The Apostle Islands are one of two National Park systems in Wisconsin. Located on Lake Superior off the Bayfield Peninsula, these twenty-one islands and twelve miles of shoreline are considered the “Crown jewel of Lake Superior”. The alluring (and amazing) sea caves along the shoreline are considered a bucket-list paddle, but these remote islands are also a bucket-list camping destination for most paddlers.
Paddling the Apostles does come with plenty of caution though. This is Lake Superior, afterall, and not any weekend warrior should just get a permit (yes, you’ll need one) and think you can kayak out to one of these islands without the proper planning, preparation, experience and gear. Using one of the numerous outfitters in the area is the best way to experience the islands, and they offer everything from day trips to overnight adventures.
If properly prepared, the Apostles are just, well, amazing. From the cliffs, caves, coves, arches, turrets and tunnels, to the the sandy beaches of secluded islands, the wildlife that inhabits them, and the sheer immensity of Lake Superior, this is one paddle-camp destination unlike any other in Wisconsin. Its natural beauty just radiates and it’s one paddle-campers are not soon to forget.
Paddling Style: Great Lake Paddling
Best Suited For: Sea Kayaks
Camping Location: Island
Availability: Reservable Designated Sites
Type: Primitive + Rustic
Paddle-in: No | Walk-in: Yes
Camping Fee: Yes | Camping Permit: Yes
Camping is available on nineteen of the twenty-one islands, and there’s one campsite located on National Lakeshore mainland property. There are both individual and primitive campsites available, as well as group campsites on five of the islands. Permits apply for all camping – on the shoreline and islands – including the sixteen primitive sites.
Rules do abide on the islands. Camping within 100′ of the shoreline is not allowed unless it’s in a designated camp area, and some islands have restrictions on where campfires can be set. Individual sites have vault or stump toilets, fire rings and bear-resistant food storage, whereas primitives sites must practice Leave No Trace ethics. Whatever you choose, if you’re planning this trip, you know what you’re in for. Pack lightly but smartly, and plan to pack-in, pack-out.
Paddling the Apostle Islands:
Lake Superior, like all our Great Lakes, can be dangerous because weather conditions change constantly and suddenly. It can literally be calm one minute and fifteen minutes later you’ll feel a sudden swell or notice the fog or sudden storm roll in. Monitoring weather forecasts prior to going out (and throughout) are highly encouraged, if not required. The water temperatures, specifically, are nothing to take lightly and cause even the most experienced paddlers hesitation. It’s recommend that paddlers use wet or dry suits, especially in spring and fall when the risk of hypothermia is real.
There’s another important consideration. The National Park Service “does NOT recommend the use of boats shorter than 16-feet, open boats, canoes, and open cockpit or sit-on-top kayaks for travel between islands. Regulations also require boaters to carry one U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD for each person on board and paddlers are encouraged to wear it at all times when paddling.”
If you just want to explore the sea caves – very likely the most beautiful sea kayaking experience anywhere in the state of Wisconsin – it still requires the same preparation, skill, gear, and also, the right weather. There, the shoreline trail is blessed with sandstone caves, cliffs, rock shelves and arches – all set against a huge sky and an inland sea of jade green water for twelve magnificent miles. There are two public access points along this stretch within the National Lakeshore. The popular one is Meyers Beach, and the other is a National Park Service dock at Little Sand Bay.