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Apostle Islands National Lakeshore near Bayfield, Wisconsin
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In summer, island-hop to discover trails, lighthouses and sea caves. In winter, snowshoe along the lakeshore or, if the weather’s just right, peer into an ice cave.

Half the year, Alyssa Larsen operates a bakery on Madeline Island, the largest of the 22 Apostle Islands of Lake Superior. The other half, she lives in Bayfield, Wisconsin, the nearest city to the islands. No matter the season, she can tell you how to make the most of your time in the area, whether you want to kayak into a sea cave or snowshoe along the lakeshore.

Accessing the Islands

Some sites within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – an archipelago in Wisconsin’s Lake Superior and a National Park Service site – remain open year ’round, but weather conditions can restrict access. Always check conditions before you go.

Alyssa Larsen, owner of Madeline Island Bakery in La Pointe, Wisconsin

Alyssa Larsen, owner of Madeline Island Bakery in La Pointe, Wisconsin
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The Islands in Summer

Kayak or board a sightseeing cruise to island-hop. Local outfitters rent paddling equipment, and several charter boats provide transportation to the islands, many from the Bayfield harbor. “Some of the islands have miles-long stretches of beach; others are barely accessible. But if they have a dock, they may have camping, hiking trails or even a lighthouse,” Larsen explains. Other summer musts, according to Larsen: paddling to the islands’ sea caves and jumping off sandstone cliffs into Lake Superior – especially on a calm day from Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island. 

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More on Madeline Island

The largest – and, essentially, the only inhabited – of the Apostle Islands is Madeline Island, accessible by a seasonal car ferry. “When you catch the ferry to Madeline Island, time stands still,” Larsen describes, adding that while a few of the island’s lodgings, restaurants and shops are open year ’round, most operate for six months of the year. “It’s really wilderness-oriented,” Larsen explains, which makes Madeline Island an ideal spot in summer to launch an exploration of the islands – and to enjoy a treat at Larsen’s Madeline Island Bakery and then retire to a vacation rental or hotel.

What about Winter?

Larsen recommends Bayfield for a winter getaway, where lodging, restaurants and shops operate year ’round, the downtown – decorated for the holidays – is charming and winter sports are everywhere. These include a family-friendly ski hill, dog sledding and kilometers of trails for mountain bike riding or cross-country skiing. As long as the ferry is operating to Madeline Island, you can snowshoe on the hiking trails of Big Bay State Park along the Lake Superior shore. 

Some winters, Lake Superior’s sea caves freeze into ice caves. The National Park Service monitors conditions and announces when the public can experience this rare phenomenon, which Larsen describes with wonder: “It’s a blue-sky day. You’re standing on the ice, which is Lake Superior frozen over. In some cases, you can see straight through to the bottom of the lake.”