Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve

The Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve, 445 acres within the city limits of Sturgeon Bay, is as ecologically diverse as it is beautiful. On the eastern portion, three historic lighthouses and the entrance to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal can be seen from the preserve’s Lake Michigan shoreline. Proceeding inland, sand dunes give way to 23 forested “ridge/swale” formations where the ancient shore ridges are blanketed by towering white pines, hemlocks and red maples. Strawberry Creek emerges out of a large cedar wetland on the far western portion of the preserve and meanders its way to the waters of Sturgeon Bay. Running along the entire northern preserve boundary is a sand ridge that offers magnificent views of the ship canal below.

Rare and threatened species such as the dune thistle, dune goldenrod, dwarf lake iris, bald eagle, Caspian tern and osprey call this preserve home, and it’s also one of the region’s most critical resting spots for neo-tropical migrating birds.

The Door County Land Trust is challenging people to visit all of the places featured in this column. People are encouraged to email [email protected] when they accomplish this feat and to have their name entered into a drawing to win a copy of the Land Trust’s Guide to the Places We Protect due to be published this fall. To view previous columns, to make a contribution of support and to download preserve trail maps, visit

Just the Facts: The Door County Land Trust’s Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Nature Preserve

Acres protected: 445

Miles of trails: approximately 2 miles of easy to moderately difficult trails

Directions: Just south of the Hwy 42/57 (Bay View) Bridge, turn south onto County U (Clay Banks Road) and continue approximately 2 miles. Turn left (east) onto Lake Lane. The preserve parking areas are approximately 1 to 2 miles ahead; the first is located on the north side of Lake Lane just east of Barge Road and the second is located at the junction of Lake Lane and South Lake Michigan Drive.

A bit of history: The Ship Canal Nature Preserve was once part of a popular portage route for Native Americans. In 1872, construction began on the 7,400-foot canal to permanently link the waters of Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The canal allowed ships to avoid the treacherous passage through Death’s Door. More recently, the property was eyed for several large-scale developments including a coal-fueled power plant and an aquatic-based industrial center.

Upcoming hikes: On Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20 guided and self-guided hikes will take place at the Ship Canal Nature Preserve and others preserves throughout Door County. “A Weekend at the Preserves” is being offered as part of the Land Trust’s 25th Anniversary celebration.