Exploring Basswood Island’s brownstone quarry by skis and snowshoes

Skiing to Basswood Island

March 5, 2023

Cross country skis and snowshoes can easily carry you across lake ice and snow. With the right destination in mind, they can also transport you back in time, to the late 1800s when miners used steam drills and derricks to harvest giant blocks of Apostle Islands brownstone destined for buildings in Chicago, Milwaukee and Bayfield.

Map of mainland and Basswood island


After checking ice and weather conditions, Friends board members Mark and Erica Peterson and Neil Howk took advantage of a beautiful sunny day to make the trek from Roy’s Point on the mainland across the West Channel to the south end of Basswood Island.

Howk says, “We got to the launch point and looked out across the frozen lake. We saw several tents of ice fishermen and snowmobiles zipping across the lake near Basswood Island. If there was enough ice for the fishermen, we were assured there was enough for us.”

The lake is covered with snow from recent storms. Wind has blown the snow around, but there was still abouit 2″ to 5″ of snow on the ice.

Neil says, “We broke trails through this crusted-over snow until we got about half way to the island where we encountered some ice fishermen in a tent. They told us that the ice was about a foot thick. Beyond this point we were able to follow the packed path of snowmobiles and sleds the rest of the way to the south end of Basswood Island. We skied along the shoreline below the four campsites on Basswood, then headed up the east side of the island to the ramp leading from the old dock to the quarry site. There were some nice ice formations along the rocky shoreline.”

“At this point we left our skis and put on snowshoes to traverse the deep snow around the quarry,” Neil adds. “We examined a couple of 2′ x 4′ x 8′ blocks left near the quarry opening, then walked out onto the frozen pool in the base of the quarry. Then we walked to the overlook to view the scene. We marveled at the rewilding of this industrial landscape represented by the 125 year old pine trees towering above the old quarry.”

Mark and Neil at snow-covered quarried stone block
Quarry wall
Towering tree

Mark Peterson says, “The stone is still found providing structure to bank buildings, government offices, and other prominent landmarks throughout the Midwest and beyond. The former Bayfield County Courthouse, now Park Service Headquarters in Bayfield is a prime example. The advent of steel and concrete in the 1890s that allowed for taller structures to be built, put an end to the brownstone demand.”

After exploring the quarry, Mark, Neil and Erica returned to the lake to ski another quarter mile or so along the rocks on the east side of the island, before they turned around for the return trip.

Neil says, “By the time we stopped for lunch along the shore near the quarry, the sun had disappeared behind thin high clouds. Up until then we had enjoyed the calm, almost absolute stillness bathed in warm sunshine. It was a perfect day to enjoy this outing.

Like any trip to the islands, safety has to be a consideration. We monitored the weather, checked the ice conditions, traveled in a group, carried cell phones, food, water, and rope with us. It was a lovely day.”

We want to thank Neil, Mark and Erica for sharing their wintertime adventure and encourage you to share yours with us on our Facebook page. Learn more about Basswood Island and the other amazing places in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on our Discover the Park page. 

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