Door County is the perfect place to be if your New Year’s resolution is to get outside more. We asked representatives from local state parks (and one nature sanctuary) which trails are best suited for winter hiking – specifically, which ones provide scenic winter views, or are easy to walk even in wintry conditions. Here are a few of the peninsula’s best winter hiking trails – straight from those who know them best.
Peninsula State Park
Thanks to the lack of snow until recently this year, Peninsula State Park’s winter trails look a bit different than they usually do, according to Jennifer Birkholz, the park’s deputy superintendent.
Typically, all trails in the park are converted to ski-, snowmobile- or snowshoe-only trails once winter sets in, but this year, the park’s summer map is still in effect. That means hikers can walk and even bike areas of the park they usually can’t in winter, like the 9.6-mile Sunset Bike Trail, which is usually turned into a snowmobile trail, and the 0.7-mile Minnehaha Trail, which is usually used as a snowshoe trail.
This is subject to change, so Birkholz recommended checking in with the park office before trekking out.
Potawatomi State Park
It may not be picnic season right now, but Potawatomi State Park’s Picnic Loop is still a good choice for a winter walk, said Natural Resources Property Supervisor Erin Brown Stender. While half of the 1-mile loop is flat and follows the shoreline, the other half climbs up and down a hill, letting hikers enjoy varied scenery and topography.
Another trail – this one with a more seasonally-appropriate name – that Brown Stender recommended is a 3-mile segment of the Ice Age Trail. The section from the south park boundary through the picnic area and the section from the campground to the north Shoreline Road crossing has some of the flatter areas, Brown Stender said.
Potawatomi is also home to the eastern terminus of the Ice Age Trail. It’s not accessible by car in winter, but according to Brown Stender, the view from the old ski hill where it’s located is worth the hike.
Whitefish Dunes State Park
According to park manager Sarah Stepanik, tackling Whitefish Dunes’ 2-mile Green-Beach Trail is a great way to enjoy scenic views of Lake Michigan and look for winter wildlife.
Stepanik also recommended the 1.5-mile Brachiopod Trail, which features 13 interpretive signs and interactive elements. The family-friendly trail begins at the picnic shelter near the lakeshore, then leads inland to the park’s wetland, where hikers can sit and birdwatch on the boardwalk, Stepanik said. This trail can be icy in winter, so the park recommends that hikers use spikes, crampons or walking poles.
Can’t decide between the two trails? You don’t have to. The eastern portion of the Green-Beach trail intersects with the Brachiopod Trail, making it easy to try out both. The Brachiopod Trail also intersects with the Black Trail at several locations, allowing hikers to take a longer trek.
The Ridges Sanctuary
For hikers that aren’t as confident on their feet, the Ridges Sanctuary provides an alternative to your typical trail: the Hidden Brook Boardwalk. When there’s snow on the ground, the trail is cleared by sanctuary staff, according to Ridges executive director Katie Krouse. When there isn’t, the trail still offers views of the sanctuary’s ridges and swales in a way that’s accessible for wheelchairs, walkers and strollers.
For snowshoers, the Ridges’ Logan Creek Property in Sturgeon Bay is another great option, Krouse said. And for people looking to learn more about the wintry landscape they’re hiking through, The Ridges offers guided hikes every Friday at 1:30 pm and Saturday at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. Hikes cost $7 for members and $10 for non-members. Hikers under 16 are free, and snowshoes are available to rent for $5.
Newport State Park
There’s little elevation change at Newport State Park, so hikers and snowshoers can enjoy miles of trails even in wintry conditions, said Beth Bartoli, Newport’s natural resources educator. She recommended the 2.3-mile Hotz Trail, which allows hikers to see both Europe Lake and Lake Michigan as conifers gradually give way to mixed hardwood forests. Bartoli also suggested the Upland Trail, a 2-mile loop that guides hikers through several different habitats.