Kayaking Lake Superior Sea Caves

Lake superior sea caves

The Apostle Islands is an archipelago of 22 islands located in Lake Superior off the Bayfield Peninsula. Twenty-one of these islands, and a 12-mile segment along the shore of Wisconsin’s north coast, is known as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Much of the geology of the islands is precambrian sandstone that has eroded into interesting cliff formations, including sea caves, as well as tombolos, sandscapes and beaches.

One of the best ways to see these natural wonders is by kayak. It’s fun and exciting to explore the sculpted shorelines formed by centuries of wave action, freezing, and thawing.

Some of the most spectacular scenery is the Devils Island Formation of extensive sea caves. Nature has carved delicate arches, vaulted chambers, and honeycombed passageways into cliffs on the north shore of Devils Island, Swallow Point on Sand Island, and along the mainland near the Lakeshore's western boundary.

Lake Superior’s waves hide some stories from ready view. These islands have seen many a shipwreck, as desperate sailors on looked toward the shores of the islands for safety. Some made it. Others did not. The Wisconsin State Underwater Archeology office offers vivid accounts of several major shipwrecks at their Lake Superior Shipwrecks web page. 

Find it at: wisconsinhistory.org

The ship traffic over the years has resulted in 700 historic shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters alone, which are now underwater archaeological sites in Wisconsin. Since 1988, the Wisconsin Historical Society has been studying and protecting all of the underwater archaeological resources that lie beneath the waters, especially along Wisconsin’s Great Lakes' shoreline. At least 17 Wisconsin shipwrecks (not all in Lake Superior) have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that protects the sites.

Throughout the summer, kayak outfitters in Bayfield guide day trips to the mainland caves. Kayakers with their own boats wishing to visit the mainland caves will find a good launch point at the end of Meyers Road. This is located about 18 miles west of Bayfield off Highway 13. Boaters wishing to visit the Sand Island caves will find a boat launch at Little Sand Bay, 13 miles north of Bayfield.

There are several potential hazards to consider when planning to kayak around the islands and especially in the caves. Get the marine weather forecast before leaving on your trip. Personal flotation devices are a must. Do not ever kayak to the caves alone. Watch out for falling rock in and around the cliffs and caves.

Sea kayaking on Lake Superior means dealing with currents and fast-changing weather conditions. Rebounding waves can make boat handling difficult if not impossible. Do not attempt to kayak the caves unless conditions are calm. There are no safe harbors to get to quickly, so you must plan ahead. If you are a novice, be sure to go with an experienced guide. Do not attempt to navigate the sea caves on your own.

Kayak outfitters can be found by calling Apostle Islands National Lakeshore at (715)779-3397. Temporary parking for loading/unloading equipment is located to the west of the NPS visitor center.

Sea kayaks ride low in the water and are difficult for other boaters to see, especially during rough lake conditions. Always keep a lookout for approaching boats and use your paddle or flag to alert boaters to your presence. Brightly colored boats are more easily seen than those that blend with the surroundings. Bright colored clothing can also improve visibility.

With safety precautions in mind, exploring the sea caves can be a lot of fun and will leave you amazed. All this is 75 miles southeast of Indian Point Campgrounds - a perfect day trip.

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