17. Big Bay State Park

17. Big Bay State Park

It was a great day to be on an island. The second day of the five-park tour, July 17, was Big Bay State Park day. The 2,475 acre park is on Madeline Island, one of the Apostle Islands located off the tip of the Bayfield Peninsula in Lake Superior. While the southern part of the state was baking in a heat wave, it was in the low 70’s on the island, with a nice Lake Superior breeze.

Madeline Island is the only Apostle Island not included in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The ferry from Bayfield makes getting to Madeline much easier than getting to the islands located in the National Lakeshore. Transportation to those islands requires a water taxi. (See the post under Wisconsin Places.) Although the ferry makes getting to Madeline relatively easy, the island isn’t crowded. The state park, at least mid-week, had visitors but not to the point of being busy. It was just a nice day for a leisurely hike.

Big Bay Boardwalk
The 1.3 mile boardwalk goes through very fragile habitat. There are several spurs leading to the barrier beach, which is a 1.5 mile sand beach.

There are 8.5 miles of trails in the park. I had planned to do the Point  Loop Trail, Bay View Trail, then the 1.3 mile Boardwalk along the barrier beach and the Lagoon Ridge trail, inland from the beach and looping back to Bay View Trail. But, the Lagoon Ridge Trail was closed due to storm damage last summer. So, I did an out-and-back on the boardwalk.

Along the way, some folks were stopped, looking into the woods. Of course, I had to stop to see what they were looking at. Two cranes — the photo on the home page.

The island does get a fair amount of storm damage. There was a crew of Department of Natural Resources employees working on the Bay View trail as I was hiking. Really appreciate their work!

Got to add a little about the geology of the region. This is from the Wisconsin State Parks brochure for Big Bay State Park:

The Apostle Islands are remnants of sedimentary rocks deposited in the Lake Superior basin over 600 million years ago. The islands have survived the crushing action of four glaciers during the past 100,000 years.

When Madeline Island reappeared from under the last glacier, about 15,000 years ago, Big Bay Lagoon was a large, shallow, open bay. Shoreline currents and waves soon built a barrier beach across the middle of Big Bay and later formed another barrier beach across the mouth of the bay. Big Bay Lagoon, thus, lies between two barrier beaches.

Big Bay has a very nice campground. I didn’t camp, though, since I was staying in Washburn and visiting my niece and grand-nephew. There’s also a town park adjacent to Big Bay, which adds to the hiking and camping opportunities on the island.

I realize I’m very prejudiced, having lived for many years in the Lake Superior part of Wisconsin, but to me the islands are special. Last year, camping on Stockton Island (part of the National Lakeshore) was great. And, this year, hiking on Madeline Island was also a much appreciated experience.

Marsh area
The lagoon area of Big Bay Park offers some great views of wetlands.