Secluded bays on the Bayfield Peninsula

September 16, 2007

During August this year we returned to the Bayfield Peninsula, this time to stay for a couple days and explore. We were last in this area on our "rookie run" in late March, and were fascinated with the way the people of the region have worked to "bring new life to historical buildings." We published a story entitled,
“Northern Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula, what fun!”


We staged out of the town of Bayfield, and stayed at the Le Chateau Boutin, part of the Old Rittenhouse Inn. It overlooks Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay. It is an excellent example of the Queen Anne style, popular around the turn of the century. We recommend it.

Our visit this time would be a little different. This time, instead of being enchanted by wonderful buildings and towns, we wanted to see the Lake Superior shore, and decided a good way to do that was to explore the bays.

Since we stayed in Bayfield, it is easy to start by presenting three views of Chequamegon Bay. Lore has it that Chequamegon Bay was the location of the first dwelling occupied by white men in what is now Wisconsin, by two characters named Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart Des Groseilliers.


This is the view of Chequamegon Bay, taken from where we were sitting on the front porch of Le Chateau Boutin, sipping a cool one.


You can spend considerable time watching the ferries cross back and forth from Le Pointe, Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. That's Madeline Island in the background, across the way. Most of the time, two ferries are running, we think, synchronously. They each seemed to enter their port areas at the same time, leave at the same time, and cross about in the middle. As you can tell, we did watch them for a long time!


The northwest edge of town, the downtown area in the center, the harbor off to the left.


A nice view of the harbor. The town and shops are off to the right, out of the photo.

In studying our map, we saw that there are a bunch of bays and inlets along the northeastern shore of the Bayfield Peninsula, places like Buffalo Bay, Red Cliff Bay, Raspberry Bay, Eagle Bay, Little Sand Bay to name some. We decided to grab the map and see how many of these we could find. This was a "back roads" endeavor that proved to be a great delight, and wonderful education.


Here's a Mapquest overview of the area we explored. You see Bayfield marked with the red star, and La Pointe, Madeline Island. Basically we did all we could do to track the shoreline from Bayfield to Little Sand Bay, which is located to the southeast of Sand Island. The entire trip was in the Red Cliff Indian Reservation, more properly named the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation.

This next map provides a very nice annotated view of the Mapquest aerial shot you just looked at.


We staged out of Bayfield and visited Buffalo, Red Cliff, Eagle and Little Sand Bays. For reasons that boggle our minds, we could not find Frog and Raspberry Bays, though now that we have seen Mapquest, it should have been easy. So we'll have to go back. This is a wonderful map, contained in a document presented by the National Park Service entitled, "Assessment of Coastal Water Resources and Watershed Conditions at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)," or "Apostle Islands Coastal Watershed Assessment" for short.

In addition to showing the locations of each of the bays, it gives you a good topographic description along with a good presentation of all the many rivers and streams flowing through this massive watershed.


From the perspective of Wisconsin's Geographic Provinces, shown on this map, the blue box roughly encloses the Bayfield Peninsula on the state's northwestern shore. As you can see, most of the peninsula's interior is in the Northern Highland Province, while just a sliver of the shore line here is in the Lake Superior Lowland Province, the latter essentially a sloping plain down to the lake.

A few words about the Red Cliff Band of Indians. The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is a band of Ojibwe Indians, the third largest group in the US. The name "Chippewa" is an anglicized corruption of "Ojibwe," but the name Chippewa is more widely known in the US. The Red Cliff Band moved along Lake Superior's south shore from Sault Ste. Marie. Madeline Island is viewed by them as a spiritual center of the Ojibwe Nation.

The area we visited is managed by the Red Cliff Band and is part of what is known as the Bayfield Peninsula Southeast Watershed, which includes the eastern half of the peninsula and all the Apostle Islands except Sand Island. The entire area is either managed by the National Park Service or the Red Cliff Band.

As you are going to see, and we must admit to being fascinated by it, most of the watershed consists of highly erodible red clay soils which scientists say are typical of the southern Lake Superior Basin. Land use has to be handled very carefully here because of sever erosion potential of the soils. We fear that our digital photography of the soils do not seem to show up quite as red as when you view them with the naked eye, though you see a tint in the photos. For some of the beaches we saw, the soil and sand and sandstone cliffs have quite a noticeable red hue.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) tells us this about the region we are about to show you:

"The major landform in this Ecological Landscape is a nearly level plain of lacustrine (of or relating to lakes) clays that slopes gently northward toward Lake Superior. The clay plain is separated into two disjunct (distinct) segments by the comparatively rugged Bayfield Peninsula. An archipelago of sandstone-cored islands, the Apostles, occurs in Lake Superior just north and east of the Bayfield Peninsula. Wave carved sandstone cliffs bracket stretches of the Peninsula and also occur along the margins of several of the islands. Sand spits are a striking feature of the Lake Superior shoreline, typically separating the waters of the lake from inland lagoons and wetlands. The spits support rare and highly threatened natural communities such as beaches, dunes, interdunal wetlands, and pine barrens, and these in turn are inhabited by specially adapted plants and animals. The mouths of many of the streams entering Lake Superior are submerged, creating freshwater estuaries. A ridge of volcanic igneous rock, primarily basalt, forms the southern boundary of portions of this Ecological Landscape."

Well, let's take a look at what we saw. We might remark here that visiting these bays will lure you to want to visit the Apostle Islands across from them, that's for sure. There are 21 Apostles. Those islands host six light stations, referred to as "the nation's finest collection of historic lighthouses," and they and the lake shore on the mainland are colorful, precambrian sandstone, some of which was shipped in the old days to larger cities building brownstone buildings. This sandstone has eroded such that there are many fantastic cliff formations, sea caves, and numerous beaches, and marvelous sandscapes.

We drove north out of Bayfield on Highway 13. As you approach the village of Red Cliff, look for a right turn on to Blueberry Road, and then an immediate right on Church Road. This will take you to Buffalo Bay from where you will see Basswood Island of the Apostle Islands across the way.


Of course, if you're going to turn onto Church St., you've got to expect a church. This is St. Francis Roman Catholic Church, a beauty. It serves as a good landmark while traveling along Hwy 13.


As you can see, there is a small marina here, called Buffalo Bay Marina. It's a little hard to appreciate from this aerial, but there is a red tint to the clay soil close to the lake, called "lacustrine clay."


This is a look at the Buffalo Bay Marina.


We are now looking across the lake at several Apostle Islands. If you look carefully, there are three islands there. We'll blow it up to get you closer to them.


This is fun. The only island of the Apostles to which the ferry goes is Madeline, the southernmost island, so you're on your own if you want to visit the rest, these included. We saw many people kayaking across to hike and explore, while others use motor boats. You'd have to be a fairly good sailor to sail through here and get positioned well enough to get a close look, but it would be a good test wrestling with the currents and winds.

Next, we headed up the coast to Red Cliff Bay. From the village of Red Cliff, we headed north on Blueberry Rd, hooked a right on Pageant Rd., which then abruptly heads to the left taking you to the bay and to Schooner Marina.


Again, this aerial does not give you a good sense for the red in the clay, though there is a tint, but it does show you the enormous erosion coming from the river feeding the bay and Lake Superior. You can see the marina at the center of the photo, and a dock around it.


This is one each old dock. We were hesitant to walk on it, which was a shame because we dearly wanted a close-up shot of that red cliff at the center of this photo. The island you see to the right is Hermit Island.

Let's try to zoom on the red cliff.


We'll get better shots of these kinds of cliffs later at a different bay, but this gives you a good idea of the red cliffs which we understand to be composed largely of sandstone with the red clays mixed in. They are fantastic to see closely, which can best be done, we believe, by kayak.


With the red cliff off to the left, you can spot three islands, each of which is accessible only by boat.


This is a view of the Schooner Bay Marina. As you can see, it has a newer floating dock. It's interesting to to see so many sail boats, so apparently these sailors love the fun of moving up and down the various channels and "slots."

Blueberry Road turned out to be the main road to get to where we wanted to go as we headed up the peninsula. As we sit here closely studying Mapquest, we see that we somehow missed Frog Bay, the next in line.


In the lower left corner, you can see how Blueberry Road swings to the left while Frog Bay Road heads right to the bay. It is irritating that we missed this, because it looks to have a wonderful beach and a neat stream feeding it. In addition, Oak Island is directly across and not far away, so we could have gotten a good look at it. We'll have to be more attentive next time we explore the area. We've thrown out our map and bought a new one!


We have a similar tear-jerking story about Raspberry Bay, the next one up. Once again, you see Blueberry Road veering off to the left on the left side of the photo, and Raspberry Rd. taking you to Raspberry Bay, which has a pretty large beach. You can also access this bay from Camp Ground Lane, earlier off Blueberry. We're just not sure how we missed these. In my notes, I wrote, "Raspberry Bay, inaccessible." I should have known better. We'll try again next time. Oh yes, if we would have gotten down to the beach, we would have gotten a beautiful view of the small Raspberry Island not far away, directly across the way.

Once Blueberry Road splits with Raspberry Rd. it becomes Ridge Rd heading west. The very first right thereafter is Eagle Bay Rd., which we did not miss. At long last, you’ll some of the beauty of these bays in all its splendor.


There's a place to park at the end of Eagle Bay Rd., but no signs, just wilderness.


We were rookies on this trip, but even we could see through the trees at the end of the road after we parked that there was something really special out there. Across the way you see a small island in the Apostle Archipelago, named York Island. We'll come back to York Island in a moment.


As we looked to the left, we could see there were the makings of a trail. As we walked straight ahead, we learned that the trail actually is a very narrow footpath that goes off to the right and down the slope.


As you walk down the trail, you walk through a small section of forest which is full and absolutely marvelous to just stare at and wonder.


This trail is easy to navigate and takes you directly to the beach. This shot is looking up the trail from the beach, into the forest.


Once you emerge from the trail on to the beach, the site is truly breathtaking. This is the view to the left, which is to the northwest.


And this is the look to the right, to the east southeast. In the distance you can see Raspberry Island, and then beyond it, off in the distance, Bear Island.

If you now look straight ahead, you'll get a nice view of York Island.


A couple of interesting things. You can see a rather large structures on the island, and a few boats berthed out front. And to the right, you can make out those red cliffs. Let's zoom on them.


You see two structures, which appeared to us to be homes.


Just one more view of those cliffs on another section of the island.

Let's return to the mainland and the Eagle Bay beach.


We decided to walk down the beach toward the rock formation promontory at the end of the beach; we're walking in a northwesterly direction. The beach has a much more pronounced red hue than this photo shows. Once I got home, I got rid of my camera as well and went out and got a new one!


Aside from all the beauty that surrounds you here, take a look at that water, clear as a bell. Marvelous.


Approaching closer.


Approaching even closer, getting a nice look at the sandstone-brownstone formation. Let's get even closer.


Totally fascinating how that tree trunk has grown straddling the rock. It then shoots upward, as you can see in this next photo.


Having never been here before, I felt like I was on the California or New England coastline. This was spectacular. We are going to show you a few more shots, but first want to point you to two web sites to see some really fine photography of this entire Apostle Island-Bayfield Peninsula area:

Apostle Island Trip, Wisconsin, "johnsonkw1," webshots. com Living Adventure, provides Apostle Island kayaking-camping tours, which we believe are a must in this area. They'll take beginners like us! We talked to them today.




If you were to round this promontory, you would essentially be rounding the northernmost section of the Bayfield Peninsula and be headed west and southwest.

Just a final note on Eagle Bay. Our seven-year old Bichon Frise, "Cricket," or "Crickie" for short, had never been to a beach, and never seen a Great Lake.


As you can see, her mother is attempting to get Cricket closer to the water, and Crickie will have no part of it. She is dug in.


After we went down to the promontory, Crickie headed back. Dogs are amazing. This was her first trip to this beach, she had only been down the trail once from the car, but she was headed back directly to the trail on her own nonetheless.

Well, the time to leave has been set by Crickie, so off we go. Next to Point Detour Road to see what that gets us.


As we traveled on Eagle Bay Road heading away from the bay, we came across Point Detour Road, so decided that was a good idea, let's take a detour. This was a fun drive, but here again, we might have missed something. See where we've placed the red arrow? Keep that in mind. We drove to the end of the road, highlighted on this Mapquest aerial by the bright blue arrow. Here's what that looks like from the ground level.


Isn't that fabulous? That's York Island across the water. We got out of the car and briefly looked for a way down to the water, but perhaps still mesmerized by Eagle Bay, we did not look hard enough. Next time, this spot gets a much closer look.

We now had to drive out the way we came in, which we hate to do, go over old ground, but that was our only option. So out on Point Detour Road, a right on Eagle Bay Road, and another right on Blueberry Road and we were back in business, now heading west. Just down Blueberry a bit, we came across Park Road, which sounded like a good one to try, so we hung a right and stayed on her until we came into a splendid park, the one at Little Sand Bay.


That's Little Sand Bay Park, run by the National Park Service. This park has an Apostle Island Visitor Facility with a Ranger Station and Visitor Center, a public boat launch, a first-class dock and breakwater, a swimming beach and picnic area, and a campground. There's plenty of parking, and good facilities. On the day we were there, which was a beautiful summer day, there were lots of kayakers headed across to Sand or York Islands, and lost of people taking a picnic. This is a top drawer park.


The harbor inlet-outlet points directly at the western edge of York Island. Looking through the inlet, you can sort of see a small group of kayakers out there.


A nice place to dock. At least one of the boats here is a National Park Service Boat, we assume to respond to kayakers and others who might be in distress out there, though today was a marvelous, calm day on Lake Superior.


This is the beach to the west of the docks.


This is a group of kayakers assembling to head across to York Island. It was an organized tour group led by seasoned Lake Superior kayakers similar to the outfit we mentioned earlier, Living Adventure. You can see the group has assembled with one kayak carrying two remaining to join the group. Much like the military, they crossed as a convoy, a good way to be sure everyone, even beginners, is in good shape. Should there be a problem, there is always someone there to respond.

There’s plenty of room for further exploration in these parts.