Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hike to highest point in Apostle Islands

Campsite off of Northwest Beach Trail
Oak Island, sitting roughly in the middle of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, offers 11.5 miles of day hiking trails. It also boasts the national lakeshore’s highest elevation at 1081 feet above sea level.

The Oak Island dock leaves you at Campsite B and the trailhead for the 5.2-mile Loop Trail. To reach other trails and campsites on the island, you’ll have to take at least a segment of the Loop Trail.

The Loop Trail heads northwest (or left of the dock). You’ll briefly follow the shoreline; across the channel is the mainland, stretching from Frog Bay in the southwest to Raspberry Point in the west.

The trail then swerves north into the island’s interior. It passes the Northwest Beach Trail junction at about 1.2 miles from the dock.

While the island is named for a hardwood, before East Coast and European settlers came here, the island was known among Native Americans for its sugarbush, or maples whose sap could be tapped and made into syrup. During the 1800s, many of the oaks and pines were logged off here; at one time, six logging camps dotted the island.

As the trail curves east, it climbs toward the island’s highest point. At 1.7 miles from the dock is the Overlook Trail junction. The trail then reaches the island’s crest, but there is no viewing platform.

After the crest, the trail meanders south until reaching campsites at Sandspit Beach. From the beach, you’ll be able to spot Red Cliff Point on the mainland to the southwest, Basswood Island directly south, Hermit Island to the southeast, and Stockton Island to the east. The campsites boast an outhouse and artesian well.

You can return to the dock by taking the 1.5-mile Sandspit Trail northwest along the shoreline. Stay on the trail, the boardwalks, or the beach itself to protect the fragile shoreline plant communities.

The trails branching off the Loop Trail include:
g Northwest Beach Trail – The 1.6-mile trail heads to a secluded beach and small group campsite (Campsite #4), which is 2.8 miles from the dock.
g Overlook Trail – Of all the branching trails to take, the 1.8-mile Overlook Trail offers the most impressive sites. At its end on the island’s northernmost point is a viewpoint from a cliff 200 feet above the lake. Looking directly east is the famed Hole-in the-Wall Arch, perhaps the island’s most photographed geological feature. To the north, 10 islands can be seen; the front four, going west to east, are Raspberry, Bear, Otter and Manitou islands. Be sure to stay away from the cliff’s edge, as it easily can crumble. The viewpoint is 7 miles round trip from the dock.

In addition, one route branches off the Overlook Trail:
g North Bay Trail – The 1.1-mile path winds into a ravine to a beach campsite (Campsite #6, which is 7.8 miles round trip from the dock). Sometimes parts of the trail close when eagles are nesting.

Bears also live on the island, so if camping be sure to take precautions with your food.

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