America's Best Trail Towns: Bayfield, Wisconsin

This gateway to the Apostle Islands is a haven for paddlers.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

The line between land and water blurs at the tippy-top of Wisconsin: Waves eat away at the mainland, forming sunken caves and arches, while the archipelago of the wild Apostle Islands National Lakeshore juts into Lake Superior. The gateway to it all: tiny Bayfield, a maritime hub for paddlers, sailors, and even hikers who visit the mainland bluffs to see winter’s shoreline ice caves.

Why You’re Here The Apostle Islands showcase paddling at its finest: Think sea caves and arches, remote beaches, rusty sandstone cliffs, and the chance to spot black bears, snowshoe hares, and beavers. Try a classic, surf-and-turf combo of kayaking and hiking: From Bayfield, paddle about 10 miles to Oak Island, where you can hike to an overlook with views of 10 islands and the Hole-in-the-Wall sea arch (7 miles round-trip from the dock). Then loop up to Stockton (10 to 12 miles) and Basswood (another 10 to 12 miles) Islands for two more nights with access to 21 miles of hiking trails. Finish by paddling about 4 miles back to town. (Shorter option: Hop the ferry back from Stockton.) Put-in Bayfield launch Ferry $55/adult plus $20/kayak; Permit $10 plus $15/site per night

On the Town

PERK Nab a seat on the Egg Toss Café’s sunny porch for all things egg, from huevos rancheros to omelets to bennies. For caffeine, the Big Water Coffee Roasters serves a mean cup of joe. 117 Rittenhouse Ave.

PUB Dig into pizzas, sammies, and seafood specials at The Fat Radish. 20 Rittenhouse Ave.

TREATSure, you can grab ice cream at The Candy Shoppe, but the real star is its one-of-a-kind wine bread (a fruit-stuffed pastry that, despite its name, is nonalcoholic). 217 Rittenhouse Ave.

SEE Hop on the ferry to Madeline Island, the only Apostle Island not included in the national lakeshore, to browse its artsy shops and galleries, or brave Lake Superior’s notoriously cold waters at Big Bay State Park’s swimming beach. 2402 Hagen Rd., La Pointe, WI

FESTIVAL Celebrate the harvest at the annual Apple Festival, which features a carnival, music, and u-pick orchards (October 7 to 9, 2016).

Trending on Backpacker