A Village on the Shores of Lake Superior – Bayfield, Wisconsin

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to another edition to Traveling with Tom. This week we are heading to the far north of Wisconsin to the village of Bayfield. In the past few weeks, posts about Bayfield have regularly popped up on my Facebook feed. Those articles reminded me of the time when we made our first couple of trips to Bayfield and discovered what attracts visitors to the area.

It was nearly ten years ago when we made our first trips to Bayfield located on Chequamegon Bay on the shores of Lake Superior.  At that time, we’d been residents of Wisconsin for over twenty years. I don’t know why we never made the six hour drive from our home in Madison to check out this well known town (at least here in Wisconsin and most of Minnesota). Maybe it was time or money or other priorities. This time my Traveling Partner had two weeks of prime summer vacation, I was retired but was doing gig work, and we managed to scrape enough dough together for a proper respite from the daily grind. In a search for lodging, I found a small apartment for rent by the day or week. Sailor’s Solace (now Woodland Lodging) was new and up on the hill with a distant view of Lake Superior. Built and operated by Lew and Marlyce, it was perfect for two people and cost effective so I plunked down my money as quick as I could for an eight day stay.

We left Madison early on a Wednesday morning with the goal of arriving in Bayfield by early afternoon. As we went further north and passed the “Tension Zone” mid-state where the prairies meet the forests, we could feel the tension leaving our bodies. We began to relax and enjoy the journey, I even started driving the speed limit! We arrived in Ashland and took a left on Highway 2 at the pristine white The Hotel Chequamegon. 

A few miles west of Ashland, we turned right onto state Highway 13 that took us through Washburn, the county seat of Bayfield County, and finally into the village of Bayfield. It was the high season for tourism so there was a fair amount of traffic but we enjoyed driving through the forests with peeks at the big waters of Lake Superior. As is usual, I was gawking at our first look at Bayfield and totally missed the turn to our lodging. This gave us a chance to do our first tour the village. We liked what we were seeing, quaint shops, an array of restaurants, a bookstore, and a beautiful harbor filled with boats of all types. Bayfield has about 500 permanent residents that swells to a few thousand during the summer tourist season with many of the visitors coming from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Once home to robust logging and commercial fishing enterprises, tourism is now it’s main economic driver. 

Andy’s Foods has an interesting sign painted on the side wall of the store. I’m still wondering what it means or stands for.

We got turned around and found the street, Manypenny Avenue, that would take us up the hill to our lodging.

After meeting Lew and getting settled in our comfortable apartment, it was time to do some more exploring. The water drew us to the harbor where we returned to almost every day. I never tired of walking along the waterfront and out on to the pier to watch the boats coming and going. When the wind was blowing the boats in moor would be bouncing up and down following the waves. The evenings were the quietest and the soft light cast reflections of the masts and water craft on the waters.

Even the resting gulls make for an interesting photo!

I took one of my favorite photos in the Bayfield Marina. I titled it “7, 6, 5, 4, 3.”

One day during our stay, we bought tickets on the Apostle Islands Cruises that took us out on the big water of Lake Superior to see some of the interesting sites. Off in the distance we could see Madeline Island, we would visit there several times in the future. The tour took us past the sea caves (second photo) and the lighthouse on Raspberry Island. It was a fun excursion, I would highly recommend taking at least one water tour during a stay in the area. 

This is what it looks like when coming into the Bayfield harbor.

Our hosts, Lew and Marlyce both worked part-time at the Big Top Chautauqua located just three miles south of Bayfield. This 900 seat venue for music and performing arts is under the “big top,” a huge blue tent. We checked out the schedule and bought tickets for one of the evening shows. One of the acts was an Eagles tribute band, it was great fun, another highly recommended activity when in the area.

In the fall, usually the first week of October, Bayfield hosts it’s annual Apple Fest. This draws up to 60,000 for the weekend event. There are booths featuring all things apple, craft vendors, music performances, and lots of good food. We went one year when we were camping on Madeline Island. We took the ferry from LaPointe to Bayfield and spent the sunny, cool day enjoying the food and looking at all the exhibits.

A couple of the evenings we attended free music concerts sponsored by the visitor’s bureau. One was a local pop music band that performed on the waterfront by the marina and the other was a chamber orchestra that played in one of the local churches. Both were fun, a nice way to end the day.

We explored beyond Bayfield, enjoying the drive on the backroads of sparsely populated rural Bayfield County. One day we found ourselves in the small village of Cornucopia, population about 100. We stopped by the local tavern for a bite to eat and a little information. After lunch, I chatted up the friendly bartender and owner asking about things a photographer should see. He pointed me to a small water fall and even more interesting a cemetery where some of the very earliest settlers from Eastern Europe were buried. Over time, the cemetery had become overgrown with brush, weeds, and trees. Once rediscovered, a local group cleaned up the cemetery and re-marked the graves. I know that I would have never found it without directions from the local bartender.

Near Cornucopia and just off Highway 13 is the Cornucopia Beach (aka, Corny Beach). We walked the short trail through the reeds to see the big Lake and nice sandy beach. Lake Superior is the largest of the five great lakes and one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world by volume and surface area. Two of it’s most famous references are in Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha” (on the shores of Gitchee Gumee, the Ojibwe name for Lake Superior) and Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Lake Superior is also noted for its prominence in shipping to and from Duluth and other ports on the lake.

We also found the weird on a few of our drives. Along side the road just north of Bayfield, this line of “items” (some might say junk) lines the front of someone’s lot. There were signs to keep out and not touch any of the items, maybe a grouchy old man with a lot of stuff was attempting to antagonize his neighbors or poke a stick into the eye of county officials. At least that’s the story I made up in my head!

A few miles west of Bayfield on a back country road, we came across this field with a line assorted old machinery. The third photo was taken when we visited in October of 2011. Quite a change in the foreground.

We even found a boat in dry dock, a long ways from any water!

After our lovely eight days in Bayfield, it was time to leave. We didn’t go directly back to Madison, we drove to Minneapolis where we helped The Youngest move. Her new apartment was on second floor in south Minneapolis while the old apartment was a basement unit in the northeast part of town. Fortunately, she didn’t have a lot of stuff but did require a couple of trips with a u-haul trailer. Plus we had to clean both places. And it was hot with a couple of drenching rains. We were tired when we made the trip back to Madison a few days later but with good memories of our time in Bayfield.

It was so much fun that we went back up to Bayfield in mid-October, the week after Apple Fest. We did a lot of hiking on the many trails found in natural areas and parks. As a bonus for me, I took a lot of fall photos, here’s a sample.

One of the last photos I took during that fall trip is also one of my favorites. This waterfall is located in a park within the city limits of Bayfield. The trail is fairly level and much of it is built up boardwalk. 

This is my take on Bayfield. There’s a lot more I could say about the area but my time is up and way past my word count!

Until next week, happy virtual travels!



4 thoughts on “A Village on the Shores of Lake Superior – Bayfield, Wisconsin

  1. Nice one. I have been to Bayfield a couple of times. One of my memories was the fish boil at one of the local restaurants.

    1. Thanks for checking in Mike. There are some very nice restaurants in Bayfield. Maggie’s is one our favorite places in Bayfield. We also enjoy the wine bread from the Candy Shoppe on the main drag near the grocery store.

  2. Great post, Tom. Have been to Bayfield twice including the MISA workshop jumping off point. To me, this is one of the most charming parts of the Midwest and your photos and writing capture it very well. I don’t remember the big hotel in Ashland, though. Not sure how I missed that! 🙂

    1. Thanks for checking in Paul. The hotel in Ashland is on the waterfront near the downtown. If you drive and come from the west, the turn to Bayfield is before the city limits of Ashland. Bayfield has kept it’s charm in the ten years we’ve been going there. When the virus situation improves, we’ll make another trip up there. MISA is doing some great writing workshops so maybe next year. I did a weekend writing workshop by Zoom in January, it was great fun and I learned a lot. Take care and my fingers are crossed that I’ll meet up with everyone in Death Valley.

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