Enjoying the Apostle Islands and Superior Lakeshore
June 27, 2008 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Trying to take a long weekend trip to the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. We've only got about 3-4 days up there, so we want to make the most of it. Are we missing out by camping on the mainland? Besides kayaking, any must-do activities in the area? (Especially decent hiking that is easily accessible?)

We are trying to keep this trip simple and we don't have overnight backpacks, so we want to car camp on the mainland and do some day hiking/day kayaking/touristy exploring in the area.

The problem is that most of the National Park campsites are on the islands themselves, and transportation to and from the islands is very limited. I have found a few more tent-friendly sites on the mainland, we are looking at Point Detour. Although we'd like to do a day kayak trip, I don't think we've got the gear/endurance to do a multi-day island-to-island paddle. (Someday!) If anyone has been to the area and has suggestions, I'd appreciate it!

Some questions I have:
-Are we missing out by camping on the mainland? I think we are going to try to do a sea caves kayak day trip, or would it be more worthwhile to kayak to an island and hike?

-Are there are any decent hiking trails on the mainland? (Or even south of the area that we could hit on the way down or back?)

-Good restaurants or tourist attractions in the Bayfield area?

-Recommendations for a kayak outfitter? I have found a couple on the web, but I'd welcome personal recommendations.
posted by sararah to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Wow, you're, like, asking about my childhood here.

The long-and-short of it is that these islands are best enjoyed by being on the islands and not on the mainland. The only island that has private property anymore is Madeline, but other than that, you can basically wander and camp at will. This may be a kind of helter-skelter response to your questions, but hopefully you'll get what you want:
  • Transportation: To/from Madeline, you can take a car ferry, or leave the car in Bayfield and just walk on board (but Madeline's big - if you're headed to, say, Big Bay, you'll want the car anyway). You do really need your own floating thing to get to the outer islands. You can rent in Bayfield, probably in La Pointe (Madeline - and that's pronounced La Point, not the French way). On the NPS map (here) there's something called a camper shuttle, too, I wonder if that goes to the outer islands.
  • Bayfield: Is a cute place. There's some old-school houses and crafty places. Maggie's is the classic eatery. It's been around for-fucking-ever. I know the La Pointe restaurants better, where the classics are The Pub (where I first had pink squirrels and grasshoppers as a wee, like, 8-year-old) and Grandpa Tony's Pizzeria (they have the most delish garlic cheese bread ever, and there's an ice creamery in the other half of the same building). If you really want to be like kids, stop at the Dock Shop on your way onto the ferry back to Bayfield. This list from the state includes all the hiking trails and special events that Bayfield ever offers. The farmers' markets are great (organic strawberries - I cannot eat those giant flavorless California things after growing up on Wisconsin berries), and it's a shame you're not going to be there for AppleFest in October, but maybe next year.
  • Islands: If you want to make the most of this trip, I suggest you suck it up and rent a boat or find some other way to get transit to the Islands themselves. There are fewer people, more things to explore, better hiking, and plenty of unforgettable things.
    My "must visits" would be: Raspberry Island and Michigan Island. Maybe Sand Island (this one is relatively convenient from the Kayak launch at the mainland).
    I have mixed feelings about Stockton - there's a lot to do, it's close to Madeline, and so it's relatively easily accessible. However, all those nice characteristics mean it's also busier than the other islands.
    My "avoids" would be: Long Island (the flies are the worst EVER. You can leave a white dinghy on shore and come back to it an hour later to find it black with fly. And they BITE, the little fuckers), and Devil's Island (flies, but further away for your fly-pain). Also, Long Island's size and swampiness varies depending on rainfall. A lot of the times it's not even an island. I suspect this year it's probably quite small and very swampy.

    Anyway, you know yourselves better than I know you, for sure, but as a kayaker also, and not a HARDCORE one, if that makes sense, I think it'd be totally doable to have a trip like this:
    Day 1: Bayfield (by car)
    Day 2: La Pointe (take car by ferry, see La Pointe on foot, park car at north end of island
    Day 3: Morning: Kayak to Michigan. enjoy picnic, lighthouse, beach. Camp.
    Day 4: Morning: Kayak to Stockton. enjoy Stockton until its time to head home
    Last day: Kayak to Madeline, Drive back to La Pointe, Ferry back to mainland.

    If you had to pick only one island for that kayak trip, I would cut Michigan and go to Stockton. And if I could do that trip, you could do it :-)

    That was really verbose, but if there's anything I missed, feel free to ask here or MeMail me.

  • posted by whatzit at 10:40 PM on June 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

    Also, once you really have the endurance for a major trip, I recommend punting the Apostle Islands and heading straight for Isle Royale.
    posted by whatzit at 10:43 PM on June 27, 2008

    Yeah, as nice as the mainland is, the real beauty is on the islands themselves and on the water between the islands. To spend a long weekend in Bayfield without getting out on the water and seeing the islands would be like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower.

    The black flies can be pretty pesky... bring or buy a fly swatter. The Apostle Islands weather is famous for changing quickly, so bring a portable weather radio and listen to the forecast a few times a day. You don't want to be out on the water on a beautiful sunny afternoon when a sudden squall blows through!
    posted by exphysicist345 at 12:20 AM on June 28, 2008

    Ah, I just re-noticed the no overnight packs and stuff: don't sweat it so much here, at this time of year. There's nothing more awesome than a night in a sleeping bag under the stars. None of these sites will ever be deserted, and the boaters around the Apostles are generally a pretty welcoming folk who will take you in if the weather does turn. (Most of the boaters show up in 30'+ yachts or sailboats with cabins sufficient for whole families, so... yeah...). Do bring the bug spray though.
    posted by whatzit at 3:11 AM on June 28, 2008

    Response by poster: Thanks Whatzit, that's exactly the info I'm looking for. Yeah we are definitely going to go kayaking, we are just thinking along the lines of a day trip to the sea caves from an outfitter like this. We are fairly avid paddlers, (canoe/kayak) but we live in Iowa and the frickin' floods have prevented us from getting out on any body of water yet this year. Sad, I know.

    The Apostle Island Cruise Service offers a shuttle to Stockton and Oak Islands, but I'm still not sure if we want to do the overnight kayak rental. If you rent from the companies they make you take a half day safety course for site-inside kayaks so you know how to roll, otherwise you can rent sit on top kayaks without the class. Neither of us have been anything more than lake/river kayaking before, and I'm not entirely sure I know how to do a water exit, so we may just go the outfitter route for now. Maybe I'll look into overnight trips through the outfitter.

    Somehow this is turning out to be more work than just a quick weekend away, but I think it will be worth it and hopefully we'll have more time next trip. (Or learn lots of lessons for my dream trip to the San Juan Islands in WA. :)
    posted by sararah at 6:25 AM on June 28, 2008

    Best answer: I've taken a large group of city-kids overnight kayaking to either Sand Isle or York. I'd recommend hanging out on Madeline Island and Bayfield separately, then getting an outfitter who puts out from Little Sand Bay, or somewhere else up on the Red Cliff Rez. It's not a hard jaunt across, unless the wind really gets up--even then not so bad. (IMO, if a bunch of kids who've never kayaked before, many of whom got all whiny and refused to paddle, can make it... adults with sense would make short work of the crossing, barring shoulder injuries.) There is nothing like camping on one of the islands. Even if the weather sucks, it's beautiful.
    posted by RedEmma at 5:46 PM on June 29, 2008

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