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Boating hope springs eternal every winter, making it the perfect season to plan a warm weather boating-oriented trip. That’s why northern Wisconsin’s Bayfield and the Apostle Island beckon boaters with water wanderlust.

Located on the greatest of the Great Lakes--Lake Superior--the pristine Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are a boating paradise. Mighty waters meet intimate islands to make for ideal boating destinations with calm harbors that seem made for visiting boaters. And, the charming boater-friendly town of Bayfield makes for the perfect base.

Known as the “Gateway to the Apostle Islands,” Bayfield is a boater’s town. Founded back in 1856 and boasting a full-time population of just 600 or so, this town on the edge of Lake Superior is 100% waterlogged. “We guard our close connection with these very special waters,” says boating mayor Larry J. McDonald.

“Having sailed more than 10,000 miles of Lake Superior’s deep blue waters, I have yet to discover all the emotion and intrigue that abound in this inland sea,” continues McDonald. “Bayfield and the Apostle Islands are where the water meets the soul.”

Boaters arriving in Bayfield with or without their own boats will find a warm welcome anytime of year, but spring to fall are best (unless you’re there for the ice fishing or dog sledding!). Bayfield has gallons of small-town charm--but, many amenities typically found in much bigger burgs.

Historic Bayfield has experienced boom times with lumber and commercial fishing, with today’s commerce coming from tourists and boaters. While fishing tugs and lumber schooners once crowded Bayfield Harbor, it’s now mostly modern pleasure craft.

Several full-service marinas make it easy to use the Bayfield area as a base, including: downtown’s Apostle Islands Marina and Ship’s Store; Washburn Marina just south of Bayfield proper, and Port Superior, about 12 miles south of town.

Depending on interests, Bayfield pursuits can include: dining (lots of fresh fish, renowned traditional chowders, and the local delicacy of whitefish livers); shopping (Bayfield has developed into a mini-art Mecca); historic walking tours; museums (including Bayfield Heritage, Maritime, and Madeline Island Historical); and Big Top Chautauqua (musical productions under the big tent and often called the “Carnegie Hall of Tent Shows”). For those not sleeping on their boat, many historical homes are now B&Bs--and the Old Rittenhouse Inn is highly recommended for both sleeping and eating.

The “South Shore” of Lake Superior makes for a great daytrip or more. The town of Cornucopia provides the western entrance to the Apostle Islands National Seashore, with a picturesque harbor, fishing sheds-turned-shops, sandy beaches, and stunning sunsets all awaiting lucky visitors. Herbster is next, with the northern border of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest as its backyard. Reminiscent of a New England fishing village, Port Wing is a pleasing little port town.

North of Bayfield, boaters feeling lucky may want to head to Isle Vista Casino. Located on “Lucky Highway 13” in Red Cliff, this casino is owned and operated by the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Just offshore and sheltering Bayfield, the Apostle Islands National Seashore features 21 islands with miles of pristine seashore and more historic lighthouses than any other park in the U.S. National Park system. Deserted beaches, towering sandstone cliffs, looming sea caves carved by the waves, old-growth forests, historic fishing camps, and the aforementioned lighthouses all await visitors.

There are a variety of ways to visit the Apostle Islands, including: private boat; bareboat or captained charter (both power and sail); fishing charter; kayaking (typically organized multi-day camping trips); and the well-respected Apostle Islands Cruise Service (www.apostleisland.com), with a wide variety of cruise and activity options.

Madeline Island is a particularly popular destination and just 25 minutes from Bayfield. It’s the only one of the 22 Apostle Islands that’s inhabited year-round. Highlights here can include: varied restaurants and accommodations; Madeline Island Museum; Madeline Island Heritage Center; La Pointe Center Art Guild & Gallery; golf; biking; kayaking; walking and auto tours; and the Madeline Island Yacht Club Marina. Those without their own boat head there aboard the Madeline Island Ferry Line (www.madferry.com; walk, bike, or drive on deck).

Bayfield and environs welcomes spring with a month-long celebration called “Bayfield in Bloom.” Running from mid-May to mid-June, this festival heralds the beginning of boating season and much more.

A laundry list of possibilities includes: boating of all kinds; Great Lakes and inland fishing; scuba diving; garden tours; vegetable and fruit farms; birding; hiking and biking; golf; visits to Madeline Island and other Apostle Islands; and lots of other possibilities on and off the water.

Of course, all of these activities and even more are also generally available through the summer and fall. Come winter, the possibilities include a wide array of cold weather sports, including skiing and snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, ice fishing, and lots of indoor pursuits (like sitting at a fireplace with Lake Superior outside the window and dreaming of spring boating).

For information, contact the Bayfield and the Apostle Islands by calling 800-447-4094 or 715-779-3335. Or, visit www.bayfield.org.