The Best Door County State Parks to Explore

  • Posted on

The state parks in Door County, Wisconsin, are a paradise for nature lovers, outdoor sports enthusiasts, and anyone who wants a relaxing getaway with spectacular views and seasonal wonders.

Located at the tip of the peninsula that extends out into Lake Michigan from Green Bay, Door County boasts five state parks, each one offering unique opportunities for recreation, sight-seeing, and fun for all ages.

Door County is well known as a tourist destination, famous for its fish boils, lighthouses, and small coastal towns with boutiques and local restaurants. With quaint vacation homes to stay in and plenty to see and do, your vacation to Door County will soon become a family-favorite. The local state parks are the icing on top of the cake and a must-see for everyone who enjoys water and woods.

Each state park provides access to part of Door County's nearly 300 miles of coastline and is covered with native Wisconsin woodlands. You'll also find cliffs, rock formations, dunes, scenic views, and wildlife such as deer, fox, coyotes, porcupines, and turkeys.

Before you visit, you'll need aWisconsin state park vehicle sticker. You can purchase an annual or day pass at park properties or online. Prices will vary depending on the size of your vehicle.

All state parks are open yearround. Whatever your interests, age, or lifestyle, you'll find plenty to do in the state parks of Door County.

Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek, WI. 

Covering 3,776 acres,Peninsula State Park is the largest of Door County's state parks. Officially established in 1910, it's also the oldest. The park offers amazing natural features, an 18-hole golf course, a summer theater, a historic lighthouse, and a wide array of outdoor and indoor activities.

Things to Do at Peninsula State Park

Fishing, boating, kayaking, and watersports abound along the eight miles of shoreline on Green Bay. You can rent a watercraft or bring your own. A boat launch is located at Nicolet Beach, where there's also a sandy beach for swimming.

If you love bicycling or hiking, you'll find 40 miles of trails ranging from easy-going to challenging. You can bike, hike, or drive the four-mile Eagle Bluff Loop to Eagle Bluff, where you can take in the views of the bay from hundreds of feet above the waterline. Climb up the stairs of the 60-foot Eagle Tower and look over the water. The tower is also now wheelchair accessible, with a winding 850 ramp to the top.

Don't miss the famous Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, built in 1860. The lighthouse has been restored with some of the original furniture and other antiques. Guided tours are available from May to October, and you can climb the tower to the top to see the light.

At the White Cedar Nature Center, you can learn about the history and wildlife living in the park. In addition to exhibits, the center offers crafts, outdoor workshops, and tours.

The Northern Sky Theater is another popular draw in summer. Performances are held three times a day, June through August.

While Peninsula State Park is most active in summer, trails are also open for winter hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.

Rock Island State Park, Washington Island.

Rock Island State Park is a 975-acre island at the northeastern tip of the Door County Peninsula. It's accessible only by passenger ferry, and vehicles and bicycles are not permitted.

Things to Do at Rock Island State Park

The Pottawatomie Lighthouse is a main attraction on the island. Originally built in 1836 from locally-cut stone, the lighthouse was operated for more than 100 years by families who lived on the premises. Today, you can take a free guided tour of the restored lighthouse.

The park offers several hiking trails totaling about 10 miles, with 6 miles along the shoreline. There's a beautiful sandy beach, and swimming is allowed all along the Lake Michigan shoreline, except near the boat dock. Boating, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing are popular activities.

The park is open year round but the ferries don't operate after Columbus Day.

Newport State Park, Ellison Bay, WI. 

The 2,300-acreNewport State Park is the place to go for true communion with nature. Hike along the 11 miles of rocky and sandy shoreline along Lake Michigan, or traverse the 28 miles of designated trails throughout the park.

Things to Do at Newport State Park

Whether camping or just visiting for the day, you'll be dazzled by the views of the night sky. A designated Dark Sky Park, Newport is free from the glare of city lights and is the perfect site for star gazing.

Although there's no boat launch, there are several hot spots for fishing, and hunting and trapping are permitted in the winter in certain areas of the park. Trails are also open in winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Potawatomi State Park, Sturgeon Bay, WI. 

Named for the original Native American inhabitants of the area,Potawatomi State Park covers 1,200 acres of woodland with two miles of rocky shore along Lake Michigan.

Things to Do at Potawatomi State Park

While the coastline is short compared to other Door County parks, there are plenty of water sports. In summer, you'll find boating, canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, and water skiing. A boat launch is located at Sawyer Harbor. No swimming is permitted, but you can fish from waterfront piers. 

You can hike several trails in the park, including the trailhead of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which runs along the edge of Wisconsin's last ice age glacier. The 3.6-mile Tower Trail leads to an old observation tower situated on the park's highest bluff.

Whitefish Dunes State Park, Sturgeon Bay, WI. 

If you love wildlife viewing and birdwatching, you'll love hiking the 14.5 miles of trails atWhitefish Dunes State Park, located on a narrow strip of land between Lake Michigan and Clark Lake.

Things to Do at Whitefish Dunes State Park

You can learn about the rich history of this area at the Nature Center at the entrance to the park off Clark Lake Road. The center's exhibits and interactive displays tell the story of previous settlements of people dating back to 100 A.D. You can learn more by exploring a recreation of a fishing village.

Most of the sand dunes are off limits to visitors in order to protect rare plants and animals and maintain the fragile ecosystem. In fact, 230 acres of this 867-acre park have been designated as a state natural area. However, you can take the wooden walkway to the top of Old Baldy, the tallest dune in the park at 93 feet.

A sandy beach stretches along 1.5 miles of the Lake Michigan coast. Swimming is permitted, but the park warns against dangerous riptides in some areas. Part of the beach is dog-friendly.

Swimming, fishing, and boating are also available at nearby Clark Lake.

Explore all that Door County State Parks Have to Offer

With so many great parks to choose from, you’ll have no lack of outdoor entertainment, regardless of the time of the year you choose to visit us in Door County. While we’re nature enthusiasts and suggest you visit as many of the state parks as possible during your stay, Peninsula State Park has the most to offer if you need to choose just one.