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Bayfield, Wisconsin — A Small Boating Community on a Big Lake
Twenty years have sailed by since our family first drove into Bayfield, Wisconsin. I didn’t know it then, but this small picturesque community would capture our hearts and change our lives forever. My husband and I were lured onto the ‘big lake’ — Lake Superior — by sailing friends who enticed us with promises of deserted beaches and pristine vistas; hiking, swimming, and lighthouse viewing among the twenty-two Apostle Islands. Bayfield did not disappoint us. Today, our family lives in Bayfield, fondly known as the Gateway to the Apostle Islands, and we operate a sailboat charter business, Superior Charters, founded in 1979 by another family, who sold us the business and the dream in 2004.
Bayfield, Wisconsin, population 487 was founded in 1856 as easy access to the logging industry born from the rich supply of lumber found on the mainland and on the 22 islands. In 1970, 21 of the Islands became protected as a Federal Government National Lakeshore.
Today, Bayfield bustles in the summer as thousands of visitors come to enjoy the fruits of the local orchards, tour the local artisan galleries, and enjoy sipping a cold beverage on one of the outdoor decks of a local restaurant. The view of boats on the water and the ability to take a sailboat ride or a tour on the Apostle Island Cruise Service boats is not to be missed. The famous ice caves, which are sea caves in the summer months, can be seen from the cruise service tours or explored more closely if you arrive on your own boat, or a charter boat, with a tender. Hundreds of sailors arrive every July 4th for Bayfield Raceweek; a colorful competition of all variety of sailboats and sailors from the Midwest.
A ferry runs constantly in the summer bringing mainland visitors to the only inhabited island, Madeline Island. Colorful shops and fragrant dining establishments offer Madeline Island visitors a wide selection of tasty treats and distractions. The museum on the island is worth a visit, with a broad selection of artifacts and an interesting video depicting the history of the area. Those arriving by their own boat will find the Madeline Island Yacht Club welcoming, offering no charge transient slippage for day-time visits and can often provide over-night slips when their yacht members are gone. The club maintains a well-stocked ship store, clean shower facilities, on-site maintenance and fuel / pump out services.
Although with few year-round residents, the area boasts many options for boaters wanting to explore the view from this inland sea. Multiple full-service marinas are found within five miles of Bayfield proper including Apostle Island Marina and Black Hawk Marina, both in downtown Bayfield. There is a public ramp next to Black Hawk Marina which offers easy access for those who bring a trailerable boat. Two miles south of Bayfield are two additional full service marinas, Pike’s Bay Marina and Port Superior Marina. These two marinas combined offer the community over 400 slips, both with transient slippage available. Superior Charters is based out of Port Superior, offering over 40 boats for bareboat or captained sailboat adventures.
The boating season is short in this hidden-away gem of a boating community, but well worth the trip. Boating begins in May, depending on the cooperation of Mother Nature and ends sometime in October. The warm, swimmable water is found in mid to late August, however late summer offers the lightest winds, not ideal for sailors.
Drive time from the nearest major metropolitan area, Minneapolis-St. Paul, is four hours, seven hours from Chicago. The nearest airport is Duluth, Minnesota, a short one hour and fifteen minutes. Several small plane airports provide facilities — Madeline Island and Ashland, Wisconsin.