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Kayaking the Apostle Islands: Hidden Caves & Tips from a Guide

Posted by Jon Kreye on
Kayaking the Apostle Islands: Hidden Caves & Tips from a Guide

By: Madeline Marquardt

Mainland Sea Caves 

The best sea caves in the region can be accessed from Meyers Beach. The sea caves, including Keyhole Arch and “The Crack,” begin about a mile from the launch spot and continue for 2.5 miles along the cliffs. Because of cold water, paddling distance from the launch spot and unpredictable weather along this stretch of shore, this paddle is safest with an experienced guide and a sea kayak. With a guide, this is a great paddle for a strong beginner. 

Check out Lost Creek Adventures or Trek & Trail and book early! This is the most popular tour in the area, for good reason, and thus likely to be the most crowded.

An unguided trip can become an advanced coastal kayaking trip very quickly. Be sure to bring a full coastal kayaking safety kit. 

Tucked away at the tip of Wisconsin before the land bleeds into Lake Superior, you can find a paddler’s paradise. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is home to countless sandstone caves, pristine beaches, a rich history and 21 islands to explore. Whether you’re a beginner or expert paddler, there is a route here that is perfect for you.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is on Anishinaabe/Ojibwe traditional land. Be sure to bring a full coastal kayaking safety kit.

Sand Island

A Sand Island Day trip is 8 miles round trip, including one of the most notoriously risky open-water crossings in the region. The reward for the difficult paddle is access to the Swallow Point Sea Caves, Justice Bay Beach and Sand Island Lighthouse. This is a challenging, less crowded paddle than the Mainland Sea Caves. 

Book with Lost Creek Adventures to reach these island caves. 

Overnight in the Islands

The best way to experience what islands have to offer is to spend a few days paddling them. An overnight sea kayaking trip will usually start by paddling to Sand Island, visiting the Swallow Point Sea Caves and camping on the island. 

From here, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure. Lost Creek Adventures offers anywhere from two-day to five-day trips in the islands. Three to four days will take you out to the beautiful U-shaped beach on York Island and the Raspberry Island Lighthouse. In five days you can reach the outer ring of islands, somethings including Stockton, Rocky and Devil’s Island. 

A Hidden Cave

Experienced sea kayakers looking for a challenge should try a 23-mile Oak Island Circumnavigation. Start at the Red Cliff Casino ($4 launch fee) and paddle northeast along the shore. At the Red Cliff Point Buoy, cross to the Oak Island Sandspit. Once you reach the northeast edge of Oak Island, hug the shore for dramatic cliffs and pop-up waterfalls. Hidden along this stretch of cliffs is one of the least visited but most impressive sea caves in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Follow the hole in the back of the cave to reach a forest skylight. 

This trip is best attempted in summer months by experienced sea kayakers prepared to deep-water self-rescue in Level 3 ACA (American Canoe Association) conditions, and can easily be turned into an overnight trip by camping on Oak Island. 

Lake Superior Weather

Lake Superior is the largest lake in the world by surface area, known for its cold-water temperatures and creating its own weather patterns. July and August are the best months to paddle, but always consult the marine forecast before launching. In the summer months, storms can pop up in the region with little warning — carry a VHF marine radio and know your exit plan.

What to Wear

For guided trips in the summer, wear shorts or activewear pants and a long-sleeve wool or synthetic top for sun protection and extra warmth. Your outfitter will provide a wetsuit if needed. Bring a raincoat and extra layers in case you capsize and need dry clothes. Dry bags and personal flotation devices (PFDs) are provided by your outfitter.

For an unguided trip, wear a wetsuit or drysuit, wool or synthetic base layers, a raincoat or splash jacket, and several spare layers. You need a PFD, full paddling kit and three methods of emergency communication. There is no reliable cell service on the Bayfield Peninsula, and a Coast Guard Rescue may be several hours away.  

Where to Stay

There are several campgrounds in the area, but all are likely to be fully booked several weeks in advance during summer months. Consider Little Sand Bay Campground within the National Lakeshore or Big Bay State Park Campground on Madeline Island, or staying at the Bayfield Inn in downtown Bayfield.

For more hiking trails, paddles and adventures in Lake Superior and the Northern Great Lakes Region, see the book Hidden Gems of the Northern Great Lakes: A Trail and Paddling Guide


Madeline Marquardt is a writer, photographer and paddler currently based in Grand Marais, Minnesota. She has worked as a sea kayaking guide in the Apostle Islands and English teacher in Armenia, and has paddled and hiked extensively throughout the Lake Superior Region and state of Michigan. You can find her at, where she writes about the outdoors and adventure travel.


Read more of our stories in Issue 19 of Lake and Company.


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