Paddle the Parks: Apostle Islands National Park

A stunning chain of islands in northern Wisconsin

Apostle Islands National Park. Photo: Dave Costello

Apostle Islands National Park. Photo: Dave Costello

No Better Place

Apostle Islands National Park, Wisconsin
By Dave Costello

The sun is setting, but we can't see it inside the cave. Twilight spills in from the cavern's east-facing entrance. It reflects off the water and illuminates our boats, along with the red and black sandstone walls around us. The sandy bottom is made visible by a shaft of clear blue light filtering through an opening beneath the water into an adjacent, apparently better-lit sea cave. Through the low, tunnel-like opening in front of us, I can see both Bear and Devil's Islands; small lines on the horizon surrounded by a seemingly unending sheet of glassy water. Behind us, to the West, I know from the chart strapped to the deck of my kayak that there's a small speck of forested rock called Eagle Island, and then nothing but open water for more than 40 miles.

"And this is supposed to be a lake?" I hear my brother, Ryan, say. It's his first time paddling in the Apostle Islands, a chain of 21 heavily forested and isolated islands rising up just a few miles off the South Shore of Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin, and one of only four National Lakeshores within the National Parks System.

The sea caves we're paddling through are on Sand Island, just a three mile crossing from the Ranger Station on the mainland in Little Sand Bay. Years earlier, when I had worked as a guide here, I had paddled to nearly all of the islands farther out—each slightly different than the last, and each one more remote and remarkable.

Our crew isn't looking to make miles this trip, however. We're here with three other friends for a bachelor party-of-sorts: my own. Thoughts of Vegas never crossed my mind. The Apostles is one of the best places in the world to paddle, or in my opinion, just to be.

Click the links below to read about paddling adventures in a few of our favorite parks around the country:

Big Bend National Park

Float through an isolated wilderness on the edge of Texas and Mexico


The Missouri National Recreational River

A journey through time in South Dakota and Nebraska


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Paddle over the horizon line of waterfalls in Tennessee and North Carolina


Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Padle through a seascape of water and ice in southeast Alaska


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Explore Lake Superior’s panoramic coastline in Michigan


Ozark Scenic Riverways

A secret worth sharing in Missouri


Channel Islands National Park

Experience isolation 40 miles south of Santa Cruz, California


Grand Canyon National Park

Experience America’s 2 billion-year-old river canyon in Arizona


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The complete list of our favorite national parks for paddling


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