With stunning sea caves, dramatic sandstone cliffs and pristine beaches, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is truly a northern Wisconsin gem. Centuries of freezing, thawing and wave activity has sculpted a very unique shoreline here, making the scenery at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore unforgettable. In addition to beautiful shoreline views (visible through hiking and sea kayaking), there are also several cute small towns to explore and inland hikes to take in the area. After planning a trip to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for several years, we are excited to share our ‘What to Do in Apostle Islands’ guide with you so can start planning a trip to the area of your own.
FYI: This post is written based on a trip taken in mid-August.
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Go Sea Kayaking along Apostles Islands National Lakeshore
Our top recommendation on what to do on Apostles Islands National Lakeshore is to go sea kayaking. We have been dreaming of kayaking these sea caves for years and the experience really lived up to our expectations. Pictures really do not do these picturesque sea caves justice. Seeing the sea caves up-close and on the water is breathtaking. Further, sea kayaking allows you to not only see these sea caves but to actually go in them! We had so much fun kayaking into sea caves of all different sizes. We really got a kick out of ducking down to get into some of the smaller sea caves. These tight caves stand in sharp contrast to the expansive nature of some of the bigger sea caves.
Tip: Go Sea Kayaking from Meyers Beach
There are several options on where you can start your sea kayaking tour. Despite the options, we highly recommend picking a tour that leaves from Meyers Beach. Logistically, this is the easiest trip to coordinate, as you do not have to take a ferry, and per the park ranger we spoke with, the prettiest sea caves of different tours offered. You can also take sea caves tours from Sand Island and Madeline Island.
Book a Sea Kayaking Tour with Lost Creek Adventures
Although you could kayak from Meyers Beach without a guide, we highly recommend using one. The outfitters can ensure the water conditions are safe, guide you through the stable sea caves (some are not stable and are at risk of collapse) and supply you with the right gear (sea kayak, wet suit (we needed even with air temps in the low 60s) and wet bag).
Here is a list of the certified Sea Kayaking Outfitters on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. We took a half day tour with Lost Creek Adventures Kayaking and would highly recommend using this company. Our guides (shout out to Nat and Otis) were great and the group we went kayaking with was small (4 other double kayaks), making the outing more intimate and customized. We got to explore so many sea caves on this half day trip and were able to go further on the shoreline than most groups due to having a group of relatively strong kayakers. Our guides were also kind enough to snap and share some pictures of us kayaking from their phones too. This half-day trip cost $83 per person and was worth every penny.
Tip: Go as early in the morning as possible for calmer waters
Per our research and the Apostle Island National Lakeshore park ranger we spoke with, the water at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is usually much more calm early in the morning. Therefore, kayaking as early as possible in the morning will make your trip more enjoyable and less likely to be canceled.
Caution: Use a sea kayak while kayaking Apostles Island National Lakeshore
Due to the unpredictable and powerful nature of Lake Superior, use a sea kayak rather than a smaller kayak when kayaking here. People have drowned kayaking the Apostle Islands so be sure to use the proper equipment to keep yourself safe. Also, as recommended above, go kayaking with a guide so they can ensure the water conditions are safe for your trip. They monitor the waters and will reschedule your trip if it is not safe to go. The outfitter will also advise you when a wetsuit is needed for your trip (often needed due to cold Lake Superior temps). Our use of wet suits was included in our rental price at Lost Creek. Most of the outfitters include wetsuit in their base rental costs but be sure to check with the outfitter you use.
Hike from Meyers Beach above the Sea Caves
Our next recommendation on what to do while visiting Apostle Islands is to hike from Meyers Beach above the sea caves. We loved hiking this trail! It takes you to a spot where you can see some of the Apostle Islands Sea Caves and Lake Superior from above for about 0.5 miles. This trail goes through the woods and is mainly shaded (we love a shaded trail) until you reach the sea caves at 1.8 miles. At 1.8 miles, you reach the Crevasse, an impressive 100-yard-long fracture in the rocks. We actually got to kayak into this sea cave on our kayak tour (see above). You can continue on the trail until the 2.2 mile point for more sea cave views. However, after that, the trail only leads to some remote campsite through the woods and there are no further views of the sea caves.
4.6 miles round trip, 269 feet of elevation gain, out & back
Cost: $5 fee to park (cannot use America the Beautiful Pass)
Note: You can bring your dog hiking at Meyers Beach!
Unlike most trails at other National Lakeshores, such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, you can hike here with your dog. Our pup loved exploring this trail! See our Dog Friendly Apostle Islands Guide for more Dog Friendly recommendations in the area.
We did this hike with Natalie’s parents and our dog. It was a nice hike, not overly strenuous and had some great views of the sea caves without kayaking. Natalie’s parents, who do not do much hiking, felt it to be very manageable for beginners. They also were not disappointed with the views. On the hike back from the sea caves, Natalie’s Dad was sure to tell each hiker we passed about the cool views. It was adorable.
Caution: Be careful as the edges along the trail may be undercut/slippery. You don’t want to fall into the water from the trail. It’s not a short fall!
Hike Lost Creek Falls in Apostle Islands
Our third top recommendation on what to do in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is to hike Lost Creek Falls. This trail brings you through a peaceful wooded setting to a, more impressive than we expected, waterfall and small pool area. The trail is well-maintained with some boardwalks. We did this hike in the morning and had the waterfall/pool area all to ourselves. It was so pretty and serene!
2.2 Miles, 216 feet of elevation gain, out & back
Cost: Free to park
Note: Dogs are allowed to hike here too!
Our dog LOVED running through the pools of water around the waterfall at the ‘summit’ of this hike. He was really living his best life zooming back and forth. See our Dog Friendly Apostle Islands Guide for further dog friendly activities in the area.
Tip: Bring good bug spray.
The bugs were actually not bad at all during our trip (we all got less than 3 bites on our 5 day trip) but most other people we know who have been here recommended good bug spray for this very wooded trail. This is the non-chemical bug spray we use with our daughter. This is the deet bug spray we use on ourselves.
Visit Madeline Island in Apostle Islands
Our next what to do in Apostle Islands recommendation is to visit Madeline Island. Madeline Island is the largest and most developed of the 22 Apostle Islands. It is well known for its beaches and hiking trails/biking trails. It also has some eclectic shops and restaurants.
Fun fact: Although Madeline Island is one of the 22 Apostle Islands, it is the only one not part of the National Lakeshore.
Madeline Island Ferry
The journey to Madeline Island itself is half the fun. To access this island, you take the Madeline Island Ferry from Downtown Bayfield. This ferry ride offers scenic views of Lake Superior, Bayfield, Madeline Island and some of the other Apostle Islands in the distance. You can soak in all these views with your pup as the ferry is dog friendly.
Cost: $17 per person round-trip, $30 per car round-tip. Dogs ride for free. The ferry is a bit pricey but again, part of the experience. See the Madeline Island Ferry Rates for the most up-to-date prices. If you are interested in more ferry ride experiences, see our, coming soon, Two-Week Fjords of Norway Road Trip.
Also, unless it is an extraordinarily busy weekend, you typically do not need to book this ferry in advance. Just arrive about 15-20 minutes before the time you would like to depart and you should have no problem getting on the ferry you want. See the Madeline Island Ferry Schedule for the most up-to-date times.
Tip: Get ice cream in La Pointe on Madeline Island before heading back to Bayfield to enjoy on the ferry ride back
Visit Town Park and Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island
While on Madeline Island, be sure to visit the parks here–Town Park and Big Bay State Park. Town Park and Big Bay State Park both offer some nice trails to explore the beaches and woods on Madeline Island. The boardwalk between Town Park and Big Bay State Park was our favorite trail here. The trail is about 2 miles long. It is mostly shaded, the breeze from the lake is perfect and the boardwalks are very well-maintained. You can also hike around the lake here. See map below from this trail as well as others on the island.
Visit La Pointe, Downtown, Madeline Island
The downtown area here is eclectic and artsy with some cute shops, galleries and restaurants. Note, hours are very limited and variable at the shops here. If you are looking for a dog-friendly spot, visit the Inn on Madeline Island (stay overnight with your pup or eat at the Pub Restaurant on the patio).
Explore Cornucopia in Apostle Islands
Cornucopia is another artsy and eclectic small town located near Meyers Beach/Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. There are several small boutique and resale shops here as well as a few restaurants on the main street. The harbor area is very picturesque along Lake Superior.
For a more high-end meal in a casual environment, try eating at the Fat Radish Restaurant in Cornucopia. This restaurant is known for its tasty farm-to-table dishes. Note that this restaurant has limited evening hours (Wed-Sun) and brunch hours (Sun only).
We actually visited during Cornucopia days (mid-August) so there was also a flea market and fundraiser food sale going on at the time. We felt like a local exploring this town celebration.
Apostle Islands Cruise
If you want to see the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore beyond Madeline Island and without kayaking, taking an island cruise is the best way to do it. The National Park Service offers narrated scenic cruises and shuttles to different islands. In addition to the cruises offered by the National Park Service, you can also take a private water taxi or boat.
Visit an Orchard & Apple or Berry Pick
While we were in the Bayfield area, blueberries were in season for picking and we went to Blue Vista Farms. We picked the most delicious blueberries we have ever tasted here. The price was reasonable and the little farm store on site was adorable too (if you are looking for some prepared local products). Be sure to check the farm website for hours prior to visiting though as they are limited.
There are tons of farms in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Bayfield area. Many of them are located close to each other. Each has unique offerings and different hours to help fit your schedule/interests. Some other options include:
- Erickson’s Orchard
- Hillcrest Orchards
- Rocky Acres Berry Farm
- Bayfield Apple Company
- Good Earth Gardens
- Sunset Orchard Valley
- Hauser’s Superior View Farm
Bayfield is a charming small-town on the largest Great Lake. This town is very walkable with many cute small shops and restaurants. It reminded us of the shops and restaurants in the small towns in Door County. Plan to spend a morning or an afternoon here. Be sure to get a rhubarb scone at Big Water’s Bakery!
Visit Friendly Valley Beach
This beach located South of Bayfield is a little hidden gem that our accommodations host told us about. If you are looking to spend some time at the beach but do not want to spend the money it costs to go to Madeline Island, this is the way to do it! You can walk along the beach and out onto some sand bars that go into the lake. Parking here is free.
Visit Delta Diner
This restaurant is more than just a meal, it’s an experience. Delta Diner is a throwback to 1940’s east coast diners and looks like something straight out of the 1940s. Although we did not get to try this place during our visit due to limited Thu-Sun hours (see website), we hope you get a chance to get a meal here during your visit.
This restaurant is another activity our accommodations host told us about! Katie at Mission Springs Resort is really a great resource for activities and any questions you may have about your visit to the area.
Where to Stay Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
We highly recommend staying at Mission Springs Resort in Ashland, about 20 minutes south of Bayfield and 30 minutes southeast of Meyers Beach. This resort is close enough to all of the activities in the area yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle. It is truly the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring. This resort has been family owned and operated for over 75 years. It is family friendly and all the accommodations are dog friendly. And with charming cottages and a large modern lake house, there is something to fit everyone’s accommodations needs. Located right along the Lake Superior shoreline, you’ll be hard pressed to find another spot with better views to drink your morning coffee. For more on staying at this place, please see our Where to Stay Near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore post.
Call or text Katie at 715-209-8321 for availability or visit the Mission Springs Resort website for the best price and most up to date availability. Katie is a great resource while visiting the area and during your stay as well. She is a fantastic host, allowing you your space yet is available for any questions!
FAQs about Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
When to Visit Apostles Islands?
Visit in the summer, ideally June-early September. Outside of that window, sea kayaking outings are limited/not offered due to the unpredictable and cooler weather. You can also visit the sea caves in winter by walking on the ice (when it is safe) but you will not be able to go sea kayaking and will likely have limited hiking options due to ice/snow as well.
Where to Stay near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore?
We recommend staying at Mission Springs Resort. For more on staying at this place, please see our Where to Stay Near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore post for more details.
Is Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Dog Friendly?
Yes! Unlike Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and many of the other National Parks, you can hike here in many spots with your dog. See our Dog Friendly Apostle Islands Guide post for more information.
We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
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