Spread across 2,350 acres of beach and amazing landscape, with a beautiful view of The Madeline Islands and Lake Superior, Big Bay State Park is an outdoor lover's dream destination. Located on Madeline Island, the largest and most accessible of the 22 Apostle Islands in Northern Wisconsin, the park offers endless recreational opportunities to visitors including hiking, boating, camping and off-roading.
Established in 1963, the park features unique, distinctive natural and historical characteristics. Once home to European missionaries and traders, the Island's sandstone bluffs, caves and long sand beach have been carved by multiple glaciers for over 1000 years. Visitors to the park will enjoy exploring the landscape and its unique historical appeal. Visitors to the island can see the famous Big Bay Sloop Shipwreck located about 300 feet east of the park as well as the construction sites used by early watercraft manufacturers.
The Island is also home to a vast variety of plant and animal life. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot coyotes, black bears, red fox, and snowshoe hare scattered across the park's numerous habitat types including lake-side dunes, swamps and old-growth forests. Species like the bald eagle, white-tailed deer and Canada geese can also be spotted on the island. The island's plant life also contributes to its unique beauty; the blueberry bushes, sunflowers and other beautiful plants which blossom during the summer months all add to what makes Big Bay State Park a desirable holiday destination.
RV campers will also have a blast at Big Bay. There are 60 campsites, with about seven of them being just 100 to 300 feet from the parking area. Easily accessible hiking and nature trails run through most of the campsites with over nine miles of trail in total, all giving you different great views of the island and Lake Superior, with boat rides taking you to other parts of the island also available near the campground. Visitors can also take a 1-3 mile board walk which is just another recreational option, making Big Bay State State Park such a great place to visit for all outdoor lovers.
Big Bay State Park is easily accessible by RV, car, motorcycle and other vehicles. Vehicles are required to undergo a check up and obtain an admission pass to enter the park, although pedestrians and motorcycles are not required to have it to gain entrance. There are no particular restrictions within the park as all vehicle accessible areas are open to any car or RV with an admission pass.
Visitors will need to take a 20-25 minute ferry ride from Bayfield and travel about five miles east of Highway H to get to the park entrance. All roads from the entrance leading into the park are smoothly paved and vehicle friendly. There are about 7 campsites a few hundred feet away from the entrance, with boat rides also available nearby to drive you to other parts of the resort.
Big Bay's La Pointe Campground has 60 pet friendly campsites available to visitors all year round. The campsites have full access to electricity, with neat showers and flush toilets nearby, as well as, spaces for tent campers. Basic needs like wood and snacks are for sale nearby as well. The beach is just a few hundred feet away with the Board Walk Trail and Point Trails very close to the campground too. 51 sites are open for reservations, which is encouraged and can be done through the park's website as spaces might to be hard to find especially during in-season.
While wildlife viewing is usually an activity carried out in the in-season, Big Bay State Park's wildlife remains very active all year long, even during winter. Snow hikers can spot a wide range of winter friendly mammals and birds during the cold months. Deer, beavers, black bear and red foxes can all be spotted around the park and the Board Walk Trail will bring you very close to different species of birds migrating to and away from the park.
Big Bay remains very active during the winter months. Visitors should be prepared to hike in snow to get around the park during winter as large parts of the park remain unplowed. Snowshoeing and skiing are very popular during winter and safety equipment and skiing gadgets are available for rent at designated areas. Due to snow covering the trails, trails are often marked by park rangers during winter to give directions to snow hikers and off-roaders. Certain areas of the resort close earlier during the off-season so be sure to get out early enough to fully enjoy your day in the snow.
Immersing yourself into Madeline Island's and Big Bay's rich history is one of the best ways to spend the off season in Big Bay State Park. One of the most iconic parts of the Island is the Big Bay Sloop which is about 300 feet east of the park. Discovered in 1990, the sloop remains unidentified due to a lack of historical documentation of sloops or watercraft being constructed on the Island. Visitors can also visit the Madeline Island Museum and see the works of early European fur traders and the Ojibwe tribe, as well as artifacts left behind by the various tribes and settlers that inhabited the island in earlier centuries.
Madeline Island and its entire surroundings have harbored some of America's finest bird species for centuries. Big Bay State Park has a birding observation dock from which you can observe some of the 250+ bird species that pass through or reside on the Island. The beaches and shores of the river provide breeding habitat for birds like double-crested cormorants, herring, cliff swallows and sea gulls. Some of the birds that migrate through the park include red-winged blackbirds, blue herons and piping plovers. Bald Eagles, common terns and snowy owls can also be spotted scattered around the park.
Swimming is another popular sport at Big Bay State Park. The beach at the park faces east, so the early morning sun heats up the water and it remains warm all day for visitors to enjoy. Boating and kayaking is also allowed on the water, while supervised boat rides take you further down the river for exploration where swimming is prohibited and the 1.3 mile sand beach provides a wonderful place to relax by the river. Safety gadgets and other necessary equipment are available at the beach entrance as well as beach wheelchairs for people with disabilities.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Big Bay. There are several different trails for visitors to explore, all with their own benefits and amazing scenery. The Bay view Trail runs for 1.3 miles and is a great place to spot deer and other wildlife. The Bay View Trail connects with the Point Trail which is 1.7 miles long. It runs through the main campground and takes you through the woods where you can access the most popular trail which is the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk Trail is a no-pet, half-mile trail with the clearest views of Lake Superior which takes you through the forest of red and white pines and offers the most beautiful scenery of all the hiking trails available.