In the winter, Lake Michigan provides an ever-changing living-art exhibit with the formation of ice along the 300 miles of Door County shoreline. The visual landscapes are fantastic; the ice varies from crystal-clear—accenting the Caribbean green of the lake—to cool glacial blues. But it’s not the visuals alone; the ice also makes audible sounds, which change and reach different volumes every day, depending on thickness of ice and the direction and strength of the wind. Although snow muffles the woods, below the ice, waves echo through caverns and push delicate shards of glass-like ice rattling across rocks and wooshing back out.
A Frozen Green Bay
On the western shoreline you can find what are called "ice shoves." Because Green Bay completely freezes over with ice 2–3-feet thick, the ice is continuously expanding and can force large pieces of frozen ice up and onto shore. Some years the combination of expanding ice and wind has seen shoves more than 10 feet high! These slow-forming structures have even crept onto shore far enough to cause damage to shoreline structures.
Eastern Icicles & Icy Shorelines
Over on the eastern shoreline, water along the edge of the lake freezes and shallow bays also freeze over, but bigger waves and currents keep ice from fully forming across the water. See shallow frozen bays near Baileys Harbor at Ridges Park and nearby Toft Point Nature Preserve, which connects to Moonlight Bay. Cana Island also provides wondrous, icy lake views.
The larger water activity on these shores can also create more interesting ice art, such as near Cave Point County Park where intricate icicle structures are ever-changing, depending on wind and current. Water splashes and sprays over the rocks, forming interesting layers of ice and stalactites. Head further south to Whitefish Dunes State Park and find a vast tumble of glittering ice formations along the beaches, which can be accessed through several hiking trails.
Inland lakes all freeze over, and many are then used for ice skating, pond hockey, ice fishing, broomball, and ice boating. Kangaroo Lake is transformed each February to host a pond hockey tournament, complete with 15 rinks to host games. Europe Lake, Clark Lake, and Mud Lake are all accessible during the winter for hiking, snowshoeing, or view-gazing.
The Ice Harvest
The ice will always be a source of winter sights and activity, but not too long ago, ice in Green Bay was big business. Before refrigeration was invented in the 1920s, ice houses held large chunks of ice covered in sawdust, which would be sold to local residents, fishermen, and grocers. See how the ice was harvested in our Historic Door County video.
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.