Exploring Eagle Trail in Peninsula State Park

The bluffs of the Niagara Escarpment are one of Door County’s defining features, and nowhere is their scale and beauty more pronounced than along Eagle Trail in Peninsula State Park.

This two-mile loop that drops more than 200 feet from atop the bluff to the bottom is the most popular of all the peninsula’s hiking routes for good reason. The jaw-dropping views begin with your first step at Eagle Terrace. Originally the site of quarrying by the Eagle Bluff Stone Co., the terrace was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and offers a panoramic view of the quaint village of Ephraim across Eagle Harbor.

The trail’s descent takes you through cedar forests, with the songs of the black-throated blue warbler and the drumming of pileated woodpeckers as your soundtrack. Trillium, thimbleberry, bellwort and leatherwood flowers line the trail. To one side the outcroppings of the escarpment guide you, to the other the blue waters of the harbor peek between the cedars.

It’s a gorgeous hike, but it’s also the park’s most difficult, what park naturalist Kathleen Harris calls “an ankle-twister.” The trail is full of rocks and exposed roots, making flip-flops a no-no, and walking sticks a good idea. If you go with a child less than four years old, expect to carry them back up the bluff.

The trail not only offers some of the most varied terrain and incredible water views in the county, but also a close-up look at the exposed karst topography that sits below the soil of Door County. The fissures and outcroppings of rock created by the Niagara Escarpment are visible everywhere, but nowhere more dramatically than when you hike below the towering cliffs of Eagle Bluff and the rocks above look as though they could be easily loosened.

The name? That’s owed to the bald eagles once known to nest on the bluff. The eagle population dwindled to just 103 nesting pairs statewide in the 1970s, but it has made a long, steady comeback, counting 1,504 nesting pairs in 2016. Of those, 21 were found in Door County, second only to Marinette County (33) in northeast Wisconsin.

Eagle Trail

Difficulty: Hard

Key features: Dramatic limestone bluffs, caves, shoreline, and amazing views of Eagle Harbor, Horseshoe Island and the bluff from above and below.

If you go: Wear good hiking shoes. A walking stick doesn’t hurt.

Tip: Join a naturalist hike, offered twice a month in summer, to learn the full history of the trail and the plant life around you. Bring lunch and enjoy it at the halfway mark on the shoreline, or at the picnic area at the terrace.

Fun fact: The land in Peninsula State Park was once owned by 30 different landowners, and the remnants of root cellars are seen on the trail, including that of Hjalmar Holand, the noted Door County historian.

Best time to go:  Early morning, when an early start allows you to catch the first glimpse of the sun rising over Ephraim.

Time:  1.5 – 2 hours

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