Located on the largest of the Apostle Islands archipelago, Big Bay State Park is a ferry-accessible island boasting some of the most picturesque scenery in all of Wisconsin. It’s lauded as one of the must-see, must-visit camping locations in the United States, and our Big Bay State Park Camping Guide is here to help you make the most of your visit to this unique island state park!
What to Expect While Camping At Big Bay State Park
Open from 6 AM to 11 PM year-round, Big Bay State Park is accessible by a short ferry ride from Bayfield, Wisconsin to Madeleine Island, and offers some of the most scenic beauty in Wisconsin with its soaring sandstone bluffs stretching along 4 miles of the Lake Superior shoreline. Within the park, you can enjoy a well-maintained swimming beach, traverse the 1-mile boardwalk, hike the trails—and best of all, enjoy camping at the sprawling family campground or in the outdoor group camp.
The Complete Guide to Big Bay State Park Camping
Big Bay State Park has both individual campsites available at the family campground, as well as an outdoor group campground for larger groups. Most campsites can accommodate RVs, camper trailers, and vehicle camping, while some sites are walk-in only.
Best Big Bay State Park Camping Spots
In total, there are 60 campsites at the Big Bag State Park campground, 21 of which have electric hookups. Camping units must be set up on designated tent pads at each site. Amenities at the family campground include centrally-located showers and flush toilets, a picnic table, and a fire ring; pets are welcome in the Big Bay State Park campground but must be kept on a leash no longer than 8 feet and attended at all times.
There are also 7 walk-in sites located roughly 100 to 400 feet from the parking area.
The outdoor group camp is located roughly a half-mile from the family campground and offers modest views of Lake Superior. Amenities at the group site include a hand pump and vault toilet.
For those looking to camp at Big Bay State Park in the winter, campers can reserve one of the five plowed campsites—sites 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30—which are available by reservation only. A vault toilet remains available near the campground entrance during this time, and water is available at the dump station at the Madeline Island Airport, but the rest of the campground will be closed. Campers are encouraged to contact the park office to confirm if conditions have allowed for plowing before they arrive at the park for their winter camping adventure.
Booking Big Bay State Park Camping
To book one of the campsites for your Big Bay State Park camping adventure, please visit the reservations website.
Things To Do While Camping at Big Bay State Park
There are lots of things to do in any season while camping at Big Bay State Park!
Among the most popular recreational activities in this picturesque location are hiking the bluffs and shoreline via one of the many designated hiking trails; canoeing, boating, and kayaking on stunning Lake Superior; angling for northern pike in Big Bay’s lagoon, or for any one of the several species of trout in Lake Superior; hunting and trapping in season; picnicking; swimming in the Lake; and so much more!
In the wintertime, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are the most popular recreational activities in Big Bay State Park, with just a bit more effort required to make the crossing over the thick ice to the island.
Some common upper Midwest wildlife can be spotted throughout Big Bay State Park, though most avoid the areas heavily trafficked by humans; visitors and campers have spotted primarily raccoons and coyotes, as well as deer and plenty of birds and waterfowl, though it’s not impossible to encounter one of Wisconsin’s rare native bears on the island as well!
Vegetation / Geography
The geography of Big Bay State Park is among its greatest highlights! This location boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of Wisconsin, from the soaring sand bluffs to the red sandstone cliffs along the lakeshore. The Big Bay Spit and Bog along the lagoon are renowned for their unique imagery, and within the heart of the park are forests aplenty, offering beautiful views year-round.
In terms of vegetation, Big Bay is home to some great variety, including white pine, juniper, hemlock, lichen, wildflowers, and various berries including blueberry, huckleberry, and bearberry.
What to Bring Along on Your Big Bay State Park Camping Trip
When planning your Big Bay State Park camping excursion, you’ll want to make sure you come prepared!
Please ensure that all camping gear is in good repair. A well-stocked first-aid kit is recommended as well; in addition, though these can be rare, it’s always best to be prepared for wildlife encounters of any kind and to keep all food and scented items in sealed containers to deter raccoons, coyotes, bears, and other foragers from approaching your campsite.
For those planning to hike one of the park’s many trails, sturdy footwear and appropriate attire are recommended, as well as an insect repellant of choice. Swimmers and boaters are advised to bring appropriate swimwear and floatation devices and to ensure their watercraft is in good repair before striking out on the lake. Proper sun care, including loose, long sleeves, a hat, and/or a sunscreen of your choice are recommended as well.
Anglers, hunters, and trappers should ensure their gear is also in good repair, and that they are carrying up-to-date licenses and permits for engaging in their preferred activities.
Birdwatchers, wildlife watchers, and sightseers are encouraged to bring a sturdy pair of binoculars to help make the most of these recreations.
Big Bay State Park Camping Fees
Before you arrive for your Big Bay State Park camping adventure, please be aware that the following fees apply:
- A vehicle admission sticker fee.
- Standard fees for camping in the Wisconsin State Park System.
- A ferry fee.
Big Bay State Park Camping Reviews
Holding an average 4.5 out of 5-star rating, Big Bay State Park is lauded by campers for its cleanliness and remote sensations even when the campground is at maximum capacity. The park’s beauty at night for stargazing has been highly-rated as well.
Many day visitors as well as campers encourage visiting this park at least once in your lifetime to experience its sheer, natural beauty and indulge in all the fun this island has to offer!
Wrapping Up Big Bay State Park Camping
We hope our Big Bay State Park Camping Guide has you excited about your trip to this one-of-a-kind island park! If you’re looking for more information on all things camping, visit the camping section of our website for tips, recommendations on gear and equipment, and so much more!
Want to check off more Wisconsin state parks on your bucket list? Take a look at our guide to Camping At Rock Island State Park, Wisconsin and The Complete Guide to High Cliff State Park Camping!
- About the Author
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Renee Dugan is a lifelong writer, professional editor, and lover of the great outdoors.
A Midwest girl born and raised, Renee has always enjoyed the deep, life-giving inspiration that connection with nature brings.
In addition to channeling the awe of outdoor life into her prolific novel-writing career, she currently enjoys sharing it with her son and spreading knowledge of safe, fun outdoor life with Beyond the Tent readers and anyone she can help face-to-face.
Renee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org