Raspberry Island Lighthouse Tour – Apostle Islands
The last Sunday in June Jo and I took the Raspberry Island Lighthouse tour offered by Apostle Islands Cruise Service in conjunction with the National Park Service.
The ship left the dock at Bayfield at 1:30 pm and traveled through the islands to Raspberry Island, making a brief stop at Oak Island to drop off some campers who would be camping and hiking on the island for several days. A number of the islands have semi-improved campsites for folks who want to stay overnight in one of the islands. None of the Apostle Islands in the National Park offer cabins or even more improved facilities like lodges. Backwoods camping is your only alternative for an overnight stay. The cruise service makes regular daily loops through the islands, as they offer a variety of cruises, so you can generally get a “ride” in or out from the islands any day of the week.
Our ride out to Raspberry Island took about an hour. We rode in the upper deck where you get the nice sea breezes and plenty of sun. The ride itself is scenic with islands or the bayfield pennisula shoreline practically any direction you look. The lake is dotted with sailboats. What surprised me was very few powerboats running among the islands. In fact we probably saw as many kayaks as powerboats. Once on the island we were greeted by Ranger Fred who escorted us from the dock up to the main lighthouse compound.
The guided tour of the lighthouse and its associated buildings took about an hour and half. After the tour you have a little time to explore on your own the lighthouse grounds or take a short hike. But if you are going to do some extended hiking you’d probably have to miss the lighthouse tour itself since this particular cruise only gives you a total of two hours on the island. I would have liked a little shorter formal tour leaving us more time to explore the island itself.
The lighthouse and its associated buildings and grounds have been restored to how it was a 100 years ago. In addition to the lighthouse and its apartments, there are two outhouses, a wood shed, a small barn, the fog horn building, and a small garden. There is also a small exhibit station that shows pictures and some of the historical facts about the island’s history for the benefit of anyone who visits the island during times when the formal tours are not in operation.
The tour gives you insight into the lives of the lighthouse keeper, his family who lived on the island with him, and the lives of the lighthouse assistants whose apartments on on the other side of the lighthouse tower from the keeper’s quarters. The keepers apartment is furnished with antiques, either the original or an acquisition similar to the original, from a hundred years ago. With the aid of descriptions from the tour host, you step back in time to get a flavor of how it was. The part Jo and I liked best was when we climbed the spiral staircase and then a step ladder to go up to the lighthouse tower and the light cupula. Once there our host, Ranger Fred, explained how the light functioned and the kind of daily maintenance that was required to keep the light functioning. In addition to this close-up view of how the light worked, there is a terrific view of the surrounding islands and the bay. On a clear day you can see for miles. Incidentally the light itself is not in place. It is on display at the Madeline Island Museum where it can be seen along with descriptions and pictures of other lighthouses in the Apostle Islands.
We left the island around 4:30 pm and were back at the Bayfield dock at 5:30 pm.
The boat ride was fun and the lighthouse tour interesting. The total cost of the round trip boat ride and the tour is about $45 per person. Part of the fee goes to the National Park Service to support maintaining and improving facilities on the islands. In case you are wondering, the cruise ship has bathroom facilities and offers soda pop and snacks for a reasonable price. These two bits of factoids are important because there is no bathroom open to the pubic on the island nor is there any water or food available on the island. Taking a small backpack for drinks and snacks on the island would be a good idea.