First thing visitors to Bayfield notice is the view of Lake Superior. Its gleaming blue waters practically wrap the town, which, after all, is why many people visit in the first place. Other signs that this is among the sweetest of Midwest small towns include well-kept geraniums swaying atop lampposts, fudge shops doubling as welcome committees and cute cottages dotting the hills.
Bayfield offers more than just a pretty face. Fruit farms abound along country lanes practically made for bicycling. Ferries convey passengers to Madeline and other Apostle Islands. The stage at Big Top Chautauqua entertains with a wide variety of shows.
I turned down a dirt road, following the signs to North Wind Farm, and saw chickens, a barn and a solar collector on a tall pole (to reach above the trees). Then came the farmer wearing buckskin shorts sewn together with leather string. The farm is off the grid, and its organic raspberries are off-the-charts good (1-715-779-3254). Other standout orchards include Blue Vista Farm (1-715-779-5400), with lovely views of Lake Superior and Erickson's Orchard and Country Store, which serves fresh apple cider donuts all day long (1-715-779-5438).
Under the Big Top
National acts and regional performers take the stage at the 900-seat Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, where the oversized tent adds to a show's relaxed, intimate feel. The blue-and-white canvas rises from the base of Mount Ashwabay Ski Hill, just 3 miles outside Bayfield. Grab a brat and beer before the show. Suzanne Vega performs Aug. 29. Garrison Keillor will be there for two shows with the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band on Sept. 2 (1-888-244-8368; www.bigtop.org).
Shining a light
Six historic lighthouses dot the Apostle Islands around the Bayfield Peninsula. Apostle Islands Cruise Service brings visitors to the lighthouse on Raspberry Island, which was reopened in 2007 after extensive renovations. A variety of narrated cruises include the 55-mile Grand Tour. Prices range from $55 for a round-trip ferry to popular camp spot Stockton Island to $18 for the children's rate for the Islander Lighthouse Cruise, with no stops (1-800-323-7619; www.apostleisland.com).
Whether you want to tour area orchards or pedal for miles along the lakefront, you can rent bikes (or get your own repaired) at Bayfield Bike Route in downtown Bayfield (1-715-209-6864). The shop also has maps to various bike routes.
Our little secret
What Goes 'Round doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside, the wooden shelves and creaking floors seem lost in time, like many of the secondhand books for sale. Don't miss the back patio it shares with adjacent gift store Stone's Throw. What Goes 'Round is a great place to pick up a cheap read before heading to a nearby beach (1-715-779-5223).
The night was appropriately creepy, with winds and clouds, when I took the "Ghosts and Legends of Old Bayfield" walking tour. Virginia Hirsch led me and others around town while playing the character of Mrs. Emmons, a former Bayfield resident known as "The Ax Lady" because she destroyed her restaurant with an ax and left town. The tour stopped at several supposedly haunted locales, including the Apostle Island National Lakeshore Visitor Center, housed in the grand old county courthouse. Hirsch offers other Bayfield tours, priced from $8.50 to $12.50 (1-715-779-0299; www.bayfieldheritagetours.com).
During Bayfield's annual Apple Festival, Oct. 2-4, savor apple dumplings and other apple-based goodies while enjoying a kids' carnival, arts and crafts booths, a parade and a Venetian Boat Parade of light-bedecked boats on Saturday evening.
IF YOU GO:
GEOGRAPHY LESSON: Bayfield lies on the east side of the Bayfield Peninsula, which juts from Lake Superior's South Shore between Superior and Ashland, Wis. The town is known as the gateway to the Apostle Islands, a collection of 22 islands, including Madeline Island, that are part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
CHECKING IN: The classic bed-and-breakfast in downtown Bayfield is the Rittenhouse Inn, which has an upscale restaurant and a long porch with views of Lake Superior (1-800-779-2129; www.rittenhouseinn.com). Another option a few miles from downtown is the Pinehurst Inn, with a grand brick and stone main house and a garden house built using green principles. Each room in the garden house has a fireplace and whirlpool tub (1-877-499-7651; www.pinehurstinn.com).
EATING OUT: At Greunke's Inn, fish boils with whitefish and potatoes take place every night through August and on weekends in September (1-800-245-3072; www.greunkesinn.com). Hearty breakfasts like buckwheat pancakes and eggs Benedict start the day deliciously at the Egg Toss Bakery (1-715-779-5181). But without a doubt, the top table is at Wild Rice, where pan-fried Lake Superior whitefish with citrus soy butter comes with expansive views of that fish's former home (dinner only; 1-715-779-9881; www.wildricerestaurant.com).
TRAVELER INFO: Contact the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Bureau at 1-800-447-4094 or go to www.bayfield.org.
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