Aqua-green waves crash, rumble and echo in the island caverns I’ve come to see on a cruise out of Bayfield, Wis. The throaty conversation between Lake Superior and sandstone cliffs can escalate to howls and screams heard from miles away; noises that have inspiring legends of evil spirits and a place name: Devil’s Island. Perched on the northern cusp of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Devil’s Island bears the brunt of Superior’s power. “These are some of the best sea caves out here,” says captain Callan Linehan, who pilots the Superior Pricess tour boat with Apostle Islands Cruises.
His boat passes the caves slowly for the mob of clicking cameras. The tour may include stories of lumber and fish camps, hermits with pirates’ gold, shipwrecks, “singing sands,” and a bear named Scar who found his way back to Stockton Island even after being relocated 300 miles away to Minnesota — twice.
The stories are entertaining, but the Devil’s Island caves eclipse everything on a calm September-crisp day. Sunlight dances across turquoise water as we pass spindly columns, a cave that yawns 40 feet deep, and arches dappled with green moss, orange lichen and mineral streaks of red and black. This isn’t the icicled fantasy world of winter’s wildly popular and fleeting shoreline ice caves, but it’s a brilliant Technicolor gift that can be tenuous even in the warm season.
The next day, stormy skies and wild winds are blowing marina masts almost sideways and ferries are canceled. As any local will tell you, “The lake is the boss.”
It’s good day to amble between Bayfield’s historic farms and orchards, reveling in the fragrance of pies and cider doughnuts, bins of fresh rosy apples and the stained-glass look of light through jelly jars.
While Superior can be moody on the surface, its steady water temperatures help insulate farms on the Bayfield Peninsula from untimely frosts. Some of its apple orchards date back more than a century and have been expanded to include berries, cherries and pears. The Blue Vista Farm looks like a postcard with its weathered historic barn, bountiful garden and fields of organic blueberries.
Why go now
Apple season: Grab a cooler and a map to Bayfield’s 16 fruit farms. Apples are ready by early September. Most orchards are along County Road J and within 15 to 20 minutes of town. Among the standouts are Blue Vista (bluevistafarm.com), Sunset Valley Orchard (sunsetvalleyorchard.com), Erickson’s Orchard (bayfieldorchard.com), and the aptly named Hauser’s Superior View Farm, 600 feet above the lake (superiorviewfarm.com).
Apple Festival: More than 50,000 people come for the three-day Apple Festival on the first weekend in October. Taste a variety of apple-themed treats at more than 60 booths.
Downtown shopping: Look for local artwork in the compact downtown at stores such as Bayfield Artists’ Guild, Eckels Pottery, Bates Art Bar Gallery and Stone’s Throw.
National Lakeshore: Learn about the Apostle Islands at the National Lakeshore Visitor Center in a historic brownstone building. Another visitor center at Little Sand Bay has a popular campground and beach (1-715-779-3397; nps.gov/apis).
Kayaking: Living Adventure offers guided sea kayaking tours, from a half-day to outfitted multiday trips. Nineteen of the islands have sites for more remote camping experiences (1-715-779-9503; livingadventure.com).
Cruises: Apostle Island Cruises offers scenic rides through the islands, glass-bottom boat tours and sunset cruises (apostleisland.com). The 20th annual Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration (through Sept. 19) includes cruises to most of the islands’ eight lighthouses (1-715-779-3925; apostleisland.com).
Big Top Chautauqua: The legendary outdoor concert series runs through late September at the base of Mount Ashwabay Ski Area. Upcoming gigs include Riders in the Sky (Sept. 11) and Cloud Cult (Sept. 18). Sample dozens of Wisconsin craft beers at the Big Tap Chautauquafest on Sept. 19 (1-715-373-5552; bigtop.org).
Bayfield is near the tip of Bayfield Peninsula, where northern Wisconsin juts into Lake Superior. The town is about 240 miles from Twin Cities.
Where to sleep
Old Rittenhouse Inn, Bayfield’s first bed and breakfast, is still going strong with Victorian charm, a graceful porch and elegant restaurant (1-715-779-5111; rittenhouseinn.com). Bay Front Inn has 16 rooms and suites, some with balconies facing Superior (1-715-779-3330; bayfrontinnbayfield.net). The newest and largest lakeside lodging, Legendary Waters Resort and Casino, overlooks a marina three miles north of Bayfield (1-715-779-3712; legendary waters.com).
Where to eat
Bayfield Inn, with a rooftop bar facing the marina, serves whitefish tacos, fish and chips and smoked trout dip (1-715-779-3363; bayfieldinn.com). Egg Toss Bakery is the place to go for breakfasts such as buckwheat pancakes with cranberries and chicken-apple sausage (1-715-779-5181; eggtoss-bayfield.com). Ethel’s at 250 has built a following for its local twist on pizzas, including one with Bayfield apples and bacon and another with whitefish (1-715-779-0293; ethelsat250.com).
Bayfield Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau: 1-800-447-4094; bayfield.org.
Lisa Meyers McClintick (LisaMcClintick.com) wrote “The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path” and “Day Trips From the Twin Cities.”