Superb Summer Hiking in Northern Door County

Arguably the best aspect of living in and visiting Door County is its plethora of accessible green space. Preserved in a natural state, 23,000 acres of public land are available for visitors to enjoy. From just about any point from Sturgeon Bay northward, a state or county park is just minutes away. As a year-round resident, I have developed a list of my favorite places and trails to explore, depending on the season.

Spring & Early Summer

In May and June the Door County Land Trusts are beautiful areas to explore. These small, lesser-known land preserves boast miles of trails, and each of the 14 locations is unique. Several of them preserve native wetlands, a key environment in Wisconsin. Spring is an ideal time to visit lakes and wetlands, as in the hot and muggy later summer months the mosquitos and flies can be oppressive. Earlier in the year, vernal blooms dot them with color.

Three Springs Nature Preserve is located about a mile and a half east of Sister Bay on County Road ZZ. On this farm reclaimed by nature, explore fields and former orchards surrounded by hand-stacked rock barriers and find some of the old apple trees still standing. Much of the preserve is wetlands, and a short walk will take you to a scenic overlook of a wide creek. In mid-May it may be possible to see the endangered dwarf lake iris, a pretty purple flower that blooms in sandy, wet soil. Hard-to-find mushrooms also appear at this land trust, though I’ve never been lucky enough to spot them myself. Take the 1.75-mile trail to make the tour of this special place.

Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 15 minutes (11.1miles)

Pre-registration required: No

Cost: Free

Kangaroo Lake Nature Preserve in Baileys Harbor also has a diverse swampland. To access, park west of the preserve on Maple Road and hike down the ridge to Kangaroo Lake. Water birds and birds of prey, including eagles, osprey, egrets, or great blue heron are often visible near the water.

Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 4 minutes (2.7 miles)

Pre-registration required: No

Cost: Free

 

Summer

In late June, July and August, a hike on a hot day leaves you yearning for a dip in the clear waters of Lake Michigan or Green Bay. Plan your walk with a beach as the destination at one of Door County’s incredible county and state parks.

Whitefish Dunes State Park is about 14 miles north of Sturgeon Bay off of Highway 57. An annual park sticker grants access to all of Wisconsin’s state parks for the whole year. Explore the woods and wetlands of this gorgeous lakefront park. From the nature center, the Red trail takes hikers through the woods behind the beach, giving access to the soft sand below the dunes at several outlets. On a calm day, Lake Michigan provides a cooling dip for tired feet.

For more incredible water views, hike north on the Brachiopod trail to Cave Point County Park. Here, the limestone lakeshore has been carved out by the wave action over time to form inlets, coves and even underwater caves. On a windy day, the waves crash noisily into the coves, spraying onlookers on the shore with a cool mist. On a calm day, it is possible to see clear to the rock-and-sand bottom of the coves. Brave swimmers even climb down the sunny rocks for a one-of-a-kind swimming experience.

Distance from Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 17 minutes (11 miles)

Pre-registration required: Sticker or day pass required to park in Whitefish Dunes State Park

Cost: Check DNR website for pricing

To view the other side of the peninsula and the great Green Bay, visit Peninsula State Park. Enter the north end of the park just south of Ephraim on Shore Road. Park at Eagle Terrace and venture onto the Eagle Trail. Less level than the land trust trails, this trail challenges hikers with roots and rocks. Its spectacular views of the village of Ephraim and an up-close-and-personal experience beside the Eagle bluffs make the tougher going worthwhile. The trail begins with a slow descent to a lookout and further descends right to the water. The trail follows the bluffs, providing a clear view of Horseshoe Island. A slow climb at the end makes hikers feel they’ve earned lunch.

Distance from Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 15 minutes (9 miles)

Pre-registration required: Sticker or day pass required to park in Peninsula State Park

Cost: Check DNR website for pricing

Further north, Newport State Park provides miles of hiking trails to explore. The park’s Europe Bay Beach is a roughly mile-long stretch of sand. Parking is available at Ferdinand Hotz Park on Europe Bay Road, open to the public without a park sticker. Two trails intersect the road; Hotz Trail leads to Europe lake and circles back to the bay, while Europe Bay trail winds through the woods behind the beach. Either trail eventually has outlets onto the beach, so explore both areas! Swimming is usually prime here, especially on a calm day. These trails are mostly flat and free of obstacles.

Distance from Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 31 minutes (21.7 miles)

Pre-registration required: No

Cost: Free

The peninsula’s unique mix of wetland, forest, farmland and shoreline meld into a wild beauty. Northern Door County truly has enough trails and shoreline to keep explorers occupied for the whole of the summer season. Even though you may return to a favorite trail or park, nature and weather will ensure you never have the same hike twice.

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