The atmosphere on Washington Island in August feels like all the best parts of a black-and-white photograph, complete with sticky hands from melting ice cream, sandy toes, cruising with the windows down, sunburned shoulders and freckles. Full of hidden gems and time-tested favorites, Washington Island is the best place to while away the last, golden weeks of summertime. As you prepare for your next trip to the island, plan to check out the five must-sees described below.
Modeled on a Norwegian church built around 1150, Washington Island’s stavkirke was completed in 1999. Supported by 12 18-foot “staves,” or pillars, the building was designed with traditional Norwegian architecture in mind and features a six-tiered roof with more than 9,600 four-inch-wide shingles, decorative interior carvings, an intricate model of the Mackinac schooner and carved dragons adorning the upper tiers of the roof. It serves as a testament to the rich Scandinavian heritage of the island and as a peaceful site for prayer and meditation that extends to the meditation trail that winds across the property, lined with psalms and dappled with sunlight.
Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm
Featuring rows of fragrant lavender plants, tasty lavender treats and lavender products galore, Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm is the largest single-site lavender grower in the Midwest, producing 14 varieties. The farm will tend 30,000 lavender plants when planting is completed during the next three years. You may pick your own lavender, try some lavender-vanilla ice cream, sample silky lavender lotion or simply wander through the rows. Visit fragrantisle.com to check out the calendar of events, including lavender massages in the fields, wine tastings and yoga.
Little Lake Nature Preserve
Preserved by the Door County Land Trust, the Little Lake Nature Preserve comprises 33 acres and more than 5,000 feet of shoreline surrounding the entire northern half of Little Lake – Washington Island’s only inland lake – created thousands of years ago and situated within 250 feet of Lake Michigan. A small wooden sign marks the preserve’s access trail, located off Main Road between Gudmundsen Drive and Boyers Bluff Road. Winding through a wooded area, the 0.8-mile trail leads to a hidden jewel: a rocky isthmus between the waters of Little Lake and Green Bay.
Mountain Park Lookout
From the top of the Mountain Park Lookout, visitors look over the northeast corner of Washington Island, a view that includes Rock Island and the beginning of the Grand Traverse Islands in the distance. The view is stunning, but it requires some sweat: Visitors must climb 186 steps before they reach the base of the tower. The view from the top of the lookout is definitely worth the exercise.
Sand Dunes Park
Although Schoolhouse Beach – famous for its skipping stones – is usually the first beach that comes to mind when planning a visit to Washington Island, Sand Dunes Park is a must-see if you’re craving a good, old-fashioned sand beach. Head there to picnic, make sandcastles, relax on a towel and swim in Lake Michigan. Sand Dunes Park is rarely busy and provides a good alternative to the often-crowded Schoolhouse Beach.