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Winter Light: Why Door County Winter Sunsets are So Spectacular

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Door County is famous for its summer sunsets. People return year after year to lounge on the beach and wave goodnight to the sun. But locals know a secret — winter sunsets are even better.

Sunset over an icy lake

Of course, they don’t come with warm rays on the sand, but Door County’s winter light is spectacular to behold, even when you’re bundled up in warm layers and a thick hat. It’s not just an opinion, either. Winter sunrises and sunsets bring spectacular light for scientific reasons.

Stephen F. Corfidi of the National Weather Service explained it in detail in his paper “The Colors of Sunset and Twilight,” published on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website. In summary, he reported the colors of the sun and sky are based on how the light enters and travels through the atmosphere. Dust and pollution particles in the air scatter light, reducing the intensity of the colors we see from the Earth’s surface.

“Because air circulation is more sluggish during the summer, and because the photochemical reactions which result in the formation of smog and haze proceed most rapidly at that time of the year, late fall and winter are the most favored times for sunrise and sunset viewing over most of the United States,” Corfidi writes.  

Icy sunrise in Door County.The crisp, clean air of late fall and winter thus makes for brighter colors. For photo buffs, it’s also a great time to capture the sunsets because there’s simply less competition. You have to be a little more hearty and dedicated to venture out for that perfect shot in the cold. It’s worth it for that stunning sunset framed by the formations of winter — iced over piers, snow-covered buildings, or waves of ice pads.

Winter offers another great advantage for those hunting sunrise shots — sunrise comes later! A typical winter sunrise in Door County occurs between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., meaning you don’t have to stumble out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to catch a glimpse of the sun rising.

4 Great Spots for Winter Sunrise Photos

Sunset at Cave Point County Park

Cave Point County Park 

It’s amazing in summer, but it will look like you’re on a different planet during the winter. Waves crash into the caves and become massive icicles, extraordinary ice formations, and otherworldly ice sculptures to frame your shot. Be aware the ground at Cave Point can be very slippery, rocky, and uneven in winter. Wear proper footwear, observe all safety signage, and stay several feet away from edges and ledges at all times.

Newport State Park

Campsite 12 at Newport State Park

Park Manager Michelle Hefty recommends this site, with its panoramic view of the shoreline. Early risers can enjoy the winter sunrise before traversing any of the 25 miles of trails open for cross-country skiing, 12 miles of groomed and tracked trails for classical skiing, two miles of groomed trails for skate skiing, or the five miles of trails open for snowshoeing. 

Sunrise at Anclam Park

Anclam Park in Baileys Harbor

From the path to the end of the jetty, you can find an excellent perch for a sunrise shot over the harbor at Anclam Park. Located on Lake Michigan along Highway 57 on the south end of Baileys Harbor, this park offers plenty of parking and accessible public restrooms.

North Pierhead Lighthouse at sunrise.

Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Pierhead Light

A favorite of the pros, this spot features extraordinary ice formations leading to the bright 
red and iconic Sturgeon Bay Canal North Pierhead Light lighthouse that stands out boldly in the white winter landscape on the north pier of the southern entrance to the Sturgeon Bay 
Ship Canal.

Discover more information about the best places to witness spectacular sunrises and sunsets to help you plan your mornings and evenings in Door County. 

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