Apostle Islands Kayak Adventure

By John Cronin

My love of kayaking began a little more than ten years ago, paddling a 14-foot Old Town Loon around the Madison lakes. A few years later, I bought an 18-foot Impex Assateague. With it came the urge to take on the Great Lakes.

So I joined a local paddling club, the Mad City Paddler’s. With them, I have made several trips to the Apostle Islands, truly one of the Great Lake’s most serene and beautiful places. There are 21 islands in the Apostles’ archipelago, but only three have group campsites. Paddling with a large group, while quite fun, limits the number of islands you can visit. In four trips over three years, I had made it to four of the islands - Oak, Stockton, Hermit and Michigan. I wanted to see more –much more - of the pristine Apostles.

An Amazing Kayak Tour

In 2009, I decided to explore some of the more remote islands and signed up for a guided kayak tour with Living Adventure Inc., based out of Red Cliff. I had heard many good things about Living Adventure and chose their four-day Archipelago Tour. This trip would, weather permitting, allow me to double the number of islands on my checklist.

Our group met that first morning at the Living Adventure main office in Red Cliff. The small group consisted of me, three men from Minnesota, two women from out east and our Living Adventure guide. We brought a variety of paddling experience; some were novices, others had canoed the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. As it turned out, I was one of the most experienced paddlers in the group.

After a brief safety course we loaded up the kayaks and were off to our first stop, Oak Island. Along the way, we paddled over a couple of shipwrecks in Red Cliff Bay. The remains of the Fedora, a steamer run aground in 1901 after catching fire, and the Ottawa, wrecked in 1909, can be seen in ten feet of water.

We camped that first night on Oak Island. Our guide prepared the evening meal. An excellent cook with a real talent around the campfire, he cooked every meal for the entire trip – a very nice bonus indeed. The rest of us helped with other chores so as not to feel like complete sloths. After dinner we made our way down to the pier and watched a beautiful sunset leavened by somewhat menacing clouds on the horizon with veins of lightning coursing through them. But those storms passed harmlessly to the northwest as we drifted off to sleep, looking forward to an exciting full day of paddling.

Day two dawned clear and calm. After a delicious breakfast we were off to Raspberry Island where we toured the newly renovated lighthouse. Originally built in 1863, it was recently restored thanks to the good work of the Friends of the Apostle Islands. After a guided tour, we continued on to a lunch break on the east side of Bear Island. The morning was calm, but the waves began to pick up a bit in the afternoon as we made our way to Rocky Island and our campsite for that night. During the crossing I remembered my first trip to Oak Island a few years earlier; seeing the remote islands to the north and wondering if I’d ever be able to paddle that far. Now, a few years later, I was paddling among those very islands that once seemed so impossibly distant.

As it turns out, Rocky Island was aptly named. Finding a flat spot to pitch a tent on the rocky, sloping ground took some doing. We set up camp, ate and hit the hay. Shortly after lights out we were awakened by a young couple who got a late start on their kayak trip and were now trying to find their campsite in complete darkness. We wished them luck and sent them farther down the shore in search of flat ground.

Our Apostle Islands Vacation Leads us to Sea Caves

The next morning, we awoke to water as smooth as glass. Easy strokes cut the placid waters as we made our way to Devil’s Island, a rugged windswept island rising out of Lake Superior. Known for its sea caves, Devil’s Island did not disappoint; it was the highlight of the trip. We stopped and toured the lighthouse on the island and then paddled to the north side to explore the island’s signature sea caves.

Although many of the Apostles have sea caves, these were by far the most impressive I have seen. The sound of the water moving in and out of the caves is incredible. Small hydraulic jets are formed by waves pushing the water through small holes in the sandstone formations. I can only image what the caves must be like in heavy seas.

Thankfully, this was perfect weather to explore the caves. However, the serenity of the moment was abruptly shattered when, having stopped to snap a few photos, I noticed the Island Princess Cruise boat bearing down on me. Just a bit unnerved, I quickly put down the camera and paddled back to the safety of the sea caves.

Sea caves and Island Princess behind us, we kayaked down the west side of the island and made the crossing back to Bear Island for lunch. Our goal was a crescent beach on a small bay carved out of the north side of the island. As we neared the bay, I made the mistake of saying to our guide “looks like we have the entire beach to ourselves.” The words had no sooner left my mouth when several power boats roared around the point and pulled up on shore directly in front of us.

After lunch it was back in the boats for a short trip to York Island, our next campsite. York Island was the complete opposite of Rocky Island. The entire campsite had a nice sandy base that made for great camping. The ladies, however, apparently set their tent up in the middle of a heavily used deer trail. In the middle of the night they were awakened by the snorting of a not-so-happy and very territorial Apostle Island whitetail.

Apostle Islands Kayaking is Always an Adventure

The beautiful paddling weather continued on our fourth and final day as we headed to Sand Island. The 1881 lighthouse there was being renovated during our visit and was not open for tours. We strolled around the outside of the vintage brownstone structure before heading out on the last leg of our journey. As we made the crossing to our take-out at Meyers Beach on the mainland, storm clouds gathered to the west. The kayaking gods were certainly watching over us on this journey as the rain began falling just as we loaded up and headed back to Red Cliff.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I love so much about kayaking. A day spent paddling can be both peaceful and exhilarating. It affords a unique water-borne view of some of the most pristine areas the country has to offer. There certainly is a feeling of accomplishment when you finish a paddling adventure. And there is always the camaraderie of fellow paddlers. But for me, there is no more awe inspiring experience than heading out just as the sun is coming up; looking out at an enormous body of water the size of Lake Superior without even a ripple on it. Simply breathtaking!

This Apostle Islands kayaking adventure was a perfect mix of all that – and more. The early August weather could not have been better. Gail Green and her Living Adventure staff were everything I had hoped. Our guide was great fun, very knowledgeable and to top it all off, a great cook. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone interested in seeing the beautiful Apostle Islands up close and personal. We paddled many miles in a short four days. I checked five more of the Apostle Islands off my life list. I was tired, but in a very good way.

Thank you kayak gods.

This entry was posted in Canoeing, Kayaking & SUP, Camping, Tours and tagged Travelogues