On Wisconsin's north coast, the love affair between a village and its visitors goes way back.
© Beth Gauper
Bayfield is built on a hillside overlooking Chequamegon Bay.
On a summer day on Chequamegon Bay, there are few sights more enchanting than the sailboats bobbing around Bayfield.
With the Blessing of the Fleet in June, the tourist season kicks into high gear. Ferries chug nonstop between Bayfield and Madeline Island. Excursion boats head for the other Apostles. Sailboat captains take out novices and teach them how to hoist a jib.
Once, these waters were full of cargo boats, ferrying brownstone and lumber and herring to cities in the East. Bayfield hummed with industry, and town fathers hoped it would become another Chicago.
But it was too beautiful, and too remote. Orchards took the place of pine forests, and the quarries on the Apostle Islands
became parkland. Tourists came instead.
The first boom came in the 1880s and 1890s, when opulent hotels were built and excursion boats came from Detroit and
Wealthy visitors from other Midwest states built summer homes. The grandest house was built in 1890 by a Civil War general from Illinois who came to relieve his asthma in the cool lake breezes.
The area's fortunes waned after the turn of the century, and tourism waned, too. But eventually, tourists rediscovered the area.
"When we first came here, it was really just a fishing village," says Maggie Osgood of Rockville, Md., who has been visiting since 1954. "The transition has been fascinating."
In 1975, Gen. Fuller's Victorian "summer cottage'' became an inn and introduced tourists to the bed and breakfast concept;
other inns followed. Condos went up along the waterfront and vacation homes in former orchards.
In 1997, the Chicago Tribune, after a six-week search, declared Bayfield, pop. 600, the "Best Little Town in the Midwest," leading to mixed feelings among long-time residents.
"People don't want Bayfield to become like Door County,'' Osgood said. "Part of the charm is it still has its
But if Bayfield isn't the best little town in the Midwest, it's a contender. Just look at it, a hillside of clapboard cottages mixed with Queen Annes, spilling down to the harbor, where a bobbing sea of white hulls and masts gleam in the setting sun.
Just to the north, the 21 islands of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore rise from the lake, misty green in the distance. Over a strait crisscrossed by ferries, there's 14-mile-long Madeline Island, its cottages mostly swallowed by woods.
On Madeline, there's a state park and a town park, both with beautiful beaches. There's the elegant Lotta's Lakeside Cafe as
well as Tom's Burned-down Cafe, a funky nightspot.
The Madeline Island Historical Museum tells the fascinating story of the fur trade, whose Lake Superior center was La Pointe
(for more, see Madeline's
© Beth Gauper
Big Top Chautauqua brings in big-name performers and puts on popular musical revues about local history.
On the Apostles, there are sea caves and sand dunes and shipwrecks. Excursion boats from Bayfield keep busy taking tourists
to see them, and outfitters take groups of kayakers to the islands on overnight camping trips.
Bayfield has a few blocks of shops, most displaying the work of northwoods artists, and coffeehouses, which sell pastries
made with the marvelous organic strawberries, raspberries and apples grown on the ridge above town.
It's got hip Maggie's and unabashedly old-fashioned Greunke's, both of which serve whitefish livers sauteed with onions and green pepper (the town's motto is "Real Tourists Eat Whitefish Livers!'').
It has a walking trail along the bay, a nature trail around a restored 1912 iron bridge and the Big Top Chautauqua, where
foot-stomping musicals about Lake Superior alternate with concerts by nationally known performers.
But what really makes this area different is what you don't see. You don't see fast food or franchise motels. You don't see
billboards or neon or even stoplights.
You don't see condo complexes, and you don't even see crowds, except outside the ice-cream stand on warm summer nights.
That's due to the work of people who have loved this Lake Superior community: Gaylord Nelson, the Wisconsin senator who in 1970 pushed Congress to create the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; Warren Nelson, the immensely talented impresario who founded the Carnegie Hall of Tent Shows in 1986; and even Tom Nelson, whose Carnegie Hall of Junkyards helps keep Madeline Island on island time.
There's Mary Rice, who brought great food to town and steps in with cash when local institutions need it, and cruise-service
captain Dave Strzok, who keeps track of island history. Squadrons of volunteers, many retired, work at historic sites and as
rangers on the islands.
And longtime mayor Larry MacDonald and others serve on a lot of committees, all trying to keep Bayfield as unspoiled as it is.
The long winter helps; in fact, it helps so much that year-round residents have to work around the clock in summer so they can afford to stay in winter. Still, it's quite a magic trick, keeping the village shipshape but not slick, inviting but not ingratiating.
As one in a long line of tourists — and, yes, I've eaten whitefish livers — I'm glad the magic is still holding.
Trip Tips: Bayfield in summer
When to go: Peak season is July and the first half of August. In late August, it's a little quieter.
2013 events: June 16, Blessing of the Fleet. Fourth of July weekend, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa traditional powwow. July 20-21, Festival of Arts. Sept. 3-21, Apostle Islands Lighthouse Celebration. Oct. 4-6, Apple Festival, with the big parade at 2 p.m. Sunday.
In fall, Apple Festival is extremely popular; for more, see Big apples.
For snow-season events, see Bayfield in
Accommodations: There are many condos, cottages and apartment suites
and B&Bs. Reserve early for festival weekends.
Lodgings include the Seagull Bay Motel on the edge of downtown, overlooking
Chequamegon Bay and adjoining the Brownstone Trail. It's a well-run motel with friendly proprietors, who also rent a
guesthouse and cottage and a large two-story house that's good for large groups.
The Pinehurst Inn B&B on the south edge of town is closest to Mount Ashwabay. It's
Travel Green-certified and has five rooms in the 1885 main house, including a three-room suite with fireplace, double
whirlpool and extra sofa bed, and three rooms in the 2003 Garden House, each with fireplace and whirlpool. Massages are
available on site.
© Beth Gauper
The short trip from Bayfield to Sand Island is popular with kayakers.
A mile north of town off Wisconsin 13, the Island View Inn and Cottages is a
particularly nice place for families. Two very comfortable suites have private entrance, bedroom, kitchenette, living room
with sofa sleeper and VCR, sand beach on Lake Superior, playground and swings.
Breakfast is brought to the door. There are also three cottages.
The Rittenhouse Inn was Wisconsin's first B&B and is its best-known. It
rents 12 rooms in the 1890 main inn; seven in the 1908 Chateau Boutin, five blocks away; and the 1910 Arts & Crafts-style
Rittenhouse Cottage, one block away.
Many rooms have whirlpools and/or fireplaces. Continental breakfast is included; a full breakfast is extra, plus tax and 20
The Artesian House B&B has a wooded setting just south of town and has three
rooms, one with double whirlpool and two with extra sofa beds.
The Winfield Inn, just north of town off Wisconsin 13, rents motel rooms and condos
on its own location and also condos and cottages all around town.
The Apple Grove Inn B&B is just south of town on Wisconsin 13 and has four rooms, one with twin beds.
Camping: The municipal Dalrymple Park and
Campground is on the lake a mile north of town, off Wisconsin 13. The 30 wooded sites are $15 and first-come,
Dining: For a fun dinner with friends, Maggie's on Manypenny Avenue is the obvious choice.
For a romantic or special-occasion dinner, reserve at the elegant Wild Rice just outside town, 715-779-9881.
On Rittenhouse Avenue, Ethel's at 250 serves pizza, pasta, salads and sandwiches
and has an enclosed deck. It also offers beer flights.
The Rittenhouse restaurant is open to the public for breakfast and
dinner year-round and for lunch from late June through Labor Day. 715-779-5111.
© Beth Gauper
In October, as many as 60,000 people crowd the village for Apple Fest.
In summer, Greunke's First Street Inn has fish boils.
Nightlife: In summer, Big Top Chautauqua, under a big tent on the Mount Ashwabay
ski hill south of town, brings in some of the nation's best entertainers and also stages its own musical revues,
888-244-8368. A shuttle takes guests there from many Bayfield motels, including Seagull Bay.
In Washburn, StageNorth hosts community theater, concerts, dance performances and
Cruises: From early May to mid-October, the Apostle Islands Cruise
Service runs a 3½-hour Grand Tour daily at 10 a.m. From mid-June to Labor Day, it offers a four-hour trip to visit the
Raspberry Island lighthouse.
From late June to late August, it offers a 3½-hour Friday sunset cruise past Raspberry and Sand lights and the Mawikwe Bay sea caves.
From late June through Labor Day, a 1 p.m. cruise to Stockton Island gives hikers 2½ hours to explore the island. There's also a camper shuttle to Oak Island, a two-hour lighthouse cruise and an evening grand tour.
During the Lighthouse Celebration, special cruises are offered; reserve places early. 800-323-7619.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: The headquarters is in Bayfield at Washington Avenue and Fourth Street, 715-779-3397.
Sailing: Several companies offer sailboat rides. Superior Charters also offers certification courses, as does Northern Breezes Sailing School, based in the Twin Cities suburb of New Hope.
Kayaking: Living Adventure offers sea-kayaking trips around the Apostles, many of them for women, 866-779-9503. Trek and Trail also offers trips, 800-354-8735.
For more, see Kayaking the Apostles.
Walking tours: Costumed guides from Bayfield Heritage Tours tell
visitors about Bayfield's history, architecture, ghosts and cemeteries.
Madeline Island ferry: It leaves every half hour during the day in summer.
Winter: The Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race brings many people to Bayfield, as do the Mawikwe Bay ice caves when Lake Superior freezes enough to allow access, occasionally as early as late January, but usually not until late February. Duration of access can last for a day or a month.
The Book Across the Bay candlelight tour/race across Chequamegon Bay between Ashland and Washburn on Presidents Day weekend is very popular. There's also excellent skiing at Mount Ashwabay, just south of Bayfield, and at Mount Valhalla, on the interior of the Bayfield Peninsula.
For more, see Winter in
Information: Bayfield Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Bureau, 800-447-4094.
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