Finding a Trail

What’s outside in Door County? The answer to this question has inspired millions of visitors,
hundreds of ecologists, several conservation organizations, and a few famous naturalists to
explore the county’s beautiful hiking trails and to preserve as many natural areas as possible.

The county offers many beautiful landscapes and ecosystems including lush green forests,
graceful sand dunes, flower­filled meadows, ancient cedars draping over the steep bluffs of the
Niagara Escarpment, marshes full of wildlife, mystic cedar swamps, and vast shorelines and
waterscapes. In addition, Door County offers miles of excellent trails for hiking and bicycling in
its 5 state parks, 17 county parks, and endless miles of shoreline. In the early summer the
beaches are a masterpieces of sight and the marshes are of symphony of sound.

One of the best beach hikes in the county is found at Newport State Park in Ellison Bay. I have
hiked the beach in every season and each offers an inspirational masterpiece of color. In early
summer, the sky is a brilliant blue with sweeping clouds that a watercolor artist can only dream
to accomplish. Starkly white swans dot the deep blue horizon line in floating pairs. A bright
green hue glows from the newly opened leaves, and the beach plants are helped by the wind to
draw patterns in the sand. Stones decorated with fossils are fresh from the scrubbing of winter’s
ice and the washing of spring’s melt. This area has been an inspiration to many artists. As all
great works of art, a lot of time is taken in their creation and they are easily destroyed — so
tread lightly through this masterpiece while you enjoy it.
Whitefish Dunes State Park also offers excellent beach hiking. With several miles of sandy
beach and dunes along Lake Michigan it feels as if you have been transported to the Atlantic

Another great spot to hike is on a trail in the Peninsula State Park: the Sunset trail to Weborg
Marsh. This marsh earns the designation of a State Natural Area by providing habitat to a
diversity of wildlife including ducks, geese, cranes, red­wing black birds, turtles, frogs, and
mammals. A hike on Sunset Trail through this area in the warmth of the early summer sun is
incredible. However, the sounds that come from the marsh on early summer nights may rival the
sights by day.

In early summer there is an enchanting sound that resonates at night.  One evening as I walked
past the Peninsula State Park entrance in Fish Creek this incredible sound became notably
louder. I pursued the sound on Sunset Trail to Weborg Marsh, where the calls of thousands of
spring peepers, chorus frogs, tree frogs, and other amphibians looking for mates hovered over
the marsh in an incredible orchestration. A hike in this time less­traveled to a marsh or to
wetlands in early summer promises to be an experience of a lifetime. Amazingly, these areas
will be almost completely silent in the months that follow as the water absorbs into the ground
and the mating season ends. With this silence comes forgetfulness. Wisconsin has actually lost
about 47%, or over 4 million acres of its original wetlands. What once were considered
wastelands, wetlands are now known to be the most productive ecosystems for wildlife.

Photo by Dan Eggert.

Photo by Dan Eggert.

One of the most spectacular natural features in Door County is the Niagara Escarpment. The
escarpment is most visible in outcrop and bluff areas, but it is also an interesting ecosystem in
itself that supports many rare species. Endangered ice­age land snails rely on this ecosystem.
Small cedars that grow and hang in cracks of the escarpment can be 800 to 1,000 years old.
The escarpment is a bedrock ridge made of dolomite rock that runs for 650 miles from south of
Rochester, New York, across southeastern Canada and Michigan’s upper peninsula, through
Door County and into southeastern Wisconsin. In Ontario, the Niagara Escarpment has been
designated as a World Biosphere Reserve. In Wisconsin, Door County has the most prominent
escarpment features.

There are a couple of excellent trails in Door County for escarpment viewing. Eagle Bluff Trail in
Peninsula State Park is one of the most popular places as it takes hikers to the foot of the
magnificent towering bluffs and caves of the escarpment. Another excellent way to spend a day
exploring the escarpment is on Rock Island State Park, located a short ferry ride north of
Washington Island. The entire island is a made up of a portion of the escarpment that resisted
glacial erosion.

Once again, escarpment areas are very fragile in that they provide habitat for endangered
species and that the components of the ecosystem take a long time to develop (1,000 year old
cedars, slow growing moss). Visit these areas with great care.

After rambling through Door County’s parks or overlooking any the county’s land or waterscapes
you may become addicted to the peaceful beauty that surrounds you. Your soul may feel a little
lighter and your heart a little more connected. This feeling is priceless in the good it does for
your body and being. As you end your day with these refreshed feelings consider what you can
do to secure this experience for future generations.
One of the largest threats to natural areas in Door County is the invasion of exotic species.
Natural areas can be completely taken over by populations of exotic plants. This is an important
issue because the plants make up the base of the ecosystem, so once the plant cover changes
the entire ecosystem will change. In most cases, this results in lowering the biodiversity of the
Seeds from exotic species are spread by animals, birds, wind and humans. Invasive species are
spread quickly by humans as we hike in one area, pick up seeds in the dirt and mud in our
shoes, and then hike in another area and disperse the seeds. The Nature Conservancy has
installed boot brushes on some of their trails to reduce this human dispersal. Hikers can greatly
help reduce the spread of invasive species by staying on the trails and by cleaning off our shoes
before and after hiking.

There are many conservation efforts going on in Door County that need continual support. If you
are interested in becoming involved with conservation efforts or preserving your land in Door
County contact The Nature Conservancy at (920) 743­8695 or or contact the
Door County Land Trust at (920) 839­9990 or

Related Organizations