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Bayfield, Wisconsin

The Apostle Islands

Go kayaking on an archipelago in North America’s largest lake


Strewn across 450 square miles of Lake Superior’s pristine waters, the 22 Apostle Islands present a striking tableau: tiny jewels on an immense inland sea, the largest freshwater body in the world. With the exception of Madeline, the largest of the Apostles, all of the islands are undeveloped and uninhabited, a showcase for craggy shorelines, remnant old-growth hemlocks and hardwoods, and sculpted sandstone cliffs and caves.

From tiny three-acre Gull Island to 10,000-acre Stockton, the islands are protected as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, along with 12 miles of mainland Wisconsin shoreline on the adjacent Bayfield Peninsula. Natural beauty and outdoor recreation take centre stage here, with more than 50 miles of trails criss-crossing the islands, and native populations of black bears, bald eagles and more than 200 species of migratory birds. This watery playground is best explored by boat, and opportunities abound. The Apostle Islands Cruise Service offers a variety of narrated cruises that sail past rich russet sandstone formations, lighthouses and other historic sites, sometimes dropping off passengers to explore for a few hours. Captained sailboat charters are another option. Guests and the wind determine the day’s itinerary, which often revolves around beachcombing, hiking and swimming in sun-warmed bays. The national lakeshore is home to six historic lighthouses—more than any other national park—some of which are staffed in summer months for tours and interpretation.

Kayaks have become a popular way to explore the archipelago, perfect for open-water passages between islands and for ducking in and out of the sea caves that pock the sandstone shoreline. Loaded with food and camping gear, kayaks are the ticket to seeing the Apostles’ island backcountry. Those with plenty of experience can tackle Superior’s vast waters alone, but even beginners can paddle safely with a reputable tour company.

With sweeping island views and a yacht-filled marina, the gateway village of Bayfield (population 600) makes a great ‘base camp’ to explore the national lakeshore and arrange island excursions. Start at the handsome National Park Visitors Center, built in the 19th century with sandstone quarried from Basswood, Hermit and Stockton islands. Bayfield also offers appealing entertainment like the acclaimed Big Top Chautauqua, featuring music and maritime-themed theatre inside a huge tent. The Old Rittenhouse Inn pampers guests in a lovingly restored Queen Anne-style house, and serves some of the best meals in town. Local favourite Maggie’s, and its upscale cousin, Wild Rice, offer more great dining, with fresh whitefish and other local catch on the menu.

This trip idea can be found in:

1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die®

Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.

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