When you think of Wisconsin maybe cheese comes to mind? Well, check out the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and it’s sure to occupy your thoughts instead.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore encompasses 21 islands as well as shoreline along Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. The distinctive geology of the area is a result of glacial activity many thousands of years ago leaving beautiful sandstone formations that dazzle the eye.
Apostle Islands Things To Do
Let’s begin on the west side of the park, where you’ll find hiking trails and campgrounds on the mainland of Wisconsin. Hike the Lakeshore trail along the cliffs and see the waters of Lake Superior pound the shoreline. If you are not familiar with the Great Lakes you may be surprised that the waters are so rough and powerful!
You can also kayak into the area to get a better look at the amazing caves and sandstone formations. But beware, the surges are strong and boaters have been injured and killed here. Just be prepared and aware. In the winter it is also possible to walk out on the frozen lake and see amazing ice sculptures formed by wave action.
After your visit to the mainland part of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, let’s explore the islands, shall we? There is a lot to see!
What to do in Apostle Islands? Summer is the high season of course, with visitors coming from all around to take boat tours of the area and go camping on the islands. Spring and autumn are also beautiful times to visit, especially fall when the leaves are turning. The main gateway to the Apostle Islands is the charming town of Bayfield, WI. be sure to take a little time to enjoy this village and the friendly residents. See below for where to stay in and nearby the Apostle Islands.
For an easy way to see the Apostle Islands on a day trip you can take a tour boat ride with Apostle Islands Cruises. They’ll show you the many caves and lighthouses, and tell you all you want to know about the history of the area. Don’t forget your camera!
Apostle Islands Cruises also offers options of day trips with a stop at one of the islands, shuttles for people spending the night, and even sunset cruises during the summer months.
You can also reach the islands by ferry from Bayfield. Many visitors head to Madeline Island (not part of the park) which is one of the largest of the Apostle Islands and has lots of recreation opportunities like hiking, canoeing, fishing and bicycling. This island has lodging as well as camping for overnight stays.
Check out these websites for awesome places to camp all over the USA.
Explore some of the other 21 islands for a more remote and quiet experience. You can reach these islands by ferry as well as with your own personal boat or charter boat. Stockton Island, Sand Island, Manitou Island, Oak Island and other islands have established campsites. You can camp on 19 of the 21 islands, see below for other lodging options.
From June to September you’ll find guided tours and activities on the islands from park service staff and volunteers. The Apostle Islands are famous for their historic lighthouses and visiting them in the summer is a popular thing to do.
Here are some of the most popular hiking trails on the Apostle Islands:
- Sandspit Trail: short trail from the lighthouse to the sand spit on Raspberry Island
- Julian Bay Trail: a short easy trail on Stockton Island to the beach
- Anderson Point Trail: explore the forest and rocky shoreline between Julian Bay beach and the Presque Isle dock
- West Landing Trail: hike from the boat dock to the lighthouse on Devils Island
- Sandspit Trail: hike from the dock at the east side of Rocky Island to the beach at the southern tip
- Loop Trail: explore Oak Island on this U-shaped trail that traverses the highest point of the island
- Check the USPS website for more details and hiking maps.
Kayaking is a popular thing to do in the Apostle Islands. As mentioned above, kayaking sea caves is possible in the mainland section of the park. There are boat launches at Meyers Beach and Little Sand Bay.
You can also kayak around the islands. There are organized kayak tours of the Apostle Islands and you can also bring your own or rent a boat and bring it on the ferry or have it transported. The USPS website has a list of their authorized tour operators like Apostle Islands Kayak Tours and Living Adventure.
While the islands are of course most popular in the summertime, winter is an interesting time to visit as well. The ice caves are said to be fantastic. You can walk and even cycle out on the ice of Lake Superior and get a totally different feeling for the area. I recently saw some amazing photos from Kat Carney on Instagram of her winter visit there. Check these out!
Places to Stay Near the Apostle Islands
If you are not looking to camp, you may want to base yourself in Bayfield or Ashland, Wisconsin for lodging near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Here are some favorite places to stay in Bayfield and Ashland. If you are visiting in high season you can compare lodging rates here at HotelsCombined to find and book the best prices.
- The Old Rittenhouse Inn is a charming B&B set in a Victorian mansion
- Seagull Bay Motel is a low cost option in Bayfield with amazing lake views
- Also in Bayfield with an amazing lake view is Winfield Inn & Gardens
- AmericInn Ashland has balconies facing the lake
- The Hotel Chequamegon is a modern hotel located in Ashland
Check here for all kinds of accommodations on Madeline Island from condos to cottages to Apostle Islands lodging cabins, plus Apostle Islands National Lakeshore hotels.
Check out Hipcamp for lots of rustic places to stay near or on the Apostle Islands, the site has helpful reviews and photos too. If you use this link to register you’ll get $20 toward your first reservation.
And of course, check with Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for information about Apostle Islands camping. Camping is available on 19 of the 21 islands.
- Apostle Islands from Land And Sea by Craig Blacklock
- A Storied Wilderness: Rewilding the Apostle Islands by James Feldman
- This Superior Place: Stories of Bayfield & the Apostle Islands by Dennis McCann
Check out our guide to fall leaf peeping on Minnesota’s North Shore complete with cool places to sleep, craft breweries and great coffee!
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