Welcome to the last in the series of posts from Door County Wisconsin. Last week we took a tour around Potawatomi State Park, this week we travel to the nearby Whitefish Dunes State Park located north and east of Sturgeon Bay on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula. This past summer Whitefish Dunes celebrated its 50th anniversary in the Wisconsin State Park system.
This 867 acre day use park preserves the highest and most substantial sand dunes on the western shore of Lake Michigan. From the edge of the Lake, the sand quickly rises nearly 100 feet to the dunes. Due to their fragile nature, most of the dunes and the unique plants that depend on them are off limits to human traffic. There are three access points to and from the beach and trails available to visitors with stairs and boardwalks to traverse the sandy dunes.
Upon arriving at this Park, visitors naturally gravitate towards the beach. Even in the parking lot, the sound of the waves can be heard pounding against the rocky part of the shoreline. Looking down the beach one can’t help but notice the prominent sign that the first section of beach is off limits to swimming due to the strong riptides. Usually, I go for the “off limits” areas to test the “rules” thinking they are but mere “guidelines!” But this time I resisted and the frosty look from my traveling partner sent the message not to try it! It was easy to resist for two reasons; first, it was pretty chilly the two times we visited the park and second I’m not much of a water person anyway so it made the decision easier, this time!
Walking down the trail along the beach one comes to an area where the water is calmer and swimming (during the summer season) is allowed. One of our trips to Whitefish Dunes involved a sunrise photo shoot, it’s not as popular as the nearby Cave Point County Park but still provides some nice photo ops.
After the sunrise, we walk back towards the parking area along the water and captured these photos looking back towards the beach.
On one of our visits we took the Red Trail that winds between the dunes to the highest point in the park, Old Baldy.
At Old Baldy, visitors are cautioned to stay on the boardwalk as it winds up the dune.
The viewing platform at the top of Old Baldy provides expansive views of the surrounding forest. On this visit, the fall colors were on full display.
After a leisurely time gazing at the colorful countryside we head back by way of the Red/Green/Yellow Trail that follows the inside base of the dunes. Along the way we observe the changing colors of the trees. Here’s a little of what we saw.
As we approach the end of the trail by the park nature center, we see examples of how the indigenous peoples lived in this area. Digs in the late 1980s and early 1990s exposed that eight different groups occupied the dunes at different points in history. It’s speculated that summers were spent close to the lake and winters inland more protected from the lake winds, ice and snow.
After reaching the nature center we kept walking past the path to the parking lot to the picnic area and a display of the history both on land and on the water.
In a couple of my past Door County posts, I’ve featured some photos from Cave Point County Park. That park is located totally within the boundaries of Whitefish Dune State Park. So walking past Cave Point, visitors reenter Whitefish Dunes. The first thing I see is this tree root design overlaying the hard rock and thin top soil.
Technically, the area where visitors to Cave Point build cairns (a mound of stones as a memorial) is in the State Park. While I’m not crazy about the human rearrangement of a natural scene for our own designs, I’ll admit it’s interesting. My consolation is that some good waves will put those rocks back in their proper place! Here’s a photo of those cairns.
After reentering Whitefish Dunes from Cave Point, there are some nice hiking trails winding through the forested area. Here are a few scenes from our walk.
So hopefully this brief tour through Whitefish Dunes State Park will inspire more visitors to this out of the way park. This park is sort of viewed as a stepsister to the much bigger Peninsula and Potawatomi State Parks located in Door County. But it’s a great place for nature lovers, bird watchers, and beach goers (in the summer season!).
Have a great Thanksgiving later this week, there’s a lot in this world to be thankful for so let’s celebrate not only our personal thankfulness but what the natural world presents us. I’ll leave with this photo of the beauty nature designs for us to enjoy.
Until next week, travel safe.