Apostle Islands Base Camp and Kayak Tour
Sea Kayaking and Hiking from our Apostle Islands Base Camp
Join us on a kayak tour of the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore. Experience a series of sea kayaking and hiking day trips from our Little Sand Bay Base Camp, including beautiful Sand Island, the Mawikwe Sea Caves, Bark Bay Slough, or the shipwrecks of Red Cliff Bay. So many day trip options await you on this popular Apostle Islands offering just north of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Experience breathtaking sunsets over Lake Superior and listen to waves crash along the shore. The Apostle Islands National Lake Shore is great for beginning sea kayakers and seasoned paddlers alike.
DAY 1: In the afternoon meet at our beautiful base camp at Little Sand Bay. Share introductions, review personal gear, participate in a sea kayaking orientation, and get to know new friends. Spend the evening at camp roasting marshmallows over the fire, and discuss the coming days' events.
DAY 2: Get up early for breakfast, review paddling skills and start exploring. Depending on the weather and wind direction, explore the spectacular Mawikwe Bay Sea Caves or drive to Red Cliff to explore Buffalo Bay and paddle among shipwrecks. Enjoy a casual paddle back to the beach and head back to base camp for dinner. Listen to stories about many of the Apostle Islands' shipwrecks around the campfire in the evening.
DAY 3: After breakfast we may kayak out to Sand Island. Visit sea caves and the historic Sand Island lighthouse on the northeast shore. Eat lunch on a remote beach and, weather permitting, kayak in and out of the caves' sculpted rock chambers. Enjoy one last night at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp with hot showers, great food and good company sharing stories over a toasty fire.
DAY 4: After breakfast, enjoy one final adventure, have lunch and say goodbye to new friends.
NOTE: Sea kayaking is incredibly weather dependent. In the chance of high winds or heavy rains you may enjoy various mainland hikes or other local activities in replace of kayaking.
What To Expect
TERRAIN/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 the sea caves. 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.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: No previous sea kayaking experience is needed to complete this trip. You will travel in sea kayaks which hold 2 or 3 people plus all necessary gear. An average day's travel consists of 2-6 paddling and/or hiking hours, depending on weather conditions. Travel distances vary from 4-6 miles each day.
WEATHER: Temperatures in the summer months range from 45 F to 85 F. Rainfall can vary. Weather in the area is strongly influenced by Lake Superior and can change suddenly.
YOUR GROUP: The group size ranges from 10 to 18 participants, plus 2 or more Wilderness Inquiry guides. Each group consists of people of various ages, backgrounds and abilities, including people with disabilities. Our Apostle Islands kayak trips are cooperative in nature. WI staff will assist you in whatever areas you need, however most people pitch in where they can.
ACCOMMODATIONS: You will enjoy your stay at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp. At night you will sleep in comfortable platform tents with cots. Typically, there are 2-3 people per 4-person tent (other arrangements can be made). Our Little Sand Bay Base Camp has very nice indoor bathrooms and shower facilities with hot water.
MEALS: We’ll enjoy preparing our meals together in our rustic base camp kitchens using fresh, healthy ingredients for bountiful dishes. Rise to the smell of freshly brewed coffee to enjoy with your breakfast of eggs, oatmeal, or granola. We’ll pack picnic lunches with hearty snacks before heading off to explore. In the evening, we’ll prepare our dinner together over stoves and campfires, and then finish with s’mores or a glass of wine. If you have special dietary restrictions, be sure to list them on your registration.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING: Wilderness Inquiry will provide all group equipment. You will need to provide your personal gear as outlined in the packing list. If you are new to outdoor activities, you do not need to spend a lot of money. Wilderness Inquiry can usually arrange for you to borrow most items. Also, looking into gear rental options can be a cost effective option.A note about the itinerary: Our trips are real adventures in the outdoors. While we'll make every effort to follow the itinerary listed here, elements may change due to weather or reasons beyond our control.
Our Little Sand Bay Base Camp is immediately adjacent to the Apostle Islands on the South Shore of Lake Superior. This 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 and laced with streams, waterfalls, and wetlands.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore lies in the northwestern Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. The town of Bayfield, Wisconsin, is the jumping off point for your adventure in 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.
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 69,372 acres, of which 27,323 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, 054 acres to the tiny 3-acre Gull Island.
Visitors can find a variety of scenic features on the islands. These include pristine stretches of sand beaches and coves; spectacular sea caves; some of the largest stands of remnant old-growth forests in the upper Midwest; a diverse population of birds, mammals, amphibians, and fish; and the largest collection of national register lighthouses and lighthouse complexes in the entire national park system.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is your cancellation/refund policy?
Your 10% deposit is non-refundable. If you choose to cancel your trip:
For trips in the continental United States:
• 6 weeks prior to start date — we will refund fees paid minus deposit.
• Less than 6 weeks — we will refund 50% of the total trip fee, or 100% of fees paid can be transferred to a future trip.
• Less than 1 week— no refunds will be issued.
For trips outside the continental United States:
• 12 weeks prior to start date— we will refund fees paid minus deposit.
• Less than 12 weeks — we will refund 50% of the total trip fee, or 100% of fees paid can be transferred to a future trip.
• Less than 2 weeks — no refunds will be issued.
In the rare event that WI cancels a trip, or we are unable to serve you, all fees are immediately refunded, including the deposit. Unfortunately, we cannot be responsible for personal expenses such as airline tickets. To protect your investment in your travel plans we recommend purchasing travel insurance. Information on travel insurance is included in your trip confirmation packet. If after registering you wish to switch trips, you may do so subject to availability. Fees may apply.
Under certain circumstances, such as death of a family member, change in health status, loss of employment, etc., we may make exceptions to our refund policies. Please let us know immediately if your plans change!
Can people of any age attend a trip?
Yes. Adults of all ages join our adult trips. In most circumstances children under 18 years of age are only allowed on family trips. We do not recommend many of our trips for infants or children under age 3. If you have young children, or if you have questions about which trips are most appropriate please call our office at 612-676-9400.
What is the base camp like on the Apostle Islands trips?
We refer to our property as the Little Sand Bay Base Camp. The camp is approximately 1,500 feet from the Lake Superior lake shore near Little Sand Bay in Northern Wisconsin. Our base camp offers camping at its most comfortable and accessible. All tents are large enough to stand upright, and are set up on comfortable wooden platforms. Hot showers, private bathrooms, a roofed pavilion space, and an indoor seating area for leisure time are other key features. The camp consists of 40 acres of woods with wood chip trails, 5 campsites, and a gear warehouse. Watch this short video to see what it is like.
What are our transportation options for the Apostle Islands trip?
One option is to take your own vehicle and meet your group at Wilderness Inquiry's Little Sand Bay Base Camp. You can park your vehicle here for the duration of the trip. Another option is to use WI's van transportation, which typically leaves from WI headquarters in Minneapolis early in the morning on the first day of the trip and returns to Minneapolis the evening of the last trip day. There is an additional fee of $75 to use WI's roundtrip van transportation.
On which Apostle Islands trips do we camp on the islands?
The Apostle Islands Kayak Island Camping trip is the only trip where you actually set up camp and sleep on the islands. If you have a private group that would like to customize an island camping experience, we can likely accommodate.
During all other Apostle Islands trips, participants stay at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp, located on the main land approximately 0.5 miles from the Lake Superior Shoreline. Kayak trips on Lake Superior are organized on most days, in which you will explore the sea caves and other highlights of the Apostle Islands area. All activities depend upon safe weather conditions.
Will I get to see the sea caves on my Apostle Islands trip?
The sea caves are the most popular feature of the Apostle Islands area - and with good reason! It is our intention to explore the caves by kayak at least once during every trip. This is dependent upon safe paddling conditions on Lake Superior, as safety is always our top priority. On a clear day, we should be able to paddle to the sea caves and even travel through the insides of the caves by kayak.
Do I need previous kayak experience to join a trip in the Apostle Islands?
Paddling trips with WI are appropriate for beginners and seasoned paddlers alike. On the first day of all trips, basic paddling strokes will be taught by the trip leader. Each trip gives participants multiple opportunities to practice their skills. Participants with more experience will have plenty of opportunity to paddle during the trip, and even to help teach less experienced paddlers!
Does this trip have electricity for my CPAP machine, phone, camera or other electronic device?
Yes this trip has electricity. Please indicate on your registration form that you need electricity and we will be sure to accommodate your need to the best of our abilities. If this is an international trip please check if you need an international adapter for your electronics. You can find more information on international plug ins here: https://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/
I am riding in the Wilderness Inquiry van to the trip starting point. Where can I park my car?
Wilderness Inquiry has no participant parking available in our lot. We strongly recommend that participants meeting at WI make arrangements to be dropped off and picked up at WI. If you are unable to make a drop off/pick up arrangement, you can park your car at the St. Anthony Standard parking ramp ($10/day). Long-term street parking is not available.
For more information, visit these links:
This trip begins at 1:30 PM at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp near Bayfield, WI, where parking is available. This trip ends at Little Sand Bay Base Camp at 1:30 PM. Van transportation between Minneapolis or Duluth and Little Sand Bay is available for most trips. The van leaves from Wilderness Inquiry headquarters in Minneapolis at 7:30 AM and from the Radisson Hotel in Duluth at 10:30 AM. The van returns to the Radisson Hotel in Duluth around 3:30 PM and to Wilderness Inquiry Headquarters in Minneapolis around 6:30 PM. Detailed meeting place directions will be sent to you when you are confirmed for the trip. Another option for transportation between Minneapolis and Duluth is The Skyline Shuttle which runs several times daily. For more information visit: http://www.skylineshuttle.com. Booking a flight? We recommend flying in the night before your trip to Duluth or Minneapolis St. Paul airports, and flying out from Duluth after 5:30 PM and from Minneapolis St. Paul after 9:00 PM. Call us at 612-676-9400 if you have questions.Want to Ride With Us?
We typically provide transportation for this trip from the following places (make your selection when you register):