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Adventure in Bayfield


Monday, December 4th, 2017


John and Mary Theil operate Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing in Bayfield, Wisconsin. In addition to caring for 40+ sled dogs, John, Mary, and their team also make fabulous outdoor clothing under the name Wolfsong Outerwear (available at Howl in Bayfield or online). In the summer, their mushing team continues work in another part of their business: Dreamcatcher Sailing. For John and Mary, the variety in these businesses allows them to enjoy the best of what the Bayfield area has to offer, all while raising their family and contributing to a vibrant community.

Want to try your hand at this winter adventure? Find more information about Old Rittenhouse Inn Dogsled Packages.

Dog kisses on a dog sledding adventure

Old Rittenhouse Inn: How did you get into the mushing business initially?

John and Mary: We brought home a Siberian Husky being retired from a racing kennel as a pet and got to know and really like the breed. We then took a ride with a friend who ran dogs, and immediately decided it was something we both wanted to do. We had a small team at first, then two. Every time we took friends or family out with us, they absolutely loved it, so we thought it would be a great experience to share with people as a tour business. Thus, Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing was born.

ORI: Where are your dogs bred?

Thiels: We have a fairly specific bloodline of racing Siberian Huskies descended from Leonard Seppalas famous dogs (heroes of the “serum run” in Alaska). They vary in coat color and appearance, but are consistent in their friendly personalities, even temperament, great athletic ability and build, as well as good coats and paws We’ve developed relationships with a few racers over the years and have obtained dogs from them periodically. Approximately 2/3 of our kennel were bred, born and raised by us, however we do not breed to sell – all of our dogs stay their whole lives in the Wolfsong kennel, living and working together with their siblings.

ORI: We understand you employ a unique system for naming the dogs. How do you decide what to name the dogs?

Thiels: As with many larger kennels, Wolfsong names litters by category so it’s easier to keep track of siblings. Over the years we’ve had the “steak litter” – Porterhouse, T-Bone and Minnie; the “Dr. Seuss litter” – Green Eggs, Sam, Horton, Cindy Lou; the “Norwegian litter” – Lutefisk, Lefse, Sundbakkle (Sunny) and Krumkakke; the “classic country” litter – Waylon, Willie, Johnny Cash, June Carter-Cash, Dolly and Patsy; the “cheap beer litter” – Hamms, Leinie, Blatz, Schlitz, Ol’ Millie … you get the idea! It’s always fun to come up with new ideas for litter names.

dog sledding in Wisconsin

ORI: Do you have a favorite dog?

Thiels: No good parent claims a favorite (right?!), but Waylon is pretty handsome and charming, and a good kisser too, so he always wins people over, and is a crowd favorite. He’s an amazing lead dog too!

ORI: Where does the word ‘mushing’ come from?

Thiels: We have heard it comes from the French “marche” (to walk) which apparently French dog drivers in Northeastern Canada in the 1800s commanded to get their dogs to pull sled full of supplies. No musher we’ve ever met actually uses that command to get their dogs running (except maybe Yukon Cornelius in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer). The dogs love to run so much you don’t really have to say anything to them to get them started, but most mushers say “let’s go” or “hike”!

ORI: What is the ideal temperature for mushing?

Thiels: In order for training runs to start, temperatures must be below 50 degrees. The dogs are probably happiest in winter right around zero degrees, but anything from 20 degrees below zero to 20 degrees above zero is ideal. We always make sure guests are properly outfitted for trips, so everyone stays comfortable and has fun in any sort of weather.

Dog sledding through the snow

ORI: What is the one thing you enjoy most about mushing?

Thiels: The joy and excitement of the dogs is contagious – they absolutely LOVE what they do, and it is impossible not to be happy around that positive energy. One of my (Mary) favorite moments is when, after all the noisy barking and chaos and excitement of hooking up a full team, you pull the release snap and they instantly speed down the trail in silence, with just the sound of their breath and the sled runners on the snow. It’s amazing.

ORI: What kind of feedback do you get from those who have taken day trips with you and your teams?

Thiels: We’ve heard things like “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done!” or “that was the most fun I’ve ever had in winter!” People are really blown away by the experience. The dogs are much more friendly and social than many people expect, I think, so they are won over by them. The whole experience is really exhilarating.

Check out part 2 of this special interview and join us this winter to try this spectacular adventure for yourself!


Monday, December 4th, 2017


In part one of this interview, the Old Rittenhouse Inn talked with Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing’s John and Mary Thiel about how they got started in mushing and their family of sled dogs. In part II, below, we learn more about how and when to book a mushing adventure and what to expect from the experience.

dogs ready for a dog sledding adventure in Bayfield

ORI: What are the options for taking part in a mushing adventure?

Thiels: All of our trips allow for plenty of hands-on time with the dogs, and are structured so that guests get to know the dogs’ wonderful personalities a bit, learn about what it takes to run sled dogs, from harnessing and hooking up teams to driving a sled to caring for and feeding them after a run, and beyond. Most guests want the full experience of driving a team on their own, but they can also ride in one of our guide sleds if they’re feeling uncertain.

ORI: What kind of preparation to you advise for anyone coming to you for a trip?

Thiels: No experience is necessary. Dressing appropriately in layers is a good start, but we can also help outfit those who need it. Important pieces include base layer (long underwear), one pair of good quality wool socks (layering multiple socks usually results in cold feet), a mid layer of wool or fleece is good, snow pants and a parka/jacket, hat, pack boots. We have special mitts for everyone to use, and well as extra layers and boots for those who need them.

ORI: Is there one mushing adventure memory that stands out the most for you?

Thiels: We’ve been running dogs for over 20 years, and there have been so many great trips over the years. It’s always fun to share in the excitement and see how much other people enjoy the dogs. It’s great to take out families ranging from grandkids to grandparents and have them all take part in the adventure. We celebrated our daughter Emma’s 2nd birthday with cupcakes on the trail, and it was fun to watch her win the Sportsman’s Class in our local Apostle Islands Dogsled Race at age 17 this year.

Pups pulling a dog sledORI: What is the best time (or times) of year to book a mushing adventure?

Thiels: We take reservations at any time of year, so if you have specific dates in mind, book early. Early Fall is when bookings start to ramp up. The holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s fills up fast, as do the holiday weekends in January and February.

ORI: Why should mushing be on someone’s Live It list?

Thiels: There’s really nothing else like it! It’s exhilarating, the dogs are amazing, the trails and scenery are beautiful. A mushing adventure is a great way to get outside and do something fun and active in winter.

ORI: What are the options for trips with Wolfsong?

Thiels: Wolfsong offers two trips daily: a longer trip in the morning that includes a stop midway on the trail for a hot picnic lunch, and a shorter trip in the afternoon without the meal. All of our trips are very hands-on, so guests get to spend a lot of time with the dogs, getting sled instruction, harnessing, hooking up teams, and driving your own sled (or guests can ride in a guide sled if preferred). We also offer overnight winter camping trips at select times during the season. Visit for information as well as photos and video.

Dog sledding through BayfieldORI: Is mushing a suitable activity for people of all ages?

Thiels: The short answer: yes! We’ve had families with small children and grandparents come on our trips, and everyone can participate and have a great time. We generally say age 5 is a minimum for kids (and parents) to be able to participate and really enjoy the trip. This of course depends on individual personalities.

ORI: Can Wolfsong accommodate individuals with physical challenges on a mushing adventure?

Thiels: We do our best to accommodate everyone. If we can get guests to the sleds, they can usually sit comfortably, though ultimately, it’s an outdoor adventure in snow, sometimes deep, and it’s approximately 50 yards from the parking area to the kennel/sleds.

John Thiel with one of the pupsORI: What do you love most about Bayfield?

Thiels: We get great lake effect snow here in Bayfield! And there’s lots of public land for trails. There is also an extraordinary mix of people for a small town – many people who live here have made a conscious choice to do so because they love Lake Superior and the environment, the recreational opportunities, and the culture and the community. Most of all, they’re more concerned about quality of life than they are about making lots of money in a bigger city career.

Ready to give this special adventure a try? Join us this winter and book our Wolfsong Mushing Package  which includes the dog sledding adventure of your choice, a trail lunch, $50 towards dinner at the inn and more.

Bayfield Vocabulary: 8 Words And Phrases Every Visitor Should Know

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

If you’ve been to Bayfield before, you may already be familiar with these phrases, or perhaps you heard them, but never knew exactly what was meant. We are here to help you out with your Bayfield vocabulary and make you feel like a local – just in time for your next trek north.

When visiting Bayfield and the surrounding area, here are a few phrases and vocabulary words with which you may want to be familiar:

Chequamegon Bay where Bayfield is located1. Chequamegon (prounounced “shi-wa-me-gone”) is a Ojibwe word meaning “place of shallow water” referring to the Chequamegon Bay on which Bayfield sits. The Red Cliff Reservation, home to the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and its rich history provide many of the area’s names for places and sacred heritage locations throughout the peninsula. The Legendary Waters Casino, just three miles from Bayfield, offers an exhibit area showing Ojibwe history for those interested in the cultural background of the Ojibwe people in the area.

Ice Road in Bayfield2. Ice Road – yes, it is a real thing. Most years, Lake Superior freezes in Chequamegon Bay to the point where the Madeline Island Ferry Line must stop running boats back and forth to service Madeline Island’s year-round population.

In a “typical” year, there is about a week or two between when the ferry stops running and when the ice road is solid enough to support vehicle traffic.  During this period, a wind sled (see definition below) is used to transport islanders to and from work and school.  The ice road, once formed, actually becomes a State highway.  Locals drag discarded Christmas trees to either the mainland or island side to assist with the marking of the road in case of blowing or drifting snow.  When conditions warrant, the road is plowed.

Whitefish Livers in Bayfield3. Whitefish Livers are a local delicacy in Bayfield. A strong commercial fishing industry operates nearly year-round, providing Lake Superior whitefish and lake trout to nearby restaurants and shipping other catches such as herring and smelt to far-flung outlets. Whitefish livers really are the liver of the whitefish, similar in size and texture to a chicken liver, though known for their unique taste.

Livers (as locals shorten it) are often prepared by dredging the liver in flour or cornmeal and frying them until crispy on the outside.  Try them served with red and green bell peppers, mushrooms, and dipped in special sauce for the ultimate experience.  Maggie’s and Gruenke’s in Bayfield are just a few spots offering the delicious treat.  At least you can say you tried them!

Mushing in Bayfield4. Mushing is the term used to describe the activity of dog sledding. What’s the best way to enjoy a winter thrill you ask?  We’d assert that one way to enjoy winter is by whizzing across the glistening snow behind a team of dogs who just want to RUN! Check out the Old Rittenhouse Inn mushing packages in coordination with Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing and make plans to come see what all the fun is about!

Ice caves in Bayfield5. The famous ice caves, made popular via social media when they were accessible in the winter of 2013-14 and again the following year, are sea caves in the summer and are located on the northern tip of the Bayfield Peninsula. The caves do form each year, but as they can only be seen from the water, conditions must be just right to form ice strong enough to hold the walking public hearty enough to make the one-mile (one way) trek across the ice to view the caves.

During the summer, the mainland sea caves are accessible by boat – kayak, sailboat, motor boat – and often draw large crowds. Similarly formed caves can also be seen on others of the Apostle Islands, most notably Devil’s Island. Visitors see the Devil’s Island caves on the Grand Tour of the Apostle Islands Cruise Service.

Wind sled in Bayfield6. The wind sled is used to transport Madeline Islanders to the mainland on those years when the bay freezes enough to force the Madeline Island Ferry Line to stop running its boats. The wind sled is used in the short time (about a week or two, depending on conditions) in between the time when the ferry stops running and until the ice road opens.

The wind sled is a boat with a large motor (think of the air boats you might see in the Everglades) meant to skim across the top of the ice but will float if met with thin ice. It’s a noisy operation, but those living full-time on Madeline Island depend on this important form of transportation to go between the mainland and the island.

7. Off-season is the term used to describe the period of time, typically between the Annual Bayfield Apple Festival and Memorial Day (give or take), when life slows down in Bayfield. Areas businesses move to weekend hours and special rates on overnight stays go into effect.  Winter activities and festivities fill many weekends throughout the off-season.  Some visitors specifically plan their trips to the area for the off-season to avoid the large crowds and the risk of sunburn…

Ghost Boat in Bayfield8. Ghost boat refers to the last Madeline Island Ferry Line trip of the night – often an unscheduled boat allowing the MIFL to put their boats in place for the next morning’s trips.  As these trips are unscheduled, it’s not recommended that visitors count on their being “one last boat” either to or from Madeline Island.  However, those in the know can be saved from being stranded on one side of the water or the other by the ghost boat on any given summer night.

Once you’ve mastered your Bayfield vocabulary (these terms and phrases being only a few), be sure to plan your next trip north to try out your new-found knowledge on the locals. Unless we happen to glimpse your license plates or detect a hint of an accent, we might just think you’re a summer local who knows their stuff!

When think you’re ready to try out your Bayfield vocabulary, book a getaway to our elegant Bayfield bed and breakfast. And of course, any time you have questions on terms or are looking for recommendations on what to do in the area – any time of year – the friendly staff at the Old Rittenhouse Inn stand ready to assist! Book online today!

Visiting Madeline Island – These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Things

Monday, August 28th, 2017

If your trip to the Bayfield Peninsula and Chequamegon Bay is planned for June – October, you’ll want to be sure to venture to beautiful Madeline Island. One of the 22 Apostle Islands, Madeline is the largest (about the same size as the island of Manhattan) and the only one not part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Transportation to and from the island is via the Madeline Island Ferry Line in the spring, summer, and fall and by ice road in the winter – on the years when the temperatures freeze at least the water in the bay.

A few of our favorite things to do and see on Madeline Island are outlined below. As it’s nearly impossible to cover all the options, we highly recommend you augment this information with other resources, such as the Madeline Island Chamber of Commerce.

The Madeline Island Ferry docked

Whether you choose to bring your car over on the ferry or walk on, you’re sure to find plenty to keep you occupied for a full day, or just a morning or afternoon. For the history buffs, those with curious kids, or if there’s a need for an indoor activity on a rainy day, check out the Madeline Island Museum. Full of rich history and informative exhibits and activities, the museum provides fun for all ages.  Another historical site on the island is the St. Joseph Mission Cemetery (also known as the Old Indian Cemetery), dating back to the mid-1800s.

For the outdoor activity enthusiast, Madeline Island offers several hiking trails and the option of a flat place to bike (a favorite for mainlanders since Bayfield is built on a hill).  You can rent or bring your own bikes, or opt to whiz around the island on a moped.  Kayaking or canoeing at Big Bay Town Park can provide a new experience or just a new view for the seasoned paddler.
Kayaking Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands
Big Bay Town Park and Big Bay State Park are on the opposite side of the island from the ferry landing.  Biking or driving to the parks provides a great view of the interior of the island as well as the opportunity to hike between the parks on hiking trails or relaxing on one of the several beaches associated with the parks.  Take in the view, enjoy the sometimes-singing sand, cliff jump (if you know the right spots and exercise caution of course), or dip your toe in Lake Superior.

Things run on “island time” on Madeline Island and in the opinion of some, there’s no better way to spend the afternoon than by watching the world go by from the deck of Tom’s Burned Down Café.  With its plethora of signage, great people watching, live music, and eclectic ambiance, it’s an island spot not to be missed.  The Island Eats Food Truck is most often parked right outside Tom’s, providing yummy food using local ingredients.

In the summertime, food spots include the long-standing spots of the Beach Club, the Pub at the Inn on Madeline Island, Grandpa Tony’s, and the Mission Hill Coffee House.  Along with the Island Eats Food Truck previously mentioned, Old Rittenhouse Inn staff favorites include Café Seiche, the Farmhouse Restaurant, and the Madeline Island Bakery.
Lazy river on Madeline Island
For the artist among your group, check out Woods Hall Craft Shop (featuring handmade woven rugs and other arts) and the Bell Street Gallery featuring a wine bar, a variety of art from local and national artists and often, live music.  You might even consider staying on “The Rock” (as locals call Madeline Island) for one of the many classes offered by the Madeline Island School of the Arts.
Madeline Island museum
Unique gifts, a spirited environment, good food, unparalleled people-watching, beautiful scenery, outdoor activities, and lots of fresh air await you on Madeline Island.  Of course, once you’re done with your afternoon or full day on the island, we certainly hope you will consider making your way back to Bayfield for an evening meal at the Old Rittenhouse Inn’s Landmark Restaurant and/or booking a stay in one of our fine guest rooms.  We look forward to your visit!

Three Day Itinerary for Family Vacations in Wisconsin

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Day 1

Bayfield, WI family vacation ideas
Day 2

  • Enjoy a two-course gourmet breakfast, included with your reservation
  • Pick up your picnic lunch from the Rittenhouse kitchen before you leave or from Wild by Nature Deli
  • Take in the lake breezes and beautiful island views on the Apostle Islands Cruises Grand Tour, or get dropped off by the Apostle Islands Cruises shuttle at the Raspberry Island Lighthouse, take a tour, and a quick hike to the beach before catching the return boat
  • Have lunch at the Pier Plaza restaurant overlooking the Bayfield dock and marina
  • Head back to the Old Rittenhouse Inn for a nap, reading, and relaxing on the front porch or meander back through the designated favorite shops in downtown Bayfield
  • Jump 15 minutes down the road to Washburn to enjoy a wood fired pizza and other delicacies on the outdoor patio of DaLou’s Bistro

luxury getaway in Bayfield, WI with lake-view rooms
Day 3

  • Take a hike and let the kiddos work off some energy on the Brownstone Trail (a short trot from the Inn) or for those more adventurous, the Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Jerry Jolly, Houghton Falls or Meyers Beach trails
  • Experience lunch at Maggie’s where there’s plenty to look at and daily specials abound. If you’re brave, try the whitefish livers appetizer, a local delicacy
  • Head into the Bayfield hills where you will find a variety of orchards and, depending on the time of year, either ready-picked or pick-your own berries and fruit. Take in the views from Blue Vista Farm, visit the Country Store at Erickson’s Orchards or sample local wines at Hauser’s Superior View Farm
  • Make any final purchases at Bayfield’s finest shops or visit the Apostle Islands Visitor’s Center, only a block from the Rittenhouse Inn, to learn even more about the area and the Apostle Islands
  • Sit back and relax over a leisurely dinner at our Landmark Restaurant (either a night out for mom and dad or a one-of-a-kind experience for the whole family). Options include a la carte ordering or the signature five-course gourmet meal for a fixed price.  The pork chop is a long-time house favorite!

Wisconsin berry orchards
Day 4

Nosh on one final Rittenhouse Inn breakfast before checking out and heading home with all memories, photos, and list of things to do on your next visit in hand!