Jan 10, 2014
Bayfield County – Not Your Typical Northwoods!
It’s the Northwoods with a twist – not only are there abundant and beautiful natural resources, there are lots of great restaurants and lodging facilities along with art galleries and other cultural opportunities that you just don’t normally find in the wilderness.
Let’s start with some facts: Bayfield County is the 2nd largest county in the state with half of its land in public ownership. There are 962 lakes and many premiere trout streams. There are over 800 miles of paved roads, but not one stoplight (yep, it’s true). There are 7 national designations in Bayfield County including:
- Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – 21 islands and 12 miles of Lake Superior shoreline with the nation’s largest collection of lighthouses.
- Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest – 268,000 acres of forest, 600 lakes and the Rainbow Lake Wilderness Area with trails and campgrounds.
- Frog Bay Tribal National Park – 88 acres of forest and ¼ mile of beach with views of 5 islands; the first of its kind, it is open to the public for use of medicinal plants as well as nature based educational activities.
- Iron River National Fish Hatchery – Two million trout are produced annually to stock the Great Lakes and miles of trails are maintained for public use. Self-guided and staff-guided tours available.
- North Country National Scenic Trail – one of the largest segments of the NCT passes through 2 wilderness areas in Bayfield County; it’s a moderately easy trail with no large elevation changes.
- Croix National Scenic Riverway – The upper St. Croix and the entire Namekagon River are much narrower and wilder rivers than the rest of the National Park. The rivers run through generally undeveloped, diverse terrain where paddlers will have much better opportunities to enjoy nature and wildlife from up close.
- Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge -
There are also 24 State Natural Areas , 6 State Fishery Areas and one of NW Wisconsin’s finest waterfowl hunting areas – the Totogatic Lake Wildlife Area.
Things to do, places to go
If you are looking for a reason to visit, there are lots of unique events that take place in Bayfield County that you just won’t find in other communities. From the Birkebeiner to the Barstool Races…from the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race to the World’s Longest Weenie Roast, there are plenty of events taking place that are a blast to watch - or participate in yourself!
Several attractions are also open year ‘round such as the state of the art Cable Natural History Museum, StageNorth Theater and Bar and White Winter Winery to name a few. Adventurous souls can go on a sled dog adventure with Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing where you get to do everything from hook up the team to driving a sled and then feeding the dogs afterwards. Of course, there’s plenty of ice fishing on all of those lakes! If the ice is good, you can walk out on the Big Lake to view the sea caves covered with ice and even walk into some of the caves covered in icy stalactites.
Mt. Ashwabay Ski & Recreation Area is a great place to hang out and play in the snow for a while and then warm up by the fire in the chalet or T-Bar. If you’re on a snowmobile or ATV there is also a chalet at the Valhalla Recreation Area with a roaring fire, but this is a bit more rustic.
The summer season provides access to many more events & attractions including cruises of the Apostle Islands, trolling for lake trout, long lazy days on the beach and shows at Big Top Chautauqua. This is also a world class sailing and kayaking destination.
In each town you’ll find local flavors (and local characters) that will give you a sense of why people want to visit the area and why more people are choosing to put down roots. Whatever time of year you visit, a great place to begin your journey is at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center where there are exhibits about the history and culture of the area, helpful staff to answer questions and a five-story observation tower (yes, there’s an elevator).
Hunting and Gathering
In addition to the National Forest, there are over 160,000 acres of Bayfield County Forest where you can hunt, hike, birdwatch and even get a free permit to collect firewood. That’s right, it’s free.
Once you have your permit to hunt or gather, you have lots of choices for where to head out and hunker down. Let’s talk about maps for a minute. Bayfield County has an excellent plat book available and great aerial imagery on their website (www.bayfieldcounty.org), but they also just launched a mobile app that tells you whose land you are on. A new website will also be launched sometime in February 2014 to make it easier to find more of the information that you need.
We’re talking some serious trails here: 600 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, 180 miles of ATV/UTV trails and hundreds of miles of Forest Roads to explore. Unlike many areas that have a lot of riding through fields, there is a lot of ground to cover in the forest up here, leading to an almost dreamlike quality where you feel just a little bit detached from reality. Again, summer and fall bring more opportunities with over 300 miles of mapped and marked mountain bike trails, too.
One of the fun things about the motorized trail system (besides the ride itself) is that you can find some great, unexpected places to get really great food along the way. Pick up a snowmobile or ATV map from the Bayfield County Tourism office or from one of the local businesses to find them ahead of time so you know what you’re looking for.
Don’t have your own equipment? No worries - there are places that rent snowmobiles, ATVs, bikes, kayaks and more throughout the area.
Have we got the place for you! Legendary Waters Resort & Casino is the only casino that we know of that has windows on the gaming floor. Why windows? Because the view is just too good to cover up. Besides gaming, there is live entertainment and a swimming pool with an indoor/outdoor hot tub and 2 different restaurant/bars. Another unique thing about this resort is that every hotel room has a view of Lake Superior.
Catchin’ Some Zzzz’s
There are many different types of lodging to choose from in Bayfield County; from cabins to condos, hotels, Northwoods resorts, basic motels and luxurious B&Bs. From May to October there are also an unbelievable number of campgrounds.
Warning: you may not want to go home
No matter why you decide to visit, you’ll be glad you did. Visitors to Bayfield County soon discover that the hands of time move slower there. It allows you to walk instead of rush, to breathe deeply, to notice things you usually don’t have time for. Your senses sharpen, your pulse slows, your heart races. Here you can live life full measure. It’s a celebration of life’s simple pleasures. It’s definitely worth the trip!