Fascinating sandstone formations. Scenic trails and 21 islands dispersed in majestic Lake Superior. Historical lighthouses. Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is truly incredible. With its rural location, a visit from Iowa to Apostle Islands is a must if you’re seeking an adventure of a lifetime.

Plan your Iowa to Apostle Islands Road Trip:

The Road Less Traveled: Iowa to Apostle Islands, photo of lakeshore
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: PC: gary-fulz on unsplashed.com

Known as the gateway to the Apostle Islands, Bayfield is a little harbor town around a 7-hour drive from Des Moines, Iowa. With plenty of must stop sites along the way, here’s why you need to need to plan your trip today:

Discover the Culture of the Twin Cities, MN

The Road Less Traveled: Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis. PC: Kevin Nalty, Unsplashed

The Twin Cities – Minneapolis and Saint Paul – boasts with culture which is noted in the many interesting museums, exhibits, and restaurants. A must-stop is the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Admission is free and among the 90,000 works of art are pieces by van Gogh, Monet, and Roslin.

The Road Less Traveled: Bob Dylan Mural in Minneapolis, MN
A Bob Dylan mural in downtown Minneapolis. PC: Unsplashed user @betteratf8

Of course, Minnesota is known as the state with over 10,000 lakes, so getting on the water should be on your list. A visitor favorite is the Chain of Lakes Regional Park – which consists of five bodies of water – in Minneapolis.

Capture A Historical Bridge and Lighthouse in Duluth, MN

The Road Less Traveled: Ariel Lift Bridge
The Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth. PC: @Tony L on unsplashed.com

Duluth has a stunning downtown district with fascinating museums, like the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. Connecting the city’s shipping and tourism districts, the popular Aerial Lift Bridge makes a great photo op.

The Road Less Traveled: Lighthouse in Canal Park, Duluth MN
Canal Park Lighthouse in Duluth. PC: @ging_dlh, unsplashed.com

Adjacent to the bridge is Canal Park which boasts a creative market offering live performances, a sports arena, playground, scenic views of the lake, and more. You’ll also find the original, legendary Grandma’s Saloon & Grill and an eclectic collection of shops along the water. Be sure to check out the two lighthouses!

Bayfield, WI and the Apostle Islands

The Road Less Traveled: Apostle Island Sea Caves

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 the quant city of 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.

Tour the Islands by Boat

Apostle Islands Cruises offers narrated sightseeing cruises and charter trips to the islands and other offshore locations throughout the national lakeshore.

The Road Less Traveled: Grand Tour Boat

“Governor Olson sold the camp in 1964 but retained use of the site until 1983. During this period the 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.

Hike the Scenic Trails of the Apostles

The Road Less Traveled: Stockton Island trail
One of the many trails on Stockton Island.

Exploring the archipelago by foot provides some of the most tranquil experiences and intimate views. Catch a ride to Stockton Island, which has around 14 miles of scenic trails. Hikers can check out a lagoon, beach, bogs, dunes, deep forest, and brownstone quarry site. Don’t miss the “singing sands” at Julian Bay Beach! Apostle Islands Cruises offers boat shuttles to day hikers that want to first enjoy a leisurely spin on the lake before hitting the trails.

The Apostle Islands Cruises office
The Apostle Islands Cruises office, located at 2 Front St., Bayfield

Visit Any Time of the Year

Bayfield's dock in the fall

Although the Apostle Islands can be explored year-round, Fall is especially stunning. The rural archipelago and its cliffs are lined with treetops with vibrant hues of red, yellow, and orange. Want to see the trees from the water? You’re in luck, as Apostle Islands Cruises runs into October!

Iowa to Apostle Islands Road Trip Map

The top stops and things to do on your road trip from Iowa to Bayfield, Wisconsin, home to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

This route could start in either the Des Moines or Cedar Rapids area (adding just 30 extra minutes for the latter). It takes I-35 N, passing through Minneapolis and Duluth to Bayfield.