Northern Wisconsin isn’t the first place most people think of for a getaway destination. Wisconsin has a reputation for being nothing but cheese, beer, and farmland. In fact, a lot of people outside the US aren’t really even aware of Wisconsin’s existence. I usually find myself explaining I’m from “near Chicago” to reduce confusion. Either that or referencing Making a Murderer.
I refuse to accept that the only interesting things about Wisconsin are cheese and serial killers. I’ve decided I need to explore a lot more of my state to show the world just how cool it is. And what better place to start than the Apostle Islands sea caves. Guys…Wisconsin is actually kind of secretly awesome. I promise.
If you find yourself in Northern Wisconsin, do yourself a favor and visit the Apostle Islands.
Imagine being out in a kayak on a body of water roughly the size of Maine. On one side you see a perfect horizon dotted with islands. On your other side are dramatic sandstone cliffs jutting out over the water. You paddle out a little further and massive caves appear. You pass by giant rock archways, tiny passageways, and narrow splits in the walls. The only sound you hear is your paddle cutting through the crisp clear water.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore almost seems too good to be true. I couldn’t believe that such natural beauty could come without insane crowds and gimmicky tourist attractions. I was able to leave the trip without stepping foot in one store selling semi-appropriate t-shirts in neon colors.
The Apostle Islands Sea Caves
The Apostle Islands are made up of twenty-one islands off of the Bayfield Peninsula in Northern Wisconsin. Centuries of wave action, freezing, and thawing have carved caves and arches throughout the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The islands are home to beautiful beaches, incredible wildlife, and stunning rock formations. Some of the animal residents of the islands include black bears, bald eagles, and falcons.
Sea caves can be found on several of the Apostle Islands as well as directly from the mainland. We were on a bit of a time-budget so we decided to skip the ferry and visit the caves from Meyer’s Beach on the mainland.
There are a ton of different ways to see the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the famous sea caves. The caves can be seen from above on a hike from Meyer’s beach. You can kayak up to the sea caves like we did. If you want to get out on the water but don’t want to do any work there are numerous sailing tours around the islands. In the winter you can actually walk out on the frozen lake and tour the caves on foot.
Kayaking the Sea Caves
The most popular way to explore the beautiful rock formations is to get up close and personal to them on a kayak. I loved being able to paddle right up to the walls and explore every nook and cranny. The tour was way more interactive and exciting than I thought it would be. We had time to explore several different caves and our guides had lots of fun facts to share and activities for us.
At one point our guide pointed out a split in the wall and told us we could kayak through it. The split is a crack that has formed from centuries of freezing and thawing, moving apart just millimeters at a time. Right now it’s just big enough for a kayak to squeeze all the way through. We had to put our paddles by our sides and use our hands to push us through the wall. Another time during our tour, one of our guides brought us to a tiny cave that had begun to form. The next thing we knew we were ducking our heads and paddling through it.
We got lucky and had extremely calm water during our tour. The guides told us that Lake Superior actually acts more like an ocean than a lake. During storms the waves can reach heights of over 30 feet.
Lost Creek Adventures
I absolutely loved the our guides and the tour company we booked with. The staff at Lost Creek Adventures were very knowledgeable and pleasant. We called ahead because the forecast looked kind of iffy for the day. They reassured us that they would cancel if the conditions weren’t safe but they go out rain or shine. So if you only have a couple days in the area it’s highly unlikely that your trip will get called off.
We went out with a group of about ten people plus two guides. That’s the maximum amount of people that they take out at once which means you get time (and pictures) alone with the caves.
Lost Creek Adventures was also the cheapest tour I found. The tours include kayak and paddle rental, use of a life jacket and splash skirt, and transportation to and from the beach. I highly recommend booking ahead of time to guarantee a spot on a tour.
We did the half-day tour that costs $55. The tour started off at Lost Creek Adventures office in Cornucopia. From there you meet your guides, get to know everyone in your group, and learn the basics of kayaking. I had been kayaking plenty of times before and I still picked up some helpful tricks to avoid fatigue.
On the water, the tour lasts about two hours. This includes 15 minutes or so of paddling across the open water and the rest of the time is spent exploring the caves.
Most tours to the Apostle Islands run from either Bayfield or Cornucopia. I would recommend going with Lost Creek Adventures in Cornucopia. The town is closer to the water so you spend less time in the shuttle and more time out on the water.
Corny, as the locals call it, is a tiny unincorporated town right on Lake Superior. The town has one restaurant, one gas station, and not much else. If you find yourself with some extra time before your tour starts make sure to check out the adorable little coffee shop across the street. They have a full menu of espresso drinks, ice cream, and even vegan brownies! We killed some time playing board games and enjoying the colorful decor.
If you’re coming from the direction of Hayward just head North on WI-27 to State Hwy 13 in Cornucopia. From Duluth you can take State Hwy 13 the whole way and Lost Creek will be on your right when you get to Superior St.
Where to Stay
My boyfriend’s family owns a cute little cottage in the Cable area, only an hour from Cornucopia. We were fortunate enough to stay there for our trip and you can be too. If you’re interested in checking out the Apostle Islands I’d highly recommend checking out their cabin on Airbnb.
If you’d rather be closer to Lake Superior there are plenty of hotels in the Ashland Area.