In 2004, 80% of the land area of Wisconsin's Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was designated as federally protected wilderness. The new wilderness area - Wisconsin's largest by far - honors former Wisconsin Governor, U.S. Senator, and founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson.
Although many of the 22 Apostle Islands were logged, farmed, or quarried in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, most of them (21 of the 22 are included in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore) are currently wild and primitive. Hidden within the forests, however, are occassional signs of the islands' human past -- encouraging reminders of the regenerative powers of nature.
The waters of Lake Superior within the National Lakeshore are not included in the wilderness area, nor are the lighthouses or other existing developed areas of the park. Sand, Basswood, and Long Islands were kept out of the wilderness boundary in their entirety, along with the park's 12-mile mainland strip.
The beauty of the islands is enhanced by the area’s geology. Colorful precambrian sandstone have eroded into interesting cliff formations, including sea caves, and there is a highly diverse collection of sandscapes, including sandspits, cuspate forelands, tombolos, a barrier spit, and numerous beaches. These sandscapes are among the most pristine left in the Great Lakes region.
The lakeshore is at the continental northwestern limits of the hemlock-white-pine-northern hardwood forest and also contains elements of the boreal forest. Wildlife species are characteristic of the southern limits of the boreal and northern limits of the hardwood/hemlock forests. Game species include whitetail deer, black bear, snowshoe hare, waterfowl, woodcock, and ruffed grouse. Other fur-bearers include the red fox, coyote, beaver and otter. Small mammals are an important component of the lakeshore's terrestrial fauna and include: shrews, mice, voles, red squirrels and chipmunks.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness.
The Gaylord Nelson Wilderness is located within northern Wisconsin's Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, in Bayfield and Ashland counties. The main gateway community near the wilderness is Bayfield, Wisconsin, but it is also accessible from nearby Red Cliff, Cornucopia, Washburn, and Ashland.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005 - Public law 108-447 (12/8/2004) To designate the Gaylord A. Nelson National Wilderness and to adjust the boundary of the Cumberland Island Wilderness, to authorize tours of the Cumberland Island National Seashore, and for other purposes.
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006 - Public law 109-97 (11/10/2005) Making appropriations for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006, and for other purposes.
Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 - Public law 111-11 (3/30/2009) An act to designate certain land as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System, to authorize certain programs and activities in the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, and for other purposes.
The Apostle Islands are a premier sailing, boating, and sea kayaking destination on Lake Superior. With 154 miles of coastline, you will find numerous opportunities to walk along miles of undeveloped beaches, hike along trails though old-growth forest, or observe nature reclaiming a formerly-logged area. Opportunities for solitude are especially outstanding within island interiors, away from the shorelines.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Lake Superior is a cold lake, and strongly influences local weather. Be prepared for nearly any type of weather, regardless of when you visit.
You will need your own watercraft to access the islands. For those who lack their own watercraft, shuttle service is available to a small number of islands via the park's concessioner - the Apostle Islands Cruise Service. A number of outfitters also offer guided sea kayaking and sailing excursions among the islands.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to contact the park at 715-779-3397 prior to visiting to discuss weather and other important safety issues.
Safety and Current Conditions
Lake Superior is cold and unforgiving. It can appear calm and tranquil at times, but it is also capable of producing 10 to 12 foot waves within the islands. Never go out onto the lake without checking local marine weather forecasts, and always be prepared to stay on the islands at least one or two extra days if weather prevents you from safely departing.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.