Bayfield is the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin’s northernmost landscape.
Made up of a cluster of gem-like, wooded islands, there are 22 Apostle Islands in all, 21 of which are part of the National Lakeshore. Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostles, is not part of the National Lakeshore, although is it still an Apostle Island. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also includes 12 miles of mainland wilderness.
The 21 islands of the National Lakeshore feature a combination of raw natural beauty and rich cultural history. Trimmed with sea caves, sandstone cliffs, and miles of pristine sand beaches, each island has its own character and story.
The mainland unit of the park features the popular sea caves, accessible by kayak and boat charter in summer. In wintertime, these sea caves become the celebrated ice caves, which draw visitors from around the world to explore their beautiful splendor. The ice caves form every winter and can be viewed from the trail above, which is accessible year-round. However, when conditions are right, the ice beneath the caves becomes solid enough to support foot traffic and visitors are able to enter the caves and view the ice formations up close. Always be sure to check with the local authorities before heading out on the ice, as the conditions can change very quickly and safety is of the utmost importance. The trail above the caves begins at the Meyers Beach parking lot, 18 miles north of Bayfield and 5 miles east of Cornucopia, on State Hwy 13.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is home to the largest and most complete collection of historic lighthouses in the nation. Once a critical aid to navigation, these structures are now a reminder of a bygone time. All of the lighthouses are viewable by boat and some are open to the public. The Michigan Island and Raspberry Island lighthouses were recently restored and ranger-guided tours are provided there during the summer months.
Experienced sailors consider the Apostle Islands area to be some of the best recreational boating in the world. Bayfield offers five safe, secure marinas, many sailing charters, and boating services within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and lodging. For a quick trip among the islands, charter a sailboat with a local, USCG licensed captain for a sunset cruise leaving right from the City Dock.
Additionally, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers some of the best kayaking anywhere in North America. First-time paddlers are encouraged to join guided an expedition, which makes it simple and safe to kayak Lake Superior. While planning your kayaking adventure, choose from a number of guided half-day, day, or multi-day trips or arrange to rent your own kayak at one of Bayfield’s kayaking outfitters. Experienced leaders will instruct you on how to safely use the boats and can lead visitors to the most spectacular sites. Trips leave from multiple locations between Bayfield and Cornucopia, located at the northern tip of the Bayfield Peninsula, about 21 miles outside of Bayfield. For a complete list of outfitters licensed to take trips into the National Lakeshore visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore website.
Hiking and camping on the Apostle Islands, which offer up old-growth forests, historic fishing camps, and well-maintained trails, are bucket list adventures. A total wilderness experience can be had mere miles from the comforts of downtown Bayfield. Camping is allowed on 19 of the islands and boat shuttles are offered to the campgrounds on Oak and Stockton Islands. Campers must secure a permit beforehand, which are available at the Headquarters building of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and online, along with maps and information about the islands. If a day trip is more your style, hiking shuttles are offered multiple times a week to the popular destination of Stockton Island, which has its own ranger station and the famous singing sands of Julian Bay.