The Apostle Islands sit in a remote northwestern corner of Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Superior. One of just three national lakeshores in the U.S., the Apostle Islands is comprised of 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland shoreline, which boast sculptured red cliffs and sea caves galore. Some 200,000 visitors visit annually to check out this stunning geology, plus explore the islands.
During warmer months, the favored activity here is kayaking past – and through – the sea caves. The bulk of them, and the largest, lie along the mainland shoreline, although there are a few on some of the islands. Unless you're proficient at sea kayaking, it's best to sign on for a guided trip with one of the many local outfitters, as Lake Superior is cold and can be volatile. There are tour options galore, from easy half-day paddles to multiday excursions, which will have you camping on some of the farther-flung islands.
Another popular activity is ferrying over to Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostles, although not officially part of the national lakeshore. The ferry drops you off in the town of La Pointe, home to one of Wisconsin's state historical museums and Big Bay State Park. Hike or bike around the island, or simply nose around La Pointe, which contains boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and the famous Tom's Burned Down Café, a cobbled-together collection of decks and bars, many open-air, created from the remains of a partially burned building. Grab a drink, listen to the live music and check out the amusing quotes, which are posted everywhere.
If hiking's your passion, you're in luck, as the Apostle Islands are home to more than 50 miles of hiking paths. Stroll along the six-mile Lakeshore Trail, which unrolls atop the famous sandstone cliffs from Meyers Beach to a backcountry campsite. To get in more miles, take a water ferry to one of the 21 islands, many of which have paths leading to lighthouses, abandoned quarries, historic logging camps and more.
Don't want to work so hard? Then book a narrated sightseeing tour by motorized boat or sailboat. Or take a glass-bottom boat tour past some of the legendary shipwrecks dotting the lake bottom. Fishing charters are available, too. And, of course, there are sandy beaches everywhere.
Ready to start planning a trip? One of your first considerations is lodging. If camping is your thing, you can find backcountry campsites on 18 of the 21 islands. There are also a variety of campgrounds scattered about, both on the mainland and Madeline Island. For more comfort, book a stay at a mainland bed-and-breakfast inn. The Old Rittenhouse Inn, one of Wisconsin's first B&Bs, is a luxe property offering suites with fireplaces, plus gourmet dinners and breakfasts. The Pinehurst Inn, meanwhile, is known as one of the most eco-friendly around. A wide selection of cabins, cottages, condos and resorts round out the offerings.
Foodies will appreciate the fact that quality dining options are plentiful. Good Thyme, tucked into a sprawling yellow house in Washburn, offers finely crafted dishes such as Vietnamese egg rolls and pistachio shrimp ravioli. Craft cocktails are available, too. Morty's Pub in downtown Bayfield boasts freshly caught whitefish, and the area's largest collection of craft and specialty beers. The Fat Radish in Cornucopia has themed dining events, such as Sushi and Ramen Night, Dan's Homemade Pizza Night and Special Cuts of Meat Night.
While high season in the Apostles comes with the warmer weather, the lakeshore is open for business in the winter, too. There's skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding and two unique opportunities: driving on the Ice Road from Bayfield to Madeline Island, following a trail of recycled Christmas trees, and exploring the famous Lake Superior ice caves, weather permitting.
Making your way to the Apostle Islands may take a little more time, but clearly it's worth the effort.