Door County State Parks

There are dozens of parks in Door County, all of them worth a visit with your family. However, there are 5 Door County State Parks: Peninsula State Park, Potowatami State Park, Whitefish Dune State Park, Newport State Park, and Rock Island State Park.

Peninsula State Park

Nicolet Beach in Peninsula State Park

ABOUT

Located near Fish Creek, Peninsula State Park is the most popular of all the Door County State Parks boasting high bluffs, sandy beaches and varied skill levels of trails. Unique to this state park are the featured stops where a family could spend a long afternoon or even a full day: The Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Nicolet Beach, Peninsula Park Golf Course, White Cedar Nature Center, and the Northern Sky Amphitheater. These spots make this park most popular with locals and visitors in the summer. Hiking or bicycling is the preferred method for exploring trails that wind through the interior of the park where you can’t help but enjoy the scenery.

The park once had a climbing tower, Eagle Bluff Observation Tower, but it’s currently in the process of procuring funding to be restored. The state closed the tower in 2015 and disassembled it in 2016. You can donate to help build the new tower here.

Peninsular State Park – some trails are paved, but most are crushed limestone. Bikers and hikers are welcome in the summer.

TIPS

Don’t have time to hike or bike? A quiet drive along Shoreline Drive with the windows down and the devices tucked away will make for a short one-hour excursion. Pull over near the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse (stop in the shop for a small souvenir) or at any of the tucked-away rests or look-out points for a chance to stretch your legs, get some fresh air and take advantage of the view for a family photo opp. Bring a picnic basket along for an outdoor dining experience!

PETS

Dogs are allowed.

WEBSITE

https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/peninsula/

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This park is not to be missed on your visit to Door County

Newport State Park

Europe Bay Trail in the fall at Newport State Park, Door County, Wisconsin

ABOUT

Newport State Park is near the tip of the Door County Peninsula off State Highway 42. Newport is the state’s only formally designated wilderness park, so it remains more secluded and quiet than Peninsula State Park, and you won’t have to get out of the way of the cyclists. There are no roads in the park except to the designated parking areas. It has 11 miles of shoreline and a dozen trails that will weave and out of the woods. The starry nights and nocturnal environment earned Newport State Park an International Dark Sky award — at night when there is a New Moon, you won’t be able to see your feet, it is just that dark. This park also has a nature center which kids may enjoy.

TIPS

The best trail for families is Europe Bay Trail, but be sure to take the 1-mile and not the 7-mile. The shorter trail gives you a variety of experiences: shoreline, lots of roots and stones to climb over, lots of wooded areas and even a few interesting rock formations. Bring your camera as the kids will want to climb and you will love seeing them interact with nature. This trail will not accommodate a stroller. There are picnic tables where you might just want to chill out and snack after your adventure.

PETS

Dogs are welcome here on a leash.

WEBSITE

https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/newport/

RECOMMENDED

If you want to have a quiet hike, this is the park for you.

Whitefish Dunes State Park

ABOUT

The forested sand dunes of Whitefish Dunes offer a unique geological history lesson — you’ll be immersed in the dunes and awe of the land. There are also native American structures intact and on display in the forest as well, fascinating for kids. Dogs are welcome not only on the trails but in a large section of the beach (away from the public). There’s is a small nature center on site as well. The park features a substantial sand beach, one of the longest along the western shore of Lake Michigan which is one of the few soft, white sandy beaches in Door County. The boardwalk to the beach offers stunning views and even if you don’t spend the day on the beach, it’s a great opportunity to let kids (or dogs or yourself) run and take in some quality air.

The kiddos can run for at least a mile while stopping only to investigate their findings on the shore.

TIPS

Start on the beach. If it’s a beachy kind of day, plan to spend the day here. Later hike up the dune’s steps and into the trails, following the trail up to Old Baldy. If you decide to come to Whitefish Dunes just to hike, start along the beach. There is plenty of room to walk along the beach, and depending on the wind and tide, the beach’s sand could be compacted enough to easily hike on. After about a mile on the beach, you can take the stairs up to the trails and head up to the top of Old Baldy. If you are dying to get cell service, this is one spot in Door County that has excellent cell reception!

PETS

There is a Dog Beach at Whitefish Dunes, about a mile down from the beach entrance. Dogs are also allowed on the trails.

WEBSITE

https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/

RECOMMENDED

This is not the best beach of Door County for little ones, however with a watchful parental eye, it’s still doable. There are rip currents near the beach entrance, but they are clearly marked with signs posted. The water gets deep pretty quickly as well. But the sand is the softest in Door County, and the beach is vast and gorgeous. There is also the opportunity to hike up to Old Baldy which is great fun for older kids who are up for the trek. If you don’t make this a beach day, you can still have a ton of fun hiking along the beach then up to Old Baldy. This is recommended if you have a half or full day to dedicate to being outdoors.

Rock Island State Park

Rock Island State Park, by David Flemming

ABOUT

Rock Island State Park is unique to Door County. It is an island and only accessible by ferry or boat. If you are on the Door County mainland, you’ll need two ferry rides, one to Washington Island and from there you’ll head over to another dock to board a passenger-only ferry to Rock Island (no bikes allowed). Why is it worth the trouble? There are about ten miles of trails with six miles of pristine shoreline for hiking.  No cars are allowed making Rock Island State Park a beautiful place to connect with nature. You can stay for the day or reserve a campsite for the night.

Rock Island Light House, Door County

TIPS

The restored lighthouse is worth the short 1-mile hike. Keep aware of the ferry schedule; if you miss the last ferry leaving for the day you will be stuck overnight with no amenities. And if you plan to get back to the mainland, then you’ll need to be sure to catch both ferries in time or you could be stuck on Washington Island overnight as well. However, Washington Island has hotels, although many are booked well in advance and require a 3-night stay. Bring bug spray and be careful not to wander off the trails as poison ivy can be an issue.

PETS

Dogs are allowed.

WEBSITE

https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/rockisland/

RECOMMENDED

I recommend this excursion if you are a nature lover and have already seen many other parts of Door County already. Rock Island is definitely worthy of a day of your visit to Door County.

Potawatomi State Park

Potawatomi State Park, by KarensQuilting.com

ABOUT

This state park is located near the city of Sturgeon Bay, the base of the Door County Peninsula. There are beautiful trails with gorgeous views — steep slopes and limestone cliffs. The lookout tower is permanently closed, but there are stunning views of the sunset on the Ski Hill.  The trails are adventurous with roots and large stones entrenched in the dirt making hiking fun for kids. The shoreline is rocky and there are no beaches here. Although there is a little store with kayak rentals and firewood, and Mary’s Waterfront Bar & Restaurant is a short walk from the south border of the park.

PETS

Dogs are allowed.

WEBSITE

https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/potawatomi/

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