Wide open spaces: an ecotourist's guide to the Midwest.

Author:Ivanko, John

Maybe there's something in Wisconsin's water. How else to explain the state serving as home to so many conservation leaders, including Aldo Leopold and John Muir? Gazing out at the spectacular Apostle Islands--a group of 21 islands in Lake Superior at the northernmost coastline of Wisconsin--I began to understand how they captured so many imaginations.


I ventured with my wife and son along the easily accessible trails in the Apostle Island National Lakeshore, followed by some beach combing at Little Sand Bay. While there, we were treated to a magnificent view of two bald eagles perched atop a pine tree and water-sculpted red sandstone sea caves.

Bantam Beauties

What the 22 Apostle Islands lack in size they make up for in stark beauty, steeped in the history and lore of Native Americans and European settlers. The islands claim more lighthouses than any other coastline in the nation and are critical nesting or resting habitat for more than 200 bird species.

We headed to Bayfield, the bustling gateway to the Apostles and the departure point for the island ferries. Reminiscent of coastal New England, but without the steep price tag, Bayfield features an abundance of restaurants, art galleries and fruit orchards. We easily and sustainably ate our way through a tour of the community, with stops at Good Earth and Blue Vista farms and dining at the Wild Rice Restaurant, Old Rittenhouse Inn and Burt & Francie's. Ecotour operators like Dreamcatcher Sailing and Living Adventure let us ply the waters in their 33-foot sailboat and kayaks.

And the Pinehurst Inn at Pikes Creek offered us the ultimate in eco-luxury in Bayfield. Pinehurst's sumptuous breakfasts made with mostly local ingredients were served by enthusiastic hosts, Nancy and Steve Sandstrom, who are determined to walk their talk in every way. You can stay in their historic main house or a new sustainably designed Garden House, featuring solar-heated showers. Even your carbon emissions from travel are offset by the mindful hosts. For an alternative experience, we also spent a night at the Devine Inn in Washburn, a cozy cottage retreat completely powered by a 2.7-kilowatt solar electric system.

Travel Green Wisconsin

Bayfield and the nearby Washburn community are unique in another way, too. More than 27 apple...

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