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hammock overlooking lake superior

A Weekend in Bayfield: The Apostle Islands

The Apostle Islands. A holy name for a heavenly place.

My first discovery of the Apostle Islands was on Pinterest of all places. Images of the infamous ice caves made an appearance on my search which led me into a deep dive to learning more about this destination. It was at that moment, years before even moving to Wisconsin, that I knew I needed to visit at some point in my life. Now, before I share my recent travels, let me provide you with some necessary background. First of all, the Apostle Islands are not close. It is a 6 ½ hour drive from where I reside in Wisconsin (Lake Country area outside of MKE) and if you pull out a map you will see that the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is the northernmost mainland point IN Wisconsin. Yep, right at the very tip top on the left…see it?! There are 22 islands that make up the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, the largest, cleanest, and coldest of the Great Lakes! The national lakeshore and islands summon explorers and vacationers who delight in the adventure that comes with rocky, honeycomb-lined shorelines and sea caves that beg to be explored, historical sights, sandy beaches, and the opportunity for great camping and hiking. A true paradise for those who love the outdoors!

When Apostle Islands Cruises reached out looking for a partnership, I was elated to say the least. They are what brought me to this bucket list destination sooner than later and I am ever grateful. We (my husband and I) decided to go the first weekend in June, hopped in the car after work on a Friday and made the 6 ½ hour car ride to Bayfield, Wisconsin. To my surprise, it really wasn’t that bad! Heading North West meant that the sun was setting later on our travels, so it was mostly sunshine the whole way which made the journey speed by. Plus, if you follow me on Instagram, you saw how seriously we take our road snacks – not stopping for food made a difference as well. We got in late Friday evening, around 10:15pm so we settled into our vacation rental and called it a night…excited for the following days activities!

The next morning, we woke early, explored the property (which was located right on a marina) and headed to downtown Bayfield – merely minutes from where we were staying. We dined at the cutest farm to table restaurant called The Fat Radish. It is right in the heart of town and only a couple blocks from the pier where we needed to catch our cruise. I highly recommend dining here when visiting – my breakfast sammie held me over for the majority of the day!  Bayfield isn’t large by any means – everything you need as far as dining, lodging and shopping is pretty concentrated on a few streets which makes it very walkable. But as much as one loves those aforesaid activities, people travel here to be outside and explore the waters.

Apostle Islands Cruises seems to be the go-to cruising vendor, offering everything from tours (both public and private), to water taxis, and camping/hiking shuttles to and from the islands and Bayfield. I took the Grand Tour, which is their most popular excursion and typically offered once in the morning and evening. It is a nonstop, 2 ½ hour cruise sailing through Lake Superior in-between some of the many Apostle Islands with closer views of Devils Island sea caves, lighthouses, fish hatcheries, and if you’re lucky, some wildlife in-between! We arrived 20 minutes prior to our voyage, which is highly recommended. The cruise had a good size crowd but there were ample seats on this double decker vessel – upper deck is open air and the bottom deck is covered with a small bar offering snacks and beverages at a small cost. Passengers engaged with the captain from the minute we all boarded to the minute we docked. Aside from a few cheesy jokes, he was entertaining, open to questions from his passengers, and had a wealth of knowledge of the area!

The cruise was smooth but quite cold. Granted, we came right at the beginning of June, so there was still a chill in the air, so many people moved to the lower deck. We braved the wind and cold for the unobstructed 360 degree views – just be sure to dress accordingly. The cruise is narrated providing insight as to what islands we are viewing with a brief history and fun facts. As first timers to the area looking to not only enjoy a boat ride, but learn something about the area, this was honestly quite perfect.

Here are just a handful of the fun facts we learned on our sail:

  • The Apostle Islands became a national lakeshore in 1970
  • Raspberry Island has the oldest of seven light stations on the islands.
  • One of the greatest concentrations of black bears in North America is found on Stockton Island – which is amusingly also the most popular island for campers!
  • The northern tip of Devil’s Island is the northern most point of Wisconsin (which is something we saw on the tour).
  •  Madeline Island is not part of the national lakeshore. It is inhabited and developed with houses, summer cottages, lodging, and small businesses. But the other 21 islands are largely wilderness.
Thanks for a fabulous cruise!!!

After our cruise, we decided to travel 25 minutes to Meyers Beach where we hiked the Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail! It was a moderate trek (4.6 miles) with a mix of boardwalk, rugged path, minor elevation and some stream crossings. The views were gorgeous. The pops of blue from the water through the trees made everything look so magical. And seeing the cave formations below us left us in awe. The sea caves are ideally best seen via boat or kayak. Being that we arrived at the beginning of their season, kayak tours were limited to only two tours a day AND it was also quite cold. Being pregnant and knowing that Lake Superior can get a bit rough, we decided to opt out this trip but with plans to definitely come back and give it a go! On our hike back to our car, we stumbled upon a baby fawn which was invigorating – I had never seen one so up close and personal before. It was beautiful and I completely nerd out when it comes to animals and nature!

Following our hike, we grabbed drinks and an appetizer at the rooftop of the Bayfield Inn which provides views of Lake Superior in a casual, breezy setting. And then headed back to our vacation rental to get changed for dinner. The Old Rittenhouse Inn is an old Victorian historical converted home in the heart of town with great views of the lake. Their restaurant, The Landmark, came highly recommended. Sadly, we were left underwhelmed by both the service and the dinner. It was also the quietest restaurant we have ever dined at which made it a little awkward because we felt as if we needed to whisper through dinner. I will say that their ice cream sundae for dessert though was a good way to end the evening.

Lake Effect Co is the perfect go-to apparel for lake life!

The following day we checked out of our vacation rental and headed straight to the port to catch the ferry for Madeline Island. You can drive your car onto the ferry which takes approximately 20-25 minutes. We grabbed breakfast at another great farm to table restaurant called The Farmhouse. I highly recommend coming here – I have never had better sweet potato hash and their homemade jam was to die for! Following breakfast, we took a hike in Big Bay State Park, a very easy trek along the lake and with marshland on the other side. It was a quick hike, perfect to walk off breakfast and stretch the legs before a long car ride back home.

Our travels to Bayfield and the Apostle Islands was short but oh so sweet. We tried to cram in as much as we could without exhausting ourselves and leaving time to just enjoy! I think we definitely achieved this goal. I highly recommend traveling here mid-late June and anytime in the heart of summer. As previously mentioned, we arrived at the beginning of the season, so many places were not offering as many tours, businesses weren’t fully staffed, and summer hours hadn’t quite started. On the flip side, it wasn’t swarming with tourists, so it’s a catch 22. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and left planning our trip for next year!

Special thanks to Apostle Islands Cruises for your partnership. All opinions are my own.

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1 Comment

  1. Kari on at 12:35 PM

    Beautiful photos! It’s on my Wisconsin bucket list for sure!