Ashland Adventure

Mural Walk

As the “Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin,” Ashland displays hometown pride in its rich history with 20 vibrant historic, public murals throughout the town. A map guides you through a walking tour of most of the murals, which each highlight an important aspect of the city’s colorful past. Subjects range from the Native tribes, lumberjacks and military veterans to railroads, storefronts and, of course, a massive ore dock.


• Northwoods Harness Club’s Sleigh & Cutter Rally

• Book Across the Bay

• Chequamegon Bay Birding & Nature Festival
• House to House Garage Sale

• Apostle Islands Inline Marathon
• Superior Vistas Bike Tour

• Fourth of July Parade & Celebrations
• Ashland Bay Days Festival
• Bay Days 1-Mile, 5K & 10K Fun Run

• Ashland Downtown Days
• Ashland County Fair

• Mural Fest and Car Show in Downtown Ashland
• Red Clay Classic

• Memorial Medical Center WhistleStop Marathon/Half-Marathon
• Cruisin’ the Corridor 5K/10K
• Blues & Brews Fest

• Chick-uamegon 5K and 10K Walk/Run
• Big Water Film Festival

• Annual Garland City of the North Christmas Parade


Ashland Adventure

by Felicia Schneiderhan
Small town charm, big time fun.
Imagine a clear, calm day on Lake Superior, the summer sun is high and the scent of lake air mixed with warm pine reaches you at the helm. You weave through the eastern Apostle Islands, making your way through the channel between Madeline Island and the mainland. There, you spot the opening to Chequamegon Bay, one of the sweetest harbors on this big lake. Enter in. At the southern curve, you’ll see the town of Ashland holding court over this beautiful bay.

With a population of just under 10,000, Ashland, Wisconsin, is one of the larger metropolises on Lake Superior. It offers visitors plenty of amenities and activities, while still keeping its small-town hospitality. The area is rich with the history of eight Native tribes, European settlers, logging and shipping. It’s home to Northland College, a private liberal arts college with a progressive focus on the environment and sustainability. Here, you’ll find sandy beaches, an expansive park and trail system, and a downtown shopping area. At the intersection of wilderness, art, culture and history, Ashland celebrates and embraces Lake Superior in all aspects and in all seasons. Visiting by boat is an adventure not to be missed.

Cruise on in

Chequamegon Bay takes its name from the Ojibwe “Sha-ga-waun-il-ong,” which has been translated into a variety of meanings, including “needle,” “lowland,” “long sand bar” and even “where there are large, extended breakers.” All of them seem apt. As you glide into the bay, Long Island sits to the port side, creating a natural breakwater for the bay. Part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Long Island is actually not an island at all (not anymore, anyway) — it’s a peninsula reaching eight miles out into the big lake, secluding and protecting the bay from the rough open water.

Two lighthouses reach up from Long Island: The Chequamegon Point Lighthouse and the LaPoint Lighthouse. At one time, both lighthouses were maintained by one keeper, who went back and forth via bicycle over a boardwalk about a mile long. There’s yet another lighthouse to greet you as you float into town. The Ashland Breakwater Lighthouse beacons from a breakwater built between Long Island and the shipping docks. It became the ninth lighthouse included in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 2014. Completed in 1893, this 1.5-mile-long breakwater protected ships from nor’easters at a time when Ashland’s economy thrived on exporting iron ore, lumber and brownstone. 

The historic docks and piers pass by as you head for the Ashland Marina at the center of Ashland’s long lakefront. Located beside the regal, historic Hotel Chequamegon, this full-service marina offers 121 slips, fuel and pumpout, restrooms with showers, water and electricity, and a marina office with a ship’s store. From the marina, you can look across the bay to the small town of Washburn; every winter, the annual Book Across the Bay event brings out the snowshoers and cross-country skiers for a candlelit 10K trek across the frozen bay from Ashland to Washburn. The towns around the bay celebrate winter in all its glory, taking advantage of the natural beauty of abundant ice and snow.

And as much as Ashland loves its winter activities, it’s equally excited about summertime.

Events galore

Festivals and events all season laud the long days and plentiful recreation of this serene lakefront town. In June, cyclists explore a variety of routes in the annual Superior Vistas Bike Tour, with distances ranging from a kind 13-mile loop to the bragging rights of 100 miles. With strong support and rest stations along the way, the ride emphasizes having a good time — its motto is “Fun, Friends and Food!” Riders are encouraged to bring along their swimsuits for a lakefront dip and enjoy the 20 miles of smooth blacktop through the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest.

Ashland goes all-out for an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration, with a parade down Main Street, an outdoor band concert in the band shell next to the marina, events like the “fire run” and fireworks over Chequamegon Bay.

Later in July, the annual Ashland Bay Days Festival revels in events like Battle of the Bands, a pie-eating contest, fun runs, a triathlon, a strongman competition and cardboard boat races. Live music, arts and crafts, food vendors and other activities fill this three-day hometown event.

All summer long, you can hear world-class music at the renowned Big Top Chautauqua, a one-of-a-kind venue (literally underneath a big top) in nearby Bayfield that brings first-rate musicians every year. The house band, the Blue Canvas Orchestra, is amazing. A free shuttle will even pick you up and drop you off at Hotel Chequamegon, a few steps from your boat in the marina. 

Trail rides

One of the best parts of visiting Ashland by boat is that so much of the town is within walking distance of the marina. This shouldn’t be surprising in a town that heralds its trails. You may want to bring your bicycles along for this voyage and ride the Tri-County Corridor Trail, an abandoned rail track bed that runs 60 miles between Ashland and the city of Superior. This multi-use gravel trail leads cyclists, walkers and runners through dense national forest and the gorgeous Amnicon Falls State Park; along the way, they enjoy trail-side restaurants and amenities. In town, the Ashland Lakefront Trail will take you from one end of the city to the other, and yet another recreational trail encircles the entire town.

Next to the marina you’ll find Memorial Park, overlooking the historic Soo Line Ore Dock. It features the small-town band shell where you can enjoy the Fourth of July and other open-air concerts, and you can also view artifacts from Ashland’s maritime and logging history. Heading east on Ashland’s Lakefront Trail, you’ll come to Bayview Park. Here you’ll find a swimming beach, bathrooms, fishing pier, picnic area and playground. 

On the other end of the lakefront, Maslowski Beach is popular for its sandy beach, playground, pavilion and artesian well. Across the highway from Maslowski Beach, you’ll find Prentice Park, the largest of Ashland’s 12 parks at about 100 acres. It’s a natural habitat for migrating birds, a nesting ground for mute swans, with hiking trails, artesian wells, a picnic area and a playground. 

We’re going downtown

Downtown — just a few blocks from the marina — you’ll find plenty of provisions. The Ashland Area Farmers Market is held every Saturday from mid-June through mid-October and features live music and kids’ activities, along with fresh, locally grown produce, fruit, maple syrup, flowers, plants and homemade items. If you miss the farmers market, you can stop by the Whole Foods Co-op for local and organic foods. Find those necessary items at the hardware store, along with other unique local shops. 

While you’re downtown, visit the Ashland Historical Society Museum for its meticulous display of Chequamegon Bay history. Eight Indian nations are known to have lived in the area. The Ojibwe are particularly influential, having stayed on Chequamegon Point for almost a hundred years before going to Madeline Island and then to the Sault region. (For a captivating read on the Ojibwe history and culture of the area, check out Thomas Peacock’s novel “Beginnings: The Homeward Journey of Donovan Manypenny.”) Today, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe has its reservation nearby. European explorers, missionaries and fur traders came next, followed by railroaders, shippers and loggers.

More regional and natural history can be found just outside town on Highway 2, where the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center presents a range of exhibits and interpretative nature trails. The center is free, though sponsored programs may charge a fee. Open seven days a week, the center offers events and talks throughout the season. The main exhibit hall features an interactive journey through the area’s past, from the ice age until now. Voyageurs sing while paddling their 35-foot birch bark canoe. Traders barter at an 18th century fur trade post. Rock explodes in a deep-shaft iron mine. Upstairs, the rotating exhibits showcase science, art and history. Head outside to explore the center’s 180 acres. Hike along the interpretative nature trails. In winter, the center even provides snowshoes. A ¾-mile-long boardwalk trail weaves through black ash swamp, sedge meadow, and a mature cedar and tamarack swamp.

The Aldo Leopold trail (named for the celebrated American conservationist) wanders through the forest and recently restored wetlands and takes you to a viewing platform overlooking the North Fork of Fish Creek. In the family discovery area, kids can crawl inside a beaver lodge, catch dragonflies and butterflies, hunt for animal tracks, and build with wood and sand. 

Wilderness adventure

If your wilderness itch needs more scratching, the nearby Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest embraces more than 1.5 million acres of Wisconsin Northwoods. Among its highlights, you can climb to the top of the Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, built in 1935 by the U.S. Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Explore Cathedral Pines, 40 acres of rare red and white pine and hemlock that survived the early 20th century lumberjacks. If waterfalls are your passion, an accessible ¾-mile-long boardwalk trail leads to the 70-foot-tall Morgan Falls. A longer, more rugged two-mile trail takes you atop, with incredible views of Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands. 

From that overlook, you may consider that the gorgeous Apostle Islands are also the final resting place of many ships from the area’s vast shipping past. New wrecks are still being discovered; in 2016, the 119-year-old “spectacularly intact” Antelope was found in 300 feet of water. Particularly important to Ashland is the three-masted schooner Lucerne, which rests in only 24 feet of water on the northeast side of Long Island. When she sank in November 1886, the Lucerne was considered one of the sturdiest vessels on the Great Lakes. On that cold night in Ashland, she was loaded with 1,256 tons of iron ore bound for Cleveland; she never made it past the Apostles. Today, the Lucerne is a popular dive site, marked every year by a buoy. The hull remains incredibly intact, clearly visible from the lake’s surface. Divers can view the bow and starboard midships, the centerboard trunk, capstan, windless, Samson post and railings — all surrounded by the cargo of iron ore. 

And while you’re out there, take advantage of the spectacular fishing of the Apostles. From near-shore trolling for salmon and trout to casting for walleyes, the big lake fishing opportunities are not to be missed. Chequamegon Bay has been called one of the top 10 smallmouth fishing holes on the entire planet; here you’ll find northern pike, whitefish, perch, burbot, trout, herring and, of course, big lake sturgeon. Charter services like the Up North Guide Service, led by USCG Captain Nate Baron, can take you to find some major musky. Or a multi-species charter trip will help you catch a variety of fish that this world-class fishing terrain offers.

Whether you’re spending your Ashland adventure on water or on land (and probably a little of both), friendliness prevails. The community draws us in and keeps us coming back for more. 

South Shore JUN17