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Bayfield, Wisconsin: Where water meets land and sky

Nalynn Dolan Caine |
Bayfield, Wisconsin, has it all: from scenic views and lazy afternoons, to apple celebration festival, casino and snowy dog races. That small town of some 530 inhabitants living on 0.87 square miles manages to attract tens of thousands of visitors every year, living a fuller life than many bigger cities.

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But, in that small area, the town managed to place two museums - Maritime Museum and Heritage Museum - several art galleries and very nice inns for guests who are coming here no matter time of year. There is also a 950 seat theater Big Top Chautauqua under the tent that saw such names like legendary Willie Nelson. You wouldn't expect is so far north, but there is a fine golf course on Madeline Island if you are into that kind of fun.

However, Bayfield is much more than a group of buildings and cafes. It is well-known as the gate for Apostle Islands and Great Lakes. Thanks to its position, it is the ideal stop before you continue your journey to the north and Canada, or to the left where numerous Minnesota forests are, or to the right toward Michigan forests. And what really makes Bayfield stand apart is a number of events taking place all year round when its true artistic spirit is visible.

During winter, Santa is visiting the town but in a specific way: on ferry, because life here is focused on water and water activities. No wonder then that Bayfield found its spot in Yachting Magazine's top yachting towns in the country list. And where's snow, there's fun! The Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race is something that just had to happen here. This is the largest sled dog race in the Midwest with between 50 and 75 teams competing every year during the first weekend of February.

If you are lucky to visit Bayfield during the winter months, you can go to the Apostle Islands National Park to see the Bayfield Ice Caves, unique sculptures in ice and snow which make many people returning every year because they are different every time. You can reach the cave by sea or you can go along The Lakeshore Hiking Trail in Meyers Beach Recreation Area. There is also Little Sand Bay Campground for all fans of backcountry camping and nature you can see in that well-preserved area.

Sailing back to Bayfield on Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake by surface in the world, guided by Apostle Island lighthouse, know that the city is a pioneer in sustainability: organic farm is using only green energy for decades, Apple Hill Orchard uses storm water for irrigation, and Apostle Islands National Lake Shore has cleaner engines in its snowmobiles and boats. That's not surprise because the city if known by its art galleries and artists are nature-friendly people. Don't miss the Festival of Arts and Gallery Tour in July, with works by artists from across the Midwest.

Back on the mainland, there are a lot of activities, in and around the town. In the spring there is a month-long celebration of nature awakening, public coffee cupping at Big Water Coffee Roasters the first Saturday of every month, tours around many orchards, fruit and flower farms, and going around country roads with fields of white flowers and apple blossoms is something that will make you smile all the way. Don't forget wine tasting, it tastes even better while looking at 50,000 blooming daffodils in May and June.

The central event of the year is without any doubt Bayfield's annual Apple Festival. It draws about 60,000 visitors during the first weekend in October and it is one of the 10 best fall harvest festivals in the nation. And it has its own festival song! Orchards and food booths are selling apples and apple delicacies, there's a kids' carnival with games, nearly 100 arts and crafts booths, fine art exhibitors... The peak of the event is the Grand Parade featuring a 400+ member Mass Band.

The small size is what most probably makes Bayfield so big. This is not a city where the main "fun" is going out to a fast food restaurant. This is the city where they make candies and chocolates right in front of you, where you can enjoy pie-making contest and talk to local artists about their art and their piece of paradise. This is the place where you won't be told "Go in that direction" - there's a good chance somebody will walk you there, down the streets in the city with not a single stop light. Which is symbolic because life and smile in Bayfield never stop.

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