Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Sea Kayaking Overview

Paddling the Apostle Islands bluffs
Paddling the Apostle Islands bluffs

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

  • A short paddle to the mainland sea caves is a must. Put in at Meyers Beach northwest of town and paddle east along the shore, or try outfitters Trek & Trail and Living Adventure, which leads trips from Bayfield.
  • The sandstone sea caves at Swallow Point on the east side of Sand Island make for a popular day trip, with camping on Sand Island an optional overnight.
  • The lighthouse at the north tip of Outer Island is about as far out as you can get on Superior without standing on the deck of a boat. Allow four or five days to paddle all the way out and back to the mainland, taking time en route to enjoy the array of islands.
  • Camping on the islands requires a National Park Service permit, available at the island ranger stations or reservable online—the latter is recommended, because it can be a long paddle back to shore on a busy weekend.

Many people come to the Apostle Islands seeking the adventure of exploring the area by boat. Closed-cockpit craft such as sea kayaks have become very popular for travel among the islands. Operating small craft on Lake Superior is fun and exciting, but can also be hazardous. Because of the lake's power and unpredictability, the National Park Service does not recommend the use of small open boats or canoes for travel between islands.

Lake Superior is infamous for its cold temperatures, rough seas, fog, and sudden squalls. Boaters should monitor marine weather forecasts and be constantly alert to changing conditions.

Average daytime high temperatures range from 60 degrees Fahrenheit in May, to the upper 70s in mid-summer, to the mid-60s in September. Average lows vary from 40 degrees in May, to the upper 50s in mid-summer, to 50 degrees in September. Average water temperatures in May and June are only in the 40s. Even in late summer, surface temperatures rarely exceed 60 degrees, except in protected bays. Average summer winds blow from 5 to 20 knots with waves of one to four feet. Winds of 30 to 40 knots and 6 to 12-foot seas are possible.

Kayakers should use wet suits or dry suits when paddling in the Apostles. This is especially important in spring and fall when the risk of hypothermia is high. Regulations require boaters to carry one U.S. Coast Guard-approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD) for each person on board.

Boaters should prepare for possible weather delays by packing provisions for at least one extra day. We strongly advise boaters to also pack such items as: a first-aid kit, extra paddle, self-contained stove, insect repellent, compass, maps, 50 feet of lashing line, rain gear, waterproof matches, and dry storage containers.

We recommend that all boaters use the Apostle Islands Lake Survey Chart #14973 or #14966. These charts and other helpful publications are available at our headquarters visitor center in Bayfield and by mail order from Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Sea kayak rentals are available in Bayfield.

Paddling Concerns
Sea kayaks ride low in the water and are difficult for other boaters to see. Brightly colored boats are more easily seen than those that blend with the surroundings. Bright-colored clothing can also improve visibility.

Sea caves are enticing but can be very hazardous in rough seas. Rebounding waves can make boat handling difficult. These shorelines offer few safe landing sites and should only be visited when conditions are calm.

It is easy to underestimate distances between destination points. Allow plenty of time to accomplish your intended route. We suggest paddling no more than 10 miles per day for beginners or 15 miles per day for seasoned paddlers.

Be sure to inform a friend or relative of your travel plans so that someone will notice if you are overdue. Park rangers and the U.S. Coast Guard monitor marine channel 16. Try to notify a park ranger if conditions force you to change your plans.

Beaches are some of the park's most popular attractions. They also support fragile plant communities. Camping within 100 feet of the shoreline is not permitted unless in a designated campsite. Please walk near the water line or on established trails and take care not to trample beach grasses and lichen. Campfires are not allowed at Julian Bay beach on Stockton Island, on Raspberry Island beaches, or on any beaches adjacent to campsites with fire receptacles. Be prepared to pack out whatever you pack in. Try to leave no trace of your visit.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 12 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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