“Bayfield and the Apostle Islands – Where the Water Meets the Soul”
Growing up in Minnesota, I have spent many years enjoying the rugged North Shore of Lake Superior which is filled with excellent hikes along the Superior National Hiking Trail, gorgeous views, and tons of nature for the outdoor enthusiast. This summer we even took a family trip to the North Shore and headed further to explore Ely, Minnesota the heart of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area. As much as I love this part of Lake Superior, after all these years I wanted to try someplace new. I had always heard about the incredible beauty of the Apostle Islands outside of Bayfield, Wisconsin on the other side of Lake Superior yet had never visited there. With my parents in town for the week and free babysitting for the kids, this was my chance for an adventurous, romantic weekend away with my husband on Lake Superior’s South Shore.
Bayfield, Wisconsin is about a four hours drive northeast of Minneapolis at the end of the Bayfield Peninsula. It is the launching off point to the stunning, pristine Apostle Islands – an archipelago of 22 islands and a National Park – and is known for its sailing, sea kayaking, hiking, biking and pristine beauty. It is also home to the incredible sea caves that line the mainland as well as Devil and Sand Islands that can be reached only by sea kayak, boat or foot when the lake freezes over. Madeline Island – the most well-known of the Apostle Islands and also the only inhabited island – is a short 20 minute ferry ride from Bayfield and is a popular destination in its own right.
We set off Thursday morning after saying goodbye to the kids, our puppy and my parents, and enjoyed the beautiful drive through Wisconsin dairy land and verdant forests to Bayfield. Since it was a big tourist weekend in Duluth, we decided to take the more scenic back roads to Bayfield passing through the cabin and lake country of Hayward, Spooner and Cable, Wisconsin. After we hit Ashland and left the small farm towns along the way, the scenery became even more stunning that I imagined. Unlike the rocky rugged look of the North Shore of Lake Superior, the South Shore of Lake Superior and the Bayfield Peninsula is dramatically different. It is equally as lush and green yet softer and gentler. Instead of lupines lining the highway, sprays of yellow and pink wildflowers fill the landscape alongside Deciduous trees and the famous Bayfield blueberries.
We arrived at our lovely Bread & Breakfast around three o’clock just in time for check-in. My husband had done his homework and booked a delightful B&B called The Pinehurst Inn for our weekend stay. Bayfield is known for its lovely B&Bs and you seriously can’t go wrong with your choice. The historic main house of the Pinehurst Inn was built in 1885 by a wealthy local businessman and has five guest rooms, and the eco-friendly Garden House was built in 2003. We were met by Innkeepers Becky and Mike who provided wonderful hospitality and freshly baked pastries and treats every afternoon at four.
After check in, we drove the short few minutes to town and spent the next hour exploring lovely Bayfield. Although the town is rather small with only a couple of walking streets, it is very charming and filled with excellent restaurants, shops and more gorgeous B&Bs. We were impressed by all the excellent dining choices not to mention the exciting outdoor activities that awaited us. Little did I know, we would be out that very evening on a sunset sail, our first real Bayfield experience.
We literally walked onto the dock and found a sailor and sailboat waiting with a small sign that said “Sunset Cruise” along with the times and rates. It was departing in 20 minutes, giving us just enough time to walk over to the nearby Wine and Cheese shop to purchase a bottle of wine, some fresh goat cheese and black pepper crackers for our sail.
Sailing along the smooth, glossy waters of Lake Superior in the Apostle Islands is anything short of spectacular. The evening was humid and cloudy but despite the temperamental weather the cloud formations were gorgeous and there was no rain in sight. We enjoyed the peace and tranquility of this magical place, closing our eyes to take in the gentle breeze of the lake wind. I felt a drop of water kiss my toes and was in heaven. I could finally understand why so many people were rave about the Apostle Islands. This place is truly serene!
After the sun dipped below the horizon, we docked again and walked a short two blocks to the Fat Radish Restaurant, a delicious locally inspired restaurant that serves up some of Bayfield’s finest local ingredients. I enjoyed a fresh green salad with perfectly ripe Bayfield blueberries followed by delightful whitefish tacos. My husband had the grilled whitefish with quinoa. It was so delicious that we had lunch there two more times during our stay.
Friday we had the rare luxury of sleeping in and rose to the song of birds and cicadas chirping. One of the wonderful benefits of staying at a B&B is that a home-cooked meal is always waiting. We enjoyed hot sweet pecan muffins, a blueberry smoothie, fresh roasted coffee from the local cafe, and a frittata. It was much more than I normally eat for breakfast but it was fabulous and did its job of filling us up before our day’s activities.
Another couple at our B&B told us about a relatively unknown hike they did on the other side of the peninsula near Cornucopia to the Lost Creek Falls. We headed out with verbal directions which was a big mistake as cell service is very limited on the Peninsula and of course we ended up getting lost. After an hour of driving around, we finally found the trailhead. It had been renovated and moved to a new location. The hike is only a few miles round trip but definitely worth the effort. There was no one on the trail and when we arrived at Lost Creek, the clouds shifted leaving a heavenly light shining on the falls.
We next drove to Myers Beach, the launching off point for sea kayak tours of the mainland sea caves. It is also part of the Apostle Islands National Park. There are signs warning of the number of unwise, unlucky people who have died while not heeding proper safety warning while sea kayaking. It is best to go with a guided group unless you are a very experienced sea kayaker.
We did a short hike to the first sea cave and I was blown away by the view. We saw sea kayakers below who yelled up at us in exhilaration how incredible it was to see the caves. I made a promise we would call to make reservations for the four-hour sea kayak tour and were able to book a tour for Sunday morning with Lost Creek Adventures.
At 4:30, we had reservations on the Apostle Island Cruises to do the four-hour sunset Grand Tour of the Apostle Islands. I could hardly wait as I heard that it was spectacular and offered gorgeous views of the islands. With camera in hand, we arrived fifteen minutes before boarding time and were immensely chagrined to discover that the outdoor viewing deck was completely full and you are not allowed to go up there to take pictures. Only 37 lucky people get to sit on the top deck and the rest are crammed in below. I thought I could possibly still get some great pictures until a big party arrived on board, filling up the entire empty space standing in front of all the good views and talking so loud we couldn’t hear a thing. Reluctantly, we got off the boat and asked for a refund which we were granted. I was so disappointed. I guess that is what happens when you have a monopoly on the market.
“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” is a saying I remember hearing on the rainy day in Germany when my husband asked me to marry him. Despite our unpleasant experience and disappointment in not taking the cruise, we ended up jumping on the ferry to Madeline Island and having a wonderful meal at the Inn on Madeline Island. We sat outside and I had blackened whitefish and my husband enjoyed pork tenderloin that melted in your mouth. I reminded myself with travel, that sometimes things work out for the better and it is best to go with the flow.
The ferry ride back to Bayfield was absolutely spectacular and I was in utter awe and wonder at the immense beauty of this place. It was surreal.
Saturday we woke up to lots and lots of rain. It was forecasted to rain non-stop for the entire day which was another huge disappointment however once again we made the best of it. We didn’t take the boat to be dropped off and hike all day at one of the Apostle Islands and instead did a hike to Houghton Point in the pouring rain. It is a beautiful hike even in the rain, as the area is filled with deep forested ravines and caves. After our hike, we had lunch again at the Fat Radish this time enjoying vegan chili and a grilled cheese on wild rice bread. After lunch, I enjoyed an hour massage at the local spa and relaxed a bit before a fantastic dinner at the Old Rittenhouse Inn, a beautiful Victorian Inn that has a gourmet restaurant on the first floor. The food was even better than some meals I’ve had in Minneapolis – a real foodie town – and I would highly recommend dining there if you want to sample some delightful regional fare.
Sunday morning we arose early to a bright blue sky and were delighted to see the storm had cleared. We lucked out and got a last minute reservation to go sea kayaking with Lost Creek Adventures to the mainland sea caves. I could hardly contain my excitement dreaming about all the incredible pictures I would take. We drove to the other side of the Peninsula at Cornucopia and my hopes of seeing the sea caves were instantly shattered. The stiff winds hitting this side of the Peninsula were creating three to four foot waves making it way too dangerous for us to kayak there. Instead, we jumped into the van and headed back to where we came from and launched near Houghton Point (where we hiked in the pouring rain the day before). We did not see any sea caves but it was utterly spectacular and gave me enough of a tease and temptation to return again next summer.
We left Bayfield shortly after noon with a sandwich to go from the Fat Radish. The weekend away had been just what we needed as a couple. Adventure, romance and tranquility. I can hardly wait to go back next summer!
If you go:
We stayed at the lovely Pinehurst Inn, located just a few miles outside of town. There are plenty of other lovely B&Bs in Bayfield however we really loved it here.
We ate lunch and dinner at the Fat Radish in Bayfield and it was delightful. Try their grilled cheese on either cranberry or wild rice bread with homemade soup, or else the fish tacos made with freshly caught whitefish. I also highly recommend eating at the Rittenhouse Inn in downtown Bayfield and the Madeline Island Pub and Wine Bar. Everything we ate during this trip was exceptionally good.