Livin’ the Kayaker’s Dream in Door County

Jackson Harbor, Washington Island.

Since my wife and I purchased “The Sweet Retreat” in Sturgeon Bay earlier this year, we have had the good fortune of being able to kayak at some Door County locations we’ve dreamed of for a long time. Being able to pick the right weather while already being in the county is a blessing for which we are truly thankful.

Here are some of the places we’ve paddled in July that I highly recommend:

Sawyer Harbor

Sawyer Harbor is a protected body of water located just offshore in Sturgeon Bay’s Potawatomi State Park. Idyll Wood Island and H.O.E. (Heaven on Earth) Island are just a short distance out from the launching area. A long, narrow peninsula known as Idlewild divides Sawyer Harbor from Sturgeon Bay. Cabot Point marks the tip of this peninsula. Paddling around it and following the peninsula west to where the waters of Sturgeon Bay meet Green Bay will bring you to the historic Sherwood Point Lighthouse. This was the last manned station on the Great Lakes.

Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal

Paddling east from Sherwood Point seven miles takes kayakers through the heart of downtown Sturgeon Bay. Pass under the historic Michigan Street Bridge, the new Oregon Street Bridge, and the Bay View Bridge. (I’ve launched my kayak from the beach at Otumba Park near the Bridgeport Resort, which provides a higher degree of safety than kayaking the narrow shipping canal.) On the far eastern end of the canal is the U.S. Coast Guard Station and the Sturgeon Bay Canal Light. The Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal North Pierhead Light is the breakwall’s sentinel, which brings you all the way to Lake Michigan.

The Door County Land Trust has protected hundreds of acres near here called the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve. There are 2.5 miles of hiking trails and a lovely sand beach that looks out on the lighthouses. I love this spot!

Cave Point County Park

Up the Lake Michigan coast is an iconic Door County location well known to photographers. I’ve visited Cave Point County Park many times over the years, but always with my feet firmly planted on land. This summer, I leisurely floated in my kayak along this rugged shoreline and gained a different perspective of the bluffs and caves of a familiar place. I chose a calm, early morning and launched from the sand beach at Whitefish Dunes State Park. A large area of cairns had been built along the shore just beyond the caves. It was an unexpected discovery that I enjoyed seeing and photographing.

Cana Island

Continuing north along Lake Michigan, I couldn’t wait to launch my kayak at Cana Island. The lighthouse here is often identified as a symbol of Door County. My wife and I really treasured being able to ride the waves near this lovely maritime landmark.

Jackson Harbor

Later that week, I took a couple of hours to explore Jackson Harbor while I was on Washington Island. It was a pleasant change to have the time to watch the Rock Island Ferry, Karfi, come and go here. The wind was too strong for my comfort level to cross over to Rock Island State Park so I stayed in the harbor. A couple of years ago I circumnavigated Rock Island and it is a definite kayaking highlight in Door County.

Peninsula State Park

Our last paddling outing came in Peninsula State Park. We put in at the Nicolet Bay beach and cruised to Horseshoe Island. It was another lovely warm day with calm water. Numerous kayakers and stand up paddleboarders were in the bay along with lots of sailboats and other pleasure crafts. We took time to land our boats on the rocky beach in the harbor before exploring on shore. Finally, we got back in the kayaks and circumnavigated Horseshoe before returning to Nicolet Bay.

I’m looking forward to more mini paddling adventures in Door County as the summer continues. Before taking to the water, please consider joining a tour group or signing up for a class or symposium that will provide you with instruction on paddling safety.