Saturday, April 20, 2013

See historical lighthouse in Apostle Islands

Old Michigan Island Lighthouse,
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

19th-century lighthouse
ranks as Wisconsin's tallest

The pretty Apostle Island National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin includes 20 of the 21 Apostle Islands and a stretch of shore on the Bayfield Peninsula. Other than the peninsula stretch, you won’t be able to reach any of the islands in the national lakeshore by vehicle – but you can sail there yourself or take any one of a number of charters from the nearby towns of Bayfield and Ashland.

Isolation from vehicular traffic makes each island a quiet and secluded paradise of Northwoods splendor. Almost all of the islands contain hiking trails to enjoy.

Among them is Michigan Island. The 1.6-mile (round trip) Michigan Island Trail runs across it.

Thank a mix-up
The dock for the island sits at the base of the bluff for the Michigan Island lighthouse on the island’s southeast corner. Ascend the 142 steps to the lighthouse; gear and supplies can be pulled up on a cable car using a winch.

A lighthouse has been on the island since 1856 – but only because of a mix-up. The structure was to have been built on nearby Long Island, but a last minute change by a field rep caused its location to be moved to Michigan Island.

One of six historic lighthouses in the Apostle Islands, the Michigan Island site underwent some moderate repairs in late 2012. The public now can access the lighthouse and see exhibits related to it; park volunteers usually offer tours in late morning and early afternoon.

Next to the historical lighthouse is a cylindrical steel tower that replaced its predecessor. Originally located on the Delaware River, the tower was brought to Wisconsin. It’s now the state’s tallest lighthouse.

From the bluff tops looking southwest, you’ll see Madeline Island in the distance. The trailhead begins on an unmarked path behind the lighthouse keeper’s home, winding into a second growth woods away from Lake Superior’s open waters. The trail runs northwest down glacial till through some low-lying and even marshy areas.

Beach of driftwood, shells
In a quarter mile, you’ll reach a beach on the island’s western shore. In the distance is Presque Isle Point, which is part of neighboring Stockton Island.

Turn left/southwest for a walk along the beach, where driftwood and shells are ubiquitous. A marsh sits inland, separated from the beach by brush. Blue herons frequent the marsh.

After 0.55 miles, the beach reaches a primitive campsite on a sandspit sitting at the island’s southwest end. Fires are allowed at the site, and boats can be moored there.

If feeling adventurous, extend the hike by taking the beach as it curves along the island’s southern shore. The remains of an old fishing camp with a large boat are in 0.4 miles. Heavy brush and storm-tossed tree trunks makes the beach a difficult walk back to the lighthouses, however, so rather than making a loop consider returning on the route that you came.

Definitely bring insect repellent if hiking in summer. Also be aware that Lake Superior’s storms can leave you stranded on the island for two or three days at a time, so if camping carry enough supplies.

Read more about day hiking Northwest Wisconsin in my Headin’ to the Cabin guidebooks.