Newport State Park: The Art of Backpacking With Your Camera

Yahoo! Summer has finally arrived in Door County. Cooped up all winter, I can’t wait to get out in the fresh air to photograph, and there are plenty of photos to be taken this time of year in Door County.

For me the most enjoyable way to experience photography in the outdoors is backpacking. Man was designed to walk. Since prehistoric times we have been walking. Sure we can run, some faster and farther then others, but running was to help us hunt food or escape predators. Hiking is the way to go. Lace up your boots, strap on a backpack and off we go.

My all-time favorite place to backpack is at Door County’s Newport State Park. A wilderness experience can be achieved only minutes away from the area’s hustle and bustle, yet it can feel like lifetimes away. I can often hike for hours without passing another hiker. But make no mistake, Newport State Park is a primitive camp with few amenities.

I remember the first time I backpacked at Newport. Using the outhouse was a true experience since it’s not an outhouse at all, just a toilet on a concrete slab open on all sides with just a wood screen mercifully blocking the view from your campmates. A strange experience to say the least, but after a while squirrels began to scramble past and birds started to land on tree branches nearby. A comfortable seat with the best views in Door County. All part of the experience of backpacking at Newport.

If I remember correctly there used to be a one-night limit on campsites. You would stay one night on one site, pack up and hike to your next site and so on. With miles of trails in the park you could backpack/camp this way for days, never spending two nights on the same site.

The rules have changed. I am older and here to photograph, so now I set up a base camp on my favorite site and make day hikes from there. A successful backpack trip is all about compromise because we need to be able to carry everything on our backs. So we want to leave behind anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

It is recommended that you carry one gallon of water per person per day when backpacking. Water is heavy but you can’t do without. Fortunately at Newport there are water sources easily available. A short hike to refill and you’re good to go.

You can also store supplies in your vehicle and make short hikes to resupply when needed. Cheating? Yeah, kind of, but think of it as a trip to the trading post.

Having to carry all of my camera gear adds additional challenges. I have a very large F-Stop Shinn camera backpack, my main backpack with room for camera gear and camping gear. What I love about this bag is I have different ICUs (internal camera units) of different sizes so depending on how far from the trailhead I am hiking and how much personal gear and food I need I can replace the larger ICUs with smaller ones, leaving more room for camping gear.

Again backpacking is all about compromise. Leaving some camera gear home to leave room for more food, water and supplies can add days to the trip. But I always bring a tripod. It adds weight but allows me to produce images that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. The extra weight is worth it.

Again I prefer the Europe Lake campsite but there are 16 campsites in the park plus two group sites. Europe Bay Road conveniently divides the park into two sections – the southern section, which is the biggest and most crowded (if you can call Newport crowded), and the section north of Europe Bay Road, which seems more remote and rustic. Perfect for the hardy campers like me.

There are five main trails in the park totaling a little more than 20 miles, but you can mix and combine trails to create your own variations of different lengths. I spend most of my time on the seven-mile Europe Bay/Hotz loop trail. You will cross Europe Bay Road twice hiking this trail but that’s OK. It’s not exactly a crowded highway, just a peaceful road that ends at the beach, which is a great place to stop to eat lunch or go for a quick swim. There is also a kayak launch.

For a longer hike you can connect Europe Bay Trail with Newport Trail giving you a 12-mile hike.

Photo opportunities abound. On my last trip I had a Barred Owl visit my campsite overnight, right above my campfire, a welcome guest that added to the wilderness experience that is Newport State Park.

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