Highlights of a Trip to Madeline Island

Last week, my husband Paul and I put our camping gear into the SUV, kayaks on top, bicycles at the rear, and drove northwest toward the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior.

On the way there, we stopped to hike the Franklin Nature Trail in Eagle River, Wisconsin. This was a short hike, along a 1-1/4 mile loop. It includes a walk over “gently rolling terrain through northern hardwood, pine, and hemlock forest, and includes an overlook on Butternut Lake, a visit to a bog, and one short hill climb.”

My favorite parts were: the cathedral of hemlocks, which made me feel that I was in a naturally spiritual place; the trees—large, old, majestic, offering sanctuary for hundred of years to people and animals; the forest bog with its cushiony mat of sphagnum moss, so soft and green; and Butternut Lake, with a tree shoreline, one boat way off in the distance, and calm, sparkling water—an invitation to swim, which I did.

Too late to catch the ferry in Bayfield to Madeline Island, we camped at Saxon Harbor. Happily we were the only people at the campsite. A doe and two fawns visited us in the morning, alert, curious, but—for a full five minutes—unafraid.

We made it to Bayfield by late morning and took the ferry across the North Channel to Madeline Island. It only takes twenty minutes.

Reading the Madeline Island brochure on the ferry ride, we were struck by the words “When ice forms, some students cross by windsled to attend school in Bayfield until the ice road is passable by automobiles.” Truly, they can trust the ice as a road on the way to school? Wow!

Madeline Island, we found, is very flat, perfect for biking. Tourists, like us, are not inundated with other vacationers. It has a quiet, understated feel. So whether you walk around La Pointe, eat a breakfast bite or an ice-cream cone at Grandpa’s, enjoy a pub chowder (Lake Superior trout) and steamed mussels in a white wine cream sauce at the Pub Restaurant and Wine Bar—a more upscale dining experience, bike along Big Bay Road, or swim or kayak in Big Bay, you experience the island simply, in a refreshing, uncluttered way.

On our return, we stopped in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to hike to Morgan Falls and St. Peter’s Dome. They are both located on the western end of the Penokee Range. In a pleasant walk through the forest, you arrive at the falls before you know it (1.2 miles round trip). Considerable rainfall preceded our arrival, so the falls cascaded with great force down the canyon walls, a thrilling sight.

We washed our faces in the cool, clear water and set off on the gradually climbing trail for St. Peter’s Dome, a red granite formation (elevation 1,565 feet; 3.6 miles round trip). The topography varies on the way up: the easy trail becomes narrower as you encounter steeper slopes, then more rocky, finally more gentle. The overlook is worth the climb. The sun was out. The air was very still. We stood in a peaceful stance gazing over the tree line for a view of Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. Some clouds cast shadows on the tops of the trees, preventing the view we sought, but replaced it with fascinating figures that changed their shapes as the clouds moved.

We headed back down the trail, filled to the brim with a quiet happiness that nature had given us with just a little effort on our part.