The Great Lakes is a gorgeous area in the United States. From breathtaking nature to vibrant cities, the region offers many activities year-round to have a great time. It’s also filled with idyllic spots to enjoy the outdoors, like the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. If you’re planning your next weekend getaway here, find out everything you need to know with our guide.
Where Is Apostle Islands National Lakeshore?
Located in the far northern part of Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a 12-mile coastline and 21-island archipelago dotting the shores of Lake Superior. The region offers you a chance to appreciate nature in a tranquil setting, thanks to its rugged cliffs and pristine lake beaches.
This is also one of the best places to enjoy activities like bird watching, with over 240 species calling this place home. Kayaking, scuba diving, cave exploring, and camping are popular things to do during the warmer months. You can explore historic lighthouses and shipwrecks scattered across several islands to learn more about the park’s past.
When’s the Best Time to Visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore?
The Apostle Islands are open to tourists year-round. However, the best time to visit would be from June through August. The weather hovers around the high 70s during the day to the low 50s at night. Lake Superior also becomes warm enough to go swimming, and you’ll have access to the entire archipelago. Spend your days hiking, kayaking, or shopping to your heart’s content at nearby Madeline Island.
Need Help Planning Your Weekend? We’re Here to Help
From visiting the ice caves in the winter to overnight camping and hiking in the summer, there are many activities you can take advantage of. The National Lakeshore area also has different accommodation options that fit every budget and lifestyle.
The first thing you need to do is determine what time of year you’re planning your trip. While the Apostle Islands are open throughout the year, each season has its pros and cons you should be aware of. Also, knowing what type of travel experience you’re seeking can help narrow down your options and make organizing your next adventure a breeze.
What to Do at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is full of outdoor experiences that fit most interests. Because of this, planning your itinerary can feel a bit overwhelming. Here are some activities to help you organize your weekend adventure.
With over 50 miles of maintained trails in the park system, hiking along Lake Superior’s shore is one of the best ways for you to take in the beautiful scenery. While there are a few paths you can choose from, the Brownstone and Lakeshore Trails are the most common ones.
The Brownstone Trail is primarily flat and the easier one of the two. It spans about three miles, and you can start right from Bayfield’s historic downtown area. During your journey, you’ll see the majestic brownstone cliffs from which the trail gets its name. It’s also famous for the different seasonal bird species that make the trees along this path their home.
The Lakeshore Trail is more challenging, but stunning views from the lookout at the end of this 4.5-mile trail are worth the trek. Your journey also takes you above some of the area’s rugged sea caves. Feel free to relax and cool down at nearby Meyers Beach once you’re finished.
Kayaking Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
When you think of the Apostle Islands, one thing that may come to mind is exploring the caves and island hopping with a trusty kayak. It’s one of the most convenient ways to get around the park system. If you don’t own a kayak, you can rent one from an operator or schedule a guided tour with an expert. There may be unpredictable weather on the islands, so check the forecast before you go.
Scuba Diving Shipwrecks
If you’re a fan of diving, Lake Superior’s intriguing shipwrecks are a must-see. There are four shipwrecks on different sides of the lake, each with its own unique story. You can also see submerged docks and rugged sandstone cliffs scattered throughout. If you wish to dive, you must obtain a permit. You can get it for free from the Bayfield headquarters or by calling ahead. Also, underwater temperatures are roughly in the 40s. Always wear a wetsuit and proper safety equipment at all times.
Pro Tip: There aren’t just shipwrecks at the bottom of Lake Superior. Learn more about What’s at the Bottom of Lake Superior?
Boating and Fishing
The Apostle Islands attract thousands of boaters and sailors looking to relax on the water. Start your boating adventure from one of the public docks available on 12 of the islands on a first-come, first-served basis. If you decide to stay on your boat overnight, ensure that your docking fee is paid and your receipt is visible.
If you like to spend your weekends fishing, trout and salmon are also abundant. Depending on the season, some parts of the lake are more suitable for certain types of fishing. Check with the park headquarters to see if there are any fishing limits or restrictions when you visit. You need your Wisconsin fishing license and Great Lakes trout/salmon stamp, so you must have your paperwork in order beforehand.
A guided tour can be a convenient option for a quick weekend trip. In the summer, the park has several free information centers where you can learn more about the area. However, if you want a guided tour, you have a few options. For example, the Grand Tour gives you an overview of everything in the park and in-depth information about its history. This half-day cruise tour lets you see two different historical lighthouses, iconic sea caves, and local marine life.
Sea and Ice Caves
Part of what makes the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore so breathtaking is the ancient sea and ice caves. Thousands of years of erosion, waves, and other natural activity have created the jagged shorelines throughout the park system.
During the summer, you can take a kayak or a guided boat tour to get a spectacular view of the caves up close. In the winter, however, Lake Superior freezes over. Visitors may be allowed to explore the ice caves depending on the ice conditions, so always check with the park staff ahead of time.
Where to Stay Near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
From simple campsites to upscale resorts, you’re guaranteed to find a place to stay that fits your taste and budget. Below are a few options to help you choose the best weekend accommodation!
Old Rittenhouse Inn
Located a few blocks from the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin’s first country inn offers you the perfect mix of comfort and history. With gorgeous lakeside views and top-notch amenities like whirlpool tubs, this romantic retreat will make you feel at ease after a long day of exploring. Their restaurant, Landmark Restaurant at Old Rittenhouse Inn, has various breakfast, brunch, and dinner options offering local cuisine in a casual environment.
Apostle View Cottages
The Apostle View Cottages offers guests a private retreat in the heart of the forest, yet convenient enough to be close to town. Each of the three cabins is fully equipped for your comfort. You can enjoy a lakeside sunrise in the morning, then curl up by your cabin’s fire pit at night. Even though there is no restaurant on-site, you’re welcome to make your favorite meals using the fully equipped kitchen in your cabin.
Legendary Waters Resort & Casino
At Legendary Waters Resort & Casino, you’ll find luxury accommodations with top-of-the-line amenities, stunning lake views, and a lot of activities to keep you entertained. If you want to be more in touch with nature, you can also explore the resort’s two campsites nearby and even dock your boat at their marina. Their casino has over 240 slot machines, blackjack and poker tables, and live events throughout the year. Make sure to try their on-site restaurant, offering different daily specials and dishes that cater to almost every taste.
Camping on the Islands
Camping is permitted on 18 of the 21 islands with a reservation. Still, the only way to reach the islands is by kayak, boat, or water taxi. RV, car, or other drive-up camping is prohibited.
You can choose from a couple of different campsite options. Primitive campsites are essentially backcountry areas with no amenities, so be prepared to bring your supplies if you’re staying here. Sites for individual or group camping offer basic amenities, such as fire rings, food lockers, basic privies, and picnic tables. Stockton Island has one of the largest island campsites and is an excellent option if you want easily accessible campsite amenities.
Pro Tip: Backcountry camping for the first time? Use our Beginner’s Essential Guide To Backcountry Camping.
Local Area Camping
For other camping options, there are a handful of sites available in the area, like the Apostle Islands Area Campground. If you want a decent balance between enjoying the great outdoors and having some basic creature comforts, this is one of the best options. This campsite has amenities such as hot water showers, on-site Wi-Fi in most areas, 30A and 50A RV hookups, and even coin-operated laundry.
Enjoy Your Perfect Weekend at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
From taking in the region’s natural beauty to learning about its history, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a lot to offer. Planning your vacation ahead of time lets you get the most out of your weekend.
If you can, dedicate your Saturday to fully exploring the park on your own or using a guided tour. After a Saturday full of exploring, start your Sunday with a sunrise overlooking Lake Superior. Later in the day, head into town for a pleasant morning hike, some window shopping, and a delicious meal at a local restaurant to conclude your weekend getaway.
Always reserve your camping spots or other permits early, especially during high season when spaces are limited. Regardless of when you visit, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.
While you’re exploring the shores of Lake Superior, head over to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for another memorable weekend. Here are some of the best places to stay: 7 Best Munising, Michigan Campgrounds for Camping Near Pictured Rocks
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