The Stavkirke: Hidden
Treasure in the Woods
Sometimes, the best adventures and hidden gems are those that require some extra legwork to find.
The mysterious, beautiful, imposing Stavkirke church is one of those places—an off-the-beaten-path destination that takes visitors to the tip of the Door peninsula, across Death’s Door Strait via car ferry, into the woods of Washington Island, and down a short trail to a peaceful clearing where the stately structure stands tall.
What Is It?
The Stavkirke is a stave-style, Norwegian-inspired church on Washington Island. It was hand-built in the 1980s–90s by local spiritual leaders, carpenters, and volunteers as an ode to the massive but often understated influence of Scandinavian immigrants and culture on the Door region.
What’s So Special About It?
Well...just look at it!
The structure is an absolute sight to behold; it’s not uncommon to hear audible gasps from the walking trail as visitors step into the clearing and see the Stavkirke for the first time.
In addition to its carved wood facade, 18 stavs (or masts) made of pine and white fir, cascading six-tiered roof, bell tower perched several stories off the ground, and other architectural details both intricate and sweeping, The Stavkirke possesses an indescribable magnetism, a certain aura or allure that commands respect and reverence from all who visit.
What’s the Best Way to Experience It?
Of course, traveling to Washington Island and experiencing the church in person is the best way to understand its quiet majesty. The property is generally open year-round, 24/7.
While most people check out the church and property on their own time during general open hours, church services are held on Wednesday evenings in July and August. (No services were held in 2021; check the website in 2022 before attending a service.)
Small weddings and baptism services are also performed upon request.
Another way to experience Stavkirke, regardless of the season, is to explore it virtually. Check out this virtual experience of the church to get a feel for what it’s like to stand before it, in all its glory.
When’s the Best Time of Year to Visit?
Summer and fall are the most popular times to visit, but don’t undervalue a winter or springtime visit.
When there’s snow on the ground (and the structure), the church takes on a darker and moodier vibe that makes for some incredible photos.
Seeing the Stavkirke in the slower season means spending more time alone inside the small, 38-person church. The extra elbow room will provide a more personal, intimate experience of the church, allow you to move slowly and intentionally through the building, study the old-world artifacts in more depth, and explore the property and its wooded surroundings in peace and quiet.
While the Stavkirke may be one of the least-subtle examples of Scandinavian architecture in Door County, there are plenty of other places to see this influence across the region, in ways both big and small.
Here are a few more resources for planning a trip around Scandinavian culture in Door County: