Enjoy Nature on Madeline Island

Big-Bay- Lagoon

A Madeline Island map will show you that there are many spots to visit on the Island by car or bike. Gorgeous sand beaches stretch a mile or so from Big Bay State Park to the Town Park, but that’s not the only beach on the island. There’s Joni’s beach close to town. The beach that joins the parks is a barrier beach, one of few in the United States. Behind the barrier beach is a lagoon which is home to countless types of wildlife, and you can take a walk on the board walk that goes through the lagoon. Various signs along the way will explain what you are seeing. For a closer experience with nature, you can even camp in either of these parks (Big Bay Town Park or Big Bay State Park). For Mother Nature at her majestic best, you can get a view of other islands and Michigan from the lookout at Big Bay Point. Watch the waves as they crash up on the boulders there and imagine what thousands of years of weathering have done to them. Short hiking trails wind along the shoreline, and frequently you can see eagles soar above the pine trees. Various wetlands have been preserved in their natural state through the Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve. You can hike longer trails through these wetlands. At the end of your day in the wild, relax and have a soak in a hot tub-many of the island’s accommodations have them-or watch a pink and blue sunset give way to a starry night on the lake. Most bars and restaurants have outdoor seating for you to enjoy.

Get Away to Relaxing Madeline Island

If you’re looking for a unique vacation experience, Madeline Island Wisconsin has it all. From water sports-fishing, sailing, swimming, kayaking-to hiking, camping, or just sitting on the beach, this quiet island in Lake Superior will give you the peace and quiet you’ve been looking for. From the moment you drive onto the ferry, you know that this vacation will be different. You feel the stress slipping away as you make the two mile trip across the lake to the island. The Island is an easy drive from Chicago, Madison or Minneapolis, and the Madeline Island Chamber of Commerce can provide you with all the information you need to plan your trip. The island is only 42 square miles so come and explore the hiking trails and beaches; visit the state park and see ancient rock formations and wildlife viewing areas. Madeline Island is a great place to show your kids nature and wildlife as it was intended to be. All kinds of rental equipment are available on the Island. You can rent bikes and mopeds, canoes or stand up paddle boards by the hour or by the day. You can take a guided kayak or arrange for boat tour.  Boats are available for charter with captains and bare boat. Camping is certainly an option, but you can also rent a cabin or condo. And, of course, because the Island is small, you are never far from the water! So plan your vacation to this idyllic spot where summer temperatures are moderate and the air is clean and healthy.

20  Washington Avenue
Bayfield, WI 54850 (ferry landing on mainland)

Madeline Island Camping Choices

There are many reasons to head to the north woods. One of them is Madeline Island camping. Many options are available-all of them within yards of the beaches of Lake Superior. The largest body of fresh water in the world, Lake Superior surrounds this tiny island and creates a 42-square mile playground. You can opt for a primitive camp site if tenting is your preference.

Which park is better for my family or group? Big Bay State Park or Big Bay Town Park? Both parks offer advance web reservations.

Fire wood is available at both locations. However, because of invasive forest insects and diseases, firewood burned in Wisconsin campgrounds must originate from within the state and within 10 miles of the campsite. In addition, firewood that has been harvested, purchased, stored or moved through an Emerald Ash Borer quarantine area may not leave the quarantine area. For more information on campground firewood see Big Bay State park Range of Allowable Firewood.

Take home your memories, not gypsy moths!” Inspect your vehicle and outdoor articles for gypsy moth egg masses, remove and destroy them (burn or drown in water with a little bleach) before you leave the island. Thank you for helping keep Madeline Island free of invasive species!

And of course, it’s a very short walk to the beach. To enhance your camping experience, learn about a primary feature of the island: the culture and heritage of the Ojibwa. Madeline Island treasures its connection to the ancient tribe and preserves their past at the historical Madeline Island Museum on the Island. The museum features the art of the Ojibwa, and many handmade items are for sale in the gift shop. There are also children’s books that will help youngsters learn about the first Americans to come to the Island. For a true island experience, plan some Madeline Island camping: explore the beaches and wetlands, the hiking trails and tall trees, the rock formations and the eagles that soar above them. You’ll want to come back again and again to this peaceful idyllic location.

Discover Madeline Island Wisconsin

For nature at her most dramatic, nowhere is better to visit than Madeline Island Wisconsin. Watch the late evening sun sink into the lake as you sip a cold drink at any of the numerous bars and restaurants. Or wake up to waves pounding the shoreline. If activity is what you’re looking for, there’s plenty of that! Bikes and mopeds are available for rental by the hour or day. Rent one and head out to the state park where hiking trails take you along bluffs overlooking the lake or through a lagoon filled with water fowl. There are all kinds of ways to get out on the water: sailboats are available for charter at the marina. Or if you’re looking to get closer to nature, take a guided kayak tour.  If a lazy day on the beach is more to your liking, bring a book or watch the kids build a sandcastle. Catch some fish and cook it up for dinner or go to one of several restaurants where fish is prepared fresh daily both for lunch and dinner. All at Madeline WI. Before you plan your stay on the island, you’ll need to decide what kind of accommodations you’re looking for. Camping is available at both the State and Town Parks-either primitive or with amenities. You can also rent a rustic cabin in the woods or a luxury condo right in town. Many rental places will hold more than one family, so why not plan a family reunion? And of course you’re always near the water wherever you choose to stay. Madeline Island Wisconsin has something for everyone! You can get back to nature if you want or visit nearby quaint towns with their apple orchards and wineries. It’s a great place for a family vacation.

St. Joseph Mission Cemetery (Old Indian Cemetery)

The St. Joseph Catholic Mission was established on Madeline Island in 1835, when Slovenian priest Frederic Baraga arrived on the island. He chose a site along Sandy Bay (Crescent Bay) at what was called Middlefort. This location was about halfway between Michel Cadotte’s fur trading fort (Grant’s Point) and the American Fur Company’s new settlement known as New Fort or Fort Ramsey (the present-day location of La Pointe). Baraga had a log chapel and residence built, and selected an adjacent site for a cemetery. The first burial that he presided over occurred in August, 1835. It is quite probable that the cemetery site included older graves, as later archaeological studies have revealed several, earlier graves nearby. Baraga enlarged his residence so that he could operate a school, and replaced his church with a larger one in 1838.

Father Baraga moved the Catholic mission to the New Fort site in 1841. He disassembled his old church and had a new church building and residence built. Another cemetery was established adjacent to the new church. Both cemeteries were used for burials until the cemetery at Middlefort was finally full. Church death records indicate that the Middlefort cemetery was used until at least until 1900. According to administrators of Holy Family Catholic Church in Bayfield, the burial plat for the St. Joseph’s Mission Cemetery at Middlefort has been lost.

The St. Joseph’s Mission Cemetery at Middlefort is the final resting place for many late-fur trade and early settlement era persons of historical note. Michel Cadotte and Chief Buffalo are both buried in graves marked by headstones. Many Cadotte, Warren, Bell, Gordon, and Buffalo family members are buried there. People interred in the cemetery represent several different cultural/ethnic groups: Ojibwe, French-Canadian, Euro-American, and Métis. Many graves in the cemetery are marked by traditional Christian stones, crosses and decorative fences. Many Ojibwe graves were covered by traditional spirit houses where food and offerings were placed for the deceased until they had passed on to the spirit world. While early Ojibwe spirit houses were covered with birchbark, those in the cemetery showed the influence of Euro-American culture in that they were made of milled lumber and resembled Euro-American-style buildings. Some of these spirit houses are extant. The presence of the spirit houses has led to the cemetery being called by the misnomer, the Old Indian Cemetery. In reality, it is the burial place of people with varied ethnic origin, who associated themselves with the Catholic Church. (Many spirit lodges were placed over graves in the second Catholic cemetery but they are no longer extant.)

Today, the fenced cemetery is all that is left of the first St. Joseph Catholic Mission at Middlefort on Madeline Island. An interpretive sign and historical plaque mark the site. The extant cemetery fence is not original, and does not accurately reflect the true boundaries of the cemetery. Many graves are unmarked and undocumented, making identification impossible.

Shoreline erosion threatened the cemetery in the mid-20th century. A local congressman assessed the need for breakwater construction to halt shoreline erosion, but public funds could not be used for the church-owned property. In 1972, the Roman Catholic Church transferred title to the cemetery to the United States Government in trust for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, allowing public funding of breakwater construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

The St. Joseph Catholic Mission Cemetery (Old Indian Cemetery) on Madeline Island has long been revered for its historical and sacred significance. It is a major attraction for summer visitors interested in learning about the island’s history and it is a sacred site for descendants and relations of those interred within. It has often become the subject of controversy when the cultural traditions, beliefs, and actions of these varied groups and individuals are at odds or are misunderstood. The cemetery is currently closed to the public but may be respectfully viewed from outside the fence.

Bristol, Linda E. Liber Defunctorum: St. Joseph Mission and Holy Family Catholic Church Death Registry, 1835-1900. (St. Paul: Sunup Press, 1994).

Mayotte, Patrick. “Madeline Island La Pointe Indian Cemetery in Need of Restoration,” News from the Sloughs [Odanah, WI]: November 1996.

Ross, Hamilton Nelson. La Pointe: Village Outpost on Madeline Island. (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 2000).

Salzer, Robert J. and Robert A. Birmingham. Archaeological Salvage Excavations at the Marina Site (47 As 24) Madeline Island, Wisconsin. A report submitted to the Interagency Archaeological Services, National Park Service. (Beloit College, 1 April 1981).

“Catholic Church Gives Indian Cemetery Back to the Indians,” [Madeline] Island Gazette: Vol. 9 No.10, 22 October 1972.

“Cemetery Returned to Indians.” Newspaper clipping, no date, no source. Madeline Island Museum collection.

Correspondence relating to the St. Joseph Catholic Mission Cemetery, Madeline Island Museum files.

“Cemetery Needs More Attention,” Bayfield County Press: 4 September 1986.

“DA: No Crime in Croquet,” Duluth News-Tribune: 18 July 1996.

“District Attorney Closes File on Madeline Island Incident,” The [Ashland] Daily Press: 18 July 1996.

“Historic Grave Shows Neglect: Michel Cadotte, Early Fur Trader, Is Buried at La Pointe”, Milwaukee Journal: 13 November 1955.

“Hope for the Dying Cemetery,” [Madeline] Island Gazette: Vol. 4 No. 17, 15 August 1967.

“Indian Cemetery Restored,” [Madeline] Island Gazette: Vol. 4 No. 24, 11 November 1964.

Inventory of La Pointe Indian Cemetery. Readable stones transcribed, August 1971. Copy in Madeline Island Museum files.

“Ojibway Ceremony Marred By Conflicts Over Land Rights”, The Daily Press [Ashland]: 10 September 1987.

“Ojibway Defend Graves,” Duluth News-Tribune: 12 July 1996.

“Our View: Cemetery Should Be Closed to the Public,” The [Ashland] Daily Press: 19 July 1996.

“Respect Minority Cultures,” Duluth News-Tribune: 14 July 1996.

“Tribe Won’t Prosecute Property Owner,” The [Ashland] Daily Press: 20 July 1996.

Verwyst, P. Chrysostomus Verwyst, O.F.M. Life and Labors of Rev. Frederic Baraga, First Bishop of Marquette, Mich.. (Milwaukee, Wis.: M.H. Wiltzius & Co., 1900.)

Sheree Peterson,  Curator of Collections, Madeline Island Museum
A Historic Site Owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society