Two of the Coolest Spots on Madeline Island


The bridge across Big Bay Town Park lagoon. Look at that beautiful water!

My friend Sharon and I meandered onto this island in Lake Superior a couple of weeks ago. We’d both been there before, but found two cool new places to explore this time. And I mean “cool” as in awesome and interesting.


The lagoon.

The first was Big Bay Town Park, which friend recommended to us. Unlike with the state park on the island, the town park has a free-will donation fee. A short walk down a stairway from the parking lot leads you to a bridge across a stunning lagoon that enters Lake Superior. On the other side of the lagoon is a public beach studded with white pines. The water is crystal clear and inviting, although as always with Lake Superior, temperatures may be a bit cool.

Canoes are available to rent via self-service onsite, or you can rent watercraft, including paddleboards from a place in town. The kayaks, canoes, and paddleboard are all onsite, and the businesses will give you a key to unlock them.

I brought my own blow-up paddleboard and Sharon rented one for two hours. We cruised the lagoon, watching painted turtles walk across the sandy bottom and startling a fish here and there. The water is so clear, it felt like we were flying through it.

IMG_6099The second place is Tom’s Burned Down Café. I’d seen it from afar before and heard about its, shall we say, counterculture reputation. Maybe it once was a café (before it burned down?) but now it is a bar. No food is available.

The place is a hodgepodge of homegrown-construction seating areas held together with signs with sayings like “It’s not premaritial sex if you don’t plan on getting married,” and “Be the rainbow in a world full of rain.” The top is covered by several tents.


Tom’s Burned-Down Cafe

Sharon and I sat down, thirsty after our paddleboard, and ordered margaritas. The friendly bartender asked us if we’d like to try beet-infused tequila in our margaritas, pointing to a large glass container of mysterious red liquid behind him.


My beet-infused margarita with the hand-written menu behind it.

We hesitated for a few beats, and then agreed. We were already brave enough to come into the bar, why not be even braver and try something new? The beet margarita was definitely drinkable, but it didn’t have as much lime in it as we were craving.

Also of note is that the place is cash-only. If you don’t have any, an ATM is available (under its own small tent) in the bar.

Tom’s was named the Number 2 Best Beach Bar in America in 2013 by Maxim Magazine, no doubt, for its unusual ambiance. If you go there with a sense of adventure, you won’t be disappointed!

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