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A superior destination

No one would ever confuse Wisconsin for the Bahamas. In 2002, an estimated four million tourists visited the Bahamas. Thoughts of Wisconsin, by contrast, are more likely to conjure up images of snow and ice rather than warm waters and a moderate climate.

But for travelers still seeking clear blue waters but who want to escape the tourist throngs, Lake Superior, located between Minnesota, Canada, Michigan and Wisconsin, may just be the place.

In addition to being the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior boasts the hidden secrets of the Apostle islands with adventurous caves and crystal water. As opposed to the Caribbean islands, the Apostle Islands were visited by an average of only 172,871 people in 2002.

The first time I ever experienced this destination was for an anniversary sailing trip.

The experience of sailing on Lake Superior is something that is hard to explain — it’s simply an array of immaculate scenery and breathtaking beauty.

A variety of outdoor activities are offered on or around Lake Superior, including sailing, boating, sea kayaking, camping, hiking, picnicking, swimming, scuba diving, excursion cruises, sport fishing, cross country and skiing. If this sounds too energetic, there are also museums and exhibits to visit.

There are many places to rent boats along the lake. For first-time visitors, a captain is advised to be on the boat at all times.

When I went sailing, our captain slept on our boat in his private room, but he made sure we were safe at all times.

Lake Superior is known for the hurricane-like storms called “Nor’easters.” With this in mind, I was a little nervous to leave the sanctuary of the shore, but we all felt safe knowing that there was a professional on board. I recommend hiring one before setting sail.

The costs of rentals depend on your needs and the group size. Lake Superior Charters, located in Port Superior Marina, rents sailboats, and/or captains. These services range in prices from $140-$700 a day, depending on the needs. Going with a group is a key factor to this vacation. It allows for cheaper rates (splitting up the cost provides for cheaper travel) and also can be more fun.

“If you have never sailed before, the exhilaration of the wind and peacefulness (with no motor sounds) is a reason to sail,” said Dixie Dykstra, an office manager at Superior Charters.

Dykstra said they offer group outings along with weeklong trips. The night trips have a minimum of two days. The sailboats run from 27 feet to over 40 feet long, depending on the group size.

“Our 27-foot sailboats sleep up to six people,” Dykstra explained.

In the colder months, the ice on the lake freezes so thick there is a highway that extends out onto the ice, allowing travel to and from one of the Apostle islands, Madelyn Island. This island is one that is inhabited and frequently visited .

When we set sail with the captain, we were not just limited to the closest islands; we were able to travel to other islands, including Devil’s Island, which is one of the farthest away.

Each island has special characteristics. When planning our itinerary, I picked islands that looked the most interesting, like Devil’s, Sand, and Stockton islands.

The weather was perfect and the water temperature was about 60 degrees. That may sound cold, but it felt refreshing, and with the sun beating down all day, a swim in the cold water was the perfect antidote for the summer heat.

When we took off, we experienced high winds and smooth sailing. We traveled over to Sand Island first. This island not only has clear water surrounding it, but its waters are mercifully free of sharks or anything that will cause painful bites, unlike the ocean. Feeling suitably secure, we put on our snorkeling gear and snorkeled inside the cave, which went back about 30 feet into the island banks. The clay stonewalls and unusual looking fish made it a day full of exciting discoveries.

After a while our captain waved us in, because when the sun sets, the water gets cooler and the sailboat needed to be safely anchored before the dark came.

The next day we traveled to Devil’s Island, which was everyone’s favorite. This island is one of the farthest islands out from the shoreline.

The Apostle Islands have the largest collection of lighthouses anywhere in the National Park System. The lighthouse on Devil’s Island was amazing to see. The view of the lake is well worth the hike to the top.

The caves on this island were also memorable. The top of the cave has an imprint of sand-like waves and it looked as if the bottom of the lake was actually on the top, carved into the rock. It was something I had never seen before.

The final island was another one I will never forget. Here, we swam to the island and had a campfire dinner. There were campers who had pitched their tents on the beaches.

We hiked parts of the island and we came across a park ranger, who had what looked like a huge rifle across his chest. He told us that the bears have been bothering people and that the gun was a paintball gun that causes the bears to run off.

The trip home the next day took about three hours of sailing time. It could have been about half that, but because the wind was so high, we were traveling about 15-20 knots. This caused our sailboat to keel over, which means it felt as if the boat was tilted off the water on one side.

Overall, I recommend a vacation like this to any Floridian who wants to get outdoors and not be bothered by tourist attractions and crowded lines. The scenery that mother nature provides in Lake Superior is unforgettable and, for the cheap price of the boat rentals, a traveler can have the freedom to explore whatever part of the Apostle Islands takes his or her fancy.