It would be overly simplistic to define Apostle Islands National Lakeshore merely through its watery connection to Lake Superior. True, the lakeshore is comprised of 21 islands that dot the lake, but this 69,372-acre mix of water and land also boasts more lighthouses than any unit of the National Park System. There are geologic oddities such as the sea caves that Lake Superior has carved into the shoreline. Plus, this area still retains some of the best examples of a boreal-temperate forest landscape in the Great Lakes region.
And, of course, there is the lake.
Apostle Islands is often overlooked by the rest of the country, but is well known among park travelers from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. That changed a great deal this past winter, when enduring cold froze Superior and turned those sea caves into ice caves, dripping with fanciful frozen formations. Media attention from throughout the country and as far away as Australia generated the heaviest tourism the lakeshore has seen, winter or summer.
For those who prefer summer visits, Apostle Islands is a kayaker's paradise. Of the 21 islands (presumably named by early Jesuits who, on early maps, referred to the scattering of islands as 'Isle de 12 Apostles') you may camp on 19 of them. Got two weeks available for paddle-driven exploration? Apostle Islands can accommodate you.
Campers without boats can take scheduled excursions to island campsites. The Stockton Island trip, for instance, offers a chance to hike and camp on the largest island in the park. Walk the beach at Julian Bay here and you'll discover the sand squeaks musically underfoot.
If you prefer to explore on foot, the lakeshore's eight light towers harken to an earlier day when lightkeepers worked to warn Lake Superior ships away from the islands. Five are open for tours during the high season.
If you go:
Sight-seeing cruises are the best way to explore the lakeshore if you don't have time, or feel comfortable, heading out in a kayak. Concessionaire cruises will take you on a 55-mile tour of Lake Superior, with great views of the Raspberry and Devils Island lighthouses as well as the sea caves.
Take the half-day cruise to Raspberry Island in July and August and you can benefit from a ranger-led tour of the historic lighthouse, which first flashed its beacon in 1863 and which has been refurbished to reflect its early 20th century appearance.
Hikers who take the Tombolo Trail on Stockton Island not only have sea gulls overhead, but you might spot black bear tracks on the beach, hear the chortling of sandhill cranes, or catch the laughter of loons. Divers have four wrecks they can explore.