Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Locals say, when speaking of Lake Superior, "The lake is the boss!" There is a good reason for that. Lake Superior is generally considered to be the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. It has an average depth of nearly 500 feet. It is the coldest and deepest of the Great Lakes. It stretches approximately 350 miles from west to east, and 160 miles north to south. Its shoreline is almost 2,800 miles long. As Rev. George Grant said in 1872, "Superior is a sea. It breeds storms and rain and fog like the sea.... It is wild, masterful, and dreaded." If Lake Superior is rough, stay on shore. But, if it is calm, it can be exciting, especially along Wisconsin's northern coastline where the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is located. A national lakeshore is operated by the National Park Service (NPS) and must be established by an act of the U.S. Congress. There are four national lakeshores, two on Lake Superior and two on Lake Michigan.

The Apostle Islands are a group of twenty-two islands in Lake Superior off the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin. All the islands except for Madeline, the largest, are part of the National Lakeshore. They are known for their historic lighthouses, sandstone sea caves, and old-growth forests. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has more lighthouses than any other NPS area. There are eight historic lighthouses on six of the islands. For most of the century, the lighthouses have guided ships and boats through the rough waters of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands.

The town of Bayfield serves as starting point for exploring the Apostle Islands. The small town has every amenity necessary for the boater and traveler -- restaurants, locally owned motels and inns (no big chains), and marinas. Bayfield is known for its good sailing due to the shelter offered by the Apostle Islands. The National Lakeshore headquarters and visitor center are also located in Bayfield.  The Apostle Islands offer outstanding boating opportunities with its protected bays, public docks, and natural beauty. Public docks are found on thirteen of the islands. At some docks space is reserved for NPS vessels and excursion boats. The remaining space is available to the public on a first come, first served basis for a small fee. There are also public boat launches in Bayfield and surrounding towns.

The NPS does not recommend the use of boats smaller than sixteen feet for travel between islands. Smaller boats can be extremely hazardous when weather conditions become unfavorable. Before launching, as any wise boater knows, check lake conditions (especially on Lake Superior).

There are several ways to explore the Apostle Islands. Kayaks and personal watercraft are popular. Tour boats are sometimes preferable because they have narrators on board who know the history of the various islands. Many visitors choose to kayak, either by bringing their own or renting from a local shop.

The islands also offer opportunities to view interesting rock formations and shipwrecks. There have been 350 shipwrecks on Lake Superior. Sea kayaking has become a very popular means to travel among the Apostle Islands. Lake Superior is renowned for its cold temperatures, rough seas, fog, and sudden squalls. Average water temperatures in May and June are only in the 40s. Even in late summer, surface temperatures rarely exceed 60 degrees, except in protected bays. Average summer winds blow from five to twenty knots with waves of one to four feet. Higher are possible.

The Apostle Islands Cruise Service offers a variety of nonstop sightseeing excursions and island shuttles with stops at several islands. Their office is located in Bayfield near the city dock. All cruises depart from Bayfield. All the Apostle Islands have unique names, The origin of the name "Apostle" is believed to come from early explorers. According to their practice they gave holy names to new places. But the individual islands have names like Hermit, Oak, Outer, Cat, Otter, Rocky, Bear, Sand, and Devils. Most have special characteristics.

Devil's Island is the northernmost point in Wisconsin. The most notable feature of this island is its sea caves, which are erosions in its sandstone cliffs, and are favorite destinations of kayakers and tour boats. Kayakers and boaters can see sea caves on the east side of Sand Island as well. The Apostle Islands Cruise Service offers daily trips to the Raspberry Island lighthouse in summer. The lighthouses on Sand, Devils, and Michigan islands are staffed by volunteers, who give tours to tourists who get there in their own boats. During the Lighthouse Celebration in September, the Apostle Islands Cruise Service schedules trips to Sand, Devils, Long, and Michigan islands as well as Raspberry. Permits are required for all camping on the National Lakeshore, where it is permitted on eighteen of the twenty-one islands.

Also, there are more than fifty miles of hiking trails on the islands. These trails provide access to lighthouses, abandoned quarries, old farm sites, historic logging camps, beaches, and scenic overlooks. In addition, the Islands and surrounding area offer anglers opportunities to catch Lake, Brook, and Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Coho Salmon.

Madeline Island, the only one of the Apostle Islands accessible by automobile, is not within the National Lakeshore. Attractions on Madeline Island include Big Bay State Park, with its lakeside campground, and the Madeline Island Historical Museum, with its exhibits about the fur trade era. Madeline offers full tourist services. With a population of 302, La Pointe, the only town on Madeline Island, has restaurants, lodging, and various activities. The population increases to over 1500 when summer residents arrive.

Transportation to and from the mainland is by the Madeline Island Ferry Line, a car ferry from Bayfield that runs from spring breakup to winter freeze-up, which is generally from early April through early January. It there's ice, a wind sled (a flat-bottomed vehicle with an airplane propeller on the back) carries passengers prior to an ice road opening, which happens when the ice is thick enough and deemed safe to allow vehicles to drive between the mainland and Madeline Island. Naturally, caution is always advised if driving the ice road.

Visiting the Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin is rewarding. Just remember, "The lake is the boss!"






Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In