Wisconsin is a state well worth exploring. It has a breathtaking natural landscape and more than 1,000 miles of shoreline along the Great Lakes and Mississippi River—ideal for kayaking, fishing, paddle-boarding and other water sports. Hikers will love the state’s 17.1 million acres of forest area.
But, of course, the state of Wisconsin is large, so it’s good to pick one section to explore during your vacation. Families who love active adventure trips will especially love Bayfield County, Wisconsin which has plenty of options for sailing, hiking, kayaking, SUP and biking. Of course, the star of the show is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It’s often referred to as the Jewel of Lake Superior and for good reason.
Activities in the Apostle Islands Region
A highlight is kayaking to the sea caves in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. If it’s a windy day or the currents are strong, it can be quite the kayak ride, but well worth the physical exertion to get up close to these amazing caves. They are carved out of the sandstone cliffs along Lake Superior’s shore. Book a half-day sea cave paddle with Whitecap Kayaks. The caves were created by centuries of wave action as well as the freezing and thawing of the bottom part of the sandstone cliffs. The result is beautifully sculpted shorelines throughout Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. You can see vaulted chambers, carved arches, honeycombed passageways and more when you kayak up close to these caves. For a true adventure, book an overnight camping/kayak trip. You’ll be able to see numerous islands and caves on this trip and you’ll get the experience of staying overnight in the actual national park.
You can also book a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) with Lost Creek Adventures. You can either do your own thing and rent a SUP for a few hours or book a guided tour of the sea caves.
For a unique experience, take a sailing charter with True North Sailing Charters which has a variety of sailing options including a two-hour Bayfield sail; a five-hour Apostle Islands excursion; and a full-day sail which can include visits to Stockton, Raspberry or Manitou Islands. What is nice about this sailing experience is you can help as much (or as little) as you’d like. You can sit back and take in the views of the Apostle Islands and Lake Superior, while the guide gives some background about the area or you can take an active role in the actual sailing. The company is owned and operated by brothers Josh and Abe Clark, both of whom have a love for sailing and wanted to share their passion with the public.
Another active-adventure option is to rent bikes on Madeline Island. Motion to Go is a rental shop (they have both bicycles and mopeds) located just a few minutes from the ferry dock on Madeline Island. You can either spend a few hours or a full day biking around this lovely island. Be sure to take plenty of stops along the way, including walking around Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve (which has more than 2,600 acres of forest, wetlands and trails) and Big Bay State Park (which has a gorgeous 1.5-mile beach, miles of hiking trails and a boardwalk.
For a nice overview of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, take an Apostle Island Grand Tour Cruise. The cruise is narrated which is a great way to get the background and history of this region. The 55-mile scenic tour is about two hours and you’ll pass by the historic Raspberry Devil’s Island Lighthouses, extensive sea caves, and other scenic sights.
There are also plenty of places to go for hikes and walks in Bayfield County. The Washburn Lakeshore Parkway and Walking Trail is a lovely trail just under a mile and a half long. The path has nice views of the beaches, bluffs and lakefront—in fact, you can access three different beaches along this route. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the lakefront scenery of sailboats and harbor.
Short but sweet at just under a mile, the Iron Bridge Trail follows the ravine creek under the old Iron Bridge uphill and across the creek to an overlook and waterfall.
Bring a picnic lunch and head to Siskiwit Falls, which is a great way to spend a few hours in nature.
While you’re in the region, be sure to stop at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center. It has a nice observation tower, an interpretive boardwalk trail through the wetland (it’s just under a mile) and rotating exhibits.
Where to Eat
Washburn has plenty of good options for meals. The North Coast Coffee is the spot to start your morning: they have a nice selection of coffees, teas and other drinks. For lunch, head to Patsy’s, which was voted the best burger in Bayfield County. They are also known for their Friday fish fry (which is served all day) which is Lake Superior whitefish served up with coleslaw, fries and tartar sauce. For some of the best take-out pizza, head to DaLou’s Bistro which has homemade, wood-fired pizza (the authentic oven was imported from Italy). In addition to pizza, they have a variety of pastas, salads, and sandwiches.
There are also a variety of good restaurants in Bayfield including The Deck at the Bayfield Inn which has amazing views (the menu has a nice selection of burgers, white fish, steak, salads and sandwiches). The Rittenhouse Inn (which is also a B&B), is a fine dining restaurant so it’s a great spot to get dressed up and celebrate a special birthday or anniversary. The Manypenny Bistro has a nice mix of American and Turkish dishes, all made fresh to order. The Greunke’s (which is also an inn) is like walking back in time. The 1940’s-area memorabilia includes an old soda fountain counter.
In Cornucopia, be sure to eat at Fat Radish, a family-owned farm-to-table restaurant. The dishes are made from ingredients sourced from local farmers and creameries and the fish comes from Lake Superior. Siskowit Farmhouse is a great spot to pick up lunch before heading to Siskiwit Falls for a picnic.
Where to Stay
There are a variety of hotels, B&Bs and inns in Bayfield County. The newly-renovated independently-owned Washburn Inn overlooks the marina and harbor on the shores of Lake Superior.