Apostle Islands Kayak Island Camping
Sea Kayak, Camp, and Explore on Basswood and Oak Islands
Located on the South Shore of Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands are known for sea caves, sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, and sunken shipwrecks. After a day of preparation at Base Camp, your next four days will be spent kayaking and camping among the inner ring of islands. Your route may take you to turn-of-the-century Raspberry Island lighthouse or the Swallow Point Sea Caves of Sand Island, where twisted sandstone pillars have been sculpted by millennia of wave action. Whatever your route, the scenery is stunning and the possibilities are endless on this adventure!
For standard meeting places and times, see Dates & Fees tab.
DAY 1: Your trip officially starts at Wilderness Inquiry's Little Sand Bay Base Camp in the early afternoon. Upon arrival, review personal gear and prepare for your trip to the islands. Particpate in a sea kayak orientation and get your first view of Lake Superior. Spend one night at our beautiful base camp before heading out to the islands.
DAY 2: Get up early for breakfast. Pack up camp and launch from Red Cliff Bay. Paddle out into Lake Superior past the incredible sunken shipwrecks of Buffalo Bay. Cross out to Oak Island and settle in at a campsite on a grassy knoll overlooking Lake Superior.
DAY 3: Leave camp set-up as you explore the shoreline and trails of Oak Island. Circumnavigate the rocky and beautiful shores by foot or take a side paddle to a historic lighthouse on Raspberry Island. Enjoy dinner and a breathtaking sunset over Lake Superior. Camp a second night on Oak Island among the beautiful hemlock and pine trees.
DAY 4: Pack up camp and island hop to Basswood, home for the last night. Hike the beautiful island trails to an old brownstone quarry and relax at the sandy beaches. Enjoy one last dinner on the remote islands, recounting the adventures had around the campfire.
DAY 5: Break camp and enjoy one more morning on the water as you paddle back to mainland. Return to Base Camp to unpack, clean-up, and say goodbye to new friends.
Note On Weather: Sea kayaking is incredibly weather dependent. In the chance of high winds or heavy rains you may enjoy a layover day at one of the islands or spend additional time at Base Camp.
Travel, Terrain, Etc...
TERRAIN/ROUTE CHOICES: When you are not paddling, most of your time is spent on the beaches and grassy shorelines of the islands. The 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. With all the islands, bays, and shorelines in this area, we have several routes to choose from.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: You will travel in tandem sea kayaks, which hold 2 or 3 people plus all necessary gear. No previous experience is needed to complete this trip, in fact, it's great for beginners. An average day's travel consists of 2-6 paddling hours, depending on weather conditions.
WEATHER: 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. The weather is greatly affected by Lake Superior's large expanse and is notorious for sudden weather changes.
YOUR GROUP: The group size ranges from 6 to 18 participants, plus 2 or 3 Wilderness Inquiry staff. Each group consists of people of various ages, backgrounds, and abilities, including people with disabilities. Our trips are cooperative in nature. WI staff will assist you in whatever areas you need, however most people pitch in where they can.
ACCOMMODATIONS: For the first night you will stay at our Little Sand Bay Base Camp. On subsequent evenings you will stay at National Park Service campsites out on the islands. Typically, there are 2 people per 3-person tent (although other arrangements can be made). All campsites have NPS pit toilets or outhouses.
MEALS: Enjoy preparing meals together using healthy ingredients for bountiful dishes. Rise to the smell of freshly brewed coffee to enjoy with your breakfast, trail lunches with hearty snacks, and dinners prepared together over stoves and campfires. 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:
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.
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!
For more information, visit these links:
Standard Meetings 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 and Little Sand Bay is available for some trips. The van leaves from from the Wilderness Inquiry Headquarters in Minneapolis at 7:30 AM and the Radisson Hotel in Duluth at 10:30 AM. The van returns to the Radisson Hotel in Duluth around 4:30 PM and to Wilderness Inquiry Headquarters in Minneapolis around 7:30 PM. 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.Want to Ride With Us?
We typically provide transportation for this trip from the following places (make your selection when you register):