Wisconsin Getaway: 48 Hours to Explore Bayfield

The best travel trends aren’t really trends at all. They’re organic, homegrown, genuine experiences.

That’s precisely what you’ll find in Bayfield, where the community footprint is a veritable group hug of the Lake Superior shoreline.

It’s a place, a people, a history and culture that combine to bring you the essence of what it means to tread lightly on the landscapes and to treasure the natural treasures.

Day One

4 p.m. – Start with a lay of the land. The counties of Bayfield and Ashland are next-door neighbors. While the famous Apostle Islands are off the coast of Bayfield, most of those islands and Madeline Island are actually part of Ashland County.

To piece it all together, pull into the Travel Green Wisconsin-certified Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center on the northern edge of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The center speaks to all who love the outdoors with stunning exhibits and free environmental events.

6 p.m. – Check in at one of Bayfield’s many lodging options, where “no two are alike” could easily be the mantra. Take this trio of B&Bs: The Pinehurst Inn, recipient of the Governor’s Tourism Stewardship Award, has its own garden house with eco-friendly features. The Old Rittenhouse Inn is a grande dame of Victoriana set on a hilltop with spectacular views of the lake. And Artesian House is a contemporary and exceedingly quiet eco-inn set on 25 acres and heated by solar panels.

A little outside town, you can have a cabin all to yourself when you rent Hauser’s Bayfield Cabin. Close enough to sea kayaking, Little Sand Bay Rec Area and dog sledding in the winter, this cabin offers secluded romance with adventure not too far away. Back in the heart of Bayfield is Harbor’s Edge Motel, directly across from the Madeline Island Ferry. Watch the comings and goings from the comfort of an Adirondack chair.

Day Two

10 a.m. – Explore the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and its 21 islands punctuated with those famous sculptural sea caves. Kayaking is king here, with guided day and overnight sea kayaking adventures provided by multiple professional outfitters.

If you’d like someone else to take the helm, head straight to Dreamcatcher Sailing for an eco-tour. Insider find: They have inflatable stand-up paddleboards. Jump in and the sailboat will stay close by to pick you up when you’re ready.

Noon – If you need a midday break, try a vegetarian option at The Fat Radish.

12:30 p.m. – If you decide Madeline Island is your destination, hop on the Madeline Island Ferry Line for the three-mile cruise and make it an overnight stay by camping at one of two sites. The campsites are actually connected by a mile-and-a-half stretch of beach and a boardwalk. 

After setting up camp, explore the island with stops at Madeline Island Candles, Bell Street Gallery, and Woods Hall Craft Shop which will be chock full of work from local weavers. A great place to grab a bite to eat is farm-to-table standout Café Seiche, or Farmhouse, another local and organic eatery.

Another island, Stockton Island, and its Julian Bay also deserves a shout out. It is here you’ll find the “singing sands.” The quartz content in the sand produces a squeaking or “singing” sound underfoot.

Back on the mainland, move from song to art with a visit to Eckels Pottery studio where you can see the potters work their magic. Browse the upbeat gallery at Stone’s Throw for jewelry and home décor.

6 p.m. – For those staying in Bayfield, Landmark Restaurant at Old Rittenhouse Inn is the essence of gourmet, with upscale American and French cuisine on the menu.

It’s “check please” so you can make it to an evening performance at Big Top Chautauqua, a circus tent venue that has been hosting musical performances for 30 years. 

Day Three

9 a.m. – Day two is all about sure footing on land. If you’re staying in town, stroll to Wonderstate Coffee for an espresso and scratch bakery. 

10 a.m. – For bikers who love a good challenge, take the hilly route through the apple orchards with the aroma of apple blossoms urging you on. There are also three bike trails in the area ranging from 20 to 40 miles.

For hard-core hikers, take the Meyers Beach hiking trail past and above the sea caves. A more relaxed hike can be found along the trail in the Houghton Falls Natural Area.

One more option – golf. The Apostle Highlands 18-hole course is perched 500 feet above sea level with spectacular views to the islands (holes 3 and 15 are said to be the most picturesque). Honestly, you won’t even care what your score is.

All outdoor adventurers should consider rewarding themselves with a piece or two of new apparel from Howl Clothing & Adventure. Pick up some gear for your dog, too.

2 p.m. – Make sure your last stop of the visit is a bookstore. Apostle Islands Booksellers offers a collection emphasizing the history, culture and cuisine of the area. Be forewarned that you’re likely to leave with an armful of books.

Keep the adventures going with a visit to the United States' first ever Tribal National Park!