Weekend Visit: Bayfield, Wisconsin

On the waterfront, Bayfield
On the waterfront, Bayfield

Bayfield, Wisconsin: I spent the weekend looking over my schedule trying to make sure that the various calls of duty don’t manage to fully crowd out opportunities for fun and leisure.

For The Observer, those opportunities come in the form of sailing weekends and the best ones take place in the Apostles Islands, that beautiful cluster of islands lying scattered just off the coast of Bayfield.

Though only a few hours’ drive from Saint Paul – perhaps 80 or so miles from Duluth – Bayfield lies just a bit beyond where most people are willing to drive. I’m very grateful that few people are inclined to put in the extra effort required to get there.

My first trip to Bayfield was years ago, with my father and we drove there for a long weekend of sailing. I remember the drive and all the transitory stages that a long road trip provides: jostling way out of the city’s rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon, slogging up interstate 35 with the masses heading ‘up north’ to their cabins. Slowly, the traffic got lighter, the road opened up before us and we put the city and all its baggage well behind us.

As you near Bayfield, the road climbs through the trees and opens out on your right to reveal the fresh, blue water of Lake Superior with Madeline, Stockton and the rest of the islands out on the horizon. This is terrain you can’t really appreciate until you try to traverse it by bicycle. And Superior is a deep, blue, cold and vast expanse of water that you can’t really appreciate until you sail on it.

The final approach to Bayfield starts as a sharp downhill turn from the top of Rittenhouse Avenue and slopes quickly to the main pier giving out onto a beautiful view Madeline Island and the deep, cold waters of Lake Superior beyond.

The Rittenhouse Inn, that you’ll pass on the way, is a perfectly pleasant place to stay – or have dinner – but we prefer getting one of the suites available through the Bayfield Inn, if we’re not sleeping aboard.)

My most recent trip was last autumn but I didn’t come to sail, just to enjoy a long weekend with my family. We stayed in a nice three bedroom place on 1st street which we like because it’s just across the street from the Bayfield Inn. The inn is handy for breakfast and, better still, they have an open air bar on the second floor overlooking the main street and the harbor. This is definitely the place to have a post-race drink or a nightcap.

As usual, this year there will be many opportunities to sail, if you’re willing to make yourself useful and like to race. Other racing ports are conducive to a “show-and-go” approach but this isn’t one of them, since there’s no single marina from which the boats embark. And although it’s an off year for the Trans Superior, there are other distance races for more experienced crew.

If sailing is your thing but racing isn’t, you can talk to the people at Superior Charters to get a boat or inquire about one of the captained charters that sail out of the main harbor.

One way or another, you should get out on the water. It’s the only way to really appreciate Lake Superior and this town.

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