(Previously Published in The Star Tribune-Midwest Traveler; Photographer: Cy Dodson)
Charm at its best in the little towns along Lake Superior’s National Lakeshore.
The 59th annual Bayfield Apple Festival did not happen in 2020 due to COVID concerns. This fall may look different for many communities and their events, but Bayfield still remains a “must-see” on your list of travel spots…when we all start visiting them again.
A tranquil community, Bayfield Wisconsin, sits along the south shore of Lake Superior. It’s the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Established in 1856, it has a population of 627. Normally.
In the fall, Bayfield hosts its yearly Apple Festival, and the crowds converge on the quaint little town, boosting its population by about 50,000. How does the little town, once known for its boom years of big lumber and commercial fishing, handle the boost in population? In one word: Charmingly.
Bayfield’s rich history is due to its changing assortment of visitors. Through the years, the rise and fall of the commercial fishing industry, lumbering, and the ever-changing settlers have given Bayfield its unique character. This character is evident as one walks the streets of the town, observing its friendly locals. If a more detailed history lesson is needed, Bayfield boats a Bayfield and Madeline Island Historical Museum, a Maritime Museum, and a walking tour that includes a variety of historical buildings. Many of Bayfield’s historical homes now operate and bed and breakfasts or inns.
If your lucky to find a B&B open in the town of Bayfield during the Apple Fest,…well done. Most visitors who didn’t make their reservations months before, may find space tight during this particular weekend. Make a note: there are numerous other charming towns on the way to Bayfield.
Siskiwit Bay Lodge (#715-742-3900 or www.siskiwitbaylodge.com) was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle over the apples. Located in the outskirts of a town called Cornucopia, it’s a truly unique getaway. It was built in 1997, and is a hand-fashioned replica of a turn of the century lakeside lodge. It has dark, impressive woodwork, and the furnishing and lighting create a very elegant, yet homey feel. Guests are treated to spacious rooms, and a wonderful breakfast in the morning. And in the evening, the Lodge boasts some of the best sunset views of Lake Superior (each of the guest rooms has its own private deck) Owners, Bruce and Sandy Von Riedel, love to share their love of Lake Superior with their guests. Both are tireless advocates of Lake Superior, and the Cornucopia and Bayfield area.
APPLES, APPLES AND MORE APPLES
On a tip from the Siskiwit hosts, the Star Route road was the transpiration of choice to visit the numerous apple farms. The Star Route stretches from Cornucopia, and ends right at the edge of Bayfield and is, by far, the most picturesque road to take if Fall “Leaf Peeping” is in order. During the Apple Fest, the leaves aren’t quite in peak color, although they were already in spectacular form this year.
Once you go several miles on the picturesque road, you’ll start to see some signs on the areas apple orchards. (the area has around 15-20 berry and apple orchards)
Blue Vista Farm (www.bluevistafarm.com) offered a one-of-a-kind look at the operations of a berry and apple farm. Upon arriving, one immediately is drawn to the 100-year old barn that over looks the break taking view of this orchard. In the barn is a little store offering homemade wares, such as jellies and jams, jewelry, baked apple pies, and of course…apples, apples and more apples. The store and the barn smell wonderful, and the reason is nearby. The farm’s owner, Eric Carlson, is running an Apple Cider Press. The 22-year old veteran, along with his Father (who was turning the press wheel for his son) explained proudly that the Apple Press was new this year, and was in perfect working order for the Apple Fest. “Take a sip”, he offered. The cider is unpasteurized, but perfectly fresh and light – the perfect refreshment to be sipping at an apple orchard.
Blue Haven’s perfectly manicured apple orchard is very well marked, and one can find numerous kinds of apples, including Liberty, Priscilla, and the Sweet 16. A cheerful apple picker, driving a John Deer full of crates of apples, whistled while he worked.
If Apple Wine is on your list, you can head down the road to the Hauser’s Superior View Farm and Winery outside of Bayfield (www.bayfieldwinery.com), which also boats an old barn (build in 1928), and a view that was made for a postcard. During Apple Fest, this Farm and Winery is jam packed, and there was barely walking-room only as folks browsed the barn store and took part in the apple wine tasting. But that didn’t seem to dampen spirits, as folks still lined up, wine crates in hand, to purchase homemade wines such as Schneewittchen, Blackberry Farm House Cider, Golden Pear, Cranberry Farm House Cider, and of course, Sweet Apple Wine.
BIKING & MADELINE ISLAND
As one might guess, although traffic usually isn’t a problem for this town, it jams up a bit during this particular weekend. Parking can be had on hilly, town streets, or you can get around easier on your bicycle. If the streets of Bayfield are a tad too crowded during the day, take the ferry to infamous Madeline Island for a little more secluded bike ride.
The Ferry schedule is consistent and on time, and drops off at the little village of LaPointe, Wisconsin. – (you can pay a little extra to bring your car along and your bikes). Big Bay State Park offered some scenic bike rides, as well as hiking paths and excellent camping sites. There are also several beaches in the area.
The little village has many little nooks and crannies to explore, including several restaurants, a wine bar, and art galleries. The locals will point you to a place called
“Tom’s Burned Down Café”, which offers food, drinks and merriment. Even though it’s basically a bar sitting out in the open with a canopy over the top, (it did indeed burn down) the locals and visitors alike swarm to its open chairs to warm themselves next to the outside stoves.
If your looking for a longer cruise-type ride, try the Apostle Island cruise service (www.aposteisland.com), which offers morning, and an evening Lighthouse cruise.
INTO THE LION’S DEN (OF APPLES)
While the entire surrounding area is involved in the hubbub, it’s downtown Bayfield that has official Apple Fest Festivities abound. Numerous vendors selling things from home made jewelry, to hand knitted scarves and mittens, to Lake Superior rocks that have been made into candles, and much more. Food and drink vendors seem to outnumber the actual craft tents, and busy themselves with their wares, including apple brats, caramel apples, hot apple donuts, hot sandwiches, and the old reliable – hot apple cider.
There’s also ongoing stage entertainment, fish boils, dances, rides and games for the kids, and pie contests. An evening Venetian Boat Parade and a Grand Parade featuring the Wisconsin Mass Band of over 500 members also join the fun on Sunday.
If you prefer to walk “off the beaten path”, there is plenty of street shops and antique stores to explore, as well as ghost walking tours as the Halloween season moves closer.
There are numerous places to pick from while in Bayfield, including the many Apple Fest concession stands that include Apple fritters, apple cider, and hot apple pie.
Locals (and visitors who are paying attention) swarm to a place called Greunke’s First Street Inn. (www.greunkesinn.com) The small restaurant was overflowing with breakfast customers, all seated around tidy, little tables with mis-matched table placemats The walls are covered with old, album covers and nostalgic coke and Orange Crush signs. And behind the check out counter was an antique shelf that was jammed full of receipts from top to bottom – the waitress at the counter commented some of them are years old. The locals recommend the “Fisherman’s’ Breakfast” – 2 eggs, sausage or bacon and American fries.
Bayfield, Wisconsin is around a 3-4 hour drive (211 miles). Most hop on 35 N and exit towards Taylors Falls and enter Wisconsin. Take US-63N the rest of the way. (Some like to pit stop in Duluth) There are several scenic routes that can be taken into Bayfield – check their website for the best routes during certain seasons.
More Information: Bayfield Area Tourism