Bayfield County Attractions
At the top of Wisconsin, on the southern shore of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the western hemisphere, is Bayfield County -- a land shaped by glaciers, wind and water, where tranquil fishing villages, logging towns and Native American communities, established here before Columbus landed, continue to reflect the area's richly varied heritage.
Chicago Tribune travel writer Alan Solomon described the City of Bayfield, the gateway to the Apostle Islands, as "a place where the lake is sparkling, the beaches clean, the fish abundant and hungry, the golf courses challenging and beautiful, the dining creative, the lighthouses photographable, the hiking shaded, the bears reclusive, the sunsets magical…as a travel destination this is the Best Little Town in the Midwest."
Today logging continues on a smaller scale with modern equipment, but visitors can visit and experience the sights and sounds of an old-fashioned sawmill operating in the town of Herbster. Commercial fishing has also declined but the fishing camps and villages still nestle along the shore with old fish boats and distinctive old waterfront fishing sheds now house art, gift, craft, antique and collectibles, old-fashioned general stores and historic settlers' cottages.
Area museums tell fascinating stories of the early settlers, Ojibwa, Spanish, French and English, as hunters, voyageurs, missionaries, traders, loggers, quarry workers, farmers, commercial fishermen, sailors, lighthouse keepers, and railroaders. Underwater, along the rocky shoreline, present day explorers will find the well-preserved remains of historic sailing ships and fishing vessels.
Bayfield County's most precious asset is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, with 21 islands and 12 miles of pristine shoreline with soft sand beaches, rocky cliffs and mystical sea caves - magically transformed to crystalline halls in winter - and more lighthouses than any other coastline in the United States.
The County's Lake Superior shoreline hosts the nation's largest fleet of chartered and rental sailing vessels. Lake explorers can sail on captained three-masted schooners, chartered cruisers, sea-going kayaks, canoes, or one of the many sailboats for rent.
The largest of the Apostle Islands, and the only island with commercial development, Madeline Island, has been settled for more than 400 years, including by the Ojibwa people who arrived in the 15th century. The 180 permanent present day residents include some direct descendants to the earliest settlers. Madeline Island is linked to the mainland in winter by Country Highway "H", a five-mile ice road. In early and late winter, while Highway "H" is forming and melting down, crossings are made by windsled, part boat and part plane. From early spring to mid-winter, crossings are by a more conventional but no less adventurous car ferry.
In the 1840's the La Point Chippewa formed a new settlement at Red Cliff, north of Bayfield. Today
in Red Cliff visitors can enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities, including camping, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling over 550 miles of interconnecting trails, and sailing, trolling or ice-fishing from a marina in a protected harbor. The Red Cliff people preserve their unique Woodland Indian heritage at special events, including an annual July 4th Weekend Pow-Wow that draws participants from many Great Lake Tribes from the U.S. and Canada.
Bayfield County is a wildlife observer's paradise. With 23,161 acres of surface water, 966 lakes (398 with access and fish to challenge anyone), 400 miles of streams (some wild, most tranquil, all beautiful) 1,476 square miles of land (83% forested), Bayfield County's diverse landscape and plant communities host hundreds of bird and animal species, many of which are found only here.
Much of inland Bayfield County is covered by the gently rolling terrain of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, dotted with lakes and streams, where recreational activities and scenic landscapes are virtually unlimited year-round. In summer, forest activities include sightseeing from highland overlooks, fishing, hiking, ATV's, horseback riding and wilderness camping. In winter, forest lakes and trails host cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice-fishing and snowshoeing.
The area also boasts two downhill ski areas, Mt. Ashwabay and Mt. Telemark, where skiers can count on the average 73" annual snowfall to provide the best conditions available anywhere in the state. Golfers can choose from more than 16 courses in Bayfield County, from the Scottish links-style Madeline Island course designed by Robert Trent Jones, the championship Telemark Golf Course and spectacular Apostle Highlands scenic 18 holes, to sporty nine-hole courses at the Mellen Country Club and Spider Lake Golf Resort.
The nation's largest and most prestigious cross-country ski event, the Dyno American Birkebeiner, the nation's largest off-road bicycle event, the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival; the Great Schooner Race, Fall Color Festival and the Bayfield Apple Festival head the list of fun and sporting events that draw thousands of visitors to the area year-round. Others come to enjoy one of the 70-plus live shows performed in summer in Chautauqua, just south of Bayfield.
Bayfield County's restaurants have been included on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's ten best list and praised in the New York Times. Area offerings waiting to be discovered include secret sauces, fish chowders, blueberry pancakes and fresh fruit pies. Cuisine varies from home cooking (better than Grandma's) to gourmet preparations featuring freshly harvested and bountiful fruit, fish, and vegetable specialties.
Bayfield County offers a wide range of lodging accommodations, from rugged wilderness campsites to bayside villas, historic bed and breakfast mansions, economy motels, romantic and secluded forest cabins, housekeeping cottages and luxurious lakeside resorts.
No matter how long it takes to get here, Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua singer/songwriter, Warren Nelson, wrote, "Your Getaway Is Your Arrival". The people of Bayfield County are waiting to welcome your getaway.
Museums and Historical Sites
Lakeview School Museum (website)
100 Island Lane, Madeline Island
Located 1½ blocks from the ferry landing on Madeline Island, Lake View School takes visitors back to the days of the one-room schoolhouse. Built in 1904 at the north end of the island, the building was moved to its present location and restored by the Madeline Island Historical Preservation Association. It is filled with authentic furniture, equipment, educational materials and historic photographs. Open June-September. Call for hours.
Madeline Island Historical Museum (website)
Colonel Woods Ave., Madeline Island
Experience the rich history of Madeline Island through exhibits and programs that explore three centuries of island life, from Ojibway culture to the fur trade, missionaries to loggers, boat building to fishing. Museum store, musical orientation program and daily tours in season. Open mid-May to mid-October.
Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
US Hwy. 2 and Cty. Hwy. G, West of Ashland
This center, operated by multiple agencies and organizations, provides cultural exhibits of the history of the Northern Great Lakes Region: Northern Wisconsin, Northeastern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The region's heritage is told from the time of the glaciers to the present. A musical historical house show "Up Under the Upper Lake" provides an entertaining presentation of Northern Wisconsin's farming, logging, shipping and mining history. Open 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. daily in summer; and 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. daily in winter.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Museum
415 Washington Ave., Bayfield
Located in a 19th Century cigar factory, the museum's displays include an old-fashioned barbershop, telephone switchboard, logging, lumbering, agriculture and tourism, and an extensive collection of historic photographs. Open Memorial Day - Labor Day Weekend 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. daily except Mondays. After Labor Day, weekends only. Also by appointment.
Cable Natural History Museum
Let the Cable Natural History Museum introduce you to the northwest Wisconsin neighborhood: the 90,000 acre Chequamegon National Forest; 3500 lakes and countless rivers, creeks and streams; majestic Lake Superior; beaches, waterfalls, orchids, wetlands, fish, wolves, owls, deer, eagles; almost everything there is to know about the north woods environment is on display here. Open year around Tuesday - Saturday, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; during June, July, August also open Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Drummond Historical Museum
Superior St. and Owen Ave., Drummond
Discover the history of the area's logging industry; the rough and tumble, dangerous and demanding lumberjack trade, life in a "company town," and northwoods wildlife revealed in the Drummond Museum's artifacts, displays and exhibits. Open year round. Tuesday 1:00 - 5:00 p.m., Wednesday 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Sundays and holidays by appointment.
Hokenson Brothers Fishery Museum
Little Sands Bay off Hwy. 13, North of Bayfield
Tour the buildings, tools, and equipment of this one-time family-operated commercial Lake Superior fishery. Visitors can guide themselves or take a guided tour to learn more about the history of the fascinating and often hazardous fishing business from a knowledgeable park ranger. Open daily, Memorial Day - Labor Day, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Mason Historical Museum
Cty. Hwy. E, Mason
Housed in a renovated depot built by the Chicago, St. Paul, Minnesota & Omaha Railway, the Mason Historical Museum's exhibits follow the town's development from 1883, when the White River Lumber Company built a mill and the town site of Mason; to 1894, when the site became the largest lumber mill in the northwest; and to the demise of the lumber industry in the early 20th Century. Open Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day from noon to 3:00 p.m. and also by reservation.
Washburn Historical Museum & Cultural Center (website)
1 E. Bayfield St. (Hwy. 13), Washburn
Located in a restored National Register brownstone bank building, the first floor of the center has a unique gift shop, historic exhibits and Cultural Center that provides ongoing art exhibits, workshops for adults and children and very special programs of the performing arts. The second floor contains the stories and memorabilia of Washburn's businesses and industries, family photos and heirlooms, ethnic displays and an impressive collection of toys. Open April - December 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; closed January - March except by appointment. Call for exact days.
Western Bayfield County Museum
Touch the area's varied past: logging tools and markers, vintage turn of the 20th century clothing, household furnishings and farm tools, veterans' uniforms and memorabilia with special displays for children. Open June 15 - Labor Day, Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Also by appointment.
Apostle Island Lighthouses
Relive 150 years of maritime thrills, romance, blunders, dedication, hardships and heroism reflected in the historic lighthouses still standing guard along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Tour the light stations, see the machinery, the lights and almost magical giant Fresnel lenses that focused and threw the light far into many a stormy night. Visitors learn about historic disasters, near disasters and heroic rescues, about the faithful keepers of the light, and occasionally even meet one such character in full lightkeeper's uniform. For more information about Apostle Island Lighthouse tours, call 715-779-3397.
Michigan Island Light Station features two light towers. The first, built in 1857 of rough stone with a conical tower and whitewashed stucco exterior, was supposed to have been constructed at the western end of Long Island. The second light, located atop a 112-ft. cylindrical tower that was brought from its original location on the Delaware River near Philadelphia, replaced the original in 1929.
Long Island Light Station features two lights; the La Pointe light, originally a small clapboard house with a squared timber tower, constructed at the western end of the island in 1857, now sitting atop a brick first story added along with the present 67 ft. cylindrical tower in 1895; and, the Chequamegon Point light, a 42 ft. tower also constructed in 1895.
Raspberry Island Light, constructed in 1863, originally was a rectangular frame structure with a forty-foot tower. A red brick building housing a steam fog whistle and hoisting engine was added in 1902 and the lighthouse building was converted to a duplex in 1906-07, with the keeper's quarters in one half, and the two assistant keepers sharing the other.
Outer Island Light Station, built in 1874 on a red clay bluff 40 feet above Lake Superior, the whitewashed brick lighthouse tower stands 90 feet high. A short wooden passageway connects the tower with the keepers quarters, a three story red brick building with a large chimney and an attached kitchen.
Sand Island Light, constructed in 1881 in Norman Gothic-style, is the only lighthouse in the Apostles constructed of locally quarried brownstone.
Devils Island Light, lit first in 1891, with a two story Queen Anne - style keepers' dwelling, and an 82 ft. steel tower constructed in 1898.
Apostle Islands Historical Sites
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore preserves a variety of historic sites, including prehistoric and abandoned 19th century fishing camps, logging camps, a logging railroad, stone quarries and farmsteads. Interpretive, guided and self-guided tours are available at visitors centers located on the islands or at the National Lakeshore headquarters in Bayfield.
Parks and Nature Centers
Chequamegon National Forest (website)
The Chequamegon National Forest has 850,000 acres of rolling terrain dotted with crystal clear lakes, rushing rivers and meandering streams, a variety of scenic landscapes, rock formations, highland outlooks, varied forest environments, hundreds of wildlife species. There are hundreds of miles of easy-going to rugged hiking, mountain biking, cycling and snowmobile trails, and five public and four private campgrounds.
Backcountry camping is permitted throughout the forest on public land located at least 30 feet from any trail or waters' edge. The Rainbow Lake and Porcupine Lake Wilderness areas offer backpackers and hikers 11,000 rugged acres of nature at its quiet best; no wheeled or motorized vehicles are allowed.
Families with young children and others looking for short and easy paths through the forest will find several trails with interpretive stations. All are easily accessible and can be enjoyed in as little as half an hour. The Forest Lodge Nature Trail, maintained by the Cable Natural History Museum, is a family favorite.
Skyscraping towers, cliff-lined gorges and 70 foot waterfalls are found along the forest's more challenging trails, including the North Country National Scenic Trail, part of a 3200 mile trail linking the Appalachian Trail in Vermont with the Lewis and Clark Trail in North Dakota.
Mountain bike enthusiasts will find more than 300 miles of mapped and marked trails stretching from Hayward to Iron River. Developed and maintained by the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association, CAMBA trails are well-marked, "impossible to get lost on," and follow a variety of paths including logging roads, firelanes, snowmobile trails, ski trails and single tracks.
Hundreds of miles of excellent trail systems allow snowmobilers to travel the uncrowded solitude of the forest, over well-groomed logging roads, firelanes and converted railbeds with 200 to 585 footbridges from Hayward to Mason, Iron River and Port Wing.
In the heart of the forest, the Forest Service maintains an extensive network of trails that are open for horseback riding. The 12-mile Horseshoe Lake Saddle Trail, suitable for riders of all abilities, has two adjoining loops of varying lengths to explore.
The US Forest Service also maintains a number of cross-country ski trail systems in the forest, including Rock Lake, Namakogon, Drummond, Penokee Mountain, West Torch and Mukwonago trails. All are groomed for classical skiing except Mukwonago, which provides for both classical and skate skiing.
Families will enjoy canoeing the Namakagon River as it flows south from Lake Namakagon and the north flowing White River. The Namakagon offers light rapids, occasional picnic grounds and camping areas along the shore. The White is a slower, meandering river with a deeper basin.
Forest lakes and streams provide angling thrills for novice and expert alike. Lake Namakagon is one of three Wisconsin lakes managed for trophy musky production; regularly yielding 40+ inchers. Lake Owen has walleye, too, and is known for its outstanding bass and northern yield. Forest streams yield brook trout, rainbows and browns. Crappies and other panfish are plentiful in all of the forests waters, including the many wilderness lakes that are only accessible by foot and best fished by belly boat. In winter, of course, the fish are available through the ice. Ice fishing equipment is available for rent in nearby boat, bait and tackle shops.
Forest woodlands offer great hunting with little competition from others. In season, whitetail deer, black bear, ruffed grouse, and waterfowl are most commonly hunted. But the forest also yields woodcock, gray squirrel, snowshoe hare, fox and coyote.
Private campgrounds located on the shores of the forest's lakes offer boat ramps, sandy beaches, boat, motor and canoe rentals, electrical hookups, water, showers and flush toilets.
Big Bay State Park (website)
Designed for camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing, swimming and outdoor education, Big Bay State Park offers a 55-site family campground, an indoor group camp, several picnic areas, over five miles of hiking trails, a 1½ mile sand beach, self-guided nature trails and naturalist programs.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (website)
Headquarters Visitor Center, Bayfield
Nestled near the western end of Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore includes 21 islands and a 12-mile strip of mainland Wisconsin Shoreline. The islands beckon to explorers and vacationers who enjoy quiet, sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, sea caves, shipwrecks, historical interpretive areas, wildlife viewing and wilderness camping. Excursion boats provide access to the islands.
Private sailors, boaters and kayakers can travel around the archipelago to explore the fantastic sea caves carved into sandstone cliffs along the islands and mainland shoreline and view the seagull, cormorant and great blue heron rookeries on Eagle Island, which is not accessible to visitors. On many of the islands explorers will find hiking trails that provide close-up views of the island's diverse plant, bird and wildlife populations and historic sites.
There are more that 50 miles of maintained trails and camping is permitted on 18 of the 21 islands. Bicycles and mechanized vehicles are not permitted on the islands or the mainland shoreline. Park activities include sailing, boating, sea kayaking, camping, hiking, picnicking, swimming, scuba diving, shipwreck exploration, excursion cruises, sport fishing, hunting, cross country skiing, and guided programs. Permits are required for camping, scuba diving and hunting. Special permits are required for the annual October black powder deer hunt on Oak and Basswood Islands.
Capser & Meech Hiking Trails
Two trails, Capser and Meech, invite hikers to enjoy the Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve and the Town inland forest. The trails begin a short twelve-minute walk from the island's ferry dock.
Squaw Bay Caves
East of Cornucopia
In Squaw Bay, on the mainland shore of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, just east of Cornucopia, are sandstone caves accessible by boat in summer; and in winter, when the ice is right, visitors can walk to explore the same caves, transformed into crystal halls by sparkling, magnificent ice formations.
Mt. Valhalla Recreational Area
Cty. Hwy. C, west of Washburn
The Mt. Valhalla Recreational Area offers trails for cross-country skiing, hiking, snowmobiling, mountain biking, horseback riding, ATV's and a chalet.
Lake Superior Water Trail
The Bayfield Peninsula/Apostle Islands section of the Lake Superior Water Trail is approximately 60 miles long and has some of the most majestic scenery and interesting historical sites along the Lake Superior Coast. The trail allows small boaters and sea kayakers to explore a watery area where Native Americans have lived for thousands of years and European explorers, lake-farers and settlers have lived since the 17th century. The trail follows the shore of the Red Cliff Indian Reservation, home to a band of Lake Superior Chippewa, also called Ojibwa or Anishinaabe. It meanders through the Apostle Island National Lakeshore and around Madeline Island; a sacred place in the oral tradition of the Anishinaabe people and the location of historic La Pointe, the hub of 17th century French and English fur trading. The area's history of logging, fishing, farming, railroading, shipping and mining is reflected along the trail, through shipwrecks, ore docks, lighthouses, historic churches, fishing camps and more.
Special Things To Do
Bayfield Apple Festival (website)
Voted best in Wisconsin, the Bayfield Apple Festival attracts more that 50,000 visitors and offers nearly as many variations of the apple and apple goodies from pies and apple butter to apple mustard and apple bratwurst. Along with the freshest and best apples, the Festival features art booths, grandstand shows, street entertainers, Andean street musicians, mimes, a classic American carnival, a chamber music concert, apple peeling and pie baking competitions, a night parade of lighted and decorated boats, and a street parade.
Bayfield Farmers Market
3rd & Manypenny, Bayfield
Enjoy farm fresh fruits, herbs, vegetables and flowers grown by area farmers along with baked goods, jams, jellies, preserves, syrups and more. In season, gardeners will find a variety of bedding plants, annuals and perennials. Non-gardeners will find fresh cut flowers and vegetables. Amidst the food, fun and flowers market-goers may also find unusual art and craft items, music and entertaining street performers. Summer Saturdays, 9:00 am - noon
Bayfield Festival of Arts (website)
Memorial Park, Bayfield
The beauty of the Bayfield Peninsula attracts artists and performers from all disciplines. Many have come to stay; and many more come to display their talents at Bayfield's annual Festival of the Arts. The Festival draws artists from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota who show paintings, pottery, glasswork, woodworking, jewelry and photography. Live music, an art corner for kids, and the view of the inland sea from the waterfront park add to the wonder and fun of this one-of-a-kind event.
Bayfield Boat Festivals
Great Schooner Race and Fall Color Car Show (September)
Enjoy breathtaking fall color, schooner races, auctions, bagpipers and classic automobiles in mint condition, including convertibles, Corvettes and antiques, at Bayfield's Great Schooner Race and Fall Color Car Show.
Wooden Boat Rendezvous (August)
Boat enthusiasts, professionals and amateurs alike converge at Bayfield's waterfront to share ideas, compare notes and admire classic wooden vessels. Admire the graceful lines of a Herreshoff designed sloop or ketch. View classic runabouts, fine rowing craft, a launch or two and a nautical flea market. The Rendezvous offers a chance to share ideas and have some fun, too!
Red Cliff Cultural Days
Isle Vista, Red Cliff
In mid-summer, a village of birch bark wigwams and teepees, populated by descendants of the Ojibwa people who settled here in the 15th century, sprouts up near Red Cliff's Isle Vista Casino. Here, singers, drummers, dancers and craftspeople from all around Lake Superior gather for the annual 4th of July weekend pow-wow to demonstrate and celebrate their unique Woodland Cultural Heritage. Red Cliff Cultural Days begins with a fish boil, followed by a pow-wow, and demonstrations of native crafts, including beading and canoe-making. Visitors enjoy storytelling, dancing, drumming and learning about the Ojibwa language and customs throughout the weekend.
Architectural Walking Tour
Take a leisurely walk through time through Bayfield's historic sites and homes, including the Iron Bridge, the Carnegie Library, historic homes and mansions. An illustrated tour map and guide "Brownstone and Bargeboard: A Guide to Bayfield's Historic Architecture" is available from the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center.
American Birkebeiner XC-Ski Race (website)
In late February, the world comes to Cable for the American Birkebeiner Cross Country Ski Race. The internationally famous Birkebeiner Trail takes the racers on a challenging 51-km. course from Cable to Main Street in Downtown Hayward. Over 7000 skiers, including many Europeans, participate in North America's largest cross-country ski event.