Apostle Islands Family Paddle and Hike
Family Vacation from the comfort of our Little Sand Bay Base Camp
Located on the South Shore of Lake Superior between Cornucopia and Bayfield, the Apostle Islands are known for sea caves, sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, and sunken shipwrecks. On this Apostle Islands vacation, you and your family will paddle through sea caves, hike scenic trails, and enjoy wide sandy beaches. Camp with your family among the tall hemlock trees at our cozy and well-outfitted base camp at Little Sand Bay. Our talented and caring staff will have activities to keep kids of all ages engaged and having fun. Your kids will love it. Because of special support for our family trips, children 17 and under go for half price on this trip.
For standard meeting places and times, see Dates & Fees tab.
The Apostle Islands National Lake Shore and the Bayfield Peninsula offer many fun activities to choose from. We have many options for activities that are dependent on the wind and the weather. On windy days, we will stick to the land and take great hikes. On calmer days we will venture out in sea kayaks and 24-foot Voyageur canoes. A sample itinerary includes:
DAY 1: Your trip begins at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp. Your family will learn how to set up camp, go over safety issues, and begin to explore this area full of beautiful hemlock and cedar trees. Your guides will provide an orientation to sea kayaking and our 24-foot Voyageur canoes. After dinner you'll get to know your trip mates and make s'mores around the campfire.
DAY 2: Enjoy a hot cup of coffee or cocoa with breakfast, then set out for another day of adventure. Options include paddling out to explore the skeleton of the famous Fedora shipwreck near Buffalo Bay or paddling through the wetlands of Bark Bay Slough. WI staff will lead structured activities for the children throughout the day and evening.
DAY 3: After breakfast, we might paddle or hike to the Mawikwe Bay sea caves. As you eat your lunch on a sandy beach, feel the joy of this magical place. After lunch go on a beautiful hike to a nearby waterfall. Spend the evening back at Base Camp around the fire playing games and listening to stories.
DAY 4: Pack up camp and have breakfast before one final adventure. Enjoy a picnic lunch as you bid adieu to new friends.
Note On Weather: 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.
Travel, Terrain, Etc...
TERRAIN/ROUTE: Most of the time is spent with your family along the beaches and shorelines of the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore. The Apostle Islands are 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. We have several activities to choose from, each revealing a different dimension of this archipelago. Wind and weather largely determine the activities.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: You will be camping at Wilderness Inquiry's Little Sand Bay Base Camp on this trip and taking daytrips from there. An average day's activities consist of paddling a Voyageur canoe or sea kayak, hiking, and exploring the area. The 24-foot Voyageur canoes hold 6-10 paddlers and or our kayaks hold 2-3 people. No previous experience is needed to complete this trip. This trip is open to families with kids of all ages; however it is recommended for kids age 5 and older. Outings typically consist of 2-5 hours, depending on weather conditions. Be prepared for the possibility of a wind bound day.
WEATHER: Weather in the area is strongly influenced by Lake Superior and can change suddenly. Since safety is always our top priority, the weather often dictates what we will do during the day. Temperatures in the summer months range from 45 F to 85 F. Rainfall can vary, but you should expect at least one day of rain.
YOUR GROUP: Group sizes on Apostle Islands family trips range from 12 to 18 participants, plus 2-3 Wilderness Inquiry staff. Each group consists of families of various ages, backgrounds and abilities, including people with disabilities. Our trips are cooperative in nature.
ACCOMMODATIONS: At night you and your family will sleep in a comfortable 4 person tent at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp. Each tent is mounted on a platform. We have great bathroom facilities and full outdoor showers.
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 dinners as a group. 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.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.
The Apostle Islands on the South Shore of Lake Superior and the Bayfield Peninsula are 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 plants and trees 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:
Is there a discount on family trips?
Yes. All youth participants under the age of 18 pay 50% less than the adult rate on all family trips. Adult fees are typically lower than on our "adult" trips to the same destination to help family affordability. Click here to see a list of our available family trips.
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 a half mile 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.
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.
What is the minimum age for kids on your family trips?
There is no minimum age requirement to participate on a WI trip. For a paddling trip, we require participants to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times when on the water for safety. The smallest PFD we provide for children requires a minimum weight of 30 pounds. A child smaller than this weight limit would need to provide their own PFD or would be unable to participate on the trip. For most family trips, children should be able to sit comfortably in a canoe or kayak for 1+ hour at a time. This should guide whether or not a child would be a good fit on any particular trip. For a non-family trip, youth under the age of 18 must attend with an adult family member or friend who is over the age of 18.
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.
Will age-appropriate activities be offered for children on a family trip?
Absolutely. Your trip leaders will offer age-appropriate activities for children at different points during the trip.
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!
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Standard Meeting Places and Times
Start: Little Sand Bay Base Camp at 1:30 PM (local time)
End: Little Sand Bay Base Camp at 1:30 PM (local time)
This trip begins at 1:30 PM at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp near Bayfield, WI, where parking is available. The trip ends at 1:30 PM at the same location. Van transportation between Minneapolis or Duluth and Little Sand Bay is typically not available. Detailed meeting place directions will be sent to you when you are confirmed for the trip. 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.