7 Scenic Natural Wonders of Door County

By Amy Bayer
Staff Writer

Situated between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, the Door County Peninsula has 298 miles of shoreline and is peaked by a series of islands and stretch of water named the Death's Door Strait.

With lush forests and unique rock formations enhanced by the Niagara Escarpment, the geography and ecology of Door County makes it easy to find a treasure at every turn. Here's a list of seven scenic wonders off the beaten path for you to visit during your next trip to the "Cape Cod of the Midwest."

Cave Point1. Cave Point County Park

Because it's a county park instead of one of the area's five more well-known state parks, Cave Point is often overlooked by those traveling to Door County each year. However, this natural gem along the eastern shore is absolutely worth the trip.

The wind and waves from Lake Michigan have worn away limestone cliffs to create underwater caves. On stormy days, the sound of waves crashing into the cliffs is thunderous, and the spray can shoot up to 20 feet in the air.

The view from the top is breathtaking as you watch the water splash and swirl beneath you; however, there is no railing so keep a careful eye on the kids. Depending on the weather and the tide, visitors can climb down to the water's edge.

Even during the winter the park is stunning as the rocks and trees are covered in sparkling ice.

Door Bluff Headlands Park2. Door Bluff Headlands Park

The Door Bluff, also known as the Headlands, is near Gills Rock on the northern end of the Door County Peninsula. The topography is unique in structure and appearance, and is a rare formation in the United States.

The shoreline and vegetation of this county park are mostly untouched by design. In fact, the only developed area of its 156 acres is the road that leads to the interior and the lookout that hangs over the edge, providing an incredible view of Green Bay. There are no facilities or developed trails.

Although visitors and animals have created their own paths over time the hiking can be difficult around the hilly and unmarked terrain, but if you have a sense of adventure the view is absolutely worth the trip.

Ridges Sanctuary3. The Ridges Sanctuary

Hike more than five miles of winding trails through the most biologically diverse ecosystem in Wisconsin. The preserve, recognized as a National Natural Landmark, consists of 30 narrow, crescent-shaped sandy ridges which represent a former beach line of Lake Michigan. Each one took an average of 30 to 50 years to form.

These extraordinary forests and wetlands are home to more than 475 plant species, including 25 of the 40 species of orchids native to the state.

In addition to all of these natural wonders, the historic Baileys Harbor Range Lights, a rare type of lighthouse, are found here and can be viewed from the Sanctuary's hiking trails.

Ellison Bay Bluff4. Ellison Bluff State Natural Area 

This hidden park includes a gorgeous drive down a three-quarter-mile road. The trip is worth the drive alone, but in addition, when you get to the parking lot, you'll find some of the most beautiful blufftop views in the county.

Ellison Bluff offers a wooden observation deck over the edge of a sheer 100-foot limestone cliff. There is also an enclosed catwalk that extends over the cliff to provide another perspective and breathtaking view.

The trails in the park offer a nice hike through the trees. Because the cliff itself has such a steep precipice, access to the shore is impossible. But who needs a beach when the view from the top is such an awe-inspiring feature?

Schoolhouse Beach5. Schoolhouse Beach

Schoolhouse is not your typical beach. Incidentally, it's one of only five of its kind in the world. Located at Schoolhouse Beach Town Park in a protected cove along Washington Island, the shore is covered in millions of small smooth stones. It's the perfect place for those who hate getting sand in their shoes.

This geological marvel is an excellent spot for swimmers and even has a diving raft. During the summer, the water in the cove can appear crystal clear. The town park is in a beautiful wooded setting and it's a great place to have a picnic.

It may take a ferry ride across the Death's Door Straight to get to Washington Island, but the journey to such an idyllic landscape and unique beach adds another element of fun and adventure to your excursion.

White Cliff6. White Cliff Fen and Forest Preserve

Located just north of Egg Harbor, the White Cliff Fen and Forest Preserve has 100 acres of serene forests and wetlands. While this location may not have the breathtaking views of the bluffs and beaches, it's an ecologist's paradise.

The centerpiece of the preserve is a 30-acre fen, fed by mineral-rich groundwater. Take the 1.5-mile trail that loops through the wetlands and old-growth cedar forest. Because of the multitude of marsh milkweed, numerous dragonflies and butterflies are attracted to the area during late spring and summer.

This preserve is a hidden treasure with few visitors and is the perfect destination to explore if you like quiet hikes through beautiful surroundings.

Whitefish Dunes7. Whitefish Dunes State Park & State Natural Area

Adjacent to Cave Point County Park, Whitefish preserves the largest and most significant sand dunes in Wisconsin. The park covers 865 acres along Lake Michigan, and its dunes are protected by Whitefish Bay.

Check out "Old Baldy," which rises 93 feet above lake level and is the highest sand dune in the state. Stroll along the sandy lakefront or hike 14.5 miles of trails, including a boardwalk through the wetlands.

Because the wind and sun create harsh living conditions on the sand dunes, plants and animals have developed special adaptations to survive the environment, and while exploring the area you'll be sure to come across some of the unique and threatened flora.

Be sure to visit the park's nature center, which is open year-round, to learn more about this stunning area.


Want to read more? Check out these seven statewide natural wonders, and keep an eye on TravelWisconsin.com as we roll out more articles on scenic wonders by county.

This entry was posted in Natural Attractions and Parks