Monday, March 18, 2013

Follow island shoreline with Lake Superior

Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island.
Incredible views of Lake Superior await hikers traveling to Big Bay State Park in northern Wisconsin.

The park sits on Madeline Island, the largest of the famous 22 Apostle Islands. Taking the Bay View Trail along with a border a self-guided interpretive trail is a 5-mile round trip, though this can be cut in half by turning around at the boardwalk.

To avoid the Northwoods cold, visit in June and July. You’ll have to first load your vehicle aboard the Madeline Island Ferry, which runs every half hour from Bayfield on the mainland to La Pointe on the island. After a 20-minute ride across the lake, take County Road H east for about four miles. Turn right/east on Hagen Road. The park entrance is in 2 miles; you’ll need to pay an entry fee.

Continue on the park entry road (aka Haines Road), then turning right onto Wilderness Road. Where the road loops is a parking lot. The trailhead is on the lot’s east side.

An easy, well-maintained trail, you’ll pass Point Picnic Area to the edge of Madeline Island. At one time, the island – as well as the other Apostle Islands – was part of the mainland. Four sets of glaciers during the past 100,000 years and the ensuing lakes have eroded the 600 million-year-old sedimentary rock and formed the islands.

Sunsets and glaciers
At the T-intersection with Lake Superior before you, go left onto Bay View Trail (to the right is Point Trail). The wooded trail hugs the shoreline. You’re certain to spot wildlife and likely will see some bluff caves. If staying overnight, do the trail at the sunset – you won’t be disappointed by the spectacular views over Lake Superior’s Big Bay.

The largest of the Great Lakes sits atop hard basalt that formed 1.1 billion years ago when the North American continent literally was splitting. Eventually this separation stopped, and the rift filled with sediment. Glaciers during the last Ice Age excavated these deposits and left the cold water that forms the lake.

As rounding the shoreline, Bay View Trail turns into Lagoon Ridge Trail; follow this for a few yards to the Boardwalk. If short on time or tired, you may want to turn back here. If the day is young and you’re full of energy, go right, continuing along the boardwalk, which cuts through a white and red pine forest sitting upon Big Bay Sand Spit. Bearberry and wintergreen grows beneath the pines.

Nicely flat, the half-mile boardwalk offers benches for resting, interpretive signs and more impressive lake views. A lagoon sits to the boardwalk’s left.

Barrier beach
Some 15,000 years ago when Madeline Island reappeared as the glaciers retreated and melted, the lagoon didn't exist and was part of Big Bay. Since then, wave action and lake currents built a pair of barrier beaches, creating the lagoon.

The boardwalk turns into the self-guided nature trail that runs up the spit. You may want to take a break along the beach for a swim.

The nature trail includes a couple of small loops in it. Watch for bald eagles that nest and raise their younglings in the park. Upon reaching the trail’s end, turn around and return the way you came.

Before coming to the island, make sure you bring insect repellent. Bugs can be bothersome in the trail’s forested sections, and repellent sometimes can be difficult to find on the island.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.