So close yet so far. Basswood Island is a beautiful island that gives a sense of solitude despite being just a mile away from the coastline.
Basswood Island is the closest to the peninsula of all 21 Apostle Islands. A stretch of land just 3.5 miles long provides a pure island experience. Without vehicle traffic, you can immediately sense the purity of an uninhabited land.
Upon arrival, you will find an island packed with variety. On one hand are unspoiled beachfront views and hiking trails by forests and coastlines. On the other is a story of human exploration. Its history dates all the way back to the civil war.
So come and discover a magical place where the natural and human worlds are inextricably linked.
Basswood Island in the Apostle Islands
Basswood Island Map
HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you’ll find a map of Basswood Island. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places we mention in this guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version. Enjoy!
How to Visit Basswood Island
Basswood Island is in the southeast section of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It lies between Red Cliff and Madeline Island and is easily accessible from both.
There are three main ways to land on Basswood Island – Kayak, boating and on a ferry shuttle. If you are boating or kayaking, you can depart at Buffalo Bay Beach in Red Cliff.
All boats must dock at the pier on the west side of the island. This is on a first come first serve basis and costs $15 for boats shorter than 40ft and $30 for longer boats. Otherwise, you have the option of anchoring for free around the island. Keep in mind – there are no moorings.
Kayakers can also dock at the pier or along any of the beaches. The western side of the island can be quite windy so remember to keep your kayaks tied up! If you are staying the night, kayakers also have the option of paddling right up to their campsite.
Apostle Island Cruises run fantastic trips around the park. Depending on your preferences, you can take a shuttle or a charter to Basswood. Or join a great island-hopping tour that takes you around the Apostle Islands. This gives you a chance to stop here and elsewhere on your journey.
Wander and find the abandoned quarry mines, docks, and farms among the forest as nature slowly regains its place atop the food chain.
Later, kayak around the island to reach Lone Rock – a haunting, lonely block off the island’s north bank. Finally, finish your day making smores at your campsite by the lake.
Ultimately your options to visit Basswood Island are either on a day trip or to camp overnight. Either way, you’ll need to secure shuttle transport. If you want to camp, be sure to secure an NPS Camping Permit before making your trip.
Best Time to Visit
It is possible to plan an adventure on Basswood Island starting in late May through mid-October. Each month within this time frame offers its own set of highs and lows. We recommend coming in the spring months to avoid the busy summer season. But do still come with plenty of warm clothes.
If you arrive early enough, you can watch the mist slowly disappear over the lake. The trees, now bright and green after a long winter, invite you on a great adventure.
The other prime time to visit is in the fall months, when the summer surge is waning and the leaves have started to transition. On this note, hiking the island loop in fall foliage is also spectacular.
The Human History of Basswood Island
Basswood island has a rich history, and we’re going to give you a little taste of how it’s changed over the years.
The Rise and Fall of Brownstone Mining
In the 1860s, it was discovered that Basswood’s brownstone deposit was some of the best in the nation and this little island was placed firmly on the map. Once it was chosen to be a part of the Milwaukee County courthouse, rapid development occurred all over the island.
Soon this brownstone was being shipped as far as Chicago and Detroit. But while the industry came into being with a sensational boom, it crashed just as quickly. Changes in architectural styles and an economic collapse have left the industry frozen in time.
Now you can see the abandoned quarries. Discover old, rusted tools and cut brownstone that will never be shipped. The dock that was used to move the product around the Great Lakes now lies underwater! So grab your snorkel, swim, and imagine an ancient world.
A Look Back at McCloud Bingham Farm Site
Advocates for farming in the Apostle Islands were enthusiastic about the possibilities. But the temperate climate was not enough to overcome the island’s isolation. That was until McCloud was able to establish his farm in 1870 that sold produce to the quarry workers.
Eight years later, the farm was sold. Soon after, Elisha Bingham took possession of the land and kept it running until his death in 1923. While the farm was viable during the mining era, the isolation soon became too much to overcome. This signaled the end of farming on the island.
The human history on Basswood Island was short and sweet, but its remnants remain to be explored by you as you hike around the island.
Top Things to Do on Basswood Island
Hike the Historic Loop
The main hike here is a fantastic 5.4-mile loop that covers the majority of the island. The trail connects through all the campsites, so you can essentially start and finish at your tent. How’s that for convenience?
The trail guides you through all the major landmarks on the island (except Lone Rock). Hence, it is the perfect way to explore Basswood’s incredible history.
For ease of explanation, we will start from The Dock. Heading left, you will trek through gorgeous, dense forest on your way to the historic McCloud Bingham farm site.
In 1.75 miles you will reach the farm site clearing. There it is easy to place yourself in the shoes of early farmers and loggers trying to make ends meet on this remote land.
From the farm site, you will follow an old logging road to the east coast. With intermittent views of the lake, follow what is now a simple hiking path to the historic quarries.
Along this 2.25 mile stretch, there are some incredible overlooks of Breckenridge Quarry and Bass Island Brownstone Quarry.
It is a memorable experience, looking back over 130 years since the end of the Brownstone era. It is as if one day they were mining and the next they dropped their tools and never returned.
From the quarries, the trail returns to the forest and back to the dock passing all the campsites along the way.
At 5.4 miles long, this is an excellent day walk that packs a whole lot of punch.
Visit the Beautiful Lone Rock
Located at the north end of Basswood Island, Lone Rock is not accessible on foot. But if you have a way to reach it on water, it is worth the journey for the photos alone.
Having broken off from the main island, this small apostle stands tall on its own. The lake has cut underneath which from a distance makes Lone Rock appear to be floating!
The single tree that grows upon it is a reminder of just how incredible this ecosystem is. It tells both an ancient story and a tale of a crumbling landscape.
Enjoy Gorgeous Island Camping
Island camping along the beachfront is always a winner. With incredible views of Lake Superior and the sound of waves crashing against the shore, this will be a night you will never forget.
There are six campsites on the island and one group site. Four of the six campsites are right on the shoreline. With dense woodlands surrounding it, it really does feel like you’re own private getaway. Each site has a tent pad, picnic table, fire ring and a food locker.
We recommend the four campsites on the southern tip of Basswood Island. Not only are they all on the beach, but they are each accessible via kayak. It all contributes to the adventure of a lifetime!
As always, you can book your campsites on the National Parks Service website or by calling (715) 779-3397. It is recommended to do this as early as possible and at least a month prior to your visit.
A secondary option is Buffalo Bay Campground in Red Cliff. Park your RV or set up camp here. Afterward, take advantage of the boat ramps and kayak launch points to easily visit Basswood Island for the day.
Get out and Explore Basswood Island
While Basswood’s days providing brownstone are well and truly behind it, the island now gives you the perfect getaway close to the mainland. With lots of hiking, exploring, and kayaking you’ll find plenty to do. It is a chance to take in the fresh air, step back in time and enjoy a beautiful landscape.