Door County boasts more state parks than any other county in Wisconsin, and for those of us that live here, these green spaces prove to be haven-like playgrounds amidst our busy lifestyles. In my tenure in the county, I’ve spent countless nights beneath the stars at Newport, plenty of days on the beach at Whitefish Dunes, and hours appreciating the vistas from the towers at Potawatomi and Peninsula. However, Rock Island State Park has proven to be rather elusive.
Requiring two ferry rides across Death’s Door, I had long ago idealized the notion of leaving the hustle and bustle of summer in the county behind for a multi-day, mini-vacation to Rock Island. With only the items I could carry upon my back, I’d fill my days from sunrise to sunset with yoga on the beach, hikes through the woods, and naps in a hammock. These full yet simple days would be complemented by pleasant evenings beside a campfire and beneath the moon.
After planning my imaginary trip for years, I finally came to the realization last summer that the block of time I was hoping for was never going to clear itself. Rather than let another summer pass where I didn’t set foot in Door County’s fifth state park, I opted for a compromise – a day trip to Rock Island.
Having marched along in silence for a while, we reconvened beside the Water Tower – an element of Thordarson’s original master plan to make the island habitable year round. After checking our watches, we realized that unless we wanted to test our swimming skills we would have to cut our trek short. We opted to take the Hauamal Trail back to the dock in order to catch the day’s last ferry off the island.
Late that afternoon as we motored away from Rock Island, there were two boys perched atop the ledge of the boathouse. With their legs hanging over the side, I couldn’t help but smile at their simple pleasure. The farther away from them we traveled, the smaller their silhouettes became; however, their postures continued to convey everything I had always imagined, and finally experienced, about Rock Island.
Whether just a day trip or a lengthier stay, the spirit of adventure and the possibility of escape can most certainly be found within the confines of Rock Island State Park.
Thinking of spending the night?
Rock Island State Park offers the unique opportunity for primitive, walk-in (only) camping at 42 sites – 35 sites on the southwest side of the island, 5 remote sites on the southeast side of the island and 2 group sites. All of the campsites can be reserved.
The few amenities included with campsites on Rock Island include drinking water (near the dock), picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets. Firewood is also available on the island.
As responsible stewards, people intending to camp on Rock Island should be sure to practice Leave No Trace ethics (from www.lnt.org).
Principles of Leave No Trace:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
To make a reservation, check for availability or for more information on Rock Island contact the park’s office at (920) 847-2235 or visit www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/parks/specific/rockisland.