Apostle Islands South Shore Hike and Explore
Discover peak fall colors on Lake Superior's South Shore
Discover the magnificent fall colors of Lake Superior’s South Shore. Days are filled with coastal and inland hikes around the Bayfield Peninsula enjoying the stark beauty of the area. Lost Creek Trail, Houghton Falls and Frog Bay offer hikes along sea caves through hemlock forests, hidden waterfalls, the country’s first tribal national park, and endless beaches. The South Shore offers countless miles of sandy beaches, awe-inspiring sandstone formations and red clay cliffs, including dramatic sea caves. Shrouded in boreal and hardwood forest, it’s the perfect destination for fall colors and rivals any location for the country’s best leaf peeping.
DAY 1: Your trip starts in early afternoon at Wilderness Inquiry's beautiful Little Sand Bay Base Camp. Orient yourself to the quiet North Woods on our 40 acre property and take a short hike to School Bus Rock. Get to know your trip mates over a glass or wine and enjoy the crisp fall air together over a fire.
DAY 2: Spend the day enjoying the beautiful fall colors as you hike above the National Lakeshore admiring sea caves below. Set off and explore the sandy shoals of the first tribal national park in the United States. You'll also have an opportunity to visit one of the area's local orchards before spending the evening around the campfire regaling in the day's events.
DAY 3: Visit Houghton Falls and see why this area has attracted explorers for the last three centuries. Stop in picturesque Bayfield and experience the charming town before a picnic lunch. Discover hidden waterfalls at Lost Creek Falls before relaxing under a star filled sky with your adventure companions.
DAY 4: Walk down and dip your toes in Lake Superior taking in a final vista of the clear blue waters before saying goodbye to your new friends and heading home.
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. Your time is spent along the beaches and shorelines of the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore, as well as inland waterways and hikes. 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 change itinerary.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: Your time will be spent hiking along Lake Superior. An average day's travel consists of 2-6 hiking hours, depending on weather conditions. Travel distances vary from 4-6 miles each day. On some days, we will travel by van or car to local farms.
WEATHER: Temperatures in the early fall range from 35 F to 65 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.
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 outdoor 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.
YOUR GROUP: The group size ranges from 6 to 18 participants, plus 2-3 Wilderness Inquiry guides. 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.
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!
Some of the trip information on your website is different than the trip catalog. Why?
WI typically creates and prints our annual trip catalog in December. At that time we do our best to have finalized trip itineraries and set our prices accordingly. However, sometimes there are changes to a trip that necessitate adjustments to our prices after the catalog has gone to print.
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:
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 10:30 AM 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 2:30 PM and from Minneapolis St. Paul after 6:00 PM. Call us at 612-676-9400 if you have questions.