Holiday weekend delivers typically atypical island adventures

We have all heard the term “multi use park’’ but only the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore could deliver the wide range of experiences park visitors experienced over the long holiday weekend.

We may try to plan our visits across the water but in the Apostle Islands, it’s the wind and waves that determine time and destiny. Some call it “wayfaring.”

If you were a sailor, Friday’s 25-30 knot winds out of the southwest tested skill levels and rewarded those who chose the lee side of an island to change sails. Likewise, a quiet bay was a welcome anchorage.

Sailor Erica Peterson works the mainsail

If you were in Bayfield’s Race Week lineup on Saturday, you were in irons with a colorful spinnaker trying to catch the slightest breeze and praying the light wind would fill the giant sail just enough to round Devils Island. The winning time for the Around the Islands Race – from Bayfield to Devils, then Outer and Madeline, was more than 24 hours, one of the slowest races ever. Congratulations to Dan and Sheri Lewis and the entire team on MC^2 for their winning time: 25 hours, 9 minutes and 2 seconds.

Around the Islands Race photos – click to enlarge

For families gathering for the holidays with their power boats, Saturday was the time for sunscreen and beach time on the sand spits. Many parked their chairs at the water’s edge to watch the colorful sailboats make slow headway. Insects were no longer feasting, and the lake had warmed up to an average of 44 degrees. Still too cold for a safe swim. Paddlers wore wetsuits.

Watching the Around the Islands race from the beach – Erica Peterson photo

A too-calm day for sailors is a rare opportunity to explore the shoreline sea caves of Devils Island. “I have been sailing and paddling in the islands for years and Saturday was my first time when place and safety aligned,” said sailor Erica Peterson. “The Apostle Islands always surprise me with their realism, unparalleled in any other national park.” Inside a cave hear the drip of water, the gentle clunk of wave meeting a dark recess. Look up to find the ripple marks of the ancient inland sea frozen in time in the sandstone. 

Exploring the Devils Island caves by dinghy – Erica Peterson photo
Ripple marks from an ancient sea, frozen in time on the ceiling of a Devils Island sea cave – Erica Peterson photo

On Saturday, visitors in dinghies tooled through dark spots along the shoreline finding new entrances and exits. “We passed in silent awe, reverent looks on our faces. Lake Superior is truly an artist, and we are merely the beholders no matter your recreational pursuit,” Peterson recalled.

Exploring Devils Island sea caves – click to enlarge

The winds switched to the north on Sunday and blew sailboats back to Bayfield in time for the 4th of July festivities. Gone was Saturday’s fleeting glimpse of the caves. The winds from across the lake dropped the temperatures making fleece fashionable. That night, and continuing into Monday, rain and thunderstorms prevailed and dampened the festivities. Races were cancelled on Monday as organizers could not find safe times between the lightning. Bayfield fireworks were put on hold, ‘til next year.

On Monday, fog shrouded the shorelines and toyed with navigational aids. “Given the contrast with Saturday, I felt like I was someplace else without leaving,” said Peterson who was back on the mainland. Every experience takes planning and then planning to unplan as one never knows what the lake will conjure. That’s typical for any adventure in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “I would not trade it for anything.”


Story, photos and video by Erica Peterson, board member of Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Before you venture out into the park, be sure you’ve checked real-time wave and weather information from WISC-Watch and the relatively new near-shore island zone forecast from the National Weather Service. The National Park Service offers additional resources to help you plan your visit.