When planning our next road trip we decided to approach it very differently than we did our winter road trip to the southwest. At that time we were determined to get away from the cold weather as quickly as possible, and had, somehow, managed to squeeze 4,000 miles into just two weeks of travel. We wanted a slower, easier pace for our Spring trip.
Another consideration was that we wouldn’t be alone, my parents would be joining us. They purchased a small Jay Feather hybrid camper around the same time we bought our Lance. So, we weren’t just planning a trip for ourselves but, something that would also be enjoyable for them.
Bobby had had hopes of circumnavigating Lake Superior. But, as we were attempting to squeeze all the stops into our short 10 day window we realized how unenjoyable that would be. We opted to stick to the southern shore of Lake Superior and chose a couple of key destinations that we really wanted to see. Among them were: the Apostle Islands, the Porcupine Mountains, and Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore. We drew up an itinerary around those spots and made reservations. While our trip was happening before Memorial Day and we were confident we would be able to secure sites at all the campgrounds, we liked the certainty that reservations would provide us with. Also, we could be a bit picky about our site selection and ensure that we could get two sites next to each other. It was definitely a more expensive route since reservation fees at many of the state parks are steep, but, we decided the extra cost was worth it in the end.
We set off on our trip early on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
While Madeline Island and Big Bay State Park was our first big destination we split the travel there into two days. We stopped at Top O The Morn Resort and Campground just 55 miles shy of our end destination. Ideally we would’ve stayed at a state park, but the Wisconsin State Park system has a 2-night minimum for weekends which blocked that option. We had made the decision to have a stop on the way to Madeline Island because we were unsure of how quickly we would get on the road that first morning and we knew we would be taking a ferry to get to Madeline Island and the stress of timing that seemed overwhelming for a first day of travel. Again, this vacation was much more about taking it easy, relaxing, and enjoying the trip as we went.
The resort we had stopped at wasn’t exactly picturesque but it was a perfect overnight stop. Water and electrical hookups, dump station, a playground for Jack directly across from our site, and a location right on Iron Lake made it a great stop.
Pay showers, campsites that were right on top of one another with zero vegetative screening between sites except old-growth trees, and a trailer-parky vibe made it a spot I probably wouldn’t return to.
We packed up quickly the following morning and were soon back on the road and headed towards the ferry line that would boat us over to Madeline Island. We stopped for gas and discovered my parent’s trailer’s electrical cable had been dragging and had worn through a wire. We hadn’t been on the road long and were glad we had stopped when we did because the damage could’ve been much worse had it gone untreated. Thankfully, there was an open hardware store across the street from the gas station despite it being early on a Sunday morning and my dad got the necessary parts and had it fixed in no time at all!
Once back on the road, we opted to take a longer route to the ferry line that followed close to the shore of Lake Superior. The drive was incredibly scenic and we wondered how stunning it would be in Fall. We were seeing it in Spring and the colors, rolling hills, and peek-a-boo views of the lake made it spectacular.
We arrived at the Ferry Terminal with perfect timing. Only one motorcycle was in line as we drove in. You are charged per vehicle, per person, and trailer length. In the end we were charged $89.50 for a roundtrip ferry ride that would take us the 2.6 miles over to Madeline Island where Big Bay State Park is located. It would’ve been much less if we didn’t have our trailer with us.
The ferry only runs after ice-out, sometime in May. In the winter there is an ice road that can be driven on. Before and after the ice is deemed unsafe for vehicle travel a passenger-only windsled is used to transport people to and from the island.
We had a little less than an hour to wait for the ferry to arrive. We were in the picturesque town of Bayfield that has fun shops several good restaurants, hotels, and stunning views of the lake. If you are interested in a boat ride that will take you around the Apostle Islands this is the place to be! I was disappointed that boat excursions to the other islands didn’t depart from Madeline Island. We would’ve had to pay for the ferry ride again and then the boat tour had we wanted to do it and we weren’t willing to spend that much. Now we have a reason to go back I guess!
We were crossing on a beautiful, and unseasonably warm, spring day. We left the confines of our trucks and took the steep set of stairs up to the outdoor seating area.
Jack kept informing us all that we were on a “boat” and that he kept seeing “WaWa” (or water). The ride was almost too short at only 20 minutes and all too soon we were disembarking carefully with our trailers in tow.
The island itself is one of 22 Apostle islands, the others are all part of the National Lake Shore and are under the care of the National Park Service.
The population on Madeline Island is drastically different season to season. In the summer the population is around 2,500 people while the winter population decreases to around 220 people. The entire island is the town of La Pointe, WI and Big Bay State Park is about 6 miles from the town center and ferry landing. Camping accommodations can also be found at Big Bay Town Park with 61 sites available.
We spent a morning exploring the island and sadly discovered that visiting before Memorial Day meant that the majority of the town was still shut down. Being as it is a tiny little town that didn’t leave us much to do. There are two small grocery stores, but the prices are steep and I would definitely recommend you supply before arriving. We let Jack play at the large city playground and met some fellow campers who had a son Jack’s age. It was really fun hearing about all the places they had visited and we exchanged tips on camping with toddlers.
The Island’s Museum was open but it required an entrance fee and with a toddler along whose interest may or may not be piqued by the museum, we opted not to pay for entry. Moped and bicycle rentals were available from the recreation shop in town that was open. We had hoped to get in a round of mini golf but found it sadly closed. We visited the beautiful candle shop.
The candles are all made in house and they sell other local handmade crafts, including wonderful tees that are not touristy obnoxious. The back garden of the property is definitely worth exploring as it is breathtakingly beautiful. We chatted with the gentlemen working there and learned that only one restaurant in town was open for lunch.
We rounded off our sightseeing at the little touristy shop closest to the ferry docks and then meandered over to the Beach Club for some lunch. Only one waitress was on duty, working the handful of filled tables. Orders were placed and paid for at the bar. The food was surprisingly good bar food and Jack ate more french fries then is healthy for a 21 month old…
The town is charming and we were disappointed to miss so many of the shops and restaurants because we were there a tad early. But, it was really nice to have so few people in the campground.