIKE THE MAINLAND SEA CAVES TRAIL
Don't be surprised and try not to be too disappointed if your planned paddle of the sea caves gets cancelled or postponed due to weather. Lake Superior has a mind of her own, and doesn't always cooperate. If the conditions don't allow a safe launch with kayaks, you can always (and probably should regardless) hike the trail above the mainland sea caves.
The trailhead begins at the Meyers Beach parking area and extends some 6 miles through scenic hardwood forests and stands of pine. Please note: there is a $5 per car parking fee here. The trail has recently been improved by the NPS, including a nice bridge spanning a ravine and additional boardwalk. It's a hike almost anyone can make, as long as your prepared. You'll stroll through some gorgeous forest for about 1 1/2 mile to reach the first caves. From there, it's up to you how much further you go and how much more you want to see. Total distance is between 3-12 miles, round-trip.
The views are worth the effort, trust me.
Devil’s Island sea cave in subtle morning light, on a warm and sunny summer day in the Apostle Islands
3) VISIT THE DEVIL'S ISLAND SEA CAVES
Arguably (and I may be biased) the best and most scenic sea caves to be found in the Apostles are on Devil's Island. The forces of nature and the geology of the Devil's Island Formation have combined over the millennia to sculpt a myriad of caves, arches, and sandstone formations that are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Most people see Devil's Island from the tour boat that leaves from Bayfield daily, but I highly recommend booking a trip with one of the local private charter captains instead. You'll not only get a personalized adventure, but better / closer views of the caves than is possible from the tour boat. Note: I have no affiliation with any of the private charters - it's simply a true fact the smaller private vessels are able to get in tight to the caves.
If you book a private charter, several have kayaks and paddle boards they'll let you use to explore the sea caves during a tour of Devil's. If you think the caves and arches are incredible from a distance, imagine paddling through them!
If Devil's Island sounds like something you really want to do, everything you need to know about planning a trip and getting there can be found here.
Brilliant late season Milky Way over the Devil's Island lighthouse in the Apostle Islands
4. TOUR A HISTORIC LIGHTHOUSE
The Apostles are home to the largest remaining collection of lighthouses in the country. For more than 100 years these beacons guided mariners safely across Lake Superior and through the Apostle Islands. Today, the lighthouse keepers are gone, replaced by solar power and automated lights.
Several islands, such as Raspberry and Michigan, offer NPS guided tours of the lighthouses and grounds. The lighthouse on Sand Island is a great choice to visit as well, being close to the mainland and relatively easy to reach either by power boat or paddling.
If you're up for a full day of adventure, take a water taxi to Outer Island, where you'll see the amazing lighthouse and keepers quarters preserved much as they were during times of operation.
Alternatively, take the tour boat out of Bayfield on the Grand Tour for views of the Raspberry and Devil's Island lighthouses.
Michigan Island lighthouse(s) with apple tree in full bloom.
5) STAY IN BAYFIELD
Most visitors to the Apostles use the charming little mainland town of Bayfield as a convenient jumping off point for their adventures. With options for lodging, dining, and both kayak and boat tours available right in town, it's often referred to as the Gateway to the Apostles.
Stay in a quaint little B&B, take in a show at the Big Top Chautauqua, and visit the orchards on the "Fruit Loop". Peruse an art gallery, hike the many local trails, spend an afternoon golfing, or just enjoy the peace and quiet with your toes buried in the sand.
Alternatively, for something different head 10 minutes south on Highway 13 towards Washburn and explore the Houghton Falls State Natural Area. With a beautiful and recently improved hiking trail, several small waterfalls, and a grand finale overlook on Lake Superior, it's worth doing.
You can't go wrong.
Two minutes of otherworldly light at sunrise on Devil's Island
6) VISIT MADELINE ISLAND
Madeline Island is worthy of a blog post all its own, and some day I'll get around to writing it. For now, let's hit the high points:
Just a short ferry ride across the channel from Bayfield lies Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands, and the only one with a permanent resident population. While not part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore proper, Madeline Island is home to Big Bay State Park which boasts miles of sandy beach, hiking trails, and a family campground.
There are several excellent choices for dining, most with amazing views of Lake Superior, and a vibrant local art scene. It's easy to make a day of it on Madeline.
And no trip to Madeline Island is truly complete without a stop a the eclectic Tom's Burned Down Café.
Questions about any and all things Apostle Islands? DM me on Instagram.