Bayfield… Where You Land, Depends On What You Want To Do

by Dave Weiman

It is not just the community of Bayfield, Wisconsin, which is a major tourist attraction and recreational area, but all of Bayfield County, and the local communities of Ashland, Cable and Superior.

The Bayfield County peninsula and the Apostle Islands are located in Wisconsin, between the Upper Michigan Peninsula to the east, and northern Minnesota to the west with Lake Superior on both east and west shores.

There are two airports in the area to choose from: Madeline Island Airport, recently renamed Major Gilbert Field (4R5) in La Pointe, Wisconsin, across the bay from Bayfield; and John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport (ASX) in Ashland, Wisconsin (Ashland County), 23 miles south of Bayfield. Fuel is available in Ashland, but not on Madeline Island. It all depends on what you want to do, and available ground transportation, as to which airport you choose.

Major Gilbert Field and the community of La Pointe, Wisconsin, can be seen on the left side in this photo of Madeline Island, one of 22 Apostle Islands.

You can actually get around quite well if you fly to Madeline Island – one of 22 Apostle Islands – by utilizing the shuttle services that are available from local businesses, renting a bicycle or moped, or walking. If you want more convenience and flexibility, car rental is available in Bayfield with advanced reservations. You still need to get from the airport to La Pointe 2 miles away to catch a ferrry to the mainland. For assistance, contact your lodging host, the airport manager, or the bicycle and moped rental company in La Pointe. Refer to the “ground transportation” section at the end of this article for phone numbers and websites.

Madeline Island & La Pointe, Wisconsin

Major Gilbert Field Madeline Island, Wisconsin

Madeline Island has a rich history, and is the largest of the 22 islands that make up the Apostle Islands archipelago. The island is named after Madeleine Cadotte, daughter of Chief White Crane and wife of fur trader Michael Cadotte. It has been inhabited by Native Americans, fur traders, and missionaries for over 400 years, and has flown the flags of three nations.

The Ojibwe (Chippewa) and other native peoples made their home there for hundreds of years before the Europeans arrived. Etienne Brule, a French explorer, visited Madeline Island about the same time as the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. About 1660, two explorer/fur traders, Groseilliers and Radisson, made their way to Chequamegon Bay. Five years later, Jesuit Father Claude Allouez and Father Jacques Marquette arrived. A mission was soon established in LaPointe on Madeline Island. For the next 150 years, it was an important outpost for French, British and American fur traders.

The Apostle Islands, and adjacent Chequamegon Bay, became home to a host of settlers after the 1855 construction of the locks at Sault St. Marie, Michigan, opened up the Lake Superior region. Like Native American inhabitants before them, the new settlers found water transportation routes to be efficient. Passenger and freight ferries began crisscrossing the bay between communities. The eventual development of rail and road systems led to the disappearance of all ferry boats, except those providing transportation between Bayfield and La Pointe. Ferries have run for nearly a century and a half between these two communities. Early sailing ferries gave way to steamers, then to gas and diesel boats.

You can explore and experience the history of Madeline Island in many ways. The most comprehensive exploration of Island history can be found at the Madeline Island Historical Museum. The Heritage Center of the Madeline Island Historical Preservation Association has several significant buildings preserved on the edge of town. There are several sites on the island and on the mainland that should also be visited including the historic Old Fort marker near the end of Old Fort Road, the Indian burial grounds near the marina, and the Madeline Island marker on Highway 13, just south of Bayfield.

In La Pointe, you can dine at “The Pub,” which features a spacious dining room, cozy lounge, beachfront patio, and an outstanding wine list and bar with island-themed cocktails. Bistro lunches and inviting regional dinners are served daily throughout the summer tourist season. Take-out meals are available as well. Other restaurants on the island include “The Beach Club,” “Cafe Seiche,” “Grampa Tony’s,” and “Island Oasis.” There are numerous accommodations available, from cabins and cottages, to bed and breakfasts, inns and motels, as well as camping at Big Bay State Park. For additional information on Madeline Island and La Pointe, Wis., refer to the chamber of commerce website:

Bayfield & Bayfield County

Private yachts at the docks in Bayfield, Wisconsin. In the background, a large ship takes cover on the south shore of Madeline Island as it waits for strong winds and whitecaps on Lake Superior to subside.

The 1850s were a turning point for the Chequamegon Bay region. Once the “Soo” locks at Sault St. Marie opened, the pioneers began to dream of great inland harbor cities that would rival Chicago as port terminals for Midwest grain and lumber.

When the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railroad finally steamed into Bayfield in 1883, lumbering and fishing were already established. Brownstone quarrying and tourism were just beginning to gather strength. The population reached 500. Bayfield was becoming civilized, boasting schools, churches, lodges, hotels and boarding houses.

Today, the tourist attractions to Bayfield County are many. There are splendid and lavishing bed and breakfasts, sea kayaking and boat cruises, and wonderful restaurants and entertainment by big-time performers.

The Rittenhouse Inn serves as both a restaurant and bed and breakfast in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

While in Bayfield, we stayed at the “Rittenhouse Inn,” Wisconsin’s first bed and breakfast, and a full-service country inn. Our hosts were Mark and Wendy Phillips, and Mark’s parents, Jerry and Mary Phillips, who purchased the inn in 1985.

Frank Boutin, Jr., who made his fortune in the lumber and commercial fishing industries, before moving to the Pacific Northwest, built the Rittenhouse mansion in 1907.

The inn is comprised of 20 guest rooms and suites located in three historic Bayfield buildings: Rittenhouse Inn, Chateau Boutin, and Rittenhouse Cottage. The front porch of the Rittenhouse Inn overlooks Lake Superior. Guest rooms and suites include luxurious private baths with spa amenities, whirlpools, specialty tubs and showers, and wood-burning fireplaces. The décor is historic, and there are fine Victorian antiques throughout the inn. If you like gardens, you’ll like the landscape at the Rittenhouse, and other bed and breakfasts and homes in town.

At the Rittenhouse, breakfast is served on your schedule, not theirs. Just tell the manager before you turn in for the evening, when you plan to get up the next morning, and what you want for breakfast. Additional information on the Rittenhouse Inn, Chateau Boutin, and Rittenhouse Cottage can be found at, or by calling 800-779-2129.

Some of Bayfield’s restaurants include The Egg Toss Bakery Café, Good Thyme Restaurant & Catering, Maggie’s, Wild Rice Restaurant, Ethel’s At 250, and Greunke’s First Street Inn.

Greunke’s First Street Inn Bayfield, Wisconsin

Judith Lokken Strom owns Greunke’s, which is decorated in 1950s décor. Strom told me that John F. Kennedy, Jr. had flown to the area with a couple of friends and stayed at the inn, shortly before his tragic accident on July 16, 1999, when his Piper Saratoga crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Strom displays newspaper clippings about Kennedy on the wall in his memory.

Sea Kayaking In The Apostle Islands

The Apostle Islands are heralded for world-class “sea kayaking,” with a unique mix of wilderness, ancient geology, and a rich natural and cultural history that lends itself to an exceptional paddling experience.

We rented kayaks at “Living Adventure” outfitters, which employs all American Canoe Association (ACA) certified instructors. Kayaking the frigid waters of Lake Superior requires that you wear a wet suit, regardless of your skill level. It is best to take a guide if you are unfamiliar with the waters or lack experience.

We kayaked the sea caves, which are the hallmark of the Apostle Islands National Park lakeshore. Red sandstone cliffs note this ancient geology and sea caves. Centuries of wave action, freezing and thawing have sculpted artful caves considered to be the most spectacular in the Great Lakes.

Kayakers have the unique opportunity to paddle under arches, into vaulted chambers, and into the cavern’s deepest recesses. This is truly a breathtaking experience not to be missed.

This daylong adventure includes an orientation, instruction, and a 3-mile journey along the caves and cliffs to Driftwood Beach for a picnic lunch, while resting and enjoying views of Sand Island and Eagle Island. You can also choose a half-day trip, kayaking at the site of a shipwreck.

On the night of September 20, 1901, the steamship “Fedora” was making a run from Duluth to Ashland. As the ship passed Basswood Island, a kerosene lamp exploded in the engine room and the vessel caught fire. In a fiery blaze, the captain ran the ship aground into the mainland shore. The twisted steel and oak beams have endured over time and can be seen both above and below the crystal clear waterline. You can also paddle over and near the wreckages of the “Ottawa” and “Coffinberry,” while cruising the pristine shoreline and red cliffs of Buffalo and Schooner Bays.

Obviously, one must exercise good judgment when kayaking in Lake Superior. If the winds and waves can get large enough to sink a ship like the SS Edmund Fitzgerald (1975), they can capsize a kayak.

Living Adventure outfitters is located in Red Cliff, just 2.5 miles north of Bayfield on the lakeside of Highway 13. For additional information, go to or call 866-779-9503 or 715-779-9503. Gail Green and Grant Herman own the company. Free shuttle service is available from Bayfield, Ashland, and Washburn.

Probably the fastest and easiest way to see the Apostle Islands is aboard the “Island Princess” or “Ashland Bayfield Express” with Apostle Island Cruises ( You can choose cruises that include a 55-mile tour of the islands called the “Grand Tour,” a shorter evening tour, the Raspberry Island Lighthouse Tour, the Stockton Island Dayhiker, or the overnight camping tour to Oak Island. We took the “It’s Too Foggy To See Anything Tour.”

You can learn more about Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Park at the park’s headquarters in Bayfield, where there is an interpretive center. The historic building is made from renowned area brownstone quarried from the islands. And if you ever doubted the risk of flying over the Great Lakes, regardless of the season, Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker will be happy to demonstrate how quickly hypothermia can set in, by how long you can keep your arm submerged in a tub of ice water. Information on the islands and its many campsites are available at

Waterfalls in the area are many. There is “Copper Falls State Park” near Mellen, Wis., with its ancient lava flows and deep gorges, as well as log cabins from the 1930s, which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. “Morgan Falls” is located in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in neighboring Ashland County, as is “St. Peter’s Dome,” a massive formation of red granite.

Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua

Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua Bayfield County, Wisconsin

Every Saturday evening, National Public Radio broadcasts the “Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua (sha-ta-qwa) Tent Show Radio” program live from Bayfield County. 2011 was the show’s 25th season, and like its name suggests, the stage is beneath a big circus tent.

The show is nestled at the base of Mt. Ashwabay Ski Hill, 3 miles south of Bayfield, Wisconsin, overlooking Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Summer performances run from mid June to early September and feature renowned national, regional and touring musicians. On balmy summer nights, the tent sidewalls can be lifted and people may sit outside and even up on the hillside. The sound is superb and on clear nights, you can see the Milky Way and sometimes even the Northern Lights!

Artistic Director Warren Nelson likes to begin the show recounting the history of the region, and of the show itself. The first season took place the summer of 1986, offering 42 shows with 5,218 tickets sold. Last year 26,825 tickets were sold for 74 shows!

Entertainment at the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua Bayfield County, Wisconsin

To date, over 12 different Chautauqua original musicals have been presented under the Big Top, along with regional favorites and nationally renowned entertainers like Taj Mahal, Bill Monroe, Smothers Brothers, Willie Nelson, Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Garrison Keillor, Kingston Trio, and fellow pilot and aircraft owner, Roy Clark. As an experienced booking agent, Nelson has been able to attract extraordinary talent, and once they perform at the Big Top Chautauqua, they always want to come back.

Other attractions in Bayfield County include the Apostle Islands Golf Course atop one huge hill overlooking Lake Superior to the east; Bayfield Heritage Walking Tours; Bayfield Maritime Museum; Bayfield and White River Wineries; Bayfield Orchards and Farms; Hoth-Lee Art Gallery; Port Wing Pottery; Superior Letterpress Company; Dreamcatcher Sailing; Great Lakes fishing with Hudson’s On The Spot Guide Service; Trout fishing the many streams and rivers; fishing for Northern Pike, Walleye, Musky and panfish on inland lakes; hiking, and of course, bicycling in both Bayfield County and on Madeline Island.

For additional information on Bayfield and Bayfield County, refer to and, or call the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce at 800-447-4094 and the Bayfield County Tourism & Recreation office at 800-472-6338..

A River Called Namekagon & Wilderness In Cable

Cable Union Airport Cable, Wisconsin

A weekend in Bayfield is simply not long enough, so plan on a week, then wheels up to neighboring Cable Union Airport (3CU) in the artistic community of Cable, Wisconsin, where the legend of longtime airport manager, Libby Parod, lives on.

GA and airline pilots alike adored Libby, who would welcome a call from pilots over the unicom when inbound to land, or when passing overhead at FL350. Mike Nichols became airport manager when Libby passed away in 2005 at the age of 90.

Libby and her husband, Carl, moved from Chicago to Cable in 1949, arriving in their biplane. They lived a very modest lifestyle in a cottage at the airport. Carl died in 1959, leaving Libby to run the airport and pump gas until she retired in 2003. Libby received her pilot certificate in 1942.

During her career at Cable Union Airport, Libby would play host for some pretty well-to-do aviators and executives who had corporate retreats in the area. When Libby was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995, one of her admirers – Sam Johnson of S.C. Johnson & Son (Johnson Wax), Racine, Wis. – sent one of his corporate jets to Cable to pick up Libby and fly her to Oshkosh to be inducted, then had her flown home that evening. That was a class act of kindness, and Sam Johnson was a true aviator. Libby was dressed like a queen, and remarked that she felt like one that evening.

A local artist created a metal sculpture in memory of Libby and Carl entitled “Imagine,” which is displayed at the airport. The brush steel sculpture features two snow geese taking off, mounted on two large boulders. An adjacent boulder features a biplane following the geese, symbolic of the aircraft that brought the Parods to Cable.

While in Cable, you can stay at Telemark Resort & Convention Center (, located immediately adjacent to the airport, or at nearby Cable Nature Lodge (, or Lakewoods Resort on beautiful Lake Namekagon at the mouth of the wild and beautiful Namekagon River ( The Log Cabin Resort in Trego, Wisconsin, specializes in canoe and kayak rentals and shuttle service for Namekagon River trips ( The Namekagon River is the northern tributary of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a federally protected scenic waterway stretching from Cable to where it meets with the St. Croix River near Danbury, Wisconsin.

Mountain biking near Cable, Wisconsin.

Cable is best known for the world famous “American Birkebeiner” cross-country ski race. The same trails used in the Birkebeiner are “mountain biking” trails in the summer. You can rent mountain bikes in nearby Hayward, Wisconsin at “New Moon Ski-Shop” (, 715-634-8685), or “Riverbrook Bike & Ski” (, 715-635-2134). There are nearly 300 miles of mountain bike trails and levels of difficulty to please everyone.

For additional information on Cable Union Airport, contact Mike Nichols at 715-798-3240.

Superior, Wisconsin

Richard I. Bong Airport Superior, Wisconsin

As featured in the August/September 2011 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, there are also many reasons to visit nearby Superior, Wisconsin. Land at Richard I. Bong Airport (SUW) and dine at the “Upper Deck” Restaurant & Lounge at the airport, then walk through the terminal building to see the murals of famed World War II aviator and test pilot, Major Richard Ira Bong. The “Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center” in town features a P-38 Lightning, like the one flown by Bong, who was the highest-scoring air ace of World War II. The audio visuals and artifacts are well worth seeing.

While in Superior, we stayed at “Barkers Island Inn Resort & Conference Center,” across the bay from Duluth Sky Harbor Airport & Seaplane Base (DYT).

If you like castles, Superior has one of America’s classics, the “Fairlawn Mansion & Museum.”

For additional information on Superior, Wisconsin, visit

John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport Ashland, Wisconsin

GROUND TRANSPORTATION: Car rental is available through “Red’s Auto” in Ironwood, Michigan, 46 miles from Ashland and 69 miles from Bayfield. Red’s Auto will deliver a car to either John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport in Ashland, or to Bayfield, across the bay from Major Gilbert Field (4R5) on Madeline Island, but there is a delivery charge in addition to the weekly rental rate. For rates and reservations call 906-932-4449.

If you do not feel like walking the 2 miles from Major Gilbert Field (4R5) on Madeline Island to La Pointe, contact either your lodging host, airport manager Michael Dalzell at 715-747-2785, or Leslie Mack at 612-259-8752.

For information on bicycle and moped rentals on Madeline Island, contact “Motion To Go” at 715-747-6585 ( Call them when you arrive, and they will pick you up at the airport, providing you rent a bike or moped.

For information on bicycle rental in Bayfield, contact “Bayfield Bike Route” at 715-209-6864 (

For additional information on John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport in Ashland, contact John Sill at 715-682-7070. The Hotel Chequamegon on Lake Shore Drive West in Ashland is a nice place to stay and right on Lake Superior ( A courtesy car is available for limited usage at the airport on a first-come, first-serve basis, but again, car rental is available through “Red’s Auto” at 906-932-4449.

While this article has focused on summertime activities, this entire region of the state is also a winter tourist attraction featuring cross-country and downhill skiing, snowmobiling, and unbelievable photo opportunities. Explore the various websites for additional information.

EDITOR’S NOTE: According to the Aeronautical Information Manual, pilots may land and take off on Madeline Island, but are required to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above the surface when flying over the Apostle Islands National Park.

AIM 7-4-6. Flights Over Charted
U.S. Wildlife Refuges, Parks, and Forest Service Areas

a. The landing of aircraft is prohibited on lands or waters administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or U.S. Forest Service without authorization from the respective agency. Exceptions include:

1. When forced to land due to an emergency beyond the control of the operator;

2. At officially designated landing sites; or

3. An approved official business of the Federal Government.

b. Pilots are requested to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above the surface of the following: National Parks, Monuments, Seashores, Lakeshores, Recreation Areas and Scenic Riverways administered by the National Park Service, National Wildlife Refuges, Big Game Refuges, Game Ranges and Wildlife Ranges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wilderness and Primitive areas administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

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