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River Floating: A Current Affair

Why huff and puff to get to an isolated campsite? Simply grab a paddle, then let the current carry you to a secluded riverside trailhead.

Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands, WIsconsin

The water: Lake Superior is as big as water gets, short of the ocean. It’s also frigid, pure, and intensely picturesque. Among its greatest scenic gems are the 22 Apostle Islands off the shore of northern Wisconsin. The islands run the gamut from raw wilderness exposed to changeable lake weather to sheltered-but-accessible Northwoods beauty. Much of the trip is big, open water where storms can pounce without warning, waves can build quickly, and the shoreline has miles of forbidding cliffs. At the same time, paddling is the most intimate way to experience the sun-glinting beauty of Lake Superior and to explore the coast and island shores, with wave-smoothed beaches, bald eagles, and fantastic, storm-eroded “sea caves.”

The hikes: Several of the larger islands have extensive hiking potential. Oak and Stockton Islands are the most notable for their trail networks. Oak Island boasts the highest point in the Apostles-commanding Overlook View at its northern end-as well as an 8-mile loop trail. Stockton Island is the largest within the national lakeshore, and 15 miles of trail lead through a tremendous diversity of northern environments, from swamp to white pine forest to pretty beach. Stockton Island is also home to several historic sites, including an old sandstone quarry. Several other islands, especially Sand, Outer, and Basswood, hold trails that pass old settlements, lighthouses, and abandoned fish camps.

Experience level: You must have at least intermediate skills to paddle the lake. The hiking is easy.

Season: Summer is the best time to visit the Apostle Islands, and July is the most reliable month in terms of avoiding stormy weather and cold temperatures.

Logistics: Three major boat launches access the Apostles (Bayfield, Red Cliff, and Little Sand Bay). From Red Cliff, 3 miles north of Bayfield on WI 13, Oak Island is a 2-hour paddle and Stockton is about 4 hours away. Some people canoe on Lake Superior, but sea kayaks are by far the safer, more preferred crafts. Kayak clinics, rentals, and guided tours are available through Trek and Trail, (800-354-8735; www.trek-trail.com). Established campsites complement wilderness sites, and permits are required for overnight travel.

Guides: Survey Chart #14973 or #14966 are the best maps ($15.65 each). A Visitor’s Guide to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, by Dave Strzok ($10). Apostle Islands: Official National Park Handbook ($5.50). These books and maps are available from the Lakeshore office listed below.

Contacts: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, (715) 779-3397; www.nps. gov/apis/. Bayfield Chamber of Commerce, (800) 447-4094; www.bayfield.org.

-A. Kesselheim

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