Big Bay State Park sign

Big Bay State Park

Big Bay State Park is one of only two Wisconsin state parks that is not on the mainland. Rock Island State Park is the other. Rock Island is in Lake Michigan; Big Bay is in Lake Superior.

So, to get to Big Bay, you must take a ride on a ferry. You’ll most likely want to take your car on the ferry because the park is over 5 miles from the city of La Pointe where the ferry docks. Technically, you could leave your car behind and rent a moped on the island, but we didn’t choose that option.

Approaching La Pointe by ferry
Approaching La Pointe by ferry

Barrier Beach and Boardwalk

Probably the best trail to hike in Big Bay is the Boardwalk, which is technically called the Barrier Beach Trail. There are a couple of difficulties with this trail which I’ll tell you about in due time.

Before you get to the Boardwalk, you can take the stairs down to Barrier Beach itself.

Stairs to Barrier Beach
Barrier Beach

In an open, grassy area between those stairs and the beginning of the Boardwalk, there is this nicely-designed fire pit circle. Somebody was thinking ahead here and decided folks might not always want to sit on logs around the fire.

Fire pit

Nearby is the sign directing you to the Boardwalk.

Boardwalk sign

There are two plaques that explain how the Boardwalk got here and what you’re supposed to do with it…in case it wasn’t obvious.

Barrier Beach Trail plaque
Boardwalk funding plaque

Several times during our hike we were reminded that we were also in the area of the Big Bay Sand Spit and Bog. Not sure why.

Big Bay Sand Spit and Bog sign

Wildlife along the Boardwalk

To date, it hasn’t been unusual for us not to see any unusual birds while hiking a trail. By “unusual” I mean something other than robins, chickadees, and sparrows. However, on this walk we saw a pair of sandhill cranes along the beach.

Sandhill cranes on beach

They were in the area of these lean-to shelters but were more interested in finding food in the grasses.

Lean-tos on the beach

Further along the Boardwalk, we saw a gaggle of geese. Now, for us personally, these aren’t all that unusual. However, we’re used to seeing them along a sidewalk or flying overhead. I don’t think we’ve ever seen any feeding in a forest like this.

Geese feeding

Finally, on the inland lagoon side, we spotted this blue heron. No doubt he was looking for a meal too.

Blue heron in lagoon

And when he couldn’t find any more, he flew away.

Heron in flight

The only other non-flora wildlife we saw was dragonflies like this one.

Dragonfly on Boardwalk

To Retrace or to Circle?

That is the question.

I suppose most boardwalks by their very nature don’t tend to be constructed in a circle. The one at Big Bay isn’t. When you get to the end of it, you’re at the edge of the state park. You can keep walking, but then you’re in Big Bay Town Park.

That’s fine as long as you realize what you’re getting into. The beach there is much more active – people-wise – than the shores within the state park. The trail bends around to the west and then the south and goes through the campground.

The lagoon (where the heron was) exists in part because of an inlet from Big Bay (the water). So you have to cross this bridge (and climb the stairs) to continue along the trail.

Bridge in Town Park

You are warned – in English and in (what I think is) a Chippewa language – that there’s no lifeguard on duty at the beach (or the bridge).

No lifeguard on duty sign

You get a nice view of the lagoon from this side. I’m not sure what the purpose of the stone circles is.

Stone circles and lagoon

As you proceed through the campsites, be sure not to walk too fast.

Speed sign

Lagoon Ridge Trail

As you leave the Town Park and reenter Big Bay State Park, you’re actually now following the Lagoon Ridge Trail.

I don’t know exactly how far along the trail we were when we encountered this sign, but it should have been back at the beginning, even if that meant putting it in the Town Park.

Natural Trail sign

That sign wasn’t kidding. The trail was visible – barely – for a mile or more. The only way you could be sure you were still going the right way was the occasional pink (possibly formerly red) ribbon on a tree or other piece of flora.

Pink ribbon in tree

Surprisingly, it was along this section of the trail that I spotted this gadget. It’s some sort of well-camouflaged sensor or maybe even a camera, but I don’t know why it’s there or what it does. Do you?

Sensor on tree

It’s hard to resist taking a picture of a brightly-colored fungus, so I usually give in and snap the shot like this.

Red fungus on tree

There was one other sign that I didn’t take a picture of because I have no idea how old it was or if it was still valid. It warned that a mother bear and her cubs had been spotted along the Lagoon Ridge Trail.

We didn’t see or hear them at any point along the way.

I assume that there must be a papa bear somewhere on the island too, unless he’s swum back to the mainland.

There were plenty of people camping in the Town Park, so the bears – if any – haven’t scared them away. They shouldn’t keep you away from Big Bay either.


Nearest City

La Pointe, Wisconsin (6 miles)

Nearest Emergency Facility

La Pointe, Wisconsin (6 miles)


6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, year-round


Vehicle admission sticker required

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *