The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a 22-island archipelago on the South Shore of Lake Superior. It is known for its red sandstone sea caves, sandy beaches, picturesque lighthouses, and historic shipwrecks. Sea kayaking in the Apostle Islands is great for both novice and experienced paddlers. There are also plenty of opportunities to hike, play on the beach, sight-see, camp out, and enjoy the rhythm of the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior.
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About the AreaThe Apostle Islands National Lakeshore lies in northwestern Wisconsin on the waters of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Our Little Sand Bay Base Camp is immediately adjacent to the Apostle Islands on the South Shore of Lake Superior. The area is an enticing mix of rolling hills, sandstone cliffs, sand beaches, and a 22 island archipelago covered with a beautiful mix of northern hardwood and boreal forest that are laced with streams, waterfalls, and wetlands. It is a kayakers paradise with endless options to explore.
The town of Bayfield, Wisconsin is the jumping off point for your adventure in the Apostles. Visitors can find a variety of scenic features on the islands that include pristine stretches of sand beaches, spectacular sea caves, and some of the largest stands of remnant old-growth forests in the upper Midwest. Spot diverse populations of birds, mammals, amphibians, and fish, and visit the largest collection of nationally registered lighthouses in the entire National Park system.
Where We Go
We have several different itineraries for the Apostle Islands because there is so much to see and do! The best itinerary for seeing the most of the area is our most popular Apostle Island Base Camp and Kayak Tour. This experience stays at our beautiful and strategically located Little Sand Bay Base, and does a series of day trips from there. The advantage to this trip is that you do not have to make and break camp every night. Instead, you can spend your time exploring the magnificent Mawikwe Bay Sea Caves by kayak and hike, and paddle to see shipwrecks from a different era. Kayak to Sand Island to visit more caves, walk along Justice Bay, and hike to the incredible Sand Bay Lighthouse. Our Apostle Island family trips are similar but geared at a different pace for families, including more s’mores and a relaxed agenda. Read a great story about a family trip here.
If you prefer to get out and camp and paddle between the islands you will enjoy our 5-day Apostle Island Kayak Island Camping trip. On this trip you pack all of your food and gear into our custom made Current Designs Libra kayaks and travel out to Sand, Oak, Basswood, and Stockton (and potentially other islands!) Spend your evenings at beautiful National Park Service camp sites and enjoy the stars and a campfire. We also offer a custom 7-day Apostle Islands Outer Island Expedition if you want to extend your trip and travel further to islands such as Manitou, Devil’s, Outer, or Rocky – to name a few. You will need to find at least 5 like minded paddlers for us to do this with you.
We’ve developed wonderful food and drink based itineraries that operate out of our Little Sand Bay Base Camp. The original A Taste of the Apostles Islands with Beth Dooley is a popular culinary tour of local and organic foods produced on the Bayfield Peninsula. Famed James Beard award-winning author Beth Dooley is the master-mind and host of this wonderful trip. You will kayak to caves, shipwrecks, and beaches, and enjoy delicious, healthy meals, wine, beer, and spirits. We have a mini version of this trip called Apostle Island Paddle, Pinot and Porter, which, as the name implies, focused more on adult beverages. This tailored itinerary includes many outdoor adventures as well, plus unique tours like the recently opened Copper Crow Distillery in Red Cliff.
Last but not least, for those of you who want to stretch and hike we have two more great options. The first is our Base Camp Kayak and Yoga adventure. On this trip long-time WI instructor and Yoga Master Rebecca Barnes will lead you on both an internal and external journey that you will love. No yoga or kayak experience needed! Our latest itinerary addition is our South Shore Hike and Explore. This adventure (also based out of our Little Sand Bay Base) happens in the fall and takes advantage of the many beautiful hikes in the Bayfield Peninsula. Walking through the brilliant colors of fall foliage above the sea caves or on the way to Lost Falls is a great way to spend a weekend.
Whichever trip you choose, you will enjoy the beauty of the area, the quality of our equipment, our wonderful staff, and great food.
Temperatures in the summer and fall months range from 45 F to 90 F. Rainfall can vary, but you should expect at least one day of rain. Weather in the area is strongly influenced by Lake Superior and can change suddenly.
Terrain and Route
The terrain and landscape of the Apostle Islands is made up of red sandstone, covered with a mixed forest of birch, pine, oak, and maple. Except for a few cliffs, the terrain is gentle and rolling. Most of your time is spent along the beaches and shorelines of the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore, kayaking to the shipwrecks and sea caves in our sturdy and comfortable sea kayaks. We have several routes to choose from, each revealing a different dimension of this archipelago. Wind and weather largely determine the route, and storms may delay paddling.
Geology and Cultural History of the Apostles
The unique geological features, rich cultural heritage, and diverse ecological system of the Apostle Islands have attracted visitors for centuries. One story says that early Jesuit missionaries, believing that there were only 12 islands in this 22-island archipelago, named the region after the twelve apostles in the Bible.
The history of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore predates these missionaries by eons, however, as the region’s bedrock can be traced to Precambrian times. Nearly a billion years ago, sand and silt were deposited in this region via northwesterly flowing streams and rivers. Under the weight of additional layers, the sediment slowly compacted and began to bond together.
These layers eventually experienced tremendous pressure as the ice age began and glaciers thousands of feet thick covered the forming sedimentary rock. The cycle of advancing and receding glaciers continued to shape the Apostles landscape until 10,000 years ago when the last of the glaciers finally receded. Although the glacial activity formed much of what we see today, other dynamic processes continue as differential erosion alters the islands’ beautiful sandstone arches, pillars, and caves.
These geologic wonders are partly responsible for attracting the native inhabitants and present day visitors. The Anishinabe (also called Ojibwe, or Chippewa) were the most recent native people to inhabit the islands. Hunting, fishing, and maple sugaring provided food and supplies, and were eventually traded with the Europeans. During the mid-1800s the islands’ resources attracted European settlers and for 80 years these resources were seriously exploited. Brownstone was quarried and used to construct buildings and lighthouses, some of the forests were cleared and turned into farmlands, commercial fishing increased, and mills and mines were established.
Conservation of the Islands and Management by the National Park Service
By the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the islands’ natural resources were scarce. While unfortunate for the people of the United States, the Depression saved the archipelago as it all but stopped development of the islands.
Congress designated the Apostles as a National Lakeshore in 1970; in 2004, Congress further designated 80% of the Apostles as the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness, named after Wisconsin’s great conservationist and former Governor and U.S. Senator. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore encompasses over 69,000 acres, of which 27,000 acres are submerged lands in Lake Superior. The National Lakeshore includes 21 of the 22 islands in the archipelago, plus a 12 mile long narrow strip of mainland shoreline. The islands range in size from Stockton Island at 10,000 acres to the tiny 3-acre Gull Island.
Today, the National Park Service manages the Apostles Islands. The rare combination of remote but accessible scenery, geography, and both open and protected waters affords unparalleled freshwater sailing, boating, sea kayaking, and fishing opportunities. Ecological succession has returned this system to a natural balance and visitors enjoy abundant wildlife, heavily forested islands, beaches, and geologic wonders worthy of the Park Service’s protection.
In 2016 the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore received the National Park Service “Accessibility Excellence” Award for developing universally designed campsites at Quarry Bay on Stockton Island and East Bay on Sand Island. Sites now include a boardwalk leading to oversized tent pads, making the sites accessible for individuals with limited mobility.
Wilderness Inquiry introduced principles of Universal Design in developing Little Sand Bay Base Camp during renovations starting in 2008, with many improvements since. Our fully-accessible property features tent pads with ramp access, boardwalks over low laying areas, accessible bathroom and shower facilities, in addition to custom-designed kayaks. These features make our trips in the Apostle Islands a perfect choice for novice and expert campers and paddlers alike.
Our experienced trail guides will lead you to explore some of the most gorgeous sea caves, cliffs, rock formations, and hidden beaches the Apostle Islands have to offer. Visit Meyers sea caves, explore Sand Island and gaze upon Lake Superior shipwrecks. Learn basic paddling skills, explore new areas, and make new friends all from the comfort of our custom accessible 3-person Current Designs kayaks.
Bayfield county has nearly forty hiking trails and hosts part of the North Country National Scenic trail, the longest national scenic trail in the nation. Explore hidden waterfalls, sea caves, historic steamboat landings, and more! Some of our favorite hiking options include: Lost Creek, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore overlooks, Frog Bay, and Houghton Falls.
Lake Superior the largest of the Great Lakes. It is the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area bordered by Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Ontario Canada.