Big Bay State Park is located on Madeline Island, one of 22 of the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. The park has 62 campsites (51 are reservable) with 15 being electrical, 38 standard tent sites, 2 group sites, and 7 walk-in sites. Water taps, a shower building, many privies, and garbage cans are sprinkled around the campground. The campsites are beautiful with ample vegetative screening and are generally quite large. The site we ended up with (#25) was a little narrow but very long. The park has a large picnic area, a little over 7 miles of hiking trails, and 3.5 miles of shoreline along Lake Superior with a 1.5 mile long beach.

A beautiful sandy beach!

A beautiful sandy beach!

We had to pay the steep non-resident camping fees ($30 plus a $9.95 reservation fee) for our two night stay. We could’ve saved money by not booking online, but we were worried the campground would fill and we’d spend a bunch of money on a ferry ride to the island and have nowhere to stay. That worry was unfounded as the campground was almost completely empty. We also had to purchase a non-resident annual park permit ($38). The two day permit would’ve been equivalent to about half of an annual pass so we opted to bite the bullet and get the annual pass. Wisconsin State Park permits are sadly only good through the calendar year, unlike Minnesota where the permit expires the same month you purchased it the following year.

We filled our water tank in our Lance travel trailer, though finding a tap took some doing. The one by the shower house worked great, and then we backed into our sites. We had pushed the schedule of the day and it was almost an hour past lunchtime by the time I had full access to our little kitchen in the camper. To say I was hangry would be an understatement. I was beyond hangry and being 17 weeks pregnant made my need for food all the more dire. I whipped up some sandwiches quickly and we supped out on the picnic table under the protection of our camper’s awning. It was a hot day with highs in the mid 70s and the sun was intense.

I felt rejuvenated after lunch and we decided to stretch our legs and explore some of the trails at the park. The “Lagoon Ridge Trail” that was labeled on our little campground map sounded appealing and we decided to give it a go. Who doesn’t love a good ridge trail? About a mile in we got some very small peek-a-boo views of the Lagoon but still couldn’t see it very well. We continued on, hoping the forest, that suffered massive damage during a 1991 storm that had winds exceeding 100 mph, would open up a bit and give us some views.

This was the "view"

This was the “view”

At 2 miles in we found ourselves in a swamp with a trail through tall grass. Bobby had already found 5 ticks on himself and, based upon the crude map we had, we didn’t have high hopes that the trail would get any better. Dejected we turned around and walked the, rather boring, 2 miles back to the campground. We wished we had simply turned around after that first, sort-of, viewpoint we had at the one mile spot. Thankfully the trail was not difficult but it was rugged. Signs at the outset alert users to the fact that the trail isn’t well maintained.

Trailhead

Trailhead

There were many downed trees and the trail itself was crudely created, almost more of a deer path then an actual trail.

When we got back to the campground my parents weren’t at their camper so we retired to our own and rewarded our somewhat disappointing hike with popsicles. A definite perk to camping with a little camper is a freezer for tasty treats on hot days! My parents arrived back shortly after we did. They were aglow with excitement having gone and explored the beach. We needed a win after our disappointing hike so we made our way to the nearby beach and were stunned to find a beautiful 1.5 mile long beach of fine sand steps from the campground. We ate an afternoon snack on the sand and had to do a lot of convincing to have Jack trust us that walking on the sand in bare feet was an acceptable activity.

Snacks on the beach.

Snacks on the beach.

At first he didn’t want to move and kept screaming for his sandals. Eventually, watching us, and realizing that his feet weren’t in any danger, he warmed up to the idea. He became braver and braver the longer we were at the beach and even dared to walk to the waters edge and got his feet a little wet.

Our guy gets braver and braver.

Our guy gets braver and braver.

The breeze off of the lake was cold and I wished I had brought a sweater. I was exhausted and sore after a full day of travel and hiking so I left Bobby and Jack on the beach and I went back to our camper for a rest. Soon enough my boys were back with me but Jack wanted snuggles and stories before dinner. Apparently Jack had a harsh lesson while at the beach about what happens when you throw sand up into the air into the wind and it comes back and blows into your face.

We cooked BBQ Chicken and Pepperoni and Pineapple pizzas in our dutch ovens for dinner and weren’t disappointed. We burned one pretty badly on the bottom but we had attempted a deep dish option so the crust on top was delicious and we just avoided the bottom… 

Having a baby along camping means you go to bed freakishly early (7:00 for Jack). Jack tosses and turns for 20-40 minutes before finally falling asleep and his flailings require an adult in the bed to ensure he doesn’t throw himself off of the, somewhat, high bed in our camper. He co-sleeps with us when camping, now that he is older and we’re less worried about squishing him in the night, though admittedly, I still worry. I took the bedtime shift while Bobby ventured off to the showers. 

The following day we were expecting rain all day and were pleasantly surprised by the clear skies we were greeted with. We opted to head into the small town center on the island and do some exploring.

After returning from our town explorations and a solid nap in the camper we set off on another hiking trail. This time we were hoping to get better views and a better trail by selecting the, “Bayview Trail”. At 1.3 miles we knew we could make it an out and back or hook up with several other trails and make it a slightly longer loop. We figured we’d see how the day went and how we were all feeling. We packed our rain gear and set off hoping for the best in terms of trail and weather conditions.

The trail was beyond beautiful! It was an easy, well maintained trail that all of us, including my mother, could easily hike and enjoy.

A beautiful and easy stroll through the woods and along the lakeshore.

A beautiful and easy stroll through the woods and along the lakeshore.

Views of the lake abounded along the trail and the we lost track of the number of outlooks and photo ops.

One of many viewpoints.

One of many viewpoints.

The trail culminates with amazing views at the Point Picnic Area and we managed to get some cell service while there. My mother hadn’t brought along rain gear and the skies were definitely threatening, so we called my dad and he drove to the area to pick her up.

Beautiful spot on the lake.

Beautiful spot on the lake.

As they departed the rain began so we stopped to quickly throw on our raingear. Once again, we were beyond grateful for Jack’s Oakiwear Waterproof Trail Rainsuit! I seriously wish they made these waterproof wonders in adult sizes! He is always the driest one of us all when using it, and it ended up getting a lot of use during the trip!

A must-have rainsuit for all your puddle jumping needs!

A must-have rainsuit for all your puddle jumping needs!

Jack had hiked a good portion of the trail himself initially but we wanted to make tracks quickly as it was raining so we insisted he stay in the backpack. Being an independent explorer who likes to do things, “Myself!” as he insists keeping him confined isn’t always the easiest. We sang songs as we went to keep him cheerful and happy in his Osprey Poco Backpack.

My mother had dinner going by the time we got back, one of the many advantages to traveling with Grandma and Grandpa is a shared cooking duty! We generally traded off cooking dinner every other night. We retired to our camper to relax after our quick hike, I definitely needed to lie down after hoofing it that quickly, and cuddled up with stories and games while we waited for dinner.

Bobby and Jack keep themselves entertained while the rain continued to pour.

Bobby and Jack keep themselves entertained while the rain continued to pour.

We were enjoying a hot meal of burritos when the real downpour started! Thankfully, my parents camp with a screen tent that came in handy not only when dealing with inclement weather but also to deal with the swarms of bugs that awaited us at several of our camping locations.

Bobby, Jack, and Grandpa enjoying the adventure of eating in the rain!

Bobby, Jack, and Grandpa enjoying the adventure of eating in the rain!

Sadly, as bedtime (and a serious need for a diaper change) came upon us the deluge hadn’t let up. Bobby ran a shrieking Jack to the camper while I walked carefully, not wanting to trip and not minding getting soaked by the spring storm.

We had Jack cuddled up in bed, the sound of the pouring rain on the shell of the camper was enough to lull us all to sleep all to quickly. At midnight we were awoken by a terrifying storm. It was so close and loud that I was anxious, not only wondering mildly about our safety, but also the distinct possibility that Jack would be up and screaming any minute from the din around us. But man, when that kid sleeps, he sleeps! He never so much as turned in his sleep as we withstood the strong storm. Latigo did surprisingly well considering he used to hate loud noises, especially thunder. I checked on him and he continued to lay on his bed as I stroked him and assured him everything was okay. I tried looking out of the camper windows to see if we should be concerned about wind and could see absolutely nothing. We were completely enveloped by total darkness.

Morning came and we had indeed survived the nights storm, as had my parents. We were beyond grateful to have been in our campers during such a storm. It was time to pack up and say goodbye to the beautiful park and the beautiful Madeline Island, but we had to get in some solid puddle jumping before heading out.

Family puddle jumping time!

Family puddle jumping time!

We were lucky enough to have everything packed and had just begun to drive when a second wave of intense rain hit us. We couldn’t believe our luck! As we arrived at the ferry terminal, a full hour before it was scheduled to depart we were grateful to see that the water was calm despite the storms and the rain decreased to a drizzle. We didn’t want to get Jack out of the truck and into his raingear so we turned on a movie for him and found ourselves grateful for Walt Disney, iPads, and iPad holders that can make unpleasant or difficult situations so much easier on parents!

Happy as a clam watching his favorite movie, Frozen.

Happy as a clam watching his favorite movie, Frozen.

As we continued to wait the skies continued to threaten but also began to brighten.

As we continued to wait the skies continued to threaten but also began to brighten.

While on the ferry the skies began to clear and the boat ride over was very enjoyable.

Jack and Daddy enjoying the ferry ride! This kid learned to say, "Boat" while on this trip!

Jack and Daddy enjoying the ferry ride! This kid learned to say, “Boat” while on this trip!

A caution to those who might use the ferry, I had assumed there would be a bathroom on board but was sadly mistaken… So, again grateful for having a camper along that I could quickly and quietly use the facilities therein (an odd experience to go in a trailer on a boat…), but be warned of the lack! The ride is short, only 20 minutes, but when there’s a baby playing soccer with your bladder you gotta go when you gotta go.

By the time we got to Bayfield it had turned into a gorgeous day and we toured around before making the 123 mile journey to our next stop, Union Bay Campground in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains.

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About the author


I am the youngest of six daughters and spent my childhood vacations camping in the beautiful State Parks of MN. In 2009 I married my best friend, Bobby Marko. We have embarked on numerous adventures along with our Golden Retriever, Latigo, our son, Jack (born 7/26/2014) and our daughter, Rowan (born 10/25/2016). When not adventuring in the great outdoors I spend my time as a stay at home mom and volunteer. I am a Branch Lead for the Twin Cities Hike it Baby branch. My favorite pastimes include dog training, eating chocolate, reading mysteries and crappy romance novels, and creating paper crafts, my passion lies in writing.

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