Big Bag State Park Shoreline
Mike's Meanderings State Park Stories

Big Bay State Park, Madeline Island, WI … Hard to Visit. Easy to Love.

Sittin’ on the dock of the Bayfield, Wisconsin waterfront, we gaze across the shimmering waves, watching the tide roll away. Wastin’ time. (Well, actually the tide was rolling in, but it would be an absolute crime to mess with the perfect lyrical stylings of Otis Redding!) Squinting through 8:00 AM sunglasses we strain to get a glimpse of what lies on that big chunk of island about 2-1/2 miles away.  We can’t really decipher a town over there. Can’t make out a dock. (Although both are definitely there.) And we certainly can’t see a State Park, even though we’ve been assured that a beautiful one lies within the confines of those far off trees, all ready for us to explore.

Sharing space on the Bayfield dock with one of the Madeline Island Ferry Line boats

If only we could just hop in the car and cross a bridge out to Madeline Island, the largest of the 22 Apostle Islands; we could be in the town of La Pointe in no time flat. But instead we wait patiently for the next Madeline Island Ferry Line boat. They come every 30 minutes at this time of day, so our wait is fairly short and sweet.

One If By Land, Two If By Sea

Before departing the hotel a few decisions needed to be made. Would we take our vehicle out there with us, or would we rent a bike or motor scooter once we got onto Madeline Island? Since we’re not sure that we can trust ourselves on 2 wheels, we opt for ferrying the car. The familiar car may lack the excitement of the other forms of island transportation, but for just $27 more ($15 Per person and $27 For the vehicle = $57 total for the 2 of us round trip), we have the dependability and speed of a mode of transportation we know and trust.

Time to drive right up and hitch a ride on that Madeline Island Ferry!

As we ascend the ramp and drive onto the deck of the ferry a weird sensation hits me. The car feels like it is moving a bunch of different directions at one time! Oh no, is this my pesky vertigo in action?!?! When I brake to a stop, the car still seems to be moving. It’s funny how a few small Lake Superior waves can have such a dramatic effect.

The rest of the ride is calm and uneventful. We exit the car and go up to the top of the cabin to sit in the open-air chairs. This seems to put the vertigo feeling at bay during the ride. The Bayfield skyline makes a pretty backdrop, although it probably doesn’t rival New York’s Staten Island Ferry with the Statue of Liberty to gawk at. It also doesn’t quite match up with the spectacular views of Seattle’s Puget Sound ferries in the shadow of the Space Needle. But it DOES have a lot fewer people and cars to contend with!

Dang It, I Forgot My Fishing Rod

20 minutes into the boat ride, as we near the Madeline Island landing dock, an eagle suddenly drops from the sky and snatches a fish from the surf (it looked like about a 2-lb. lake trout for those of you who, like me, have trouble ignoring gilled things in the water.) After carrying the trout for about 50 yards, safely away from the ferry, the eagle drops the fish back into the water. Presumably he’ll have himself a tasty snack — with NO propeller marks on it — later!

Our first glimpse of Big Bay State Park

Disembarking from the boat doesn’t take long and about 15 minutes after docking, our car finds the entry gate at the 2,350-acre Big Bay State Park. We’re soon exploring the trails. There’s over 7 miles of hiking trails within the park confines, which keeps us as busy as the hundreds of mosquitos we are constantly slapping to a bloody death. (Handy Tip: DON’T forget the Deep Woods Off!)

Hike. Hike Hike!

You can’t overlook the stunning views from Big Bay State Park’s Bayview and Point trails!

Starting at the Point Picnic Area in the Southeast corner of the park, our first hike follows the Bay View and Point trails. The path is relatively flat and only a couple of miles long, but it’s completely crammed full (in a wide open wilderness kind of way) of magnificent lookouts, rock formations, vivid colors and endless photo opportunities.

Kayaks are a great way to get up close and personal with this special Lake Superior scenery

We overlook a guided group of kayakers most of the way. The ease of the paddling strokes it takes to propel those 2-seater kayaks is astonishing. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Lake Superior so docile, as the waves barely lap at the rocks 30 feet below us.

Some Beach!

Now entering the Boardwalk Trail near barrier beach

Eventually we move the car to the day-use picnic area near barrier beach. The boardwalk takes us on a relaxing stroll down the entire beach. A good portion of the walk makes us feel as if we’re on an island, featuring Gitche Gumee (the shining Big-Sea-Water) on one side and the lagoon on the other. The 2-mile up and back trek seems to be over almost before it’s begun.

Gettin’ our feet wet on Barrier Beach in Lake Superior’s Big Bay

Since there is so much beach available, we can’t resist the urge to wade into the smooth, crystal-clear pool of sapphire. Although the rocks carve their presence sharply into our arches with every barefoot step, the refreshing but surprisingly tolerable 60-degree water is hard to leave.

No Shortage of Fun

If you are not into hiking, or swimming, or picnicking, or skipping rocks like we did, there are still plenty of available activities in the State Park. Rent a canoe or kayak and explore the shoreline or sandstone bluffs and sea caves. Try some shore fishing. Do some bird watching or wildlife viewing. Or just kick back and relax! A forest of trees dots the park, allowing you to hang a hammock almost anywhere. And there are also 60 available state park campsites for those extra adventurous types who want to pitch a tent or choose to let the ferry line transport their travel trailer. Advance camping reservations are recommended. (888) 947-2757 or

Mother Nature never disappoints on Madeline Island

When it comes time to exit the park my free and easy uplifted spirit has a bit of a letdown. It’s tough to leave so much beauty in the rearview mirror. Although we embark on a bit of sightseeing, shopping and eating in the town of La Pointe before our ferry ride back to Bayfield, the time spent in Big Bay State Park is definitely the highlight of the trip.

Have any of you ever been to Wisconsin’s Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island? Please share YOUR favorite part of the trip in the comments box below. We’d love to hear about it!

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