Your Guide to Exploring Door County’s Nature

Find paths less taken, waters beyond the Great Lake and more.


The Paths Less Taken

Consider these slices of nature away from the state parks’ bustle.

Door County has five state parks good for hikers, with trails beneath towering bluffs at Peninsula, through ancient lakeshore at Whitefish Dunes, or running a full-day circuit of the beaches and forests of Newport. But the paths not taken may be right under your nose.  

Since 1986, the Door County Land Trust has put more than 8,800 acres under protection to preserve “the scenic beauty, open space and ecological integrity of Door County.” Fourteen preserves offer walking paths, from half a mile up to three. These gems, hidden in plain sight, often equally lay in leaves no step has trodden black.  


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Disappear into the 515-acre Three Springs Nature Preserve near Sister Bay on a 1.75-mile stroll through a historic farm to a bench where still waters await for reflection. A turn in the woods is steps away from the busy street in Ephraim at Anderson Pond.  

Clay Banks; Photo by Mike Tittel/Destination Door County

A hike through Bay Shore Blufflands north of Sturgeon Bay reveals wetlands, forest and prairie, with a view from the Niagara Escarpment overlooking Green Bay. In southeastern Door County is Legacy Nature Preserve at Clay Banks, where a trail loops a mile and follows the shoreline of Lake Michigan. 

Take the ferry to Washington Island to find Detroit Harbor Nature Preserve, traversed by an old logging trail that ironically reveals old-growth forest and the county’s largest yellow birches, as well as hemlock, maple and white cedar. A variety of bird species nest here, and the migratory flocks like it for a stop.  

Get the foundation’s app (search Door County Land Trust in your app store) or paper map featuring what’s currently open to the public. Nature seekers, especially birders, will love them all. 

Dark Skies For Starry Eyes

LIGHT POLLUTION is to be expected in cities, but even out in the countryside, public and private lighting and towns near and far can put a damper on stargazing. The International Dark-Sky Association has strict criteria for properties that qualify as truly dark, and Newport State Park is one of around 80 such parks in the US. If you’ve never seen the Milky Way, this dark sky will amaze you.   

Pack your telescope or binoculars, your best camera and tripod, a beach blanket to lie back on to save your neck, a stargazing app (we like Star Walk 2 or the pricier SkySafari 7 Pro) and standard mosquito prep. Scout the park during the day, because they aren’t kidding about how dark it is. A flashlight projecting red light is a good way to keep your best night vision. Check the weather, but also find out about interfering moon presence (bad) and International Space Station crossings (good).  

Newport State Park; Photo by Dan Egert

The Other Waters

Sure, there’s the surrounding Great Lake, but Door County has other beautiful waters you should check out. 

Clark Lake

Right next to Whitefish Dunes State Park, Clark sees the most activity of Door County’s inland lakes, with a public swim beach and two boat launches. While its deepest point is double Kangaroo and Europe’s, much of the 865-acre lake is quite shallow. 

Clark Lake; Photo by Lauren Reichelt, courtesy of Door County Cabin Collective

Europe Lake

Minimally developed and bordering Newport State Park, this clear 297-acre lake has a max depth of just over 10 feet. A single boat launch gets you in for a paddling adventure or a bit of fishing for northern, bluegill, smallmouth bass, walleye and crappie. A hiking trail and two rustic hike-in campsites lie on the park side.  

Kangaroo Lake

The largest of Door County’s inland waters but as shallow as Europe, the 1,156-acre lake is good for panfish, bass, northern and walleye fishing and open to paddling. The Door County Land Trust’s first preserve is here, with a 1.5-mile loop trail that arrives at the lakeshore. 

Mink River Estuary 

The spring-fed stream becomes an unspoiled freshwater estuary where it meets Lake Michigan at Rowleys Bay – perfect for paddling. A path from the road leads all the way to the water’s edge.

Hein Creek 

A hiking trail skirts along this meandering stream through the forested section of the DCLT’s preserve of the same name.  

Mink River Estuary; Photo by Mike Tittel/Destination Door County



This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s May issue.

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