At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the travel industry hit a standstill. International borders closed and national travel was restricted.

As time stretched on, more Americans started venturing outside their homes, seeking an escape. Many sought adventures closer to home and social distanced in the great outdoors. My husband and I were among them.

In Wisconsin, we are fortunate to be home to the Apostle Islands, a National Lakeshore preserved by the National Parks Service. Throughout our trip in this beautiful landscape, we visited gorgeous waterfalls, breathtaking scenery and explored some outstanding hikes. It was successful thanks in part to the staff at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center located right outside the small town of Ashland. Not only did they recommend some lesser-known sights, but they offered our first hike in the area, which opened up to a beautiful prairie.

After that, it was one spectacular experience after another. Here are our top 10 must-sees for those interested in the area (in no particular order).
**The weather was cool and the winds were too high for us to do any sea kayaking on our trip, which would obviously rank on this list, too. Here are 10 more ideas.

Houghton Falls
Located in the town of Bayview, this is a popular hike for visitors to the area, and rightfully so. The relatively flat terrain makes this 1.3-mile hike an easy round trip for adventure hikers of all ages. We visited in the dry season, so the falls weren’t as impressive as they might be in the spring, but the trickle and surrounding rock formations were quite the sight to see.

One recommendation: come early. There is limited parking at the tailhead and you’ll want to take your time. Continue past the falls and you’ll find yourself at a beautiful lookout on Lake Superior.

Houghton Falls

Lost Creek Falls
This hike came at the recommendation of our friends at the Visitors Center. It wasn’t exactly the easiest hike to find, but ranked up there as one of our favorites.

The Lost Creek Falls Hiking Trail is managed by the Bayfield County Forestry and Parks and clocks in at 3 miles round trip. The hike is well marked through beautiful forest and over small streams (well-maintained bridges provide safe and dry passage). There is a small uphill toward the end of the hike, but the view will be worth it, I promise.

Most hikers that shared the trail with us that day stayed to quietly enjoy the beautiful falls and winding stream it created. Others ventured just a little bit further to enjoy lunch at picnic tables among the trees.

Lost Creek Falls

Copper Falls
Copper Falls is one of a few very impressive waterfalls found in Copper Falls State Park, part of the Wisconsin State Park system — roughly 30 minutes from the Apostle Island area. Visitors who walk the 1.7-mile loop on the Doughboy Nature Trail, along the Bad River, will be treated to Copper Falls shortly after leaving the trailhead. 

Copper Falls

Brownstone Falls
Continuing on the Doughboy Nature Trail, visitors will come upon Brownstone Falls. We did the hike in the rain, so there were no crowds on the path. There are some stairs to content with on this looped trail, but those who take it slow will enjoy some breathtaking views.

The falls dip 30 feet and are named from the reddish-brown wedges seen around it. According to park officials, the rock was formed from red lava flowing through a 100 to 200-foot canyon just up river.

Brownstone Falls

Morgan Falls and St. Peter’s Dome
The trailhead for Morgan Falls and St. Peter’s Dome was not far from the Apostle Island area, but there are few markings along the ride, making for an interesting drive. Although this is definitely off the beaten path, the trip was well worth it.

Morgan Falls is a short, 1.6-mile round trip hike on a relatively flat and easy-walking trail. Visitors can get up close and personal with the falls, and there is plenty of space to set up a picnic and enjoy the nature around you.

Continuing up to St. Peter’s Dome goes from easy hiking to moderate. From the falls, it’s an additional 1.25 miles up to the dome. I say up because there is a relative steady incline with some small exposed rocks and roots to contend with. The view at the top is worth the effort of the hike. Just make sure you have water as the temperature can rise as you move away from the falls.

Potato Falls
Potato Falls is two substantial waterfalls packed into a very small space. With upper and lower falls within short walking distance from each other, visitors are treated to outstanding views without too much effort. The catch, the only way to access both sets of falls is down/up large stairways. Again, hikers in the area were patient and kind to those who chose to take the stairs slow and steady.

Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island
Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle Islands, but it is not protected by the National Parks System. Instead, the island is home to the city of LaPointe, small shops and many parks, all of which is easy to access from the mainland via a short ferry ride.

Once on the island, rent a bike and explore. We rode almost six miles to Big Bay State Park, another park in the Wisconsin State Park system. Inside the park, there are roughly 7 miles of hiking trails right along the shoreline. There are options for all fitness levels and a great opportunity to see the island.

Lakeshore Trail from Meyers Beach
When you can’t see the shoreline from the water, the next best option is the Lakeshore Trail. The trail is well traveled because of its views of the area’s renowned sea caves, which can be found as early as the 2-mile mark.

The full trail runs roughly 4.5 miles and ends at a campsite, but most visitors stop at the aerial view of the sea caves. For almost the first mile, there is a well-maintained boardwalk, but once the trail turns natural again, there are some slight slopes that might be challenging for people who are unsteady on their feet.

The entire trail offers visitors great views of the Lake Superior shoreline, but weather can impact the integrity of the trail. It’s important to check with the park rangers to check trail conditions before venturing out.

Devil’s Island Lighthouse
Devil’s Island is the furthest from the mainland and the crown jewel by many visitors to the area. The sea caves on the island are the most photographed and are protected by the Devil’s Island Lighthouse. First lit in the late 1800s, the lighthouse is now maintained by the National Parks Service. For those who don’t have access to a private boat, the Apostle Island Cruises are a great option.

Raspberry Island Light
Although the island and its lighthouse were closed at the time of our visit, we’re told it is one of the most accessible and visited of the Apostle Islands. Raspberry Island Light was first lit in 1863 and has a rich history of the area. National Park Service rangers are on hand at the lighthouse to provide tours.

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