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By the Numbers: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore


Sailing past the Raspberry Island Lighthouse at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. NPS photo.

Situated on the south shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore  features picturesque islands, historic light stations, sandstone cliffs, sea caves, pristine beaches, old-growth forest, and abundant wildlife. Here are some statistics that tell this park's story.

For locational information, click to the park map.


Recreational visits in 2010 (down 7.8% from 2009).  Apostle Islands attracted 236,829 visitors in the peak year of 1998.


Acreage of the park, including 27,211 nonfederal acres (state-owned bottomlands, local government inholdings). 


Acreage of the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness, which preserves old-growth forest and accounts for more than 80% of the park's land area.


Water acreage (Lake Superior).  Apostle Islands National lakeshore ranks 13th among NPS units in water acreage.

Plant species. Although there are no federally listed species, there are 37 state rare/threatened/endangered species, including 5 state endangered species and 12 state special concern species.


White-tailed deer removed from Sand and York Islands during 2005-2010 by public and tribal hunting and by culling. The park's Harvestable Wildlife Plan calls for reducing the deer population in order to protect the rare Canada yew understory community.


Shoreline mileage, 93% of which is on islands. The park ranks 19th among NPS units in shoreline miles.


Breeding bird species, including endangered piping plovers (3 successful nests in 2010), bald eagles (15 nesting pairs in 2010), and 80% of the shoreline-nesting herring gulls in the state of Wisconsin. The piping plover is the park's only federally listed bird species.

100 feet

Minimum clearance that boats must maintain from commercial fishing nets and pound nets.


Developed backcountry campsites, including 57 individual sites and 7 group sites.  One of the primitive sites is located on the mainland at a place along the Lakeshore Trail that is accessible by kayakers but nearly 5 miles from the nearest road.  The other sites are spread among 14 islands.


Miles of trails. Most of the trail mileage is scattered among a dozen islands, most notably Stockton (14.5), Oak (11.5),  and Outer (8.7).  On the mainland, the Lakeshore Trail is a popular two-mile hike to an overlook of the park’s spectacular mainland sea caves.  Backpackers can go another 3 miles to a primitive campsite.


About the upper limit of surface water temperatures, except in sheltered bays, by the end of summer. In May and June, average water temperatures are only in the 40s.  (In 2010, Lake Superior surface water broke all records and briefly reached 70°F in the middle of the lake.)


Installed photovoltaic (PV) systems.  Greening is taken seriously at this park.


Islands in the park, ranging in size from just 3 acres (Gull Island) to nearly 16 square miles (Stockton Island).  Thirteen islands have public docks.


Historic light stations dating from 1856 (Michigan Island) to 1891 (Devils Island). Lighthouse historian Ross Holland judges this to be the largest and best collection of historic light houses in the United States.  Eight light towers ranging in age from 88 to 155 years are included among the park's 181 other historic structures, and there is also a light tower ruin. An NPS proposal for lighthouse preservation, open for public comment until April 29, calls for major rehabilitation of the Old Michigan Island lighthouse and structural preservation and cultural landscape work at 4 other light stations.


Black bears per square mile on 15.7 square-mile Stockton Island.  This is possibly the densest population of black bears in the world.  Bears also regularly inhabit Sand Island and Oak Island, and since they are great swimmers, they may be found on just about any of the Apostle Islands.


Shoreline areas with sea caves and related arches and pillars. Lake Superior has carved delicate arches, vaulted chambers, and honeycombed passageways into sandstone cliffs on the north shore of Devils Island, at Swallow Point on Sand Island, and on the mainland near the park's western boundary.

Mainland unit. It consists of a narrow strip of land extending 12 miles along the northwest shore of the Bayfield Peninsula overlapping and adjoining the Red Cliff Indian Reservation.  The Little Sand Bay Visitor Center, one of three visitor centers in the park, is situated near the eastern end of the mainland unit.  (There is a visitor center on Stockton Island and another at the park headquarters in the town of Bayfield, where visitors can obtain vital services such as cruises, boat rentals, and island camper shuttles.)


Regulatory provisions of the Superintendent's Compendium that "modify, abrogate, or otherwise adversely affect tribal reserved or treaty guaranteed rights applicable within Apostle Islands National Lakeshore."  Tribal rights include hunting, trapping, fishing, and plant gathering within the park. The Park Service is currently working with 11 Chippewa tribes to recognize their off-reservation treaty rights guaranteed by the 1842 Treaty of LaPointe.


A "not uncommon" temperature during the long, harsh winters, which can send temperatures plunging into the minus 20s in some years. Being in the continental interior, the park has a very large annual temperature range.  Temperatures can be expected to reach the upper 80s on some mid-summer afternoons.

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Some photovoltaics are no more green than their predecessors, as the water pumps used to be hand operated.   I liked the older ways better, nostalgia I guess.

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