There’s no place in Wisconsin quite like Door County. Known as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” and beloved by travelers, it’s a place where days are spent by the water and nights end around the bonfire. It’s where to go for a barefoot, carefree, anything goes sort of vacation, where you can wake up to nature – birds chirping, waves crashing – and go to sleep under the stars. It’s the kind of place you want to be in the summer.
A highlight of any trip to Door County is exploring some of the spectacular wonders nature has forged into the peninsula’s unique landscape. From sea caves to sand dunes, a trek around Door County is enough to spark anyone’s inner adventurer. So go ahead, travel off the beaten path and discover what’s out there – you’ll be glad you did!
As a county park, 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.
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 a rare formation in the United States.
The shoreline and vegetation of this county park are mostly untouched on purpose. In fact, the only developed areas of its 156 acres are 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.
Hike more than five miles of winding trails through this preserve, recognized as a National Natural Landmark. It consists of 30 narrow, crescent-shaped sandy ridges, and 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.
4. Ellison Bluff State Natural Area
This hidden park includes a gorgeous drive down a three-quarter-mile road. The drive alone is worth the trip, 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’s 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 so incredible?
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 even more adventure to your excursion.
6. White Cliff Fen and Forest Preserve
Located just north of Egg Harbor, the White Cliff Nature Preserve is an ecologist's paradise, featuring 100 acres of serene forests and wetlands.
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.
7. Whitefish Dunes State Park & State Natural Area
Adjacent to Cave Point County Park, Whitefish preserves the largest and most significant sand dunes in Wisconsin. 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.
Be sure to visit the park's nature center, which is open year-round, to learn more about this stunning area.
Want to keep exploring? Check out these awe-inspiring natural wonders around the state, or pitch your tent at these top spots for shoreline camping!