116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Experienced travelers know that there’s something special about towns connected to water, whether they’re sleepy river towns or busy ports. That’s especially true for Bayfield, Wis., a small town that’s the gateway to the Apostle Islands, an archipelago that extends into Lake Superior at the northernmost tip of Wisconsin. A trip to this picturesque town and to the islands known for their dramatically sculpted sea caves will refresh your spirit, dazzle your senses, and make you eager for a return trip.
With just 487 year-round residents, Bayfield offers a warm welcome to the many thousands of visitors who flock here each year. Locally owned shops, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants fill its historic downtown on the shore of Lake Superior, while the steep hills above the town are filled with houses ranging from cozy cottages to grand mansions.
To start your visit, pick up a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage at Gale Force Coffee and then head out to explore. Browse the galleries where the area’s many resident artists display their work, including Stone’s Throw and the Bayfield Artists Guild. Then tour the Bayfield Maritime Museum, a free attraction that explores the nautical history of the area through demonstrations and exhibits on commercial fishing, boatbuilding, lighthouses, shipwrecks and sailor crafts.
Venturing farther afield, drive the Fruit Loop — an aptly named route connecting farms, orchards and wineries that line the back roads surrounding Bayfield. Despite its northern latitude, the area’s proximity to Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands creates a microclimate perfect for the growing many kinds of fruits. During the summer, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, blueberries, and blackberries are sold at roadside stands and at the downtown farmers market each Saturday morning. Autumn brings the apple harvest, when local orchards sell varieties ranging from rare heirloom apples to tasty new cultivars.
A must-do for any Bayfield visitor is a visit to Madeline Island, a 25-minute ferry ride away. The pace on this 14- by 3-mile patch of land is even more relaxed than in Bayfield. Long a favorite of artists and summer vacationers, Madeline Island has a golf course, restaurants, shops, and galleries, as well as Big Bay State Park. The park’s 2,350 acres include inland trails that wind underneath old growth hemlock trees as well as nearly four miles of Lake Superior shoreline with sandstone bluffs and one of the area’s best swimming beaches.
Madeline Island is also a good place to learn about the indigenous history and culture of the region. The Ojibwe called the island Mooningwanekaaning, meaning Home of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker. Near the lakeshore, you can visit the peaceful Ojibwe Cemetery and Memorial Park, which has sacred cedar trees and a Prayer Pole. Note also that the island’s signage is bilingual in Ojibwe and English, an indication of the Ojibwe people’s continuing connections to the island.
You can learn more about the history of the island at the Madeline Island Museum, which is housed in a rough-hewn log structure and stockade near the ferry dock. In addition to Native American exhibits, the museum has displays on the eighteenth-century fur trade, the early lumber industry, and the role of women on the island.
After touring Bayfield and Madeline Island, it’s time to explore the wilder side of the region: the chain of 21 islands that are part of the Apostle Islands National Seashore. This federal park protects the sculpted rocks and caves for which the area is famous, as well as sandy beaches, dense forests and scenic lighthouses. The islands provide habitat for hundreds of migrating and native bird species as well as a fluctuating population of bears, some of whom are just passing through and others who are permanent residents.
You’ll want to get out on the water to see the Apostle Islands’ main draw:
the spectacular caves, arches, sea stacks, and other formations that border many of their shores. Ice, wind, and lake waves have sculpted the islands’ red bedrock sandstone into a dazzling array of shapes. Their colors are particularly intense at sunrise and sunset, shifting from scarlet to orange to pink, all framed by the brilliant blue waters of Lake Superior.
Bayfield-based tour companies offer a variety of ways to view the formations, from guided kayaking expeditions to narrated cruises. On the mainland, you can also see them by hiking the 4.5-mile Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail, which is part of 12 miles of shoreline that is included in the Apostle Islands National Seashore.
Other areas around Bayfield also have great natural beauty, including Houghton Falls Nature Preserve south of town. You can enjoy its 76 acres of boreal forest, sandstone cliffs, and seasonal waterfalls on a 1.5-mile trail that ends at scenic Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. In Bayfield itself, take the short-but-scenic Big Ravine Trail. Owned and managed by the city of Bayfield, it winds through a magical ravine filled with towering cedars, hemlocks, and pines.
All these outdoor activities are likely to leave you hungry. During your stay, be sure to have at least one meal of freshly caught Lake Superior fish, which is a staple of many of the town’s restaurants. At the Copper Trout, try the Superior Whitefish chowder and wild mushroom bruschetta, or pick up some smoked lake trout at Hoop’s Fish Market for a picnic by the shore. Other options include Manypenny Bistro for American-Turkish cuisine, and the Bayfield Inn, which serves upscale comfort food in a dining room overlooking the harbor.
After your meal, grab an ice cream at the aptly named Sweet Sailing and head down to the lakefront. Listen to the waves lapping at the shore, enjoy the cool breeze off the water, and savor the beauty of Lake Superior, the magnificent inland sea that has shaped this remarkable landscape.
• The Old Rittenhouse Inn: A 1890s Queen Anne mansion that also houses the Landmark Restaurant.
• Camping: Privately owned Apostle Islands Area Campground; the town’s Dalrymple Campground, and on 19 of the islands that are part of the Apostle Islands National Seashore.
• Festival of the Arts: Sept. 11 and 12
• Bayfield Apple Festival: Oct. 1 to 3.
• Bayfield: bayfield.org; (715) 779-3335
• Apostle Islands National Seashore: nps.gov/apis, (715) 779-3397