Backtracking about a month, I had wanted to do something special for our 15th anniversary this year, but to be honest I was too overwhelmed with late summer happenings to plan a big trip. We have plane tickets to use, but coordinating schedules here for care of the kids, and the hustle & bustle of airports just wasn't appealing or going to work out. I just wanted a quiet, simple break.
The week after our anniversary we had a few days that allowed us to get away. We were undecided on whether we should go up Lake Superior's North Shore (always stunning), or explore a bit more of the less-known-to-us South Shore. Winging it, at the exit fork in Duluth we opted to cross over into Wisconsin & go the south shore route.
We ended up stopping in Bayfield Wisconsin and enjoyed it so much we stayed there.
Bayfield is a small town with around 500 residents, and considered the main gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; Lake Superior's scenic archipelago of 21 islands and 12 mile stretch of mainland shore.
While Bayfield itself and the surrounding area are beautiful, we really wanted to get out to learn more about the islands.
Beautiful beach just south of Bayfield on the mainland:
Sailing is very popular around the area. We enjoyed day and nighttime strolls along the docks, looking at schooners. (By the way - John F. Kennedy Jr. was a fan of the Apostle Islands.)
Without having your own sailboat or other big boat, getting out to the islands can be a challenge. You can take the Madeline Island Ferry out to Madeline Island, which is the biggest of the 21 islands.
Madeline Island is populated, and in our preference, wasn't the experience we were looking for this trip.
You can see Madeline off in the distance from our lodging, a couple of miles south of town. I believe she's about 14 miles long and home to about 2500 people in the summer, and a couple hundred who tough it out year round through those lake Superior winters. Big Bay State Park is also found on Madeline Island.
We learned a popular way to explore the islands is by sea kayak. Though we were warned about it, also. Lake Superior can turn dangerous quickly, and the water is cold. Hypothermia is the biggest danger.
We don't have sea kayaks (yet), and using them would be an undertaking that would require more planning & preparation than we'd put into the trip. A good plan might be to kayak out to an island, camp there a day or so, then kayak back. We didn't have that kind of time or gear.
So our option was to take an Apostle Island Cruise on the Island Princess.
It was a four hour cruise that took us out on a 44 mile route about the islands. The crew's commentary was good & informative.
It was a perfect evening for a cruise.
The islands are closer together than I expected, making Lake Superior feel very different (smaller) than I'm used to. The history of these islands is broad, from Native Americans, voyageurs, loggers, quarries, commercial fisherman camps, to becoming a part of the National Park System.
Devil's Island is the furthest out, the island that sees the most of Lake Superior's force, which has caused erosion and created gorgeous sea caves. Our captain took us up close and made a few passes. We also saw the lighthouses on Devil's Island and Raspberry Island.
On our route homeward the following day, we stopped at Meyer's Beach and hit the Lakeshore Trail. It was quite a hike, and a hot, muggy day, but well worth it to reach some of the mainland sea caves.
The main sea cave we reached is a must see.. Photos could not capture the size or depth of this giant canyon-like crevice jutting into the forest & rock. The eye couldn't even see just where all that cave went under the ground we stood. You could here the water clunking & gurgling down in the dark underground.
I longed to explore this shore by kayak. It's in my future plans.
It was an enjoyable couple of days, getting to know the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
A perfect place for a quiet, simple break, and not too far from home.