Apostle Islands, WI
The Outer Island loop includes eleven of the Apostle Islands and some of their best beaches, sea caves, and historic lighthouses. The larger islands also have extensive hiking trails. Rounding the north end of Devil's, Rocky, and Outer Islands can be very difficult in strong northerly winds. Plan for extra time to explore the islands on foot when it is too rough to paddle.
Trip Highlights: Excellent sea caves (Sand Island/Devil's Island), good sand beaches (Sand, York, Raspberry, Rocky, Outer, Stockton, and Oak Islands), hiking trails (Sand, Stockton, Outer, and Oak Islands), and historic lighthouses (Raspberry, Sand, Devil's, and Outer Islands).
Trip Rating: Advanced. About 70 to 75 miles.
Trip Duration: Plan on a full week to explore the islands. Planning for extra food and windbound days is especially important in the outer exposed islands such as Outer Island and Devil's Island. By doing out and back trips to Devil's or Outer Island from the Red Cliff or Little Sand Bay launch sites, shorter trips of 25 to 50 miles can be done as an alternative to the full outer-islands loop. navigation aids: NOAA charts 14966 or 14973; USGS: Bayfield at 1:100,000.
Cautions: Confused seas and clapotis develop off the sandstone cliffs and sea caves. The north ends of Devil's Island and Outer Island are exposed to the full fetch of Superior in all directions. Wave heights of 8 to 10 feet are not uncommon with a strong northeast wind even in summer months.
Trip Planning: Campsites are available on Sand, York, Devil's, Rocky, Ironwood, Cat, Outer, Stockton, and Oak Islands. No camping is allowed on Raspberry Island, and there are no campsites on Bear Island, although wilderness camping is allowed. Kayakers who plan to camp on any of the islands will need to reserve a campsite at the ranger station in either Bayfield or Little Sand Bay and pay a $15 fee for a camping permit. For groups of eight people or more group sites are available on Sand, Stockton, and Oak Islands.
Crossings to and from the various islands are about 2 to 5 miles. Bring extra food and plan extra days in case you become windbound. The exposed islands, such as Devil's and Outer, are notorious for rough conditions with a north or northeast wind. Always check the marine forecast (Duluth 162.55 MHz). Daily forecasts are also posted at the ranger station in Little Sand Bay. A wet suit or dry suit is recommended because water temperatures are often less than 50° F. Fog can be a problem any time of the year on Superior; every kayaker must have a chart and compass to make the crossings safely.
Launch Sites: Little Sand Bay (start): See Route 14: Sand Island for details. Red Cliff Buffalo Bay Tribal Marina (finish): See Route 15: Basswood Island trip for details.
start to mile 11.0: Little Sand Bay-Sand Island-York Island-Raspberry Island Sandspit: See Route 16: Inner Island Loop.
mile 14.0: From the Raspberry Island sandspit, head northeast to the Bear Island Sandspit (N 47° 00.01' W 090° 44.90'), located on the southeastern tip of the island. There are several private land holdings along the beach so if you do land make it a brief stop and respect the no
mile 17.0: Weather permitting, the east side of Bear Island makes for a more scenic paddle. The west side is mostly eroded clay bluffs, while the east side is red sandstone cliffs and jumbles of huge boulders. At Mile 17.0 you reach a crescent-shaped beach (N 47° 01.54' W 090° 45.00') on the northeast side of Bear that makes a great lunch stop. This beach develops dumping surf next to the shore, which can make landing difficult, when there are big waves from the north or northeast. On either side of the beach, the north end of the island is sandstone cliffs with re-entrants and small sea caves. Caution: When winds are from the north the confused seas and clapotis on the north shore can create difficult paddling conditions.
mile 20.0: From the beach to Devil's Island, you make a 3.0-mile crossing, heading roughly NNE to the southern tip of the island. At the south end there is a small harbor (N 47° 03.73' W 090° 43.66') with rock breakwalls and a large boathouse. In rough weather this the only safe place to land on Devil's Island. Just up from the hill are the designated campsites for Devil's-wilderness camping is not allowed on the island. There is a two-track road that heads north for about 1 mile to the lighthouse and sea caves at the north end of the island.
mile 21.0: Heading north up the west side of the island, the rock and gravel beaches give way to boulders and then sandstone cliffs. The sea caves start on the northwest corner of the island and continue around the north end. Devil's Island columns and arches are the most intricate of any of the Apostle Island sea caves. The columns are so numerous that at some points you feel like you are paddling in a forest, with sandstone trunks rising all around you.
I call one of my favorite caves. "The Hanger" because it is big enough to house an airplane. The entrance is only about 15 feet high by 30 feet wide, but it soon flares out to about 50 feet wide and is perhaps 100 feet long.
Caution: Never attempt to explore the sea caves when there are any significant seas coming from the north. Confused seas and violent clapotis form even with small waves. On very calm days there is a flat rock shelf east of the caves where you can land kayaks for a lunch break and a quick trip to Devil's Island Light (N 47° 04.8' W 090° 43.7'). During the summer months a park volunteer is usually available to give tours of the lighthouse, which is equipped with a huge brass-and-glass Frensel lens.
mile 25.0: Paddling down the east side of Devil's Island, you pass low sandstone cliffs and jumbles of huge boulders. From the south end of the island, paddle southeast to make the 2.5-mile crossing to Rocky Island. Heading east along the north end of the island, you pass a large crescent-shaped beach that is a good place to land and take a break.
mile 27.0: Rounding the northeast tip of Rocky Island and heading southwest along the coast, you enter the sheltered harbor formed by Rocky Island and South Twin Island.
Caution: The rocky shore and shallow water off the point at the northeast tip of Rocky Island produces very rough conditions with large seas from the north. Avoid the point in rough weather and stay well offshore while rounding the point. Watch out also for the sandbar/shore connecting Rocky Island and South Twin. It is very dangerous in northerly winds. There are some private land holdings and a park dock with several campsites available on the east side of the island. The sheltered harbor is very popular with powerboats and sailboats, so it is not a place to seek solitude. Some of the campsites are less than optimally accessible by kayak. Campsite 1 (N 47° 01.27' W 090° 40.75') provides the best landing and access to the water for kayakers.
mile 31.0: Heading southeast from Rocky Island, you pass South Twin Island and continue on to the south end of Ironwood Island. There is small sandspit and beach at the southern tip that has a campsite (N 46° 59.39' W 090° 37.09') on it. The campsite does not have an outhouse or potable water.
mile 33.0: From Ironwood Island head east to the southern tip of Cat Island. There is a lovely sandspit with a campsite (N 46° 59.94' W 090° 33.77'), located just north of the spit on the west side of the island. The campsite does not have a outhouse or potable water. There is also a cabin on the south end of the island that is stocked with provisions for fishermen who are windbound and need to stay there in an emergency. Please only use this cabin in an emergency.
mile 38.0: From the Cat Island sandspit, head east to make the 4.5-mile crossing to the Outer Island sandspit. Caution: This very exposed crossing should not be attempted if strong winds are forecast from the north or northeast, making large seas likely. The sandspit at Outer Island (N 46° 56.68' W 090° 28.03') is a large curved spit on the south end of the island. At the base of the sandspit, there is a campsite nestled in a shallow depression in a wooded area. This is a lovely spot and a great place to stay sheltered from the wind when bad weather comes roaring out the north. Just west of the camp along the shore are the remains of old fishing boat.
miles 38.0 to 45.0: If you journey all the way out to Outer Island, it is well worth taking the time to circumnavigate the island. It is about 15 miles around the island, so plan on taking most of a day. From the sandspit head north along the west side of the island. The west side consists mostly of eroded red clay bluffs with some cobbles and small rounded boulders. The water is often stained red from the clay, and it is often shallow so be careful of rocks, or you may get to do a little boat repair on your trip.
miles 45.0 to 47.0: Rounding the corner and heading east along the north end of the island, the red clay bluffs give way to a rocky sandstone coast. At Mile 47.0 you reach the Outer Island lighthouse (N 47° 04.6' W 090° 25.0') . This lighthouse, located high on the clay bluffs, can be seen for a long distance on a clear night. This spot does not get may visitors, but if you are lucky, you may be able to find a ranger or volunteer to give you a tour of the lighthouse. The first time I saw the lighthouse, I arrived the hard way after making a 46.0 mile crossing from Grand Marais, Minnesota, with Don
Dimond and Brian Day. The crossing was a training trip for an expedition that
the three of us had planned, across Lake Superior from the Keeweenaw to Agawa
Bay. As luck would have it the weather was perfect and we were amazed to see the
lighthouse light from more than 30 miles offshore.
miles 47.0 to
51.0: Rounding the north end of island and heading south, you pass some
of the most beautiful sandstone cliff coast in the Apostle Islands. There are
interesting cracks, crevices, reentrants, and small sea caves. Although not as
intricately carved as the Squaw Bay, Sand Island, or Devil's Island caves, this
is still one of my favorite sections of coast. Caution: There are miles of
cliffs with few places to land. This is not a good place to be when large seas
are coming from the northeast, confused seas and clapotis develop
miles 51.0 to 55.0: The sandstone cliffs continue,
becoming a sandy shoreline as you approach the sandspit. After the cliffs end
there is a small bay with a nice beach on the southeast side of the island. At
approximately Mile 55, you have completed the circumnavigation of the mile 58.0:
Heading southwest from the sandspit, you can make the 3.5-mile crossing to the
north end of Stockton Island. The northeast side of Stockton is a sandstone
cliff coast with reentrants, small sea caves, and sea-stacks. Caution: This
crossing offers no shelter from a north wind, and large seas are likely. The
cliffs at the northeast end of Stockton create clapotis and very confused seas
when seas hit the island from the north or east.
miles 58.0 to
62.0: As you paddle southwest along the south side of Stockton, the
cliffs give way to the sandy shores of Julian Bay. There is a marsh and lagoon
near the shore so watch for sandhill cranes and great blue herons. Near the
marsh outlet in 15-20 feet of water is a shipwreck that is visible on calm days.
Heading south you then paddle to the tip of Presque Isle Point. Presque Isle is
a tombolo-a peninsula formed when sand filled in the gap between a small island
and the Stockton Island shore. On the west side of Presque Isle Point, there is
small harbor (N 46° 54.9' W 090° 33.1') and dock. Campsites and a ranger station
are also located on the point. If you want to stretch your legs, you can access
an extensive series of hiking trails from the point. In all the park service
maintains 14 miles of trails on Stockton Island.
miles 62.0 to
64.0: Rounding the point and paddling northwest down the coast, you
come to Presque Isle Bay. This sheltered area near the point is very popular in
the summer months with powerboats and sailboats for mooring and day use. It is
not the place to find solitude in August. Heading west from Presque Isle Bay,
you come to Quarry Bay (N 46° 55.3' W 090° 36.45'). Here a second campsite and
ranger station are located. The Quarry Bay Trail and Quarry Trails lead east and
west from this point. The Quarry Trail leads west to the abandoned Brownstone
mile 65.5: Paddling 1.5 miles west from Quarry Bay,
you come to the abandoned sandstone quarry that was operated by the Anderson
Brownstone Company from 1889 to 1897.
mile 66.5: Continuing
down the coast another 1 mile, you come to the western tip of Stockton Island.
From here it is an easy crossing of less than 2 miles to Oak Island. Because it
is sheltered from north by numerous islands, rough conditions are rarely a
mile 70.0: After reaching Oak Island paddle west
along the south shore until you reach the sandspit on the island's southwest
tip. Here you'll find campsites, outhouses, and an artesian well for potable
water. Not only is there a great sand beach, but you can access the Oak Island
hiking trails. The park maintains 11.5 miles of trails on the
mile 72.0: Crossing to the mainland to the
southwest, you reach Red Cliff Point. You will pass a bell buoy that marks a
shoal a short distance offshore.
miles 72.0 to 75.0: Heading
down the mainland coast to the southwest, you pass red clay bluffs and sandstone
cliffs on your way back to the Red Cliff Tribal Marina in Buffalo Bay.
Where to Eat & Where to Stay
is a tourist town of only about 700 people, with no shortage of choices in
dining. Greunkes (715-779-5480) serves a good breakfast, and for dinners has an
all-you-can-eat fish boil. Maggies (715-779-5641) is a popular tavern and
restaurant with a rather strange obsession with pink flamingo decor (ask at the
bar-they will explain it), but good meals for lunch and dinner. For more
information contact the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce at (800) 447-4094 or their
Web page: www.bayfield.org.
Lodging: Bayfield has many motels and bed-and-breakfast inns to choose from. For more information call the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce at (800) 447-4094 or try their Web page: www.bayfield.org. During the peak of the tourist season, you may need to explore options to the south in Washburn or Ashland.
Camping: Private campgrounds are conveniently located at both of the major launch sites. At Little Sand Bay, the Township of Russell Campground has outhouses and a pump for potable water-campsites are available on a first come first serve basis. At the Red Cliff Tribal Marina, there is a campground with potable water, bathrooms, and showers (715-779-3743). There is also a state park campground on Madeline Island, and several other private campgrounds in the area. For more information contact the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce (800) 447-4094 or their Web page: www.bayfield.org.
- Trip Duration: 2-3 Day Trip, Extended Trip
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Water Type: Open Water/Ocean