|Riding the Madeline Island Ferry from Bayfield to La Pointe at sunset|
Named Discover Wisconsin's Choice Destination in 2015, Madeline Island draws a steady stream of visitors from early spring through the fall color season. The island can be reached by car - but only when the ice is frozen to a thickness of ten inches or more (which will support an 8 ton truck). Most of the year (and sometimes all year) the channel between Bayfield and La Pointe is open water. As long as the water is open the Madeline Island Ferry Line runs automobile and pedestrian ferries to Madeline Island and back several times a day.
Taking the ferry to the Apostle Island is part of the Madeline Island experience. There is a fare to reach island or the mainland which is divided out by what type of passenger you are. Bringing a car will cost you an extra $24 round trip. But, Madeline Island is preferably explored on foot, by bike, or moped. You can rent bikes and mopeds in La Pointe - or bring your own for an additional fare. Whatever the fee for your group may be, it will be worth it if you spend the day or a few days on the island. Madeline Island is among the top destinations in the world for sea kayakers; and La Pointe was named one of the best island communities in the United States.
|Disembarking at Bayfield Harbor from the Madeline Island Ferry MV Bayfield|
When French explorers and fur traders were exploring their claims to New France - Madeline Island was one of their first stops in Wisconsin and the fur trading post they setup in La Pointe in 1660 is one of the oldest European settlements in the state and region. It was these Frenchmen who branded the archipelago of islands in Lake Superior as The Apostle Islands. There are 22 Apostle Islands, and only 12 biblical apostles. The 12 largest islands were named for apostles - and today none of those names remain. Madeline Island was named for Madeleine Cadottea, a daughter of Ojibwe Chief White Crane.
In 1970 the Apostle Islands and land on the Bayfield Peninsula were protected under the Antiquities Act by President Nixon. Now, all but Madeline Island are managed by the National Park Service as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Before the mid 1800's most travel and commerce in America was conducted by boat. La Pointe thrived as a port town and was the county seat of La Pointe County which covered nearly all the territory of Northern and Central Wisconsin. But, with railroad service, America's nautical days began a long and slow decline. Bayfield became a town on the mainland in 1856. A year later ferry service was established between Bayfield and La Pointe - and it has been consistent route ever since.
The populations of Bayfield and La Pointe have declined significantly since their heyday at the turn of the 20th century. But, in a weird twist of fate - more people than ever visit Madeline Island. While the official population of La Point and Bayfield combined does not reach 700 residents - these towns host tens of thousands of tourists each day during the summer travel season.
Travelers and tourists come for a slice of the good life that is unique to Madeline Island. Considering how remote this area of Wisconsin is speaks to how special the people who make the pilgrimage here believe this place to be. Bayfield is a 7 hour drive from Chicago, and a 3.5 hour drive from Minneapolis. Commercial airports in Duluth and Iron Mountain bring travelers from abroad to within a 1.5 hour drive.
Mostly, people who travel to Madeline Island are looking to get away from it all. Even in peak season, the island delivers a casual and carefree culture that is difficult to find until you are "trapped" on an island in Great Lake Superior.
|The Madeline Island Ferry (MV Bayfield) approaching the Bayfield Terminal|
While on the island, most people find their way by bike and moped to the beach at Big Bay State Park. This particular beach has been described to me as: "A place so sublime and surreal, that you cannot even believe it is in Wisconsin or even exists at all". Personally, it reminds me of Sand Beach on another world famous island - Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. Except, at Big Bay, you won't have to battle hordes of other tourists to find a special place for a beach picnic.
Other travelers to the island spend weeks in resorts - letting the easy-going-all-good-feeling of being away from it all fully sink in. They enjoy learning to sail, wakeboarding, swimming, lounging, shopping, eating at little bohemian restaurants, playing golf, mopedding around the island, fires on the beach at night, and the acoustic music of live bands that play nightly at the pubs in La Pointe.
The culture and daily activities on Madeline island is comparable to the lifestyle on remote Caribbean or New England islands. It's this same spirit of recreation that draws travelers to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Where these other famous island communities are also famous for their expensive prices and exclusivity - Madeline Island is an inclusive community and can be enjoyed at a cost that is attainable for middle class families.
In spite of the popularity that Madeline Island does now enjoy - it remains a destination that has yet to be overrun and overpriced. Today it can still be called a 'best kept secret' ... but word is getting out. there has been a surge in tourism traffic to the Apostle Islands in recent years and that growth shows no signs of subsiding. If you want to experience the casual and authentic culture at Madeline Island before it is commercialized by far away investors - plan your trip soon.
**More Photos, video, and information below**
|Arriving at La Pointe WI on Madeline Island|
Address for your GPS: 5 Washington Ave E, WI 54814
| coordinates: 46.812239, -90.813074 |
|From Milwaukee||6 Hours|
|From Madison||5 Hours|
|From Green Bay||4.5 Hours|
|From Wausau||3.5 Hours|
|From Minneapolis||3.5 Hours|
|From Chicago||7 Hours|
|Bayfield Terminal of the Madeline Island Ferry|
|The Marina in Bayfield as seen from the Madeline Island Ferry|
|On the Madeline Island Ferry with Bayfield in the background|
|The Pilot House of the Madeline Island Ferry (MV Bayfield)|