Adventure in the Apostles
By: Dana Kazel, Living North
To say you are taking a kayak trip through the Apostle Islands is almost misleading. That’s because the adventure involves far more than paddling a kayak. Camping, hiking, exploring historic lighthouses and taking in the natural beauty of towering sandstone formations along the national lakeshore are all essential parts of the experience.
It’s a trip Scott Neustel of Duluth, an avid kayaker for 25 years, has enjoyed several times. Typically he plans three to four day trips each summer, but his most recent exploit lasted a week as he and his wife Kathleen paddled from Red Cliff to Little Sand Bay.
“We made a tour of several of the Islands,” said Neustel. “The Apostle Islands are nice because they’re relatively protected waterways, but you still have crossings between the islands of a mile or two in many cases.”
The 22 islands that make up the Apostle Islands are largely situated in an east to west formation wrapping around the tip of the Bayfield Peninsula. With eight lighthouses on six islands, the Apostle Islands boast more
lighthouses than any other National Park Service area.
Quiet campsites, sandy beaches and unique hiking destinations add to the appeal.
“On Sand Island you can hike up to a light house,” said Neustel. “When we were on Oak [Island], you could paddle across and see the lighthouse on Raspberry Island.
There’s an old fish camp on Manitou Island that they’ve preserved. There are brown stone quarries on several of the islands that you can hike to.”
If Neustel had to choose a favorite, Oak Island would come out first every time. “Oak has the most relief, the most vertical rise, so it’s highest of the Islands,” said Neustel. “It has the tallest hills and hiking trails so you can get up on the overlooks and see several of the other islands.”
But it’s the scenery from the water and the kayaking experience that draws paddlers from near and far. The combination of sandstone cliffs and Lake Superior’s powerful and constant waves has created breathtakingly
beautiful caves – Sand Island’s and Devil’s Island’s are the most popular – and other formations that are best toured and appreciated from the peaceful quiet of a kayak.
For Neustel, a self-described convert from a whitewater paddler to a touring kayaker, the trip offers the best of both worlds. “The nice thing about paddling a kayak on Lake Superior is you can get out there in some
big waves. Your adrenaline can be served that way because you’re such a small speck on such a big body of water. But the views, the perspectives change when you’re on the water versus being on the land looking out at the
Kayakers wishing to venture to the Apostle Islands should work with the National Park Service to register and plan their trip, choosing island destinations with back country camp sites. Reservations can be made no
more than 30 days in advance. Trips typically start from the visitor centers in Little Sand Bay or Bayfield, though some launch their kayaks in Red Cliff.
Camping is available on many of the islands. Camp sites typically feature a fire ring, picnic table and latrine. Kayakers are responsible for bringing anything other essentials, and for leaving no trace when they exit their campgrounds. Group camp sites are offered on some islands, but the solitude of individual campsites appeal to many paddlers, providing the peace and tranquility of a large section of island all to themselves.
The adventure is an inviting one when Lake Superior is at her calmest, but weather conditions can quickly change and paddlers are advised to pay attention and watch for travel plans that may need to be changed quickly. The National Park Service recommends always wearing a wet or dry suit for protection against Lake Superior’s chilly water. They also advise kayakers to always carry a marine radio and cell phone.
“You have to be aware of the weather,” said Neustel, who’s often experienced the fickle waters of Lake Superior. “You have to be a more experienced paddler so you can read the wind. You try to gain protection of the islands and your trip route might change from day to day depending on the wind direction. And some days you might not travel at all and hunker down and say it’s not worth it.”
Clearly, however, the adventure is worth it on most days. It’s the beauty of the range of shades – from tan to brown to red – of sandstone, reflected on the clear blue water. It’s the discovery of caves carved out of bluffs by the force of waves. It’s the understanding of the sheer
power of Lake Superior and feeling, at least for those hours when you are sitting low in the water, that you are a part of it all.