State parks are a wonderful way to explore the natural and beautiful world that we live in. In fact, state parks exist to provide opportunities for people to experience the outdoors in a responsible and careful way, to nurture a greater appreciation for nature, to preserve habitats and native species, and to understand the use of natural resources. That’s why Destination Door County launched the “Care For Door County” initiative, which calls for locals and visitors alike to respect and care for the natural environment around us to deepen our connections with the community and with nature. All are welcome to sign the Door County Pledge, which asks us to “preserve, protect, and care for Door County, always.”
Did you know that Door County is home to the greatest number of state parks in Wisconsin? Discover the paths less traveled or recline on private secluded beaches, admire the view of the water from the observation tower or the rock formations of the Niagara Escarpment. Each of these parks has something unique to offer, and they can be found throughout the entire peninsula!
1. Potawatomi State Park
The first state park that you will encounter when entering Sturgeon Bay is Potawatomi State Park. This park is named after the Native American tribes that first inhabited the peninsula before European settlement. The park spans across 1,200 acres, and it’s a great place to camp, hike, or bike, and there are even boat and kayak launches! While the observation tower is closed at this time for repairs, the Tower Trail is a four-mile trail that takes you down to the shoreline, through the beautiful forest, and to several outlooks over the bay.
2. Whitefish Dunes State Park
Further up the peninsula but still in Sturgeon Bay is Whitefish Dunes State Park, which is nearby to Cave Point County Park. This park is only 863 acres; however, it’s home to some of the most unique geography of the land, with forests, wetlands, and sand dunes available to be explored! “Old Baldy” is the largest sand dune on this side of Lake Michigan, and while the trek up can be a bit strenuous, the view from on top is definitely worth it (it also has great cell service!). After a long hike in the sun, cool off on one of the longest sandy beaches on Lake Michigan.
3. Peninsula State Park
Peninsula State Park is known as Wisconsin’s “most complete park.” What does that mean exactly? Well, Peninsula State Park is the only state park that offers over 400 campsites, a summer theater, an 18-hole golf course, a tennis court, 8 miles of beautiful shoreline on Green Bay, bike trails, AND the iconic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse! It’s no wonder this is a popular park for families, visiting tourists, and locals. The best way to explore this large park is on a bike, since you can wind your way through the gorgeous interior of the park, along the shoreline, and even to the lighthouse.
4. Newport State Park
Newport State Park is located at the very top of the peninsula in Ellison Bay, and compared to Peninsula’s vast array of activities, this park is known for its pure, unfiltered wilderness. With 2,373 acres of forest and 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, it’s easy to lose yourself in the natural beauty of this park—though don’t wander off the paths and get lost (literally)! This park limits its use of electricity, as it was designated as Wisconsin’s first International Dark Skies Park, which lends itself to breathtaking stargazing that you simply won’t find anywhere else in the state.
5. Rock Island State Park
This state park isn’t even located on the peninsula, but just beyond it! If you’re staying on the mainland in Door County, you’ll actually need to take two ferries to Rock Island State Park—the first will take you to Washington Island, and the second to the state park itself! Is the long journey worth it? For those looking to reconnect with pristine, untouched nature, it absolutely is. There are only about ten miles of trails with six on the shoreline, and the park is home to the oldest lighthouse in Wisconsin, the Pottawatomie Lighthouse. No cars or bikes are allowed on the island, so just keep the ferry schedule in mind as you explore, or you might be subject to an unexpected camping trip!