Backpacking in Door County’s State Parks
Backpacking is an experience like no other.
Hiking all day. Navigating forests and unfamiliar terrain. Stopping for “take it all in” moments. Eating breakfast among the trees and dinner by headlamp. Falling asleep to the sounds of nature. Waking each day to a different scenic view. Testing one’s mettle and relying on only yourself to overcome challenges. Spending time away from people and technology.
The perks, benefits, and opportunities for personal growth are endless.
Door County offers two very strong options for multi-day hikes or adventures, especially for beginner backpackers or those looking for an overnight nature experience that doesn’t require expert-level wilderness knowledge or skills.
Both Newport State Park and Rock Island State Park have hike-in campsites that require at least a one-mile trek to reach.
Campers can book multiple sites in a single park and move between them every 1-3 days, reserving spots based on how far they want to hike in a single day.
Some sites require as much as a 4-mile hike, and treks between sites can be lengthened by getting creative with connection trails, shoreline detours, and careful campsite selection.
Visitors are required to pack in and pack out everything they need, including water, ax or hand saw for firewood, all food and personal items, emergency supplies, a first-aid kit, and anything else you may normally rely on a campground or camp store for. Water pumps are available at both parks, and firewood is seasonally offered at Rock Island, but campers should plan to fend for themselves almost entirely.
The same goes for when your trip is over: pack out every single item you brought, including garbage and waste, and do not leave behind anything at your campsite. Observe all Door County Leave No Trace principles.
Getting to the Parks
Newport State Park is located on the mainland in the northeast pocket of the peninsula. The park’s main beach and parking area (#3) is accessible via car, but all campsites are walk-in, and some are even bike-in or boat-in (sites 15 & 16 can be accessed via Europe Lake).
Getting to Rock Island will take some extra time and effort, but the trek is unquestionably worth it. Visitors drive to the tip of the peninsula, board a car ferry, deboard and drive across Washington Island, park their cars at the harbor (overnight parking is allowed), board a passenger-only ferry (gear, pets, and kayaks allowed), and finally arrive on Rock Island, where they’ll hike a few miles to their campsites.
Book your campsite/s at Wisconsin.GoingToCamp.com and be sure to select the “Backpack” option. Walk-up bookings are sometimes available at these parks, but it’s recommended you book your campsite/s well in advance. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance, and the top sites are known to fill up with days of being made available in the reservation system.
Backpacking at Newport State Park
Newport State Park is found on the northeastern-most point of the Door Peninsula and offers secluded hike-in campsites, spectacular views of Lake Michigan shoreline, secluded hiking trails, a peaceful inland lake, mountain-biking trails, rock formations like caves and coves, and some of the darkest skies in country, perfect for stargazing.
Although on the mainland and fairly easy to reach, Newport provides the distinct feeling of getting away from it all and offers some of the best wilderness trails and experiences in the state.
Ellison Bay, Wisconsin
16 reservable sites all requiring at least a 0.9-mile hike, plus one group site requiring a 0.5-mile hike. All sites offer seclusion and nature immersion, but for an extra-remote experience reserve sites #14, #15, or #16, located on the far northeast shore of the park, near the inland Europe Lake.
Newport’s sites offer almost no amenities and are completely back to basics. Each site has a fire ring with a grill, a lockbox for keeping critters away from food, 1-2 benches, and a pit toilet nearby (BYOTP).
No showers, indoor bathrooms, plumbing, electricity hookups, Wi-Fi, playgrounds, camp stores, or even a water source within 1+ miles. Just you, a tent, and the forest—exactly how a backpacking experience should be.
Tackle all 7 miles of the Europe Bay Trail Loop to get the full Newport experience, including deep forest and pristine shoreline. Or, venture to the Lynd Point Trail to explore rocky outcroppings, tidepools, caves, and water-based plant and animal life.
- Official park maps
- Detailed campsite specifications (PDF), including hike-in distances
- The Newport Wilderness Society, the park’s official friends group
- The DNR website, great for park updates and high-level information
Hike-In Camping at Rock Island State Park
Rock Island State Park is a remote adventure park offering rustic hike-in camping, extraordinary sunrises and sunsets, historical buildings, an Icelandic-inspired boathouse, a secluded (and Wisconsin’s oldest) lighthouse, forested hiking trails, sandy beaches and causeways, wildlife, and plenty of space and solitude.
This northernmost state park requires two ferry rides to reach and has no cars, bikes, or stores—it's just you and the wilderness.
Washington, Wisconsin but more precisely located on Rock Island, which is a few miles north of Washington Island.
40 reservable, hike-in campsites, including two group sites and five “remote” sites requiring a longer hike.
Rock Island’s infrastructure is a little more built out than Newport’s, but the amenities are still limited. In the main area of the park, near the iconic Thordarson boathouse, campers will find indoor restrooms, water pumps, firewood for sale (seasonally), and a few general-use shelters and outbuildings.
The campsites each have a fire ring and picnic table and are located near shared pit toilets. All sites are at least a 1-mile hike from the harbor, so the park also provides a limited supply of carts for campers to port their gear from to their campsites. Rustic vault toilets are available near each cluster of campsites, and modern flush toilets can be found near the boathouse and dock area.
Visitors may also bring their own all-terrain carts, but space on the Karfi Ferry can be limited, so be prepared to leave it behind or await the next boat.
For the best tour of the scenery and ecology the island has to offer, the Thordarson Trail is your best bet, and this trail may even be one of the best in the region. The trail is a 5.2-mile loop that hugs the outer rim of the island, so the lake views are frequent and epic.
The hike also features deep, lush forest, some minor-to-moderate elevation, the chance to see wildlife, tours of the oldest lighthouse in Wisconsin, and one of the quietest and most remote trails in Wisconsin.
- Official park maps
- The Friends of Rock Island State park, the park’s nonprofit support group
- The DNR website, where you’ll find detailed trail information, important updates and notices, and more
More Camping & Backpacking Resources
For even more information on backpacking in Door County, check out this video from the Lesser Known Door County series or explore the resources below.
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