If my increasingly flawed memory serves me correctly, the very first time I visited the Apostle Islands was when I was a high school sophomore. It was a family trip with my youngest sister's god parents and we used a combination of tents and a couple Ford Econoline vans for the sleeping arrangements. That same Econoline, pictured below circa 1977 or so, was used throughout my college years as a road trip machine, cheap camper, and general party bus. Note the lovely curtains and attractive paneling screwed into the door panels. On that very first trip we camped the first night at the Red Cliff campground, which was and is run by the Red Cliff band of Lake Superior Chippewa. When the casino craze hit a few years back the tribe put up a modest casino and the campground and marina stayed pretty much the same as it was those many decades ago when I made my first visit. That is not the case these days though, as the Legendary Waters Casino opened for business last weekend.
During most of the construction kayakers could not launch from the marina. The pessimistic side of me feared that we might never launch there again as the fancy new casino dominated the former campground area. The whole point of the casino is to make money and the perception in the area is that kayakers show up with twenty bucks in their pockets and one pair of underwear and neither gets changed during the entire visit. It is not an unfounded observation. I am very happy to report that paddlers can now launch from the marina and pay a modest launch and parking fee. Pay at the new casino and park in the lot across the street at the old casino. I would also suggest that we frugal paddlers support the tribe in their endeavor. You don't have to double down at the blackjack table or put a weeks pay on the come line at the craps table but at least have a nice greasy burger or some fresh whitefish at the new digs. Pack that stinkin' MSR Whisperlite stove away for when you are on the island, suck it up, sit down at a table in what is sure to be a dining room with a spectacular view of Basswood Island, and spend a couple bucks on a fine meal. Heck, a person could even stay at their hotel the first night in town rather than making that night crossing to Oak or Basswood.
It seems like the vast majority of Apostles trips that I've done over the years have originated at the Red Cliff Marina. It's a great launch site, aims directly at the heart of the archipelago, and is perfectly sheltered from all directions. Bayfield adds 3 miles both ways and pretty much adds an hour to your trip on both ends as well as parking nightmares. Little Sand Bay is an excellent launch and location but its tough nailing that first night reservation on York or Sand, a critical thing if a person want to start with a short paddle at dusk after driving up after work. I daresay there is a lot more to do that is within striking distance if paddlers are staying at Red Cliff campground than there is at the Town of Russell facility at LSB. Right now the launching beach is minimal due to the orange netting that keeps construction runoff out of the bay but that will be gone soon. We should be happy that the Red Cliff band has seen fit to accommodate we kayakers at their new facility, especially since other marina owners in the area look at us as undesirable riff raff. Spend a couple bucks at the new facility, tell the folks that you interact with how grateful you are that we are allowed to launch there, and thank them for their support of our sport over the years. Just be sure to never take a hit on 17 or put your money on '8 the hard way' at the crap table.