Marine News from the Great Lakes

Sailing the Apostle Islands with Superior Charters

Published: Wednesday, August 31, 2016
By: Melanie Kyle

The Apostle Islands are 22 islands covering more than 720 miles of Lake Superior. The islands are known for their crystal clear water, sandy beaches and sea caves carved from the wind and water.  This past July, we spent 6 days sailing through the islands on a beautiful Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409 with Superior Charters.

Day 1- Drive from Toledo, Ohio to Bayfield, Wisconsin

We were up and on the road by 8:15am – Destination: Bayfield, Wisconsin.  We arrived in Bayfield at 6:30pm and headed right to Port Superior Marina. I have to say the drive was much easier than I expected. Plus, when you get up to Northern Wisconsin, the landscape changes and it is beautiful!

We couldn’t wait to check out our home for the next 5 days.  We eagerly walked down the dock and saw her waiting for us.  A beautiful Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409 named True North.  Erik and I immediately fell in love. The Sun Odyssey 409 is perfect for a family of 5. We had the master stateroom, 2 aft cabins and the table dropped down to a massive bed. I didn’t hear the kids complain once about not having enough space. Which says a lot since we sold our last sailboat due to a “space” issue.

We hopped on board and noticed a welcome basket filled with Wisconsin syrup, pancake mix and coffee. Once we checked everything out, we unloaded the car and decided to head to Bayfield to find some dinner and more importantly ice cream.  

I had never heard of Bayfield before this trip. I have to say this town is a secret treasure on the Great Lakes.  It is the quintessential lakeside town. I felt that every store and restaurant catered to the Boating lifestyle. We immediately felt at home.

We happened to arrive at the tail end of Race week so the town was littered with sailors from around the Great Lakes.

We wanted to hit the rooftop at the Bayfield Inn for dinner – Trip Advisor said this was the best views in town. Unfortunately, with Race Week going on seating was limited so we headed downstairs to the main dining room. Dinner was good – I won’t say exceptional but we didn’t leave hungry.

After dinner the kids immediately found the local ice cream parlor. We got our ice cream and walked around the docks and waterfront before heading back to the boat for the evening.

Day 2 -  Bayfield, Wisconsin

We woke up Thursday morning excited to get our day started in this beautiful part of the country.

We headed up to the marina showers to clean up and get ready for our day. Remember – once you leave the marina the only other facilities you will have are on Madeline Island. In other words - take a long hot shower before you leave Bayfield.

After we cleaned up, we headed over the Superior Charters office to get checked in and go over our float plan. Cindy and the staff of Superior Charters are awesome!  They even called over to the Candy Shoppe in Bayfield to reserve a loaf of their famous wine bread.

I took the girls to the Candy Shoppe while Erik went through the boat check in process. We scored the last loaf of this delicious blueberry wine bread. I am telling you now – If you go to Bayfield this needs to be on your must do list. This bread is AMAZING. Make sure you call ahead of time to reserve your loaf. They run out almost daily.

Next up  – Provisions! This is a very important part of this article – Get everything (I mean everything) before you leave Bayfield. Once you are out in the islands, there is only one place to stop for provisions and one island that has restaurants. If you run out of food, you will be forced to go back to Madeline Island which is quite far if you are out in the further islands.

We decided to make the trip to Walmart in Ashland to stock up for the trip. It was about a 45 minute drive but well worth it. We could get everything we needed in one stop.

Once we got back to the marina, Erik took the girls fishing on the docks. They even caught a few small fish which excited the girls.

After fishing, we decided to head back into Bayfield to walk around a little before dinner. We hit some of the shops and checked out the other race week activities.

Back at the marina, Superior Charters was hosting a party for race week. We had a scrumptious dinner of brats, chips and cookies and listened to an island band while the kids swam in the pool. There were quite a few local sailors at the party so we took advantage of getting some tips for our upcoming voyage.

Day 3 – Bayfield to Stockton Island

A major storm came through around 3am and unfortunately continued through the morning. One thing I noticed is that weather does not stop people from sailing in the Apostle Islands. I get the feeling that it's part of the “experience” in the islands.

I put on my foul weather gear and off we went. The rain made for a very foggy ride out of Bayfield. We could see Race Week boats in our horizon. Once we got on the other side of Bayfield, it was a fairly straight shot up the North channel to Stockton Island.

Stockton Island has two great anchorage spots - Julian Bay and Presque Isle. Due to the winds that day, we decided to drop anchor in Presque Isle. By the time we landed on Stockton Island, the sun was shining and we were ready to head to the island for a little hiking.

We took the dinghy to shore and landed right at the campsites – Stockton Island has 19 campsites. The sites are pretty primitive – they pretty much follow the shoreline from the ranger station over about ½ mile.

Once ashore we realized one thing – the mosquitoes were fierce on this island. One piece of advice I can give you for this trip – take plenty of bug spray. You will need it every day!

We decided to hike over to the rangers station and to get some recommendations for the best hike on the island. There were two rangers on duty when we got to the station.  They were very friendly and went over some of the most popular hikes on the island. They gave the girls Junior Ranger booklets and encouraged them to get inducted before they left.

Supposedly, Stockton Island is home to the highest concentration of black bears in North America. I think this may have been the case many years ago. We didn’t encounter any bears nor did we see any evidence of bears. The ranger even said he had been on the island for two weeks and hadn’t seen any bears. I didn’t need my bear spray afterall.

It’s a short ½ mile hike over to Julian Bay which is known for it’s world famous singing sand. Unfortunately, the winds were strong we couldn’t hear anything except the waves crashing onto the shore.  

The hike on the beach in Julian Bay was a bit challenging for our younger daugher. It was a pretty long walk and the wind was pretty intense.   It’s a beautiful walk – some of the most beautiful pieces of driftwood I have ever seen. At the end of the beach, you can even see parts of a shipwreck that has washed ashore.

Once you get near the end of the beach, head on up to the boardwalk and start heading back towards the other side of the island on the Tombolo Trail. This is where the bugs got really bad. I mean REALLY bad – I’m not sure I have ever seen so many mosquitos in one place.

Once we got back to the campground, there were about 6 other sailboats anchored in the bay. The winds had died down and the water was like glass.

After dinner, we grabbed some blankets and sat on the deck to watch the sun set.


Day 4 -  Stockton Island to Raspberry Island

The next morning, we pulled the anchor and headed towards Raspberry Island. We cruised by the formations on Stockton Island’s  Northeastern shore including the famous balancing rock.

Raspberry Island has a great anchorage off the Southeastern Sandspit. We arrived on the beach only to be greeted by the Wishing Tree.  

From the beach, it’s a short hike through the woods to the Lighthouse. The Raspberry Island lighthouse was built in 1863 to guide the ships through the west channel of the Apostle Islands.

The lighthouse offers guided tours  BUT we found out there was a fee of $10 per family. We didn’t have any cash with us – major planning mistake on our part. Thankfully the ranger said that they had to start making exceptions for kayakers who never have cash with them. The ranger will now provide you with an envelope to mail in your fees.

Unfortunately, The lighthouse is under construction so we didn’t get to go up into the tower. We were a bit disappointed but the tour was very informative and well worth the nominal fee. The tour of the lighthouse took about 45 minutes. The lighthouse has been restored to show how it looked 100 years ago.

After the tour, we played a game of Croquet before heading back to the sailboat. I’m sure this is part of the trip that our kids will remember for years to come. It’s not something you do everyday – playing croquet on an island, next to a lighthouse in the middle of Lake Superior.  It was definitely a WOW moment for me.

Back on the beach I took some time to look for some beach glass. I had hoped to find quite a bit on Lake Superior considering the amount of shipwrecks that happened on this lake. I only ended up finding a few pieces the entire trip. If anyone has any tips for Lake Superior beach glass I would love to know.  

It was getting late and the wind was starting to shift directions so we decided to pull up the anchor and head to Sand Island where the anchorage was more protected.

Sand Island is near the Western end of the Apostle Islands and has a beautiful lighthouse set atop a wooded cliff.  We arrived a little later than expected so we just dropped the anchor and enjoyed the beautiful view.

Day 5 - Sand Island to Devil’s Island

We woke up to dreary conditions the next morning.  My older daughters and I decided we wanted to have a lazy morning so we let Erik and Addison go ashore without us. They took a hike around the island coastline to the Sand Island lighthouse. They weren’t able to go inside but got to walk around the grounds and explore the rocky coastline.  After seeing the pictures, I was a bit disappointed I didn’t join them on their adventure.

We pulled up anchor as soon as they returned and headed towards Devil’s Island which is the Northernmost point in Wisconsin.

We had hoped to tour the famous Devil’s Island caves in the dinghy but mother nature just wasn’t cooperating. Instead, we just motored around the island and took in the sites. The caves are truly amazing!

The rock formations and sea caves go around the Northern Shore of Devil’s Island. On most days, you will see many kayakers meandering their way in and out of the caves. The island was eerily empty the day we were there.

Devil’s Island to South Twin Island

We had planned on anchoring on Rocky island but the wind just wasn’t cooperating. We headed over to South Twin Island and found the perfect spot for the night.

Something happens when electronics go away for a few days – our kids actually started playing together. They started collecting driftwood and ended up building a fort out of driftwood right on the beach.  We had a wonderful afternoon playing on the beach and meeting other sailors that had anchored near us.

After dinner we headed back to shore to build a campfire on the beach complete with s'mores. The sailor’s we had met earlier in the afternoon invited us down to their campfire for a little impromptu music performance. We sat back and listened to our own private concert around the campfire.. I sure wish we had gotten their names – I would love to give these guys a shout out.

This night ended up being the most memorable part of our trip.

It was getting dark so we decided to give the younger crowd some time to themselves. We headed back to the boat and called it a night.

Day 6 - South Twin Island to Madeline Island

The next morning we woke up to a pretty major storm coming through the area. The boat was much closer to shore than we liked so Erik pulled up the anchor and off we went towards Madeline Island.

Erik said that he actually witnessed the wind coming from every direction during that 5 hour trip back to Madeline Island.

The girls were ecstatic when we finally docked at the Madeline Island Yacht Club - they finally had WiFi  back! The yacht club is a great place to dock on the island. They have wonderful facilities, free wifi and a store with provisions. It is a super easy walk into town where the restaurants and stores are located.

After docking, we had one thing on our mind- a hot shower! We had just enough time to freshen up and walk into town before the next round of storms hit the island.

We decided to eat at the Beach Club restaurant and ended up waiting the storm out.  This was the week that Pokemon Go came out so our kids were excited to have some decent wifi signals to try out the latest craze. And if you are wondering – are there actually any Pokemon on Madeline Island the answer is YES!

After lunch, we got some ice cream and walked around the island. We wanted to check out Tom’s Burned Down Cafe. This is a must see place if you go to Madeline Island.

We knew a pretty major storm was about to hit the island – we didn’t realize just how bad things were going to get in the area. The rain started about 6pm and pretty much lasted through the night. We heard some distress calls from kayakers who were out on the islands and needed assistance. Come to find out, the storm had actually washed away a marina on the mainland and caused most of the roads in the area to shut down. 32 Campers had to be evacuated from Michigan Island – it was truly very scary. I am just thankful we were tied down at the Yacht Club.  It would have been a very rough night out on the islands.

Day 7 - Madeline Island to Bayfield, Wisconsin

The next morning brought sunshine and some pretty strong winds. We got a wonderful sail in that morning on the way to Big Bay State Park.

We arrived to the park and headed to shore. The beach was very nice however the black flies were  terrible. We ended up not spending very much time at the park.

We ended up leaving Big Bay in the late afternoon and headed back to Superior Charters for the night.

The next morning we packed up our car and said our goodbyes to the staff of Superior Charters. We left The Apostle Islands with many memories and a new appreciation for the beauty that our country holds.

If you are looking for an opportunity to truly unplug and enjoy this beautiful National treasure up close, I encourage you to look into Superior Charters. You will not be disappointed.

To view the full photo album, click here

tags: Charters, Lake Superior


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