Door County, Wisconsin is a unique place, covering the length of the Wisconsin peninsula. The county boasts five Wisconsin state parks, more than any other county in the state. Door County also has over 300 miles of shoreline and the highest concentration of lighthouses in the Badger State.
A vacation to Door County is unlike any other. With beautiful nature, great vacation rental homes, and plenty of things to do, we’re certain you’ll be eager to come back to visit year after year. One of the lesser known draws to Door County is our lighthouses. With so many unique features, designs, and styles, you really do need to see them all.
Originally, eleven Door County lighthouses protected sailors, beginning in the early 1800s, safely guiding them to shore as they navigated Green Bay and Lake Michigan. And while the high-intensity beams of these iconic towers have been turned off, the footprints of these historical symbols remain along Door County's shores.
Several charters highlight the lighthouses in Door County, such as the town's Door County Lighthouse Tour. A trolley tours the area's most accessible lighthouses, including those usually restricted to visitors. If you plan a visit during the spring or fall, the Door County Lighthouse Festivals provide access to those lights customarily closed.
Now, let’s dive into the 10 Door County lighthouses you need to visit on your next vacation.
Northern Door County Lighthouses
Old Baileys Harbor Lighthouse
Photo by Kenneth Keifer
Address: 7950 Ridges Rd, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202
The Old Baileys Harbor Lighthouse was erected on a small island near the mouth of Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin, on Lake Michigan in 1852. It was decommissioned seventeen years later, in 1869, and replaced by the Baileys Harbor Range Lights.
Old Baileys Harbor Lighthouse is known to the locals as the Birdcage because of the lantern room's strange cage-like design. Currently, in disarray, the lighthouse is covered in low vegetation and cedar trees. The island is private and closed to the public, but numerous boat charters allow visitors to glimpse the lighthouse's unique structure. The Old Baileys Harbor Lighthouse remains one of four lighthouses in the United States equipped with the cage-style lantern.
Baileys Harbor Range Lights
Photo by John Brueske
Address: 8166 Hwy 57 - Baileys Harbor, WI 54202
The Baileys Harbor Range Lights are two structures near Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin.
The Upper Range Light and Lower Range Light had beams set in a range light configuration. Common to shore lighthouses, this meant that when these beacons were lined up, one on top of the other, then the waters were safe.
The lighthouses were constructed in 1869 and automated in 1923. After protecting sailors for 100 years, the twin towers were decommissioned in 1969. After a complete restoration, the lights of the Lower Range Light were relit in 2015 and are again protecting sailors. The National Register of Historic Places listed them both in 1989.
The grounds and outbuildings of the light towers are open to the public and protected by the Ridges Sanctuary.
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
Photo by Susan Newcomb
Address: 10249 Shore Rd, Fish Creek, WI 54212
Construction began in 1868 using Milwaukee Cream City brick and materials from Chicago and Detroit. The tower cost $12,000.
Maintained by three lightkeepers, the Eagle Bluff Light Station was automated in 1926. The 43-foot tall lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Set on a bluff 76 feet above Green Bay's waters, the Eagle Bluff's Fresnel lens was vital to ships attempting to avoid the four islands of the narrow Strawberry Channel. In addition to a navigational aid, Eagle Bluff Lighthouse was a community destination three miles from Fish Creek and Ephraim.
Maintained by three lightkeepers, the Eagle Bluff Light Station was automated in 1926. The 43-foot tall lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. However, it was not decommissioned. After a complete restoration, the lighthouse became a working museum curated by the Door County Historical Society. Eagle Bluff Light Station still guides sailors and others who have lost their way.
Cana Island Lighthouse
Photo by Malachi Jacobs
Address: 8800 E Cana Island Rd, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202
The nine-acre triangular Cana Island sits at the north end of Baileys Harbor. And the Cana Island Lighthouse is located on the island's east side.
Visitors may access the island via foot or a tractor-pulled hay wagon over a stone causeway. The Lighthouse Preservation Society curates the Door County Maritime Museum and Cana Island Lighthouse and Museum.
Cana Island Lighthouse is one of three lighthouses constructed in 1869 for $12,792.55 to replace the Baileys Harbor Lighthouse. It contains a working Fresnel lens. This lens style gathers light from a series of circular prisms to create a continuous light beam.
This 89-foot lighthouse first lit in 1870, is perhaps the most iconic and photographed of all Door County lighthouses. Famous for its 97-step (some count 102) spiral staircase leading to the lighthouse's gallery deck and panoramic views of Lake Michigan. The lighthouse was never decommissioned, and the Cana Island Lighthouse continues to shine.
Sturgeon Bay Area Lighthouses
Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Pierhead Lighthouse
Photo by Ratul Maiti
Address: Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235
The Sturgeon Bay Canal North Pierhead Light is located at the 39-foot high bright red lighthouse structure midpoint on the peninsula. It stands at the end of the east-west break wall at the mouth of Sturgeon Bay Canal. Its brilliant color is nearly impossible to miss, and the structure has been a fog signal to sailors since its construction from cast iron in 1882.
First lit in 1903, the North Pierhead Light is powered by a Fresnel Lens that flashes alternating red and white lights that can be seen up to nine nautical miles away.
The Sturgeon Bay Canal Lighthouse and the Sturgeon Bay Canal North Pierhead Light are owned and operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. While the tower is not open to visitors, this remains a distinct fog tower worth the effort.
Sherwood Point Lighthouse
Photo by MrDinger
Address: E. Sherwood Point Road - Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235
A historic icon on the Door peninsula is the Sherwood Point Lighthouse which was constructed in 1883 for $12,000. This vital landmark was not automated until 1983, making it the last manned lighthouse on the Great Lakes.
The tower is 35 feet tall, and the lens is 61 feet above the water. The Sherwood Point shined a white light alternating with a flashing red. It was visible 15 miles away. Nine years later, workers replaced the initial prism with a French-built Fresnel lens. The original fog bell was replaced by a square wooden fog signal.
Sherwood Point Lighthouse is still an active navigation tower that is closed to the public but can be seen from Olde Stone Quarry County Park or a boat tour on Sturgeon Bay.
One of the unique features of the Sherwood Point Lighthouse is its use by active U.S. military members as a respite and relaxation destination.
And even though there are no tours, the historical significance of this lighthouse makes it worth notice.
Door County Islands Lighthouses
Photo by Lanzabananza
Chambers Island Lighthouse
Address: 10971 Base Line Rd, Fish Creek, WI 54212
The Chambers Island Lighthouse is located on the northwest corner of Chambers Island, off the shore of Fish Creek. It is only accessible by a 45-minute boat ride. Chambers Island was once considered home to Paleo-Indians roughly 12,000 years ago. It is used for summer cottages, and few people live there year-round.
The 67-foot-tall Chambers Island Lighthouse was constructed in 1868 and lit that same year with a fixed white light that flashed every 30 seconds.
Chambers Island Lighthouse was automated in 1961 after being replaced by a free-standing skeletal tower. The NRHP recognized the Chambers Island Lighthouse in 1975.
The Chambers Island Lighthouse remains an active navigational tower and is visible for 12 nautical miles. Consequently, the tower is closed to the public. However, the grounds are open for visitors during summer with a public boat launch on-site.
Pilot Island Lighthouse
Address: Pilot Island, Wisconsin
The shoreline's original light, the Port des Morts light, was built on Plum Island in 1846. However, shippers complained that the light was too far west into the infamous Death's Door Passage to be helpful.
Thus, Pilot Island Lighthouse was commissioned. This lighthouse is located near Gills Rock, at the east end of Death's Door passage on what was once called Port du Morts Island.
In 1858 the Port du Morts Light workers constructed a square tower of Cream City brick on the roof's western gable and topped it with a ten-sided cast iron fourth-order Fresnel lens lantern. The tower's focal plane was 46 feet above lake level.
The new Pilot Island Lighthouse housed a Fourth order Fresnel lens that could be seen well into the Death's Door passage. After the lighthouse's last keeper in 1942, the site was operated by the United States Coast guard until its automation in 1962.
While Pilot Island was considered an isolated and dreary place, after the opening of the lighthouse, it soon became a place of community, with residents visiting and picnicking on the tower grounds.
Pilot Island is now part of Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with only the dwelling and empty fog signal house remaining.
The Pilot Island Lighthouse can be seen from the bay.
Plum Island Lighthouse
Address: Washington Island, WI 54246
The two Plum Island Range Lights were constructed on Plum Island in 1896. Located three miles into the passageway between the Door County peninsula's tip and Washington Island. The treacherous and craggy waters were known as "Death's Door."
However, sailors quickly discovered that the lights were too far west to protect ships from this dangerous stretch, so the Pilot Island Lighthouse replaced the lights.
Plum Island is now controlled by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as a part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It remains inaccessible. However, Washington Island ferry riders have a clear sight of the rear range light tower and support buildings. The front range light is only visible by boats approaching from the east.
Address: Pottawatomie Lighthouse, Washington Island, WI 54246
Pottawatomie Lighthouse is located in Rock Island State Park's northern end. This 41-foot-tall lighthouse was initially built in 1836 of limestone - making it the oldest light station on Lake Michigan and older than the state of Wisconsin.
Automated in 1966, the National Register of Historic Places added the Pottawatomie Lighthouse to its list in 1979. Fully restored and staffed by the docents of the Friends of Friends of Rock Island, this historic location is open daily each summer and is one of the best lighthouses of Door County to visit.
Door County Lighthouses Await
Now that you’ve added these lighthouses to your travel itinerary, don’t miss out on our bucket list activities that all first time visitors to Door County can’t miss. Whether you choose to make this vacation as relaxing or action-packed as possible, we’re sure you’ll love your time in Door County.