Northern Door County’s Charming Lighthouses

Ridges range light boardwalk

Ridges range light boardwalk

With roughly 300 miles of shoreline and waters of Lake Michigan and Green Bay on three sides, Door County has a need to mark her shores with lighthouses. These tall and rustically beautiful structures ring the peninsula. Despite providing over 100 years of service, many continue to be beacons of navigation for boats today. Modern GPS and other navigation tools provide most navigation for today’s vessels, but the lighthouses remain valuable tools and romantic reminders of days gone by. Baileys Harbor is home to three lighthouses, two of which are still in use and open to the public.


Ridges range light

Ridges range light

Situated just north of the Blacksmith Inn are the Baileys Harbor range lights. The range lights are two structures built in 1869, a white Upper Range light further inland, and a red Lower Range light nearer the shore. Boat captains align the lights to get back on course. Today, the Ridges Sanctuary and a group of volunteers maintain the still-functioning lights and keep them open to the public. The Upper Range light is frequently open for tours when you visit the Ridges Sanctuary.

Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Walkable in 5 minutes

Pre-registration required: No

Cost: $5 at the Ridges Sanctuary Nature Center

When the range lights were constructed, Baileys Harbor’s older lighthouse, located on the eastern-most peninsula of the harbor, was taken out of service. The light tower dates to 1852, and it still stands today. The structure is now privately owned and not open to the public. However, if you venture around the harbor in a boat, the old lighthouse, known as the “Birdcage lighthouse” is visible from the water.

Further north is the Cana Island lighthouse, an iconic 89-foot tower light. The lighthouse keeper’s home is tan brick, and the tower itself is a striking white. The original Fresnel lens installed in 1869 still resides in the tower, and it is still functional. Visitors can tour the grounds and buildings of Cana Island. The location itself is unique. Visitors park in a lot on Cana Island Road and walk a causeway to Cana Island. Water sometimes covers the causeway, necessitating waterproof shoes or boots on a visit. Explore the island and climb the 97 steps to the top of the tower for a spectacular panorama of Lake Michigan and the peninsula.

Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 15 minutes (6.5 miles)

Pre-registration required: No

Cost: $12 and includes entrance to the lighthouse keeper’s quarters and light tower

Are you a lighthouse enthusiast? Many more towers dot the shoreline of northern Door County and its islands. A ferry ride to Washington island provides views of the Plum Island range lights and Pilot Island lighthouse. Neither is open to the public. One Door County island lighthouse is open for tours in the summer months: the Pottawatomie Light on Rock Island. To get there, take the Washington Island car ferry, drive across Washington Island, and board the Karfi for a quick ride to Rock Island. Hike the 1.3 miles up to Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse, which sits on a bluff overlooking the meeting of Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Docents provide tours of the building and tower.

Door County Trolley Tours offers a driving tour of several iconic peninsula lighthouses, complete with lunch and guided tours of each location.

Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 12 minutes (8.2 miles)

Pre-registration required: Yes

Cost: $49.95

There are too many lighthouses to see in just one day; make a weekend of your tower tour. Check the Blacksmith Inn’s availability for your weekend of charming lighthouses.