I’m only a couple of years into the whole parenting thing, but the other evening I experienced a moment that assured me that for all the things I may get wrong, I’ve been doing something right. As we drove past Peninsula State Park, my 2-½-year-old son, Jack, asked eagerly from the back seat, “Mama? We go hike?” My mama heart filled with pride.
The benefits of hiking with kids is something that is not lost on me. From learning to “leave no trace” to instilling a sense of adventure, there were good reasons why my son’s baby registry passed up items such as receiving blankets and baby swings and listed, instead, a hiking carrier and a portable bassinet for use inside a tent.
Raising a family in Door County – which seems to have a trail at every turn – means that we get to instill the values and skills gained by hiking on a regular basis. But even if the peninsula is your home away from home for the season or just a weekend, reaping the benefits of a family hike is only a trail away.
The State Parks
Door County is home to five state parks – Potawatomi, Whitefish Dunes, Peninsula, Newport and Rock Island – and they’re all worth checking out. A daily park pass will get you into the first four; a trip to Rock Island requires a separate fee and two ferry rides: one to Washington Island and a second to Rock Island.
In Peninsula State Park, the Sentinel Trail is a favorite for its wide path and relatively flat, packed-dirt terrain. (We easily maneuver our BOB stroller over the trail.) It runs entirely through the woods as well, giving you and the kids a break from the sun.
Interpretive trails are always a hit, with the White Cedar Trail at Peninsula and the Brachiopod Trail at Whitefish Dunes being two popular picks. While you’re checking out the White Cedar Trail, be sure to explore the nearby White Cedar Nature Center, which reopened last summer following a two-year expansion and renovation.
Ephraim Preserve at Anderson Pond
10118 Moravia St. in Ephraim
Though it may not be at the top of our list during the height of mosquito season, the Ephraim Preserve at Anderson Pond – part of Door County Land Trust – offers a gentle, one-mile loop. Located just off Highway 42 between Fish Creek and Ephraim, the easy-to-access parking lot makes it a great pit stop for kids who need to get out of the car to burn off some energy.
As you wind your way under the hemlock, white cedar and hardwood forest, sights along the way include wetlands, Anderson Pond, the Niagara Escarpment, remnants of the historical Anderson family farmstead and an array of waterfowl that call the area home.
Furry family members are welcomed, but they must be kept on a leash at all times.
The Ridges’ Family Discovery Trail
8166 Hwy 57 in Baileys Harbor
The Ridges Sanctuary has so much to offer children and adults that it’s a must-go destination for any nature-loving family. The Family Discovery Trail in particular is one to add to your hiking itinerary.
It’s open seasonally from dawn until dusk, when you can choose between a self-guided or naturalist-guided hike. In addition to being outdoors, kids can enjoy 13 activity stations along the way. Catch butterflies in the meadow or frogs in the stream; practice building a bridge; dig for bones; or build a fort with sticks.
A $5 fee for adults (kids younger than 18 are free) lets you enjoy all that the trail has to offer.