The nerve center of Hwy-13’s sinuous trip through the Apostle Islands region is the diminutive, laid-back resort village of Bayfield (pop. 487). Bayfield itself dates from 1856 and looks at first glance about as Lilliputian as you can get, with a curvy (10 mph on the corners) narrow road winding beside impeccably tailored cottages and modest local-brownstone mansions. Virtually every hairpin turn offers an outstanding glimpse of the Apostle Islands and the boats plying the waters, especially on the far northern edge of town. While the waterfront area draws most visitors, the best views of the town and lake can be had from the blocks of dainty Victorian homes that line the hills above.
There are plenty of classy or quaint places to stay in Bayfield, from cottages and motels to the ritzy Old Rittenhouse Inn (301 Rittenhouse Ave., 715/779-5111, $140-335), famed for its comfy rooms and multicourse gastronomic feasts. Hearty meals for the common man and woman have been served up since the Civil War at Greunke’s Restaurant & First Street Inn (17 Rittenhouse Ave., 715/779-5480), across from the marina, which is famous throughout the state for its whitefish livers, weekend fish boils, and generally funky feel. From the marina, there are plenty of ferries (wind sleds over the ice in winter!) to Madeline Island or some of the Apostle Islands, which are sprinkled out to the north across the chilly waters of Lake Superior. The headquarters of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (715/779-3397, daily June-Sept.), located in the old Bayfield County Courthouse, offers the best introduction to these undeveloped islands, which are served by the Apostle Island Cruises (715/779-3925). The islands offer hiking trails, photogenic lighthouses, and wilderness camping. If you don’t have time for an extended visit, you can hike along the Lakeshore Trail, which starts from Meyers Beach, 4 miles east of Cornucopia off Hwy-13.