Paddles, pinot, & porter: My spirited Apostle Islands kayak adventure

Kayaking the Apostle Islands // Photo by Annie Paoletti

Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water on the North American continent, is so cold and clean you can see nearly 10 feet down. Surrounded by long stretches of sandy beaches and deep piney forests, it’s a paradise for kayakers and hikers. And while its physical charms are immediately evident the moment one hits Highway 13, it takes a little more time to discover the amazing local food and artisan drinks—beer, cider, and wine.

Wilderness Inquiry, whose base camp is located on Little Sand Bay, not far from the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, launches weekend kayaking adventures to the islands, sea caves, through quiet sloughs, and over shipwrecks. And in the evenings, it’s all about exploring the local spirits and fabulous campfire dinners.

Make no mistake—this is glamping. The platform tents are generous with a good camping mattress, which is plenty comfortable for new campers looking to ease into things and for long-time campers tired of roughing it. It feels a world away and you are able to drift off listening to the breeze through the pines and the lake lapping the shores.

Mornings start with a hearty breakfast of freshly picked berries (blueberries, raspberries), farm fresh eggs, farmstead bacon, and more.  Wilderness Inquiry provides all the equipment—wetsuits, kayaks, paddles, as well as instructions—and the guides help schlepp the kayaks to the launching points. From there, it’s a day on the water, as eagles soar and dive for fish, and the group paddles to the islands for picnic lunches of locally cured and smoked meats, farmstead sheep, goat cheeses, and hearth baked bread.

Come evening, the rewards for that rigorous exercise?  A tour of South Shore Brewery in Ashland. We sample the Nut Brown Ale, a rich, walnut-colored brew that’s delightfully light, yet toasty; and the Rhoades’ Scholar Stout, a rich and hearty yet not overpowering stout with creamy notes of chocolate (save it for dessert). If you’re into lighter ales, try the Northern Lights Cream Ale, brewed with herbs, both fruity and complex. It’s smooth with a very slight hop presence and finished with a refreshing herbal taste.

Tap handles at South Shore Brewery // Photo courtesy of South Shore Brewery

On another afternoon, we swing up to Seven Ponds Winery just above Bayfield, overlooking the lake. Its glorious 150 acres include fields of berries, orchards, and ponds. After strolling the grounds, we taste several of their wines from their orchard fruit: dry and semi-dry apple wine, cranberry wine, and blueberry wine.

Finally, we visit Bayfield Wine and Spirits to hear about how the growing local hard cider, wine, beer, and mead community. We sample a range of meads (honey wines that include an especially interesting port-style blend) from White Winter from nearby Iron River and several different ciders from artisan makers in Bayfield and along the North Shore, like Sawtooth Mountain Cider and Hauser’s Superior View Cider.

Each evening ends back in the Wilderness Inquiry campsite where we share dinners of brats with homemade sauerkraut and kimchee, wild rice salads, local farm vegetables, and blueberry-raspberry pies, all paired with beer from Lake Superior Brewing Company, Bent Paddle Brewing Company, Dubh Linn Brewery, Thirsty Pagan Brewing, and Castle Danger Brewing.

It’s one thing to talk about about the impact mining, oil pipelines, and corporate agriculture practices have on our water. It’s quite another to experience the flinty taste of fresh whitefish, tart blueberries, and nutty wild rice while sipping a crisp ale. These flavors reflect this beautiful and storied place. To fall in love with Superior is to want to protect her and insure there will be more summers for us to enjoy, for our children and those generations to come.


Gourmet S’mores

Gourmet s’mores // Photo courtesy of Beth Dooley

Go ahead and gussy up your s’mores! Use the best dark chocolate you can—70 percent dark chocolate or even 80 percent works best. To me, milk chocolate is just much too sweet. Instead of graham crackers, try good quality ginger snaps or thin biscotti. Finally, look for artisan marshmallows from a bakery or natural food co-op. These puff up beautifully over the coals. (Be sure you’ve let the fire burn down to coals before roasting.)

Camp Salads

Get the recipes for Picnic Tomato and Green Bean Salad with Toasted Croutons and Picnic Carrots with Coriander and Cumin right here.