Explore America's park logo There is no need to set sail for the South Seas to find an archipelago of deserted islands dotting deep blue waters. You can find that in Wisconsin at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore — a collection of 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland on Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes.


Visitors here can explore lighthouses and sea caves, paddle across deep blue water and hike through deep green forests. Finding solitude is easier here than at many national parks — 80 percent of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is designated as federally protected wilderness. The Gaylord Nelson Wilderness — named in honor of the former governor and U.S. senator from Wisconsin who championed recreation of the park — is the largest wilderness area in Wisconsin.



President Richard Nixon signed legislation creating Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Sept. 26, 1970. The bill included 20 islands and a 12-mile strip of the mainland. In 1986, Congress added Long Island to the national park and transferred the light stations from the U.S. Coast Guard to the National Park Service.


Things to do

Get your bearings with a guided cruise aboard the Island Princess, a 70-foot boat operated by Apostle Islands Cruises, an authorized National Park Service concessionaire. The three-hour, 55-mile cruise offers views of lighthouses on Raspberry Island and Devils Island. This is also a good way to view the numerous sea caves throughout the park.


There are also water shuttles to island campgrounds that can be used to put you ashore for just a day trip.


colored sea walls of Apostle IslandsOak Island is perhaps the most dramatic of the islands that comprise Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, rising to nearly 1,100 feet above sea level at points, making it the highest spot in the park. The island also features the highest bluffs in the park and the iconic Hole-in-the-Wall sea arch.


The 5,078-acre island has 11.5 miles of hiking trails, including a seven-mile roundtrip trek from the dock to an overlook with views of the Hole-in-the-Wall sea arch and 10 other islands.


Stockton Island is 10,054 acres with sand beaches at Quarry Bay, Presque Isle Bay and Julian Bay. Fourteen miles of hiking trails lace the island.


Why you’ll want to come back

While the water of Lake Superior isn’t Caribbean clear, visibility normally ranges from 10 to 80 feet, drawing adventurous SCUBA divers to the Apostle Islands to explore several shipwrecks resting on the bottom for more than a century.


Flora and fauna

The wildlife you’re likely to spot while visiting Apostle Islands National Lakeshore hinges on what island you’re on. Whitetail deer are found on Basswood, Oak and Sand islands. But they are known to swim from island to island, so you may see one almost anywhere.


Black bears are found mostly on Stockton and Sand islands. Bear prints are a common sight on the beaches of Stockton Island, which has one of the densest concentrations of black bears in North America.


Chipmunks, skunk and raccoon are commonly seen on the mainland portion of the park, but aren’t found on any of the islands.


By the numbers:

  • Website: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
  • Park size: 42,308 land acres and 27,232 water acres
  • 2010 visitation: 156,945            
  • Funky fact: Long Island doesn’t exactly live up to its name. It has been connected to the mainland for more than 30 years.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.


Inset photo of colorful sea walls and caves: U.S. National Park Service

MNN homepage photo: NOAA Photo Library/Flickr 
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: A user's guide
The 21 islands that make up Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will reveal a whole new side of Wisconsin — just be sure to bring your kayak for the best view.