Discover the Fabulous Door County State Parks

Door County, Wisconsin, nestles on a peninsula between beautiful Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Although the area is renowned for mouthwatering cheese and tart cherries, it has lots of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. We will outline the fabulous Door County state parks so you can enjoy all the area offers.


Disclosure: We received gifted products from adidas that we are sharing in this post. All opinions are our own.


Door County State Parks Offer Year-Round Adventure

biking in Peninsula State Park, Door County, WI
Pausing for a photo while biking in Peninsula State Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Although a relatively small peninsula, 70 miles long and 18 miles wide, Door County has five Wisconsin state parks within its boundaries. 

During spring, fragrant cherry and apple tree blossoms fill the air. Temperatures reach an average of 49 degrees Fahrenheit in April, rising to the low 60s in May. 

Summers are comfortable with average highs in the 70s. People hike, bike, swim, and boat. Locals invite you to join a celebratory fish boil.

Autumn cools off with average highs in the mid-50s for October and low-40s in November. You can delight in bright fall foliage, relaxing hikes, shopping, and delicious food.

Winters are cold, with an average high in the mid to high 20s. Locals embrace the cold, enjoying winter activities. You can join the fun by cozying beside a fire, playing in the snow and ice, and celebrating their festivals.

Four of the Wisconsin state parks in Door County offer unique winter activities. You will find beauty and recreational opportunities in the region regardless of when you visit.

No matter the season, we suggest packing light layers. Even in summer, mornings and evenings can feel a bit chilly. 

I pack a couple of adidas hoodies when I travel to areas like this. Their sweatshirts are warm, comfortable, and easy to add or shed as needed. I love them.

Newport State Park

  • Location: 475 County Highway NP, Ellison Bay, WI 54210.
  • Hours: Open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
silhouette of trees during nighttime
Newport State Park. Photo credit: Good Free Photos

Resting on Door Peninsula’s far end, Newport State Park is one of the darkest spots in Wisconsin. The park proudly boasts an International Dark Sky Park designation. Whether you are a novice stargazer or a professional astronomer, it is the perfect place to observe the night skies.

The beautiful park offers plenty of daytime recreation as well. It has over 2,300 acres of forest, 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and 30 miles of hiking trails. Other popular activities include biking, picnicking, camping, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. Winter visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Peninsula State Park

  • Location: 9462 Shore Road, Fish Creek, WI 54212.
  • Hours: Open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Door County state parks - Peninsula State Park
View from Eagle Tower. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Resting in Fish Creek, Peninsula State Park comprises 3,776 acres, including 8 miles of shoreline along alluring Green Bay. Its rocky bluffs ascend more than 150 feet above the bay. Those soaring bluffs are part of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. 

The Niagara Escarpment is an expansive limestone cliff that stretches from Niagara Falls, New York, through Ontario, Canada, and into east-central Wisconsin to Lake Winnebago. It began forming over 400 million years ago and is home to over 200 rare plant and animal species. Park visitors are regularly mesmerized by the jagged limestone cliffs’ beauty against Green Bay’s rolling waves.

With so many recreational opportunities, Peninsula State Park is widely considered the state’s most complete park. Popular activities include biking, boating, hiking, golfing, camping, picnicking, sightseeing, and touring. 

During summer, guests can attend educational programs at the White Cedar Visitor Center, swim at Nicolet Beach, and watch a musical comedy at the Northern Sky Theater.

In winter, guests can partake in snowshoeing, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, and tubing.

Camping

With five campgrounds and 468 family sites, the park is Wisconsin’s most popular camping destination. It also contains three areas for tent camping.

Eagle Tower

One of the park’s primary attractions, Eagle Tower, delivers breathtaking views of the Upper Michigan shoreline and surrounding islands. Guests can ascend the 60-foot high tower by climbing 95 stairs or using the 850-foot ramp. It is Wisconsin’s first accessible observation tower.

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse

From mid-May through mid-October, the park offers tours of a historic lighthouse. The Eagle Bluff Lighthouse was lit in 1868 and still safely guides vessels through the Strawberry Channel.

Potawatomi State Park

  • Location: 3740 County Highway PD, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235.
  • Hours: Open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Door County state parks - Potawatomi State Park
Potawatomi State Park. Photo credit: wildnerdpix via Deposit Photos

The southernmost Door County state park, Potawatomi State Park, sits in Sturgeon Bay on the peninsula’s southwest side. It is named for the Native American tribe that once lived there. 

The park has 1,200 acres of rolling hills, giving way to steep, rugged limestone cliffs along the shore. In the 1800s, Sturgeon Bay housed limestone quarries. Workers loaded the cargo, which got shipped to various ports along Lake Michigan.

Recreational activities include bicycling, fishing, camping, paddling, hiking, and picnicking. Winter brings ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.

You can bike on any of the park’s roads. Potawatomi State Park offers eight miles of off-road biking trails if you prefer a challenge.

The park houses several hiking trails. Its most famous course is the eastern terminus of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. 

The overall trail spans 1,000 miles and winds along the edge of Wisconsin’s last continental glacier. You can start or end your epic journey in the park. Or, you can enjoy Potawatomi’s 2.8-mile segment of the national scenic trail.

Rock Island State Park

  • Location: 1924 Indian Point Road, Washington Island, WI 54246.
  • Hours: Open year-round from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Door County state parks - Rock Island State Park
View from Pottawatomie Lighthouse. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Rock Island State Park nestles off the peninsula’s tip, where Green Bay’s eastern edge converges with Lake Michigan. Visiting the island requires more planning but is a rewarding adventure.

Accessing the Park

To reach the island, you must take two ferry rides. The ferry rides are half the fun and part of the experience. 

You will start the epic journey by taking the Washington Island Ferry through Portes des Morts or “Death’s Door.” The passageway has claimed over 275 shipwrecks.

Washington Island offers plenty to do in its own right. However, to get to Rock Island, you must take the Rock Island Ferry, also known as the Karfi Ferry, from Washington Island. 

Before catching the ferry, I suggest grabbing a meal at Jackson Harbor Soup. The establishment is renowned for its delicious hot soups and fresh sandwiches. They offer indoor and outdoor seating with a splendid view of Jackson Harbor.

Both ferry rides are an absolute joy. Sit back, relax, and savor the views of the water and shorelines as you approach the islands. 

The Washington Island Ferry carries people, bicycles, and vehicles. However, the Rock Island Ferry hauls passengers only. 

Please note the Karfi Ferry runs from Memorial Day weekend through the second Monday in October (Columbus Day, or Indigenous Peoples’ Day).

Island Recreation

The park’s most popular activities are hiking and touring the Pottawatomie Lighthouse. Rock Island State Park has ten miles of trails, with six along the shoreline. 

The Pottawatomie Lighthouse also called the Rock Island Light, was lit in 1836, making it Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse. Historic lighthouse tours are given daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can even ascend to the lantern room.

Guests can partake in primitive camping on the island. Since vehicles are not allowed, you must carry all your supplies. For those who like rugged outdoor experiences, it is an excellent opportunity to sleep under the stars and enjoy nature.

Whitefish Dunes State Park

  • Location: 3275 Clark Lake Road, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235.
  • Hours: Open year-round from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Whitefish Dunes State Park in Door County, Wisconsin
Shoreline at Whitefish Dunes State Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Whitefish Dunes State Park nestles along the peninsula’s eastern shore in Sturgeon Bay, overlooking Lake Michigan. It comprises 867 acres of beautiful dunes and forests, but its primary purpose is to protect the park’s fragile dunes.

Although you cannot camp in the park, you can bike, swim, paddle, hike, fish, and picnic. Winter offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

The park has 14.5 miles of trails. Boardwalks and stairs take you up and down dunes along the sand beach, while well-marked paths lead you through the forest. Rangers ask guests to stay on the trails to protect the dunes and the area’s rare plant and animal species.

Many guests hike to the top of Old Baldy, Wisconsin’s highest dune at 93 feet above sea level. The observation deck provides stunning views of Lake Michigan and Clark Lake.

You can start your visit in the Nature Center, where exhibits teach you about the ecosystem, archaeology, and shipwrecks. Park staff can answer any questions you have and provide hiking recommendations.

Other Door County Parks

Door County offers many county and local parks where you can hike, bike, relax, or view a splendid sunrise or sunset. One in particular, deserves special mention and is well worth your time.

The Ridges Sanctuary

  • Location: 8166 Highway 57, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202.
  • Trails are open daily from dawn to dusk.
  • Visitor Center Hours: Open Monday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Ridges Sanctuary in Door County, Wisconsin
Boardwalk trail in The Ridges Sanctuary. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Named for a series of ridges and swales formed over the past 1,100 years by the movement of Lake Michigan, The Ridges Sanctuary comprises 1,600 acres around Baileys Harbor. Due to its rich diversity, the park earned recognition for the following:

  • Wisconsin State Natural Area
  • National Natural Landmark
  • National Audubon Important Bird Area
  • Wisconsin Wetland Gem

You will walk along boardwalks and trails through beautiful landscapes that resemble picture-perfect paintings. With so many lovely plants and birds singing, many guests find their visit soul-soothing.

The Ridges Sanctuary prides itself on educating the public about the dangers of global warming and the importance of preserving our planet’s natural resources. They offer various educational programs for everyone, from young children to adults.

The nature center offers immersive exhibits where you can learn about the ecosystem before you explore the park. Hiking options include self-guided hikes and naturalist-guided tours. Beyond the gorgeous natural scenery, you can tour the Baileys Harbor Range Lights.

Plan Your Door County State Parks Adventure

While exploring the scenic coastal towns between majestic Green Bay and Lake Michigan, plan to visit the fabulous Door County state parks. Breathtaking scenery and invigorating recreational activities await you. Opportunity knocks. You should open the door!

Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey

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About the author

View of Glacier Bay from cruise ship

Scott McConkey is a nationally syndicated travel writer and the founder of Miles with McConkey, where he provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, and inspiration. His travel articles have been seen in The Associated Press wire, ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, MSN, and many more. He and his wife, Julie, left the corporate world after nearly 30 years for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year has evolved into a second act. She creates visual content while he utilizes the written word. Their goal is to create content inspiring others to travel more and live their best lives now.