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Hit the Trail: Hikes for all Abilities and Interests


By Quincy Koetz

Door County’s nature trails and hikes are exquisitely beautiful and unparalleled within the state. Cultivated by decades of work by local conservationists, the county will always feel like a national park. A trailhead, park, or secluded beach is always within a 20-minute reach. While the region’s scattered preserves form a captivating tapestry worthy of a lifetime of exploration, here are some unmissable highlights.

Interactive Trails

Brachiopod Trail, Jacksonport
Come for dramatic views of Door County’s wild Lake Michigan side; this one-and-a-half-mile and wheelchair-accessible loop at Whitefish Dunes State Park also showcases an abundance of interpretive sites. The park is named after numerous marine fossils dating back 425 million years. Look for them in the limestone formations along the boardwalk for a fascinating glimpse into the ancient past and the park’s rich and diverse ecosystems.

Family Discovery Trail, Baileys Harbor
This trail at The Ridges Sanctuary is designed for the ever-curious and playful mind of a child. It invites imagination and hands-on play with a variety of stations such as fort and bridge building, butterfly catching, and pond splashing. Those with mobility impairments can reserve and use the sanctuary’s all-terrain wheelchair to follow along this rugged path.

Poetry Trail, Ellison Bay
Wit meets wilderness on the Poetry Trail at Newport State Park. A unique collaborative of local poets and state park volunteers maintains this one-of-a-kind stroll through the woods. Infused with fresh expressions from a diverse range of voices, including children and published poets, the Poetry Trail offers an experience that varies with the seasons. It’s a perfect introduction to the 30 miles of trails in this large and secluded park.

Historic Trails

Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Sturgeon Bay
Don’t miss out on visiting Potawatomi State Park, located near Sturgeon Bay. Serving as the eastern terminus of the 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail, this park offers extraordinary views of Door County’s largest community. Boasting a diverse landscape of bluffs, forests, and shorelines, the park is a year-round haven for birding enthusiasts.

Ahnapee State Trail, Southern Door County
The Ahnapee State Trail is a multi-use trail that winds 12 miles into Southern Door County. Extending south from Sturgeon Bay, this rail-to-trail route weaves through the peninsula and eventually through the towns of Algoma and Kewaunee. All 48 miles of the trail are open to nearly any form of wilderness travel, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling.

Little Lake Nature Preserve, Washington Island
Near the northern tip of Washington Island, Little Lake Nature Preserve is a must-visit spot for hikers. A serene trail winds through the woods and along the lake’s shoreline. The highlight is crossing the narrow isthmus separating Little Lake from Lake Michigan. Numerous artifacts dating back to the late Woodland Period (3,000 years ago) have been found here. The nearby Jacobsens Museum adds a nice conclusion to the visit, with ship models and artifacts from historic shipwrecks in the surrounding waters.

Unique Trails

Open Door Bird Sanctuary, Jacksonport
Take in the landscape on easy trails at Open Door Bird Sanctuary near Jacksonport. This unique place serves as the “forever home” for many different birds of prey, offering an educational and captivating encounter with majestic hawks, eagles, owls, falcons, and even a turkey vulture. Call ahead to check hours or schedule a private tour.

Thordarson Trail, Rock Island State Park
Rock Island State Park is the place for those who want solitude when they hike. It takes two ferry rides to get there, but those who take the journey are rewarded with a pristine wilderness and incredible highlights of Door County’s history. The Thordarson Trail is a 5.2-mile rugged hike that encircles the island, offering breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. Along the way, visit Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse and explore the meticulously preserved Rock Island Boathouse, reflecting the region’s Icelandic influences.

Red Pine Trail, Jacksonport
This stroll through the woods and along the shoreline of Whitefish Dunes State Park crescendos at the summit of Wisconsin’s tallest sand dune, Old Baldy. From the observation platform there, marvel at the persistent forces of wind, waves, and seasons ever shaping the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula. Visit the nature center at the park entrance to learn more about the unique geologic formations and the ancient peoples who once inhabited the area.

Wheelchair Accessible Trails

Fern/Europe Bay Trail Loop, Ellison Bay
Newport State Park’s atmosphere is as welcoming as it is accommodating, especially on the Fern/Europe Bay Trail Loop. This wide, flat route is the only fully accessible trail in the park, ideal for anyone wishing to explore the beautiful coastline and forests. To enhance the experience, visitors with hearing or visual impairments can check out a Discovery Pen at the visitors center, which allows them to engage with the many interpretive sites along the way.

Hidden Brook Boardwalk, Baileys Harbor
This flat trail starts at The Ridges Sanctuary’s nature center and leads to the historic Range Light, a key part of the area’s maritime legacy since 1869. Wheelchairs and strollers can easily access this path, which was constructed with enough space for two-way traffic. A Trackchair is available (advance reservations are requested) to explore the more rough Family Discovery Trail. During guided hikes from May to October, visitors with hearing impairments can use the park’s Loop system to connect the speaker’s microphone to headphones or hearing aids.

Eagle Tower and Sentinel and Sunset trails, Fish Creek
Peninsula State Park’s Eagle Tower offers panoramic views and a fully accessible ramp, allowing visitors of all abilities to enjoy the expansive vistas of the bay of Green Bay. For more secluded experiences, explore the Sentinel Trail, with hard-packed limestone on the first half mile, or traverse the 5.1-mile Sunset Trail, which also has a hard-packed limestone base, making it easy for wheelchair users to roll past marshes, upland hardwoods, and conifer stands. The park is dedicated to inclusivity and has acquired a Trackchair, ensuring that everyone can access its trails.

Dog-Friendly Trails

Door County parks and Land Trust areas allow dogs as long as they are leashed. Here are a few extra-special places rated “two paws up.”

Eagle Trail, Fish Creek
The Eagle Trail is a beloved gem within the expansive trail system of Peninsula State Park. Many of its enthusiasts have four legs as leashed dogs are welcome on this two-mile, rugged hike beneath the cliffed coastline.

Loop Trail and Observation Deck, Ellison Bay
Pet lovers familiar with local trails wax poetic about Ellison Bluff County Park. Towering a hundred feet over the water of Green Bay, Ellison Bluff offers a glorious view. Enjoy the panoramic vista of Lake Michigan from the observation deck, then venture along the short trail through the dense woods. Sunsets here are unforgettable, solidifying this park’s beloved status among the numerous remarkable ones in Door County.

Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve, Sturgeon Bay
Located alongside Sturgeon Bay’s famous shipping canal, this small, dog-friendly park holds a storied past, from its historical use as a portage to the construction of the shipping canal. Tucked away from more well-trodden paths, it beckons to those seeking a serene and woodsy retreat. It’s a fine spot to linger and watch boats go by and spot two historic lighthouses in the distance.

For even more information, explore the best hiking trails in Door County State Parks. And also, remember to follow the Door County Leave No Trace 7 Principles when you are here.

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