Door County State Parks
As spring, summer, and the fairer weather they bring approach, peak outdoor recreation season is upon us.
That means as hikers, bikers, birders, paddlers, anglers, and sightseers are preparing to gear up for the season, so are Door County’s state parks and the local equipment lenders that enable visitors to fully experience these legendary places.
The year 2020 and the global pandemic brought big changes as well as a record number of visitors to Door County’s state parks and their trails, campsites, beaches, waterways, facilities, and infrastructure. While some wear and tear is to be expected, any damage to our state parks and their protected ecosystems can have both short- and long-term effects, including overuse of park resources and degradation of wildlife and plantlife.
Before heading into one of our top-notch state parks this year, be sure to brush up on your Door County state parks knowledge below and don’t forget to read up on your principles of outdoor ethics so you’re ready to safely and carefully explore all the region’s parks and outdoor spaces have to offer.
Rock Island State Park
Rock Island is a Midwest adventurist’s dream.
Come here for rustic hike-in camping and backpacking, million-dollar sunrises, the 5-mile island-circumventing Thordarson Trail (plus several other trails), an Icelandic-inspired boathouse, and epic remoteness—two ferry rides are required to reach the island and no cars or bikes are allowed.
Feet, paws, kayaks, and camping gear only.
Closed due to safety concerns. The park may reopen in 2021, so check the DNR website below frequently.
Sustainability Tip: Know Before You Go
No question: visiting Rock Island, especially for more than a day trip, requires some research and preparation. Check weather conditions for the duration of your trip, observe water safety protocol, be vigilant when hiking remote trails, and stock up on water, snacks, and other needs before arriving. There are no gear or supply stores on the island.
Visit Official DNR Page Visit Rock Island Virtually
Peninsula State Park
Door County’s most popular and one of the most-visited in the Wisconsin park system, Peninsula State Park is the region’s idyllic and iconic lakeside adventure destination.
Come here to swim and sun at the vibrant Nicolet Beach, take on a full 18-hole golf course with scenic lake views, boat and kayak along the shore or to Horseshoe Island, traverse the Sunset Bike Trail, hike the magical Eagle Trail, take a scenic drive up and down Skyline Road, take a lighthouse tour, sleep under the stars at more than 400 campsites, and experience theater in the woods.
It’s a can’t-miss for Door County visitors and Wisconsin state park enthusiasts alike.
Sustainability Tip: Stick to the Trails
Beauty is everywhere in this park, and it can sometimes be tempting to leave the trail to snap a photo or venture into the backwoods in search of solitude. However, hiking trails are forged, bike paths paved, swimming areas designated, and fishing and hunting rules set for a reason: to keep plants, animals, and visitors safe and sound. Always be sure to stay in designated recreation areas and be aware of your personal impact on natural resources.
Newport State Park
This state park located in a remote pocket on the northeast side of the peninsula is ideal for those looking to strap on a backpack and head into the woods for a few days.
All campsites require an at least 1-mile hike-in, meaning you’ll need to be able to carry everything you need on your back. But, for those willing to make the trek, the rewards are quiet, secluded campsites where you truly feel like you are a part of nature, a serene inland lake perfect for paddling, miles of Lake Michigan-hugging hiking trails, almost 30 miles of mountain biking trails, hidden shoreline coves, lake views for days, and one of the best locations for star-gazing in the country.
Sustainability Tip: Trash Your Trash
When you’re exploring or camping in the woods or a wilderness park like Newport, it’s absolutely crucial to pack out any trash or waste you create in order to protect and respect the animals and plantlife. Not only does littering mar the view for the next hikers or campers who come through, but you’re actively putting wildlife and plantlife in danger. We are all responsible for properly disposing of our own trash (including pet waste) in marked garbage/recycling bins or outside the park.
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Take a walk (or hike or paddle or ride) on the quiet side. Whitefish Dunes is located on the east side of the Door peninsula where the atmosphere is typically quieter, calmer, and a little slower.
Come here for the beach-less-traveled as well as some of the state’s tallest sand dunes, nearly 15 miles of beachy and woodsy hiking, photogenic wooden staircases leading to the beach, boating and fishing, swimming, and stunning lake and shoreline views.
Sustainability Tip: Leave it as You Find It
From colorful fall leaves and wildflowers in the woods to the delicately beautiful sand and rocks on our local beaches, Door County produces some pretty exquisite natural objects. And while it may seem harmless to snag a souvenir from your excursion, it’s never a good idea to move or remove anything you find in the outdoors.
If you find yourself looking for a souvenir to remember your trip, snap a photo, sketch an impression, document your observations and feelings, or write about your experience to etch it into memory.
Potawatomi State Park
Potawatomi State Park doesn’t always get the hype the other Door County state parks do, but it is absolutely just as beautiful and suitable for adventure as any other. Think steep rolling hills, jagged limestone cliffs, sweeping lake views, a huge variety of animal and plant life. Come here for secluded biking and hiking, water sports like boating and fishing, two miles of Green Bay shoreline, and plenty of family-friendly campsites.
Thru-hiking enthusiasts can also visit (or set out from) the eastern terminus of the Ice Age Trail in Potawatomi State Park. Find one of the end points of this iconic National Scenic Trail on the north side of the park near the boat launch.
Sustainability Tip: Share Our Trails, Roads and Natural Resources
In the end, the most important sustainability tip any of us can learn is that it’s everyone’s responsibility to help care for state parks, public greenspaces, and all the flora and fauna they are designed to preserve.
No matter where you go or what kind of trip you take in Door County, strive to respect and protect our great outdoors spaces. We can’t do it without you.
More on Sustainable Travel in Door County
- Door County Leave No Trace 7 Principles
- Travel Green
- Electric Vehicle Charging Stations in Door County
- 7 Ways to Embrace Slow Travel