After finishing our route 61 tour of Minnesota, it was time for us to start heading home. We wanted to find a route home that would allow us to visit an area we had not been to before. Looking at our scenic road trip book, it seemed that a drive along the north shore of Wisconsin east of Duluth was such a drive. I must say that most of that drive was not scenic unless you consider mile after mile of empty roads and some woods scenic. When we rounded the hook of Wisconsin and headed south, we finally found scenic. This was the start of the Apostle Island area. The center of this area is the small town of Bayfield, WI.
Once again, we arrived without a reservation This area was also full of tourists. Just north of Bayfield , we were able to get a spot in the campground owned by the native American Red Cliff Band group of Ojibwa. Long story short, this group had occupied the islands until in 1816 the government claimed them and allowed lumbering and other commercial enterprises to operate on the islands. Finally, when the Ojibwa people were pushed into ever smaller areas and to avoid additional conflict, the government granted them and other groups the mainland shoreline nearest the islands. So we were camped along the shore on land owned by some of the earliest settlers of the offshore islands. In studying the history here, I also found it amazing that there is some evidence that some humans were here as early as 100BC. It is also thought that a group known as the Anishinaabe people lived here by 950 AD.
In 1970 ,The Apostle Island National Lakeshore was established and includes 21 of the 22 islands and 12 miles of the shoreline. The largest island, Madeline, is not part of the national park and is mostly devoted to tourism including a state park.
The plan for the lakeshore was to return them to, as close as possible, to their natural state. In order to do this, those who lived and worked here since 1816 would have to leave. Unlike the native Americans, they were given at least some better treatment. The land would be purchased by the federal government. There were some who resisted this process and under a compromise, would be allowed to live on the islands until they passed away and the land then would revert to the federal government.
Today, the Apostle Islands has a diverse plant and animal environment for visitors to enjoy. Over 800 types of plants, animals, the greatest concentration of black bears in North America and many bird groups. You can access the islands by national park approved vendors and private vessels. Kayaking is very popular and visiting the famous sea caves. There is also camping and hiking on the islands.
We decided on the grand tour which passes all of the islands and provides a narration of the important features of each.
Bayfield is also worth a visit. We picked up some great smoked fish. One local thought it compares to Annapolis, MD for sailing.