Historical lighthouses. Scenic trails. Unique sandstone formations. And 21 islands dispersed in majestic Lake Superior. Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is truly incredible. With its rural location, a visit to the park is a must if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway in a charming setting.

Red rock cliffs jutting over the lake.
Apostle Islands Cruises brings passengers along the sea caves and coves of the national lakeshore.

Bayfield is a little harbor town known as the gateway to the Apostle Islands. Under an 8-hour drive from Chicago, there are plenty of sights along the way, making this road trip one for the books: 

Madison, Wisconsin’s Farmers Market and State Capitol Building

City street in Madison, WI.
Wisconsin’s State Capitol Building in Madison. PC: Instagrammer @maymiejameson

Known for its arts and culture scene, Madison, Wisconsin is a fun city to explore! A visit to the state’s capitol building a must. Standing over 200 feet tall, the structure is a work of art. Astonishingly, it’s made of 43 varieties of stone from around the globe. Between April and November, check out Saturday on the Square. It’s Madison’s popular farmers market that takes place around the capitol building.  

Black River Harbor and Copper Peak – Ironwood, Michigan 

Located right next to the Wisconsin border, the Black River Harbor Recreation Area – found near Ironwood, Michigan – is a popular destination throughout the year. It’s known for its spectacular waterfalls, varying from one short wheelchair-accessible path to another that’s 1.5 miles round-trip. 

River in autumn.
Black River Harbor. PC: National Forest Service 

Copper Peak – also located near Ironwood and known as one of the world’s largest active ski jumps – should be on your bucket list, as well. 

According to the attraction’s website: “the Copper Peak Adventure Ride lets visitors rise to the same heights as the athletes who have flown down the hill in years past. After an 800-foot chair lift ride to the crest of the hill — a 360-foot copper-bearing volcanic outcrop — visitors take a thrilling 18-story elevator to the main observation deck. From there, the truly fearless can walk an additional 8 stories to the top starting gate.” 

Ashland’s Harbor and Murals 

Marina on the lake in autumn.
Ashland’s harbor with spectacular fall colors. PC: Ed Monroe

Known as the “Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin,” Ashland’s rich history is highlighted in the 21 vibrant murals found around the city. The displays feature lumberjacks, military veterans, railroads, and so on. Ashland’s harbor – especially in the fall – is also one of the most beautiful around. 

Bayfield and the Apostle Islands

Pier with restaurant at dusk.
Downtown Bayfield.

Home to magical sea caves, cliffs, and the highest concentration of lighthouses in North America, the Apostle Islands is one of the most beautiful areas in the Midwest. Scattered along Lake Superior near Bayfield, the “Apostles” have been carved out by the Great Lake for thousands of years. Eventually, these relentless waters shaped the 21 islands to what they are today. The charming town has plenty of events and things to do.

Tour the Apostle Islands by Boat 

People on a cruise of island cliffs.
Passengers aboard an Apostle Islands Cruises tour.

Apostle Islands Cruises is authorized by the National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior as a park concessioner. The company offers narrated sightseeing cruises and charter trips to the islands and other offshore locations throughout the national lakeshore.

With the clear waters of Superior encircling the rural islands, exploring the area on your own can be somewhat challenging. Fortunately, boat tours are available so those wishing to admire the beauty of the Apostles can enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience.

Cliffs with still aqua water.
Sandstone formations of the Apostle Islands.

The Grand Tour, a 2 ½ to 3-hour cruise that brings passengers 55 miles along the gorgeous shoreline, is the most popular excursion. Onboard, passengers will see the historic Raspberry and Devils Island lighthouses, standing rocks, amazing sea caves, and marine wildlife.