Dreaming of escaping to an island this summer? Consider heading north to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. This stunning national park encompasses Lake Superior’s 22-member Apostle Islands, plus the mainland town of Bayfield, Wisconsin, and its share of the lakeshore. What makes this destination drive-worthy? Here, in no particular order, are our top six reasons.
#1: Lake Superior The Apostle Islands reside in the nation’s largest, deepest and coldest lake (making it, quite literally, superior). The vast body of water feels more like an ocean, stretching past the horizon and changing between glass-topped calm and white-capped, wave-filled action. Lake Superior makes for gorgeous views from town and, on windless days, offers ample ways to play.
#2: Bayfield, Wisconsin The “gateway to the Apostle Islands” sits on the Lake Superior shore, 85 miles east of Duluth. Downtown centers around Rittenhouse Avenue, a hilly street lined with fantastic eateries (Ethel’s at 250), beautiful B&Bs (Old Rittenhouse Inn), shops and art galleries (Johannes Scandinavian). At the foot of Rittenhouse Avenue is the Bayfield harbor, with views of Madeline Island and a ferry to take visitors there. (715) 779-3335; bayfield.org
#3: La Pointe, Wisconsin The only inhabited Apostle Island is Madeline Island, home to the tiny town La Pointe. The island’s 200 residents trend toward the artsy, and the downtown mixes a handful of restaurants (The Pub) and bars (Tom’s Burned Down Bar) with artists’ studios (Island Carvers), vacation homes, a hotel (Inn at Madeline Island) and an art gallery (Woods Hall). The Madeline Island Ferry transports visitors between Bayfield and La Pointe every 45 minutes in prime tourist season. (715) 779-3335; bayfield.org
#4: Big Bay State Park Three miles outside of La Pointe on the northern tip of Madeline Island, Big Bay State Park draws hikers eager to explore several miles worth of trails. Hikers can follow the rocky shoreline to a lake overlook or explore inland paths through a forest of ancient pine, birch and maple. (715) 747-6425; dnr.wi.gov
#5: Sea Caves The relentless lapping (or crashing) of waves against the sandstone cliffs outside Bayfield formed beautiful stone formations. Giant caves, soaring arches and a craggy, ever-changing rock face draw sea kayakers in the summer; in winter, the spectacular ice formations draw hearty hikers and snowmobilers (nps.gov). Living Adventure leads day-long or overnight guided kayaking tours. (715) 779-9503; livingadventure.com
#6: Big Top Chautauqua While not technically part of the Apostle Islands, this entertainment venue a few miles south of Bayfield offers can’t-miss experience. A blue-and-white stripped tent (think: three-ring circus) covers a stage, ragtag seating and a floor of crushed gravel. It’s not fancy, but Bonnie Rait, Willie Nelson, B.B. King and Emmy Lou Harris have all played here. When concerts aren’t scheduled, catch the Big Top Chautauqua Tent Show, a variety show combining music and monologues. bigtop.org
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