“Within the boundaries of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is the largest and finest single collection of lighthouses in the country.” F. Ross Holland, Jr., Great American Lighthouses, 1994

Highest Concentration of Lighthouses in North America

Found near Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is home to the highest concentration of lighthouses in North America. Known for its cluster of 21 islands and magical sea caves, several historical lighthouses are also scattered amongst the landmasses along the pristine shores of Lake Superior.

Since the mid-1800s, the navigational beacons have guided boats around the islands. Six of the lighthouses were listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 under the name Apostle Islands Lighthouses. While the National Park Service offers tours of some of the structures, people often enjoy the views best by water and aboard an Apostle Islands Cruises tour.

What are the Apostle Islands?

Apostle Islands Sea Caves

Twenty-one beautiful islands, cliffs, sea caves, old lighthouses, and 12 miles of shoreline make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Peppered along Lake Superior just off the Bayfield County shoreline, the “Apostles” have been formed and carved out over time by the big lake.

1. The “Showplace of the Apostle Islands”: Raspberry Island Lighthouse

raspberry island lighthouse

Considered the “showplace of the Apostle Islands,” the Raspberry Island Lighthouse was built in 1862 after Henry Rice, an influential St. Paul politician who founded the city of Bayfield, advocated for its construction. The majestic views from the top of the tower on a guided tour are only matched by its beautiful grounds and rich history.

Brief History & Stories of Raspberry Island Lighthouse

Old Raspberry Island Lighthouse
The lighthouse was remodeled from the ground up in 1906, with the goal to expand its structure to support families. Parts of the old structure were incorporated into the new building.
Former Apostle Island Lighthouse Keeper Francis Jacker
While life on an island sounds relaxing, there were plenty of hardships to be had. In the 1880s, lightkeeper Francis Jacker tried to seek refuge from a brewing storm and was shipwrecked in the cold without food. Fortunately, his wife decided to visit and organized a search party when she realized he was missing. He was found three days later and an assistant lightkeeper was hired shortly after.

2. The Icon: Devils Island Light

raspberry island lighthouse

First lit in 1891, the Devils Island Light eventually became the last manned station in the Apostle Islands. It sits atop Devils Island, arguably the most gorgeous Apostle Island, due to its intricate sea caves. It has become iconic, featured in countless images. The lighthouse was automated in 1978, marking the end of over a century of lightkeepers tending lights.

3. The Italian: Outer Island Light

Outer Island Lighthouse

The Outer Island Lighthouse stands ninety-feet-high on a tall bluff and was built in 1874. The design of the structure was influenced by the Italianate architectural style popular during that time frame. A gorgeous cast iron staircase spirals up the inside of the tower to the keeper’s watch room.

Michigan Island Lighthouses

There are technically two lighthouses on Michigan Island that make up the “light station”. However, one was supposed to be built on Long Island and the second was first located elsewhere. On a National Park Service guided tour, you can explore the original lighthouse and museum. You can also climb up the new tower to see incredible views from 120 feet off the ground!

Old Michigan Island Lighthouse

old michigan island lighthouse
The Michigan Island Lighthouse was erected in the spring of 1857 but was closed just one year later. Initially planned to be built on Long Island, the construction company for reasons not known went against authoritative wishes and built this unique structure on Michigan Island instead. Because of the error, the company built the La Pointe Lighthouse on Long Island without charge.

New Michigan Island Lighthouse

New Michigan Island Lighthouse
In the early 1900s, an effort began to replace the Michigan Island Lighthouse with a higher light. This 112-feet-tall cylindrical steel tower was initially located near Philadelphia and was disassembled and brought to Wisconsin – becoming the largest light in the state. Originally built in 1880, the tower was transported to Michigan Island in 1919, where it sat on the beach for 10 years before being assembled.

6. The Elegant: Sand Island Lighthouse

Sand Island Lighthouse

Built in 1881, the Sand Island Lighthouse is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful lighthouses on Lake Superior. Unlike the other remote lighthouses, the island supported a small, year-round community of farmers and fishermen when the lighthouse was staffed. In fact, more than 100 people lived on Sand Island by 1918, with the bulk of them being immigrants from Norway.

7-8. The Worst Job: The Long Island Light Station

Long Island of Apostle Islands, a peninsula that curves in Lake Superior

Given its extended, winding appearance, it’s no mystery how Long Island got its name. It also became quite clear that multiple lighthouses were necessary on the quasi-peninsula and it had as many as three at one time. However, only one lightkeeper was tasked with lighting the two lighthouses that remain today on the 4-mile long “island”. 

Lapointe Lighthouse On Long Island In Apostle Islands
In 1897, the LaPointe Light, a 67-foot iron tower was built replacing a 34-foot structure on Long Island. After the first lighthouse meant for Long Island had been installed on Michigan Island instead, this lighthouse had to be built by the contractor on his own dime.
Long Island Chequamegon Lighthouse

The Chequamegon Point Light, a 42-foot tower at the western tip of the island, was also erected in 1897. The LaPointe keeper had to operate both lights. Thankfully, the Lighthouse Service finally constructed a concrete walkway to connect the two towers, saving the wearisome keepers from having to slog through loose sand.

Bonus! The Hexagon: Ashland Breakwater Lighthouse

breakwater lighthouse
Even though it’s not in the Apostle Islands, this nearby lighthouse is worth mentioning! Built in 1915, Ashland Breakwater Lighthouse is located at the end of a long and detached breakwater, which creates an artificial harbor. The tower shape is cylindrical, with a watch room on a hexagonal pyramid tower. Located in Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior, it is owned and managed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
A child peers over the edge on the top of the Raspberry Island Lighthouse Tower
The best way to see the lighthouses is from the water, aboard an Apostle Island Cruise. Don’t wait to buy your tickets! Secure your seat today.