MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Apostle Islands

Madeline's magnetism

The largest of the Apostle Islands has a personality rooted in an uncommon past.

Over the centuries, waves of history have buffeted Madeline Island and given it as many variations as a Lake Superior agate.

This wooded island off Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula, the largest of the 22 Apostle Islands, exerts a magnetic pull.

The Ojibwe came from the east, led to "food that grows on water'' — wild rice — by a cowrie shell in the sky, according to their origin mythology,

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Beloved Bayfield

On Wisconsin's north coast, the love affair between a village and its visitors goes way back.

On a summer day on Chequamegon Bay, there are few sights more enchanting than the sailboats bobbing around Bayfield.

With the Blessing of the Fleet in June, the tourist season kicks into high gear.

Ferries chug nonstop between Bayfield and Madeline Island. Excursion boats head for the other Apostles. Sailboat captains take out novices and teach them how to hoist a jib.

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Kayaking the Apostles

The wild 21-island archipelago around Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula is the preserve of paddlers.

The sky was clear, the wind was still and Lake Superior was as placid as a lily pond.

It was a miracle that wouldn't last. 

That's why it was torture for the dozen of us to sit through a long kayak safety course on the sandy beach of Bayfield, Wis., forming a ''human knot'' to foster cooperation in case of disaster and listening to trip leader Hovas Schall's horror stories about the big, mercurial lake.

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Big apples

In Bayfield, a fall festival has grown to jumbo proportions.

In Bayfield, Wis., the apple has mushroomed.

In 1961, the apple was the object of a small village festival. Today, it draws 60,000 people to a fall blowout featuring all things apple — fritters, sundaes, dumplings, pies and apple-cheeked children.

On northern Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula, Apple Festival is nearly as revered as motherhood.

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Bayfield in winter

When snow covers this scenic Wisconsin peninsula, everyone heads for the hills.

In the vacation town of Bayfield, action shifts to the woods in winter.

In summer, everyone gravitates to Lake Superior and its cruise launches, sailboats, ferries and kayaks. But when it snows, the locomotion is on inland trails.

And it does snow. Gales over the big lake deliver plenty for skiers, snowmobilers and mushers.

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Cruising to a lighthouse

In summer, excursion boats give visitors a chance to see historic beacons.

By definition, lighthouses aren't easy to visit.

Most are between a rock and a hard place, out of the way and on the edge of a fickle inland sea.

“When the government came here after 1843, they were afraid the Native Americans would be hostile, but they quickly found out the only thing hostile was Lake Superior,'' said our captain on a cruise to the Copper Harbor Lighthouse in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula.

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Ice caves of the Apostles

Near Cornucopia, people wait for the window into a crystalline world to open.

Along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, everyone waits for a big freeze.

Only when temperatures stay low for a long time will the edges of Lake Superior freeze enough for people to walk out to the mainland ice caves, whose beauty is renowned.

Even when ice is sufficiently solid, wind may suddenly split it, and snow may block the access drive. So when park rangers say it’s okay to go — well, then you’d better go.

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Lighthouses of the Apostles

The allure of a bygone lifestyle pulls visitors to these island beacons.

A century ago, in the Apostle Islands, only seven puny shafts of light stood between sailors and catastrophe.

Lake Superior has been called the most dangerous body of water in the world, an inland teakettle in which any tempest can be deadly.

Storms gather fury over 200 miles of open water, and heaven help mariners caught between wind and rock — heaven, or a lighthouse keeper with sharp eyes.

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