A Hike, Drinks, and Dinner on Madeline Island


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North America » United States » Wisconsin » Ashland
July 7th 2018
Published: July 7th 2018
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Arriving at Madeline Island
La Pointe on Madeline Island, Wisconsin

Geographically, Madeline Island is one of the Apostles. In fact it is the largest of the 22 islands stretching for 14 miles along the southernmost part of the island group, just a short ferry ride from Bayfield. At the maximum, it is five miles wide. At the time French explorers discovered it in the 1600s, it was a major homeland for the Ojibwe Indians, who still maintain a substantial presence on the island.

But Madeline Island is not part of the National Lakeshore. As such, it is developed, and has private property available for purchase. There is one town, pretty much on the point closest to the mainland, named, appropriately, La Pointe and this town has been there for centuries, first as a fur trading post, and later as a major shipping port. Nowadays, it is a tourist town with early 1900s architecture, lots of iconic boutiques, and plenty of drinking and eating establishments. It has a full-time population of 250 which multiplies by an order of magnitude in the summer what with all the summer homes and seasonal help needed to support residents and tourists.

it even has a two-room school house which, in 2016, had eight full time students. Some students take the ferry every morning over to Bayfield and attend school there. In the winter, the normal option is what they call an ‘ice road’, which is basically a highway built into the Lake Superior ice - travelers literally drive across the Lake. The ice actually did form solid enough to have such a highway last year, but the two years before that, the freeze wasn’t substantial enough to build the road, so citizens had to rely on a device called an ice-sled which is, apparently, sort of like a hovercraft that kind of skims over the slushy surface. This is the kind of thing I expect in the arctic circle, but not so much down here. Shows how tenaciously people will hold on to their lifestyles.

We learned all of that from the captain of the boat we took for the sunset cruise the other evening - he grew up in that town and knew something about how it worked. The ferry boats to Madeline Island are run by a different company and they aren’t nearly as expensive, just $7 per person, and another $7 if you
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Hiking in the Wildflowers on Madeline Island
take your vehicle. During summer months, service runs pretty much every half hour and there doesn’t appear to ever be much of a wait.

Since it wasn’t part of the National Lakeshore, Madeline Island wasn’t on my bucket list. But it was one of Joan’s rebellion items, so we took the ferry over to the island yesterday. Originally, she had wanted to take the bicycles over and we were going to explore the island that way, but still with shoulder pain, she decided against relying on her braking ability in traffic. I thought that was a good decision. We debated taking the car, but decided that we would just indulge in whatever sightseeing could be had on foot. A car would certainly have allowed us up into Big Bay State Park and some of the less traveled areas on the northern part of the island, but you can also have a terrific time just staying in La Pointe.

Ferry ride is short, less than half-an-hour, and not really too scenic, until you round the corner of the island and head into the Ferry Landing. The town has a definite quaintness that reminds me of New England sea towns. One noticeable difference, though, is the air has none of the salty smell or feel. (A popular slogan up here is ‘Lake Superior - Unsalted and Shark Free!’).

First stop off the ferry was the Post Office where Joan wanted to get a local postmark on some postcards she was sending out. After that we crossed the street to a candle shop. They make all their candles right on the spot and are open all year long. During the winter, when tourism is a bit short, they operate an internet business and fill corporate gift basket orders. They’re doing well enough and have survived for years. Joan decided what she wanted and we returned towards the end of the day so we wouldn’t have to carry everything.

Immediately after the candle shop, we went next door to the state museum. We didn’t tour the exhibits because Joan wanted to take a nature walk instead, but I did find, and buy, yet another book - this one a history of the Native Americans of the Great Lakes Area. I had been looking for such a book because my understanding of that phase of this area’s history seemed very weak, so I was interested in filling the gap. Of course, it also means I have yet another unread book on the nightstand...

We ambled up the road another quarter mile or so to the trailhead for the Capser Trail. There’s a pamphlet outlining several trails you can take in the La Pointe area and its available at the ferry ticket offices. Joan had picked the Capser Trail because it was a short hike through a wood setting, giving a flavor of the natural part of the island. It was an easy hike filled with scenes of wildflowers in full bloom. In some areas, the blue, white, orange, and yellow flowers looked like a carpet - one of the best displays of wildflowers we’ve seen on this trip. The only problem with the hike is that it isn’t a loop, but ends on a boring asphalt road. Now what we should have done is just come back along the trail, but instead we walked the shoulder of the road, absorbing afternoon heat, and forcing cars to drive around us. But it did bring us back into a different part of the town.

Hot and a little tired after hiking more than two miles, I tried to find us a watering hole. The first place I found only offered beer and wine and I was looking for a fancy cocktail. Finally, in a guide booklet, I found a place at the other end of town called The Pub that looked promising. It was, however, another half-mile down the main drag of town. But the hike was worth it - they had terrific mixed drinks and we tried several different versions. They were tasty and cold and the view out the window of the beach scene below almost had a tropical feeling. (Reports were that the water had warmed to a balmy 55 degrees!)

Although we could have stayed there all evening, I think a few more of those drinks would have insured that we miss the ferry. And besides, we had to go pick up those candles before the store closed. So we shut down our bar scene and walked back to the candle shop.

Then we headed to the Seine for dinner. This was a terrific discovery, but it is kind of hard to describe. It certainly has a French style to it, but it is also very much a farm-to-table operation. They pride themselves on local food. There are a couple of farms on the island and much of the produce they served came from there. The fish was caught locally, and the strawberries were from Bayfield, a noted producer of berries of many kinds. Joan ordered the Lake Trout and insists that this was the best version of Lake Trout she has had on the trip. I ordered a special of the day called a Beef Tri-tip Pot Pie. Really, though, it was more of a shepherds pie, because there was no pastry. The creamy mashed potatoes on top soaked up the gravy from very tender chunks of beef, mixed with root vegetables straight from the garden. The sauce was delicately seasoned, but very flavorful. Before the main courses, Joan and I shared a celery with Gorgonzola soup, and afterwards a Strawberry mousse made with fresh strawberries and cream. Their menu is very short, as is their wine list, but the meal was one of the best we’ve had on this trip. Not particularly cheap, it is worth every penny.

Full on good food and wine, we walked the few short blocks to the ferry and returned to the mainland before it got dark. Girls were happy to see us.

And so ends our stay in Wisconsin. We are packing up this morning and moving on to our last state, Minnesota. We have four stops there and three parks. Joan has a few rebellion items on her list too. We are tired, but looking forward to the last leg of our journey.

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