Door County is known primarily as a beautiful stretch of peninsula, but what many don’t know is that there is an array of islands accessible by boat that offer unique experiences and new adventures. There are a total of 34 islands that pepper the waters surrounding Door County, but only a few are readily accessible. Here are a few of our favorite islands you can see from land or by boat, with a few open to the public.
The main island you have likely heard of or visited is Washington Island. It is by far the largest island and is the only year-round island community in Door County. The Washington Island Ferry Line services the island daily, even in the winter when the ice begins to form and requires an icebreaker. Visitors can also ride the Island Clipper Memorial Day weekend through early October. Washington Island is home to these favorite attractions that convince visitors to cross “Death’s Door,” the waterway between the mainland and the island, again and again.
Some have called Schoolhouse Beach the most beautiful bay in Door County. That title will always be contended, but the rocky shoreline of this beach is a special and unique place. The beach is made up of smooth stones created over centuries. Water has slowly transformed the bedrock bay into a place where families can play and swim, and there’s even a diving dock to tempt those second-guessing a dip.
Schoolhouse Beach has regulations against the removal of rocks and stacking or balancing rocks. Before you visit, review the Door County Leave No Trace 7 Principles to make sure you’re recreating responsibly. Follow principle #4 and Leave It As You Found It.
The Washington Island Stavkirke will make you feel like you traveled through time and over oceans to the far shores of Norway. “Stavkirke” or “Stav Churches” are located throughout Europe, with the greatest concentration of them in the Scandinavian lands. The Washington Island building, built in 1999, was modeled after the Borgund Stavkirke, constructed in 1150 near Laerdal, Sogn. Sitting in a small forest grove, a winding prayer path leads the way to the structure and is used year-round for special worship services and as a place of quiet meditation
Washington Island is home to a gorgeous lavender farm that is open to visitors and provides a picture-perfect pit stop. Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm has over 20,000 lavender plants on site. Visitors can pick their own lavender bouquet, purchase lavender plants during spring to early summer and visit the Production Barn to see and learn how the pure lavender essential oil is distilled.
Kayaking, Boat Tours, and More
The Island Adventure Company offers all you need to see the sights from land or water. Take a guided boat tour around the shallow harbors and bays, or paddle yourself over to Rock Island State Park via kayak. Or, stay on dry soil and explore the sights on a UTV, which is driveable on all roads on the island, which is about 7 miles across.
From Washington Island, you can reach another island — Rock Island — though it requires you to take the Karfi ferry from Jackson Harbor. The ferry is a passenger ferry only, meaning cars and bikes are not allowed. Rock Island State Park offers hiking trails, rustic camping, a picturesque beachfront for swimming and fishing, a historic lighthouse and an Icelandic-style boathouse.
Plum and Pilot Islands
Part of the Grand Traverse Island’s chain, Plum Island is the site of the Coast Guard station and the Plum Island Lighthouse Range Lights. The island lies in the middle of the Death’s Door strait that separates the Door County peninsula from Washington Island. While there is no ferry access to the island, , in 2017 a dock was restored on Plum Island, opening it for public access. The effort was spearheaded by the non-profit organization The Friends of Plum and Pilot Island in partnership with The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Boats can now use the dock during daytime hours on a first-come, first-served basis.
Pilot Island is located off the southeastern tip of Detroit Island, earning its name from its importance to early navigators of the Death’s Door passage. The island is visible from Northport and the ferry to Washington Island. Its lighthouse was built in 1858 and is part of the Door County Maritime Museum Lighthouse Festival held in June.
This privately held island guards the entrance to Washington Island’s Detroit Harbor. Local lore states the island was a hideout for Indigenous tribes on Rock Island when they were under attack by marauding tribes. Your best chance to see Detroit Island is when you pass by on the ferry ride to Washington Island. The northeast portion of the island became known as Rabbit Point because, at one time, it was infested with rabbits.
Hog Island is a National Wildlife Refuge and a nesting ground for seagulls and terns. It can be found located off the eastern shores of Washington Island and is visible from Washington Island’s Percy Johnson Memorial County Park.
Spider and Gravel Islands
Located east of Newport State Park, these tiny islands provide nesting opportunities for shorebirds and a resting spot for migrating birds. Gravel Island is visible from the shores of Europe Bay, while Spider Island lies south of Newport Bay.
This pair of small, uninhabited islands are owned by the state of Wisconsin, which gave Sister Bay its name. The islands are located due north of the Sister Bay marina.
Just north of Baileys Harbor you’ll find a secluded island that is, on many days, walkable! Cana Island is a small island that is home to the Cana Island Lighthouse, which this year is celebrating its 150th anniversary. For a small fee you can visit the lighthouse and climb the spiral stairs for a beautiful view. Or, join the twice annual Lighthouse Festival tours, in June and October, to get a rare perspective of many of Door County’s lighthouses.
Named for its distinctive shape, Horseshoe Island lies two miles offshore from Peninsula State Park. During spring and summer, this uninhabited island is a popular destination for kayakers and boaters and includes a hiking trail circling the island.
The observation tower at Peninsula State Park provides a great view of these four small islands clustered to the southwest of the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and east of Chambers Island. These privately owned islands are named Adventure, Jack, Pirate and Little Strawberry.
Located approximately seven miles from the shores of Door County and visible from Fish Creek is Chambers Island, a peaceful and historic retreat. This is home to the captivating and historic Chambers Island Lighthouse, which is open for tours during the summer. You can take advantage of the island's hiking trails that lead you through uninterrupted wilderness and explore the 350-acre inland Lake Mackaysee (with two more islands).
Named for its shape, the privately owned Hat Island is located due west of Peninsula Players Road to the northwest of Juddville Bay, providing a scenic foreground for the sunsets enjoyed by patrons of Peninsula Players, America’s oldest summer theater.
Door County has even more islands you might see, including Basin (Snake) Island, Big Island, Big Susie, Island, Dunlop Reef, Fish Island, Fisherman Shoal, Kangaroo Islands, Light House Island North, Light House Island South, Little Susie Island, Mackaysee Lake Island, Rock Island, Sawyer Island, Small Island, Snake Island, Squaw Island North and Squaw Island South.
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