If my husband, Brad, and I had the time, we would have packed up our two kids and headed toward Ireland or Malaga, Spain, but, as is usually the case with busy families, finding even a long weekend to travel was nearly impossible.
Our daughter, Kirstin, was leaving for basic training in September and we wanted to do something special with her and our son, Erik, before the monumental shift came to our family.
I heard of Bayfield, Wis., (Apple Festival) but didn't give it a second thought until a friend mentioned the Apostle Islands. It was that "island" business that intrigued me.
After doing a bit of research on the Internet, the family unanimously decided that a day of kayaking on Lake Superior sounded like a great adventure and we began making plans.
Bayfield is east of Brainerd, a mere 197 miles, and lies on the east side of Bayfield Peninsula in the old-growth forest of northern Wisconsin. It's a tiny town, less than half the size of Nisswa, bustling with activity during the warm months and rather sleepy during the remainder of the year, except for winter enthusiasts. Bayfield is maritime with an abundance of sailing and fishing vessels and it reminded me of a New England fishing village.
East of Bayfield and stretching around the northern end of the peninsula is the Apostle Islands archipelago. Twelve miles of shoreline and all but one of the 22 islands make up the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. It is along this shoreline that the waters of Lake Superior have formed pristine sandstone caves -- a kayaker's paradise.
There are several places in the Bayfield area that cater to kayakers, providing a variety of professionally guided kayaking options. We were hesitant to make reservations too far in advance and didn't have any problems booking the excursion just a day prior, but the trips do fill up and it would probably be wise to make the reservation earlier.
Our outfitter, Trek & Trail, provided transportation to and from the launch site, lunch and wetsuits, in addition to the kayaks and associated equipment. There were approximately 12 two-man kayaks with mostly novice kayakers. After a brief explanation on how to paddle, steer and, most importantly, get out of the kayak if we overturned, we piled into the wobbly kayaks and headed a bit offshore to continue our instruction before beginning the journey.
Kayaking is like canoeing to a point. Steering is done by a rudder controlled by the person in the back of the kayak and the paddle is double-ended, unlike a canoe paddle. It took a few minutes to get the feel of the vessel, but soon enough the wobbles went away and we were able to strike up a rhythm and very nearly give the impression that we were seasoned kayakers.
We had the good fortune of flawless weather. Quite often travelers to the sea caves, as the sandstone formations are called, have to view the caves from offshore as the waves and wind work their magic on the ever-changing chambers. On this lovely morning we were able to weave our kayaks in and out of the caves -- some large enough for several kayaks and others not more than a passageway. The water was clear and blue-green, reminding me of tropical waters.
The group snaked its way through the caves and along the shoreline for a few hours pulling up along a deserted sand beach to stretch our legs and have lunch about half-way through the trip. For nearly half of the return trip, we were treated to the mesmerizing beauty of an accompanying fog bank. Sunburned, aching muscles and jubilant, we returned to Bayfield late in the afternoon.
There are a wide variety of kayaking trips available in the Bayfield area ranging from a few hours in the back estuaries to week-long camping/kayaking trips around several of the islands.
Not just for kayakers, Bayfield is teeming with activity. Ferries run often and nearly year-round for island residents and visitors to Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing and bird watching are just a few of the activities available on the island. Nearly all water-based recreational opportunities are available including fishing, SCUBA diving and sailing.
Guided lighthouse tours are conducted throughout the summer and the fall. There is a variety of options that include one-stop tours to Raspberry Island and tours around all 22 islands with several historical lighthouses.
There are several lodging options available from bed and breakfasts to condos. However, many require two night minimum stays (occasionally three, if it's a holiday weekend) and the cancellation policies vary. Some have 30-day cancellations policies. Some lodging facilities give priority to patrons from previous years so rooms could be difficult to find during annual events like the Apple Festival and the sailboat cup races.
There are many wonderful restaurant choices, nearly all of which offer the regional specialty -- whitefish livers -- and happily, I don't recall seeing a chain/fast food restaurant within 20 miles of Bayfield.
The majority of the evening activity is concentrated on the "Big-Top Chautauqua" performing arts organization. It is a 900-seat tent theater just outside of Bayfield which has more than 70 concerts, plays, lectures and historical musicals over the summer. The performers are both regional and nationally recognized acts such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Glenn Yarbrough.
My family succeeded in finding a special place to spend a long weekend. Although I prefer not to retrace steps too often, after all, there's a lot to see and never enough time, our family left Bayfield knowing that we would be back to fit more activities into another busy weekend. Perhaps I would even have the time to visit the island that intrigued me in the first place.
Connie Jenson is a Nisswa resident. She works in the Dispatch's marketing department.
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