Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is sometimes described as the "Holy Grail" for lighthouse buffs. Nowhere else in the country can you find such a wide variety of lighthouses in such a compact area. The area's annual Lighthouse Celebration is underway with special tours through September 12.
The six light stations (eight towers total) were built between 1857 and 1929 to provide directions for ships coming into the Chequamegon Bay port towns of Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland, Wisconsin. At one time, they comprised a bustling Great Lakes port, as ships brought lumber, quarried stone, iron ore and grain from those towns, and made the lighthouses necessary.
During the celebration, special cruises are offered with the opportunity to take a ranger-led tour of a historic Apostle Islands lighthouse.
Here's a summary of the events during the next week from event organizers:
• Ultimate Lighthouse Cruise (September 5 & 12). Sand, Raspberry, Outer, Michigan, Devils and Long Island have historic lighthouses, and this cruise travels past five of these lights. Hear tales of legends, lore, shipwrecks and lighthouse history from your Captain. The cruise route for this voyage is determined after considering the day’s lake conditions.
•Raspberry Island Lighthouse Keeper's Tour (September 5, 6, 9,10 and 11). Lighthouse Keepers and their families made the Raspberry Island lighthouse their home from 1863 to 1947. The lighthouse reopened last summer, after a restoration project transformed the lighthouse to appear as it did in the early 1900s. A tour of the lighthouse gives insight into the lives of those who lived and worked in this secluded setting of unparalled natural beauty.
• Sand Island Hike (September 12). Admire tenacious vegetation, 260-year-old virgin white pines and picturesque coves along the two mile trail to and from the lighthouse. Sand Island lighthouse was built of locally quarried brownstone in 1881, using a Norman Gothic architectural style that gives it a church-like appearance. Wear clothing and footwear appropriate for hiking, and pack a lunch to enjoy during your 4 hour island visit!
• Devils Island Hike (September 10). Climb the 82' lighthouse tower and admire the 3rd order Fresnel lens that was restored and returned to the tower in 1992. The Coast Guard automated the Devils Island Light in 1978, ending over a century of lightkeepers tending lights at the Apostle Islands. Docking at Devils Island varies due to lake conditions. Actual docking site determined at the Captain's discretion and boat transfers are possible.
• Michigan Island Landing (September 11). Cruise to Michigan Island to tour the oldest and newest lights built on the Apostle Islands. The rough stone Keeper's cottage with an attached tower was completed in 1857. In 1929, a taller tower was assembled along with a new Keeper's dwelling. Today, both lighthouses stand side by side. Visitors be aware that this tour requires climbing 123 steps up the bank.
• Long Island Hike (September 9). Step off your cruise boat onto sandy Long Island for a guided hike to the two lighthouses there, the LaPointe Light and the Chequamegon Point Light. These two lights are unaccessible for touring, but the hike offers beautiful beaches, unique vegetation and ample species of birds to make this island visit an interesting expedition.
• Keeper's Reunion Day & Keeper's Dinner (September 11). Join us to welcome past Keepers, their relatives, and volunteer Keepers, on this special day reserved to recognize them. This is your chance to learn about lighthouses from people who have experienced them first hand. First, board the Ashland Bay Express for the Michigan Island Landing to tour the oldest and newest of the island lights. After the cruise and tour, join guest Keepers and other lighthouse enthusiasts for the Reunion Dinner at the Bayfield Waterfront Pavilion on the shore of Lake Superior for an evening of discovery, along with a buffet dinner.
Getting to any of the islands will require a trip via the Apostle Islands Cruise Service. You'll find complete schedule details and ticket information on this website, or you can give them a call at 1-800-779-4487.
If you can't make the trip, but you'd like a virtual peek at the lighthouses, you'll find it on the park website.