There are a lot of amazingly beautiful landscapes in the Great Lakes region of the United States, but not many are as beautiful as the Apostle Islands in Northern Wisconsin. In addition to being well known for its beautiful rock cliff coastline and amazing sea caves, the Apostle Islands are also known for being one of the best places in America to go kayaking. In fact, it is such a prolific kayaking destination that it attracts some of the best kayakers in the country, if not the world, each year.
Located off the Bayfield Penninsula in Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands are a grouping of twenty-one islands that can be explored by boat or kayak. Many of the islands have interesting sea caves dug into their shorelines and most have established hiking paths and campgrounds that visitors can use to explore the inland portions of the island.
For those that don’t want to get onto the water to explore the islands, the mainland of the Bayfield Penninsula also has some amazing hiking paths that allow visitors to get up-close and see some of the extraordinary sea caves that the Apostle Islands are known for. If you would prefer to just relax and enjoy your time in the area, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also has some wonderful swimming beaches that visitors can enjoy.
In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information that you need to make sure your trip to the Apostle Islands is a success. In addition to highlighting some of the top things to see and do in the area, I will also cover which times of year are best to visit, where I recommend staying while in the area, and some of the top restaurant options to check out while you are visiting.
What to Pack
Before you head off to the Apostle Islands, you will want to make sure that you are prepared. In order to assist you in packing for your trip, I have put together a definitive Apostle Islands Packing Guide that covers all of the essential items that you should bring with you, including camping and photography gear.
How to Get There
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is located in Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin. While the closest big city to the Apostle Islands is the Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin metropolitan area, it is over an hour-long drive from Duluth to the islands. The closest city with an abundance of hotel options would be Ashland, Wisconsin, which is located in the Southeastern part of the Bayfield Penninsula.
In addition to the twenty-one islands that make up the Apostle Islands, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also includes the long stretch of coastline on the northern part of the Bayfield Penninsula. In fact, this stretch of coastline includes some of the best beaches in the Apostle Islands and has some of the areas most famous sea caves.
The visitor centers for the Apostle Islands are located in the cities of Ashland and Bayfield, which are two of the bigger cities on the Bayfield Penninsula, as well as on Little Sand Bay, which is located on the north shore of the Bayfield Penninsula. While you can arrange to take a kayaking tour in Bayfield, the town of Cornucopia on the Northwest side of the Bayfield Penninsula is the closest city to the sea caves and is home to some of the most popular kayaking tour companies.
While the Apostle Islands are in Wisconsin, if you are visiting the lakeshore from outside of the Midwest United States, the best way to get there is to fly into neighboring Minnesota. Duluth, Minnesota is the closest big city with an airport while the Minneapolis\St. Paul Internation Airport is the closest international airport to the Apostle Islands. I have included a chart below that highlights the driving distance to the Apostle Islands from several larger cities in the Midwest United States.
|Duluth, MN||64 miles, 1hr 15min|
|Minneapolis, MN||215 miles, 3hrs 30min|
|Madison, WI||360 miles, 5hrs 30min|
|Milwaukee, WI||377 miles, 6hrs 15min|
|Chicago, IL||470 miles, 7hrs 35min|
Top Things to See and Do
While the Apostle Islands are most well known for being a premier kayaking destination, there are a number of other fun things to in national lakeshore and in the surrounding area. If you are looking for some fun things to do while you visit the Apostle Islands, I have included a list below of the top attractions and activities that I would recommend checking out while you visit.
|The Apostle Islands|
|The Porcupine Mountains Scenic State Park|
|Split Rock Lighthouse|
|Gooseberry Falls State Park|
|Big Manitou Falls|
Exploring the Sea Caves by Kayak
Any list of the top things to see and do in the Apostle Islands should start with an adventure out on the waters of Lake Superior in a kayak. After all, this is one of the premier kayaking locations in North America. The following companies offer both kayak rentals and kayaking tours in the Apostle Islands.
|Lost Creek Adventures||Cornucopia, WI||Rentals\Tours|
|Apostle Islands Tours||Bayfield, WI||Rentals\Tours|
|Apostle Islands Sea Cave Tours||Bayfield, WI||Rentals\Tours|
|Trek & Trail||Bayfield, WI||Rentals\Tours|
Hiking the Rocky Shoreline
If you don’t feel like getting out on the water in a kayak, another option that you have for seeing the beautiful coastline and sea caves in the Apostle Islands is to do some hiking. There are a number of great trails to explore in the Apostle Islands (both on the islands and on the mainland), but my favorite trail is undoubtedly the Lakeshore Trail that starts at Meyers Beach. This trail takes you above some of the most amazing of the sea caves that the Apostle Islands are known for.
Take a Ferry to Madeline Island
If you would like to get onto the islands to explore, but you don’t want to get out in a kayak, then another option that you can explore is to take the car ferry to Madeline Island. Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle Islands and has a road system that you can use to travel from end-to-end. The island also has a number of great hiking trails as well as a beautiful beach that visitors can enjoy.
Visiting Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Park
To the Northeast of the Apostle Islands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Park is another amazing wilderness area along Lake Superior that is definitely worth checking out. The drive from Ashland, Wisconsin to the Porcupine Mountains State Park is roughly 90 miles and will take you about 1.5 hours, but it is well worth the drive. The Porcupine Mountains reminds me a lot of Acadia National Park in Maine as both parks have beautiful mountains in close proximity to the shoreline and both parks have an abundance of amazing trails to explore.
Visiting Big Manitou Falls
If you like waterfalls, then you won’t want to miss nearby Big Manitou Falls as it is the tallest waterfall in the state of Wisconsin. Located within Pattison State Park, which lies approximately 13 miles south of Lake Superior, this 165-foot tall waterfall is an impressive sight to behold. In addition to the waterfall, Pattison State Park has some pretty incredible hiking trails that you can explore as well. If you are flying into or out of Duluth, Minnesota, Pattison State Park is just south of the adjacent city of Superior, Wisconsin, which makes it very convenient to visit on your way to-or-from the Apostle Islands.
Visiting Split Rock Lighthouse
If you are going to be flying in-and-out of Duluth, Minnesota, or if you are planning more than a weekend trip to the Apostle Islands, another great place that you can visit in the area is the Split Rock Lighthouse in northern Minnesota. Located roughly an hour north of Duluth and roughly two hours from the Apostle Islands, the Split Rock Lighthouse is a great side excursion that you can take on your trip. Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful lighthouses in North America, it is well worth the time to visit.
Visiting Gooseberry Falls
Right next door to the Split Rock Lighthouse is another treasure of Northern Minnesota. Gooseberry Falls is a series of beautiful waterfalls along the Gooseberry River as it makes its way to drain into Lake Superior. In addition to the beautiful waterfalls, the state park also has some pretty amazing hiking trails that are worthy of exploring. Just a ten-minute drive from Split Rock Lighthouse, it makes it really convenient to visit both of these sites together. To give you an idea of where Gooseberry Falls are in relation to the Split Rock Lighthouse, I have included a map for you to review below.
Best Times to Visit
Depending on what time of year you decide to visit the Apostle Islands, your experience could vary dramatically. The summers can often be hot and humid while the winters can be bitterly cold. To help you decide when it would be best for you to visit the Apostle Islands, I have included some important information on the average temperatures and precipitation levels below for you to review.
Average Temperature (°F)
As you can see in the chart below, the temperatures in the Apostle Islands can vary greatly throughout the year. During the summer months of June thru August, the temperatures can reach into the lower 90’s but typically stay between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are planning on getting into the water or would like to go kayaking without a wetsuit, I would recommend visiting during these months as the water temperature will also be tolerable.
During the months of November thru late March, you can expect the daytime temperatures to be pretty cold. This is especially thru during the winter months of December thru February, where the temperatures will often dip well below freezing. Although kayaking is out of the question during these months, this can be a great time to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the area.
Average Amount of Precipitation (Inches)
The Apostle Islands get a majority of their precipitation during the warmer months of April thru October, with the wettest months being June thru September. If you are looking for your best chance of getting sunny days on your trip, I would suggest booking your trip sometime between early July and mid-August. Even though you can still see the occasional shower, this tends to be the driest part of the summer.
Where to Stay
If you would like to stay near the Apostle Islands, your best bet is to do some camping. There aren’t a lot of big towns in the direct vicinity of the Apostle Islands, so hotels are in very short supply. There is a big resort in Red Cliff, which I highlight below, and a number of bed and breakfast establishments that you can explore. If you would like to do some camping, I have included a map of some of the popular campgrounds for you to review below.
If you are looking to stay in the area, I would recommend starting your search in Ashland. You will find a lot more hotel options there and it is only a 30-minute drive to Bayfield and a 45-minute drive to Meyer’s beach. If you would like some recommendations on hotel options, I have included a list for you to review below.
Where to Eat
Since I am recommending that you stay in Ashland when you visit the Apostle Islands, I am going to focus my restaurant recommendations on Ashland as well. According to recent TripAdvisor reviews, here is a list of the most popular restaurants to eat at in Ashland, Wisconsin.
|El Dorado Restaurant||Mexican, Southwestern, Veggie||$$-$$$|
|Deep Water Grille||American, Bar, Pub||$$-$$$|
|The Alley||American, Bar, Pizza||$$-$$$|
|Ashland Family Restaurant||American, Veggie||$$-$$$|
|Frankie’s Pizza||Pizza, American||$|
Kayaking in the Apostle Islands
Kayaking in the Apostle Islands is an adventure that I wanted to do for such a long time and I was finally able to find the time. In case you are wondering what it is like to go on a kayaking adventure in the Apostle Islands, I put together a short video you can watch below.
The Apostle Islands is such a beautiful area of North America. I was able to get some really great shots of the sea cliffs, the infamous sea caves, and a number of other beautiful spots in the area that I have shared with you below in a photo gallery.
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This is an absolutely phenomenal guide! Quite comprehensive.
Thank you so much Scott!! I am glad you enjoyed it! 😀
An excellent guide, Josh. (Love Gooseberry Falls State Park.)
Thank you so much! 😀
Exploring the sea caves looking amazing – we’d love to give it a go! Thanks for this guide, we loved reading it. Keep up the great content.
Thank you so much for the kind words! 😀