“Superior” describes not only its size, but also its setting. The surface of Lake Superior covers 31,700 square miles, just a bit smaller than the country of Austria, making it the largest freshwater lake in the world. Its cold waters reach depths of 1,332 feet. It has long served as an important waterway for trade and shipping. However, its history of storms and strong winds have made it infamous for sinking many ships, including the iconic Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. Experts estimate that 350 shipwrecks have occurred in Lake Superior, of which only half have been located.
Because of its size, Lake Superior is often referred to as an “inland sea.” Referred to as the “the big lake”, Lake Superior acts as a coolant in the summer months, bringing temperatures 15-20º F compared to a few miles inland. This flips in the winter when that warm 30-35º water acts like a heating pad keeping conditions along the shore more temperate. Lake Superior offers up plumes of sea smoke when the cold winter air hits the “warm” water.
Lake Superior is home to thousands of islands most notably Isle Royale National Park, an archipelago of more than 200 islands. But the “Jewels of Lake Superior” are the Apostle Islands located off the northern edge of the Bayfield Peninsula. Not too long ago, men and women have lived and worked on these islands attempting to wrest a living by farming, logging, quarrying building stone, and fishing in the waters.
Today, the 21 islands and 12 miles of cave studded mainland coast are preserved as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and managed by the National Park Service. The Apostle Island National Lakeshore is a unique blend of cultural and natural resources covering 70,000 acres. It is home to more lighthouses than any other site in the National Park System with 9 historic towers on 6 islands. More than 240 species of birds breed in and/or migrate through this archipelago.
Visitors can hike, camp, paddle, sail, or cruise to experience the pristine landscapes of the Apostle Islands. Sailboat and powerboat charters are available, as well as narrated cruises of the Apostle Islands. However, kayaks provide the best access to the sea caves where you can explore the towering stone arches and the listen to echoing majesty of water lapping against the sandstone hollows and bluffs at lake level.