Apostle Islands National Lakeshore consists of slightly more than a dozen islands as well as the tip of the Bayfield peninsula. There are several ways to see them but for us it pretty much had to be by sea kayak. We went through Living Adventure tours based in nearby Red Cliff. One of their usual launch sites is Meyers Beach which is also the most accessible spot in the National Lakeshore by car. Realistically though, about all you can do here without a kayak is wander about on the sandy beach. The cliffs, caves and islands are all some distance to the north. Above the beach, the lakeshore trail leads along the coast to a campground across from Eagle Island.
The waters off of Meyers Beach are crystal clear and not particularly deep until you get well out of the bay. The sandy bottom can be seen pretty clearly in this picture. It's probably about 3-4 feet (1 meter) below us. The water is frigid though rarely getting higher than 45-50 F (10C) so swimming isn't something you'd want to do for very long.
We saw three bald eagles while kayaking, although generally at such distances that this is the largest image we could put on a website. This page also features the first time we've taken real pictures with Melanie's camera in a special waterproof case. Normally our kayaking pictures are courtesy of those little disposable plastic things. So hopefully, the image quality is a little better, eagle pictures excluded.
The primary attraction for sea kayakers, apart from being in a sea kayak, are the sea caves found in highest concentration along the northwest coast of the Bayfield Peninsula. The cliffs do a fine job of displaying the geological history of Lake Superior as well, but we'll leave that discussion until the Pictured Rocks page. Meanwhile, the water has shaped them into all sorts of weird arches, caves and Henry Moore-ish sculptures.
It's probably obvious now that we've gotten to this picture, but Living Adventures generally rents tandem kayaks. This can be useful as one person can still be paddling while the other person is hopelessly attempting to figure out how pedal-controlled rudders work. Ultimately we would give up and just pull it back out of the water so we could return to our normal happy state of rudderless kayaking.
Along with caves of all sizes and shapes, there are a couple very narrow crevasses which can be explored. This one, which ultimately narrows to less than the width of a tandem sea kayak, must be visited one kayak at a time. This is the view from the mouth of it, looking in.
This is the view from inside it. This was as far as we could manage to get our kayak in. If you look closely, you can see the waterfall at the far end of it. Allright, maybe you can't really see it unless you take the image and manipulate it or crank the contrast way up on your monitor. Trust us though, there's one in there.
Our favorite element were the longer caves which connected through twisting arched tunnels. Some of them, like this one were only barely high enough to get through. Consider also that with regular wave action, your kayak will rise and fall substantially as you paddle. This leads to the development of a strange spinal compression paddling technique.
For the slightly claustrophobic, there are plenty of open arches to play around in as well. Many of them are also scenically dotted with waterfalls where rivers flow off the cliffs directly into Lake Superior.
We stopped for lunch along a nice stretch of beach across from Eagle Island (that's it in the distance). Living Adventures does a pretty nice lunch and food always tastes better if you've been paddling all morning. Most of the Apostle Islands are on the east side of the peninsula and multi-day trips generally launch from over there. The only islands which can be seen from this side are Eagle and Sand Islands.
Paddling back towards Meyers Beach happened to be into the wind and with rougher seas than on our outbound journey. This actually led to at least one capsizing in our group, luckily just a little ways off the beach. The group however can only move as fast as the slowest kayakers, and unlike river paddling there aren't a lot of easy eddies to rest in. Instead sheltered caves have to be used as rest stops.
If we weren't trying to see everything around Lake Superior in two weeks or less, we'd probably have done a multi-day trip here. In fact, next time we're in the area we almost certainly will. We should also mention that the nearby town of Bayfield could really be improved by the use of detour signs. Instead they just seem to arbitrarily close roads and leave it to you to find an alternate route. We also highly recommend the South Shore Brewery in Ashland and the wild rice soup in particular.