After a fateful expedition canoeing the Bois Brule River where I capsized and ruined my camera, I was in the mood for more casual day outdoors. Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area fit the profile for this mild adventure. This is where local outfitters take visitors on days when Lake Superior gales make Apostle Island expeditions impossible.
No need for car shift
Another agreeable feature of Bark Bay is there is no need for a car shuttle. The landing lies just north of Highway 13 on Bark Bay Road. Bark Bay is located 30 miles west of Bayfield in Bayfield County, Wisconsin. Once you put-in, you can paddle out to Lake Superior and explore the bog and the Bark River and then return.
What is Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area
Bark Bay Slough is a unique ecosystem comprised of a coastal barrier spit, lagoon, and springs nestled adjacent to Lake Superior. It is composed of two types of wetlands: coastal fen and coastal bog. The Wisconsin DNR website describes the environment in much more detail.
A distinctive wetland is not what one would expect in the Wisconsin northwoods; therefore, the journey seemed more reminiscent of a southern state.
Beautiful summer cabins along the coastal barrier spit
A sandy spit of land extends out protecting the slough from battering winds and waves coming off Lake Superior. Summer homes and cabins occupy the narrow stretch of land.
They enjoy two sensational views. Lake Superior is their front porch and Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area is their backyard. We paddled along the spit and admired their dual views.
Paddling with a long time canoeing buddy
I was accompanied by long time canoeing friend Rick Kemmer who was a fellow member of the Prairie State Canoeists in Illinois. We went on many river adventures together back in the 1980s. He retired and bought a home only a few miles from the Apostle Islands and Lake Superior.
Enter the Bark River
Just before the slough empties into Lake Superior, it is joined by the Bark River and forms a mini delta of sand. This sandbar is the perfect spot to idly admire one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. We reposed here for over an hour enjoying the view of Lake Superior and crystal clear flow of the Bark River as it passed through our midst.
The water was absolutely freezing cold still in mid June; therefore, there was no swimming today. Perhaps by late July or August it warms up enough to take a dip. We strolled down the sandy spit for about 15 minutes soaking in the superior scene and watched a few fishing boats troll the icy cold waters.
Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area wildlife
We did not see anything of note in regards to wildlife; however, we did see a pair of sandhill cranes at the intersection of Bark Road and Highway 13 in a field. With such a diverse ecosystem, it obviously is an excellent spot for birding. The DNR states that bald eagle, blue heron, sandhill crane, and American bittern inhabit the wetland. Migrating shorebirds are also abundant during the spring and fall.
Bark Bay Slough State Natural Area fishing
While I did not choose to dip a line in the water, I am sure the slough provides quality angling. The slough is home to northern pike, bluegill, brown trout, and smallmouth and largemouth bass. We did not see anyone fishing today, moreover we did not see many people period.
Bark Bay flora
The DNR website intricately describes the species of plants found in the slough. For example, it includes such detail as a mat of Spaghnum moss and ericaceous shrubs. I would not know a shrub, ericaceous or otherwise; however, my radar indicated to me that I was in a unique habitat. The flora highlight for me was the plethora of flowering yellow lily pads.
Paddling back through slough
On our return sojourn, we paddled past the landing and explored the west side of the slough. It constricts and resembles a river until it peters out. We returned to the cars after a mini 3-4 hour experience content with the quality experience.
Bayfield County abounds with thrilling outdoor adventure. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts can explore the Lake Superior shoreline, gawk at sea caves, sea kayak to the Apostle Islands, canoe or kayak rapid filled picturesque rivers, and hike to a waterfall. Somedays though, you just want a laid back paddle. For example, you hit some wind going out to the Apostles, or took a spill on a fast moving river, then a relaxed paddle on a scenic slough might be just what you are looking for.