After spending five days exploring the Apostle Islands, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are five groups of people who need to visit this area of Wisconsin. Now, if you’re looking for over-commercialized shops, chain restaurants, and ginormous waterparks; you won’t see yourself on this list. So give these descriptions a read and see if the Apostle Islands appeal to you for your next vacation.
Adventurer. The 22 islands that make up the Apostle Islands (21 of them are part of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore which is Wisconsin’s only National Park) offer unlimited areas to explore. Getting to the islands is half of the adventure itself. Once you’re there, you may find some trails and primitive campsites, but for the most part, you’re left to your own devices. If you enjoy open water, there’s plenty of that to paddle, but what I think makes Lake Superior unique are the caves you can kayak in, around and through. Sea caves are located on the mainland portion of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, but also around Sand Island and Devil’s Island – which I would say were the most breathtaking. And even if you’re just planning a trip to Madeline Island, leave your vehicle on the mainland and explore places like Big Bay Town Park and Big Bay State Park by bike or moped – rentals are conveniently located just blocks from the ferry dock.
Site-seer. So you’d like to see some of the things I described above but would prefer to do it from the comfort of a guided tour. Perfect. There are many tours to choose from. During our trip, we took an Evening Grand Tour and a Glass Bottom Boat Tour from Apostle Islands Cruises, based out of Bayfield, WI. Our captain took us past numerous eagles and talked about bear sightings on recent tours (we weren’t as lucky to see one for ourselves). Depending on the route the captain takes, you’d also see a few of the 8 lighthouses on the islands. Note: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has more lighthouses than any other national park in the country. I was amazed by the captains skill at piloting the boat right alongside the sea caves… at one moment, I thought he was going to drive right into one. During our glass bottom boat tour, we were able to see one of the many shipwrecks in Lake Superior. With deeper water and recent storms, it wasn’t possible to see the wrecks that were below 15 feet deep during our trip. There are other tours where you can get off the boat and stretch your legs as you visit the Raspberry Island Lighthouse or discover the Singing Sands of Julian Bay on Stockton Island.
Artist. Whether you’re a professional artist or just an admirer of the arts, make your way to the Apostle Islands. It’s impossible to NOT be inspired by this place. Sunrises, sunsets, sea caves (and ice caves), lighthouses, northern lights, wildlife, wild flowers, even a storm passing over Lake Superior can be moving. On Madeline Island alone, over 100 artists are represented in galleries and shops. I was told that there are more galleries on the island than bars… and in Wisconsin, that’s saying a lot. We also discovered the Madeline Island School of the Arts, or MISA. National and internationally renowned artists are brought in to conduct 5-day workshops in media ranging from watercolor painting and photography to quilting and writing. And since you stay right on site, you’re able to mingle with the artists throughout your stay – even when not in class.
Geologist. Barrier spit, cuspate forelands, sand spits, tombolos and beaches. To many, those words may not mean much (except for beaches – who doesn’t love catching the sun on a beach), but they describe the five “sandscapes” that appear on the Apostle Islands. The sand on Julian Bay has a “musical” quality that can only be found on 10% of beaches in the world – referred to as the Singing Sands. Some of the most notable geological wonders of the islands are where land and water meet. Rock pools have been found on Bear, Devil’s and Stockton Islands – each sustaining a micro-ecosystem for a variety of creatures. And we already discussed the sea caves and ice caves where centuries of wave action sculpted the sandstone shoreline on some of the islands and mainland of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
- Historian. For over 400 years ago, Native Americans, fur traders, and missionaries have inhabited Madeline Island with the flags of three nations flown on its shores. It’s hard to imagine that just about as the same time as the pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock, Etienne Brule, a French explorer visited Madeline Island. Just the maritime history of sailing and boating on the Lake Superior could have you immersed for years. Even the lighthouses on 6 of the islands have unique stories dating back to 1856. Today, you can tour the lighthouses and stop by the Madeline Island Museum which includes the only remaining building of the American Fur Company complex built at La Pointe in 1835. Planning your visit in summer, the museum’s “Connecting Cultures” historical encampment demonstrates everything from ink making, stone carving and smoking lake trout over a campfire.
So if you truly, I mean truly, need to get away from it all, get yourself on “island time” and make your way to the Apostle Islands. And be sure to catch the premiere of “The Island Life: Apostle Islands” Feb. 14-15 on Discover Wisconsin. (For air times, visit our broadcast guide.)
AJ Marz, Chad Diedrick, Lois Carlson, Ros Nelson, Kiki Annis, Dustin Scholl, Steve Renne, Marty Curry, Gary Knowles, Dave Meiss, Don Albrecht, Steve McHugh, Hannah Hudson, Wisconsin Historical Society, August Johnston
Chad Diedrick is the managing producer for the nation’s longest-running tourism TV show, Discover Wisconsin. In his 12+ years of discovering Wisconsin, Chad has seen virtually every corner of the state. Between filming breaks, you’re likely to catch Chad trying his hand at a round of disc golf at a local course. (His goal is to hit every disc golf course in Wisconsin!) Watch Discover Wisconsin Saturdays at 10 a.m. on FSN Wisconsin’s outdoor block.