apostle island kayak trip

Location - Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

Kayaking to Stockton island by myself for 2 nights. Total length of trip is 16 miles x 2. Anyone done the trip before and anything to be careful about?

Thinking of heading to Basswood island first, loop around, then hit hermit island and take a rest break. Then loop around and head to South west corner of Stockton island.

Any comments on length of trip (if done before), camping on Stockton etc would be helpful.



A month ago
Just back from there a month ago. There was a bear incident at Hermit Island and signs warning of it on the beach (west end of island). Ask what the latest is at the NPS office. If the water’s calm, Basswood has a couple of decent places to stop on the northern end, which is very close to Hermit anyway.

As far as the distance goes, that’s about what I usually shoot for in a day. It can be glass calm, crazy, anywhere inbetween or all of the above. I think that’s the distance from the beach in Bayfield. Another option to stop would be at Oak Island’s sandspit which would add a mile or two to the trip.

I have kayaked a couple of times before this - in colorado as well as in Key West Florida. So, pretty decent with a kayak.

Does it really take 6-8 hours for this trip - I thought it would be more like 5 or 6 hours. I had done Basswood island a couple of weeks back and it took 30 minutes tops … but people were saying 45 minutes to an hour!

By the looks of, the recent weather does not seem to be too much good news. Hoping for a break this Saturday… :slight_smile:


– Last Updated: Aug-27-07 3:00 PM EST –

It depends on a lot of factors - conditions, group size, the paddlers...

In calm conditions with one other guy, we usually would average just under 4mph, so that would be 4-5 hours not including a rest stop.

In a group of paddlers that would probably average about 4mph, the average tends to drop to 3.5mph. Not sure why that is, but it is...

If you're not sure how long it will take, I'd plan on the 6-8 but I doubt it'll take you that long. Topo maps will show good options for landing, but if you're paddling from Bayfield they will include:

Basswood - as I mentioned before, possibly the north side. The NPS dock is on the west (mainland) side about 1/2 way along, and has a small beach.

Hermit - small beach on west end and not much along the south side (even at the quarry), but check for news on the bear situation before you leave. I haven't paddled the north side of this island so I can't make any recommendations.

Oak - the sandspit at the SW corner is a very good spot to land, but will add about two miles. Nothing else along the south edge.

Stockton - there is a group site on the south side of the island, maybe a mile from the western edge. Other than your destination, this will probably be the only spot to land.

EDIT: Just saw your other post, and you're launching from Red Cliff Point. Does this mean Buffalo Bay Marina? Good launch spot and they have showers, but there is another marina closer to the point that is completely anti-kayak. I'd avoid it at all costs, from personal experience after looking for shelter in 40kt (no kidding) winds. Living Adventure is right around there too but I'm not familiar with their operation (good people though). Anyway, the rest stops are basically the same as what I mentioned. Oak Sandspit is what I'd probably pick if I were leaving from Buffalo Bay. You'll pass by the wreck of the Fedora which was about 2' out of water due to the low lake level.

Thanks Steve - I am renting a kayak from Living Adventure and going by myself. So, kinda sucks but could not convince any of my friends to come along on the trip to the island.

However, thanks for the advise - will most probably try to go a bit faster since I am alone. Will make Hermit the first stop (after checking your bear sighting news) and then maybe Stockton island itself if weather permits.

don’t underestimate the lake

– Last Updated: Aug-27-07 6:47 PM EST –

It's a big lake, and still cold. THe main things to be careful about up here are:

1. hypothermia. Wear a wetsuit or at least hydroskin tops and bottoms for the crossings. The lake is still extremely cold once you're away from shore. Ignore all the idiots who are out there in shorts and t-shirts. As a solo paddler doing crossings, you don't have a big margin of error, so wear immersion gear, no matter how hot the air is.

2. self-rescues. Make sure you can do a reliable self-rescue, preferably a roll. Failing that, practice your reentry and roll, or paddle-float self-rescue in cold, rough water.

3. very rough water that comes up very quickly. Winds come up out of nowhere, and this time of year they especially come up about 1 pm. The lake gets short wave sets and major chop that can be tricky to paddle. Do your best to get launched early and be done with your crossings by 1 pm. The lake can be smooth as glass, and 30 minutes later almost unpaddle-able. Paddling a couple times doesn't make you a 'decent' paddler for Lake SUperior, so respect the lake.

4. since you're alone, bring a VHF! If you don't have one, borrow, rent, or buy one. Cell phone service does NOT exist out on the islands, so you can't rely on your cell phone if you end up in the water stuck.

5. and watch out for sudden fogs. Bring a map and compass and know how to use them. GPS is also helpful when the fog rolls in quickly.

6. make sure you have some flexibility in your plans, so if bad weather comes up, you can sit tight and wait it out.

Watch out for bears, don't forget to get to the park service office in Bayfield before it closes to pick up your camping permit, and have fun. Living Adventures has parking (for a very hefty fee) for people who rent from them. They're on the rez, and they just had some thefts of boats, so don't leave stuff visible in your car when you park there.

thanks for the advice Tiva
Very good points and thanks for pointing them out -

And you are right - paddling a few times on Lake Superior does not make anyone a decent paddler. So, I will make sure I am extra careful - especially since I am going solo.


Sounds like a great trip
But then again, any Apostles trip is a great one. It’s a fabulous wilderness resource for those of us not close to an ocean. I agree w/ the above observations and precautions. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the VHF radio. Plus, the monotone triplets on the weather channels provide good companionship.

Additional thoughts:

  1. There is a relatively nice bay/landing spot on the NW shore of Hermit. I don’t know about the bear issues, though. We had a nice lunch there in July.

  2. Weather permitting, you should try to circumnavigate Stockton Island. There are some great rock formations and minor sea caves on the NE coast. Not as labyrinthine as you’ll find on Devils, but quite nice.

  3. The campsite on the north side of Stockton is nice, and much more private. Even nicer are the campsites on the sandspits of Cat or Ironwood Islands. You might consider changing your second night to one of those sites, for the nominal $10 change fee.

  4. Basswood is overrated, not worth stopping, unless you’re trying to bag as many islands as you can.

  5. Red Cliff Marina is not kind to kayakers. I would launch from Bayfield. It’s only about 3 miles farther down the lake, and you can park for free on the well-lit streets near the marina.

    Give us a trip report upon your return.


will post the report
Should be back (god willing) on Monday night and I will upload a report that week sometime.

Thanks for the advice folks…very much appreciated!

"4. Basswood is overrated, not worth stopping, unless you’re trying to bag as many islands as you can."

Absolutely. Our last night was to be spent camping at a site near the dock. After a long walk up a hill, we never found it and walked farther than we would have wanted to carry all our gear anyway. We looked at the sites on the south end of the island but that was an unsuitable place to land in anything but calm (which it was, but still a rock shelf 2’ above the water).

We decided to head back to Buffalo Bay (friendly to kayakers) to our cars, which was only 1.3 miles away, and start the drive home early. I never would have guessed that I’d pass up a night in the Apostles but the Basswood sites were really disappointing.

And I completely agree with having a VHF, wetsuit, spare paddle, etc. I have met the people from Living Adventure and know someone who went on one of their trips. They won’t steer you wrong (not that I could say that about all local outfitters).

Have a good - and safe - trip!

OK…i’m in between beginner and advanced beginer. I remember paddling out and up to and ‘around’ Split Rock Lighthouse. I would not paddle this lake alone. Whatever you wear wear a drysuit! Dont forget to file a float plan…I guess you do that when you get the backcountry permit from the NPS…enjoy that beautiful area!

Float Plan
"Dont forget to file a float plan…I guess you do that when you get the backcountry permit from the NPS"

Not exactly - they do have the info for where you’re supposed to be on which night, but most islands don’t have rangers. Also, you don’t check in with them when you get back to the mainland. See seakayakermag.com for a good form to fill out.

As far as solo paddling goes, this lake can throw a lot at you. It’s really up to you whether or not you want to do it solo. Risks and rewards with everything…

Strands of uncertainty
Do not mean to beat this topic to death - but with all the posts and honestly looking at my skill level - I am having second thoughts about this trip now. I would have been totally sure if I had someone with me. But going solo is now making me more uncertain about the trip. Sucks that I cannot find anyone to tag along…

On the other hand, I am well prepared for the trip in terms of equipment and also have some experience. So, maybe I’ll just push my doubts aside and play it by ear. If it feels right, I’ll take the plunge (no pun intended) …else I’ll drop the plans of going solo.

ice cream run
I’ve made that paddle many times, running ice cream packed in dry ice from Red Cliff to the friends on Stockton Island. Depending on wind, I could do it in 2 hours one way. There is so much boat traffic out there, especially on Labor Day weekend. If the weather is good, then go. There’ll be lots of people out there to help. Yes Lake Superior can be nasty, but if you are prepared, it can be a lot of fun.

Backup Plans
I was going to do the Apostles solo a few years ago. After a few days of unpredictable weather on the Keweenaw penninsula and looking at my options in the Apostles I decided not to try it. Instead I went down to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage near Mercer, Wi. Great free campsites, both open and protected areas to paddle. Not sure how far you are driving to get to the Apostles, but you might keep Turtle-Flambeau as a backup option in case of bad weather.


Don’t panic!
I didn’t mean for my advice to scare you off from a solo trip. Lots of us around here do solo trips in the Apostles, and if you are prepared, don’t be scared off.

Stockton is an excellent choice for a solo trip, because there’s always the charter boat to take back if you get some bad weather. There’s no shame in doing that–lots of us do! Just make certain you have options–ie, a weather day, some money with you so you can take the big boat back (and get the big boat’s schedule). Stockton does have a ranger.

I’m not going to tell you to go for it, but don’t let my words of caution frighten you off from something you’re prepared for. So far, the weather looks stable and calm into the weekend.

To solo or not…

– Last Updated: Aug-29-07 7:22 PM EST –

I've been watching this thread but staying out of it because I don't at all know the area you are talking about. But I have stood on the shore and watched the weather in the Great Lakes change from a sunny day to a Tstorm offshore that came on wicked fast and had motor boats running full throttle into the nearby marina. And as it gets to the more generic question of readiness, there are a couple of questions I'd have asked if you were asking about doing a solo trip in another area of big water that I do know. That'd be the islands in the Gulf of Maine.

No one has asked them, so what the heck I will.

Will you be carrying a weather radio so you can have it set for alerts?
Will you be close enough to land so that you can be onshore pretty quickly if an alert comes in? If you might be caught offshore, could you confortably paddle in a sudden increase in wind and wave height (whatever is actually likely for that area)?
Can you land in that stuff without injuring yourself?
Have you practiced capsizing enough to know that you could either roll up or at least stay attached to your boat in difficult conditions?
Can you roll or perform some other form of self-rescue that you have practiced in waves and wind (much opinion out there that paddle-flaot self rescue is not an option in big steep waves)?
Will you be dressed so that you can tolerate immersion without risking hypothermia before you make it back to land?
Do you have emergency signaling devices and/or VHF radio that can be carried on your person, in or clipped to your PFD, should you become separated from your boat? (Cell phones are likely to fail quicly should if you have to use them while getting knocked around in the water, even if they start out in a waterproof case.)
Do you have a plan for getting help if you are injured and parked on land?

Obviously the closer you are to land for most of this trip, the less are some of these risks. But if there are a lot of no or not sure kind of answers to the above, it may indicate that you should seek a more sheltered paddle.

another option
Another excellent option is to simply take the shuttle (Apostle Islands Cruise Service) out to Stockton with your kayak onboard, and then do day trips from there. You will probably be able to find other paddlers camped out on Stockton who might let you join them for crossings–or you can just stay close to shore. Stockton is a lovely island to paddle around, and it also has great hiking trails if the weather is too rough. If you take the shuttle out to Stockton so you avoid a long solo crossing, you can also fit in a day tour to the mainland sea caves from Meyers beach (but only if the weather is calm).

And of course Celia is right–you need a VHF, you need a reliable roll or reentry and roll, you need a wetsuit or hydroskin or drysuit, you need a GPS and compass and chart. There’s no cell service in the islands.

Have fun!

There is great cell service on the south side of Stockton, Hermit, and anywhere on the shore of Basswood. There is a cell tower on Madeline Island. It is an Alltel tower but anyone with Verizon, US Cellular, or other CDMA services will work. Sprint and At&T do not use the same technology. You can also get cell service from the North Shore of Minnesota from the north side of many islands. If you are on the north side of Stockton, don’t bother using your VHF unless you can see a boat, no one can hear you. The islands mask VHF signals so much that if you do not already own a radio, I wouldn’t emphasize that you carry one. If you are going to do this a bunch, then definitely buy one. You should have at least a weather radio but again, VHF reliability is so poor in contacting the Park service and Coast Guard that it isn’t worth buying for this single trip.

If you are worried about your float plan, let the NPS know when you are leaving shore and have them talk to the marina on Stockton. If you do not check in with the Ranger on Stockton in X-hours, they can start looking for you earlier than the end of your trip. Like I said before, you should go if you feel confident in your ability for the conditions present.

I wasn’t trying to talk anybody into or out of a solo trip in the Apostles. There’s more risk involved with solo paddling, and even more on the Great Lakes since the conditions can come up quickly. I haven’t paddled Superior solo myself, but know some people who have paddled many miles of it by themselves. I’d consider them to be expert paddlers.

However, if you’re having second thoughts about it, maybe it’s not the right time to do it. I haven’t been watching the weather up there which I usually do for a few weeks before I get there. Some day I’d love to do a solo week up there, but I keep finding a lot of people that want to go with! Must be my ability to scare off the bears with my snoring.