Red Cliff Indians of Apostle Islands

Beach Essentials

Where: Bayfield Peninsula, Wisconsin, Midwest USA 
May to September – late July for a Red Cliff pow-wow
Best sights: 
Colorful sandstone and wildlife including red squirrels and bald eagles
Go there for: 
A meeting with Red Cliff Indians on the shore of Lake Wisconsin

The Apostle Islands, on the Northeastern tip of Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula, can be visited by ferry or kayak. The Apostles is an archipelago of 21 virgin islands that covers an area of more than 720 square miles on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Late spring to early autumn are the most pleasant times for beach lovers to visit.

History of the Apostles Island

Over 3,000 years ago, woodland Indians inhabited these lands, with the Red Cliff (Ojibwe) band migrating to join them in the late 1400s. The Indians named the individual islands after natural and supernatural occurrences until French missionaries arrived during the 1600s and re-named the islands in honor of the twelve Apostles. In the 1700s, a mineral surveyor renamed the islands theFederation Islands after the existing states at that time. His new names were not widely accepted by local people and the names reverted back to a combination of current local names andChippewa Indian names. Today, the Red Cliff (Ojibwe) Indians have left the island and live in a reservation nearby along the lake shore but they still have a stretch of land on Madeline Island.

Things to See and Do in the Apostles

– The islands have many natural attractions including colorful sandstone and thick forest. Thebrownstone found in the Apostles – especially on Hermit Island – was quarried by Frederick Prentice to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.

– The islands are also home to the largest collection of historic lighthouses in the country which were built to aid great lakes navigation.

– Black bears are common to the islands, especially Stockton Island where there is reportedly two bears per square mile. They are docile and shy but they are drawn to food and they will not hesitate to raid a campsite for scraps.

– Basswood Island is home to a variety of wildlife. Beavers and otters visit the pond in the island’s abandoned quarry. Red squirrels are common and the island supports a small population of White-tailed deer. A variety of habitats on the island attract many of the 100-plus bird species that nest in the Apostle Islands, like bald eagles. You can spot adolescent bald eagles taking their first flying lessons in the air. Much of Basswood’s coastline has been eroded by the lake’s frequent squalls, which makes for stunning rock formations inside the sea caves, exposing colorful, Precambrian sandstone.

– The Red Cliff Reservation is the hub of the Ojibwe nation. The reservation runs for forteen miles long along the shores of Lake Wisconsin, three miles north of Bayfield. Don’t miss the Red Cliff pow-wow every fourth weekend of July. A pow-wow is a social occasion for the tribal members, open to all, with dancing in full regalia to celebrate friendship and to affirm the joy of life. In the heart of the reservation, alongside the lake, is the Red Cliff Campground and Marina– a great spot to pitch your tent or park your boat. Nearby is the Isle Vista Casino with blackjack, slot machines, food, drinks, and live entertainment – a great place to meet up with the locals.

Visitor Information

Access to the islands is from the town of Bayfield. Cruises around the islands leave daily from May to October or private water taxis can be arranged. There is also a car ferry to Madeline Island which is one of the only islands accessible by car. Telephone: +1 715 779 3398.

More Information

National Park Service
Visitor information for the Apostles Islands

By Marie-Laure Vigneron