The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Bayfield, Wisconsin, puts on a wide-ranging display of nature.
Home to 21 islands on Lake Superior, about 383 kilometers from Minneapolis, Minnesota, it stretches across 1,165 square kilometers of freshwater lake, with plenty of opportunities to take everything in, from colorful birds overhead to spectacular caves below the sea.
What to See and Do
Start in Bayfield, a relaxing lakeside town that many use as a base for trips to the surrounding small islands, boat tours and hiking trails. A destination for bird watching, the Apostle Islands is one of the busiest migration bird flyways in the Great Lakes Region. Bring your binoculars to spot more than 300 bird species, including hawks, eagles, sandpipers, owls and sparrows.
From here, catch a ferry to La Pointe on Madeline Island, the Apostles’ only inhabited island. You can take your car on the ferry, which runs from March or April until the water freezes in winter. Reaching the other islands requires a private boat, water taxi or cruise.
Once you arrive on Madeline Island, visit an outfitter to arrange watersports like fishing, diving, kayaking and sailing. In the summer, hike or bike through the protected forests. In winter, an ice bridge forms between Bayfield and Madeline Island as a crossing for pedestrian traffic and winter vehicles. Once you’re on the island, rent snowshoes, skis, a snowmobile or a dogsled and explore the snowy Northwoods.
Madeline Island is the only inhabited island among the Apostle Islands.
Visiting the Sea Caves
No trip to the Apostle Islands is complete without visiting the sea caves, an otherworldly landscape of interconnected sandstone rooms dotting the shore along Bayfield and the islands. Kayak there from Bayfield in the warmer months or hike across frozen water from Bayfield’s Meyers Beach in winter when the caves are covered in sheets of snow and huge icicles. Cave accessibility depends on the weather, so check the Apostle Islands’ Facebook page for the latest updates.
This sea cave, known as the Garage, is among many interconnected sandstone rooms on the islands.
When to Go
The Apostles are open year-round, but the Visitor Center in Bayfield is open only from May to mid-October. Water excursions and lighthouse tours can be taken during those months, but the peak months of July and August offer excellent views and the most options. Winter is the only chance to see the sea caves turn to ice, as well as enjoy snow sports like skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
Where to Stay
La Pointe has one main resort, The Inn on Madeline Island, and a selection of cottages and home rentals. The majority of locally owned lodgings can be found in Bayfield, such as The Rittenhouse Inn’s accommodations in two Queen Anne Victorian mansions and a 1910 Arts & Craft cottage.
Camping is popular year-round, with sites on 19 of the islands and five sites on the mainland.
Eat and Drink in Bayfield
Enjoy local trout and Lake Superior whitefish on Fridays, when nearly every Wisconsin bar and restaurant hosts a Friday Fish Fry. Try the fish with a brandy Old Fashioned.