Skip to content

Winter Light: Why Door County Winter Sunsets are So Spectacular


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.

A Door County sunset.

Of course, they don’t come with warm rays on the sand, but Door County’s winter light is spectacular to behold even from underneath 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 a 2014 paper, but we’ll just summarize. 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.  

The crisp, clean air of late fall and winter thus make for brighter colors.

A winter sunrise in Door County.For photo buffs, it’s also a great time to get pics 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.

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

4 Great Spots for Winter Sunrise Photos

  1. Cave Point County Park: It’s amazing in summer, but spectacular in winter as the waves crashing into the caves become massive icicles to frame your shot.

  2. Campsite 12 at Newport State Park: Park Manager Michelle Hefty recommends this site, with its panoramic view of the shoreline.

  3. Anclam Park in Baileys Harbor: From the path to the end of the jetty you can find a great perch for a sunrise shot over the harbor.

  4. Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Pierhead Light: A favorite of the pros, this spot offers awesome ice formations leading to the bright red pierhead light that stands out boldly in the white winter landscape.

Sign up today!

Visit Door County virtually with monthly newsletter updates. Each issue is jam-packed with vacation ideas, special offers, recipes, festivals, events, and more.

The Official Door County Newsletter

View All Articles