50 Hikes 50 States–Wisconsin

kayakers at sea caves

I couldn’t wait to get to Wisconsin on our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. One word.

Cheese.

I don’t eat a lot of cheese now as a vegan, but every once in a while, I’ll indulge and Wisconsin was the place I wanted to take on this indulgence. And most importantly, I wanted some squeaky cheese curds.

Hiking sea cliffs also inspired a trip to the north coast of Lake Superior.

On this trip, we had flown into Minneapolis and hiked near Duluth, Minnesota on a Friday night. We got up early on Saturday and headed east toward Wisconsin with Lake Superior off our left shoulder almost the entire way. A glorious 70 degree day, one that folks who live in cold climes must embrace immensely during their short summers, sparkled throughout the day.

Sea Cliffs and Sea Caves

sea cliffs and sea caves

We arrived at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore at 11 to hike the Apostle Islands Lakeshore Trail along the sea cliffs to the sea caves. Although I generally try to avoid National Parks for this project due to their entry fees, the small parking fee seemed worth it to be able to walk along a world-class trail towards sea caves.

Frankly, I wasn’t exactly sure what a sea cave was. Did the Great Loch Superior Monster live in them? I wasn’t sure, but the parking lot was full of folks getting ready to kayak and SUP into them, so I figured they were safe, interesting and an attraction for sure.

sea cliffs

We chatted briefly with the summer rangers who explained the geology of the shore–a soft stone that easily crumbles in your hand rings the Lake, and the waves of the Lake crash into the cliffs, creating caves. The kayakers planned to paddle in and out of them–we hoped to look into them from above while hiking the cliff’s edge.

The Cadillac of Built Trails

steps on trail

First stopping at the clean and well-maintained compost toilet and then checking the map, we headed down the trail. What might have been the Cadillac trail of all boardwalks, the Park Service’s work of elevated boards and stepped staircases was superior. The trail was absolutely the best maintained and built trail I’ve been on so far in the U.S.

Ferns, pines, and oak shaded our boardwalk for nearly a mile. The boardwalk finally ended, putting us on a well-trafficked foot path to the first sea cave, about 2 miles away. Occasionally a slip of a Superior view popped up, but when we got to the sea caves, I gasped. The sea-green and emerald colors of Lake Superior splashed up against rust and red-colored walls that gave way to caves and cliffs.

cliff sign

Pine trees hung precariously from ledges while kayaks and SUPS paddled beneath us. A land bridge carried hikers across the tops of the caves while paddlers waded below us. We angled our bodies around trees, leaning over the water to get views and snaps of the 100 foot tall cliffs raising from the water.

Getting what we thought was our fill, we continued another half mile to the next cave.

As spectacular as the last one, we sat to enjoy the view. Fortunately, our bug spray worked well. And was necessary. While enjoying the contrast of colors and textures, a SUP paddler cruised by with her two dogs navigating the bow. She captured the essence of a north shore summer on Lake Superior.

We hiked back to the parking lot for a total of about 5 miles.

sea cliff

Cheese Curds Await

By now, my cheese curd crush craved lunch. Nearby the town of Bayfield hollered for us to lunch and stay for the night. Home to summer vacationers and ice fishing enthusiasts, we dropped into the darling lakeshore town, packed with summer sightseers in masks.

poutine

The Bayfield Inn, with sunny lake views overlooking the Lake, tempted us for lunch. We started with poutine and my first plate of cheese curds. They were called South of the Border Poutine–which to someone raised in San Diego would mean Mexico. Then we realized they meant Canada since we could practically see our northern neighbors from the patio deck!

pear and gouda grilled

After gobbling the poutine, I also enjoyed a pear and guoda grilled cheese with cranberry sauce. Grilled to just crusty enough with cheese and jam dripping from its sides, I got my first fill of good, fresh, Wisconsin cheese.

Finishing lunch, we walked the two blocks of town. Then what? Off the coast and part of the Apostle Island chain of islands, but not part of the national park, is the island of Madeline. We caught the last ferry over so we could catch the last ferry back an hour later.

Ferry to the Dream House

A pleasant 20-minute ferry ride filled with campers and bikers took us to the quaint island town on Madeline Island. As we arrived, I spied a small blue house to the left of the ferry island. It’s the house that’s been in my dreams since COVID–a blue house near a ferry terminal!

mini golf

For an hour, we roamed the cute town, thinking about life on an island in Lake Superior. On the ferry we had learned that there’s about a 6-week period in the winter when the Lake is too icy for ice-cutting ships, but not iced enough for sleds and skis. Therefore, islanders are cut off for a period of time in the dead of winter.

No thanks.

That blue house in my dream could never be this one. I don’t like cold.

Nonetheless, we ambled through the neat downtown, seeing the ice cream shop, the brewery, the market and a funky art studio having live music and birthday cake. A darling putt-putt stood up in the middle of the town, only it was closed to COVID. Soon, the ferry whistle blew, and we hustled back aboard to get back to Bayfield. The next ferry wouldn’t be until the next day.

JFK, JR Was Here

Back at Bayfield, we stayed the night in JFK, Jr’s room at First Street Inn above Greunke’s. The hostess had lived there her whole life and shared how Jr had stayed there to go kayaking shortly before he died. This brought back my own memories of how much I loved his magazine, George, which I still have my first edition copy! I planned to vote for him when he eventually ran for President.

Sigh.

For dinner, we found cheese curds at the other place in town, Morty’s Pub. I felt the need to enjoy them with a Dark and Stormy–a drink that’s difficult to find due to needing Ginger Beer, a popular soda in the upper midwest. I combined the curds with a veggie patty made out of wild Wisconsin rice, another rare and unique find.

a handsome hiking couple

By the time we returned to Jr’s room, we were exhausted. Next up, a good hike in Michigan in the Porcupine Mountains.

What You Need to Know about This Hike (click for interactive map)

map of hike