The Ridges Sanctuary, Baileys Harbor

Hi everyone,

This week in my continuing series on Door County, I take you to The Ridges Sanctuary on the edge of the village of Baileys Harbor located on the Lake Michigan side of the Door Peninsula. Like a lot places in Door County, we’ve driven by this attraction but never stopped, until this trip.

The backstory on how The Ridges came about demonstrates the vision and forward thinking of one man with a mission. In the 1930’s, the Botanist at the Milwaukee Public Museum, Albert Fuller, traveled extensively between Milwaukee and Door County, a distance of about 175 miles one way. He recognized the rare flora and unique geography of what is now preserved in The Ridges. He learned that the County was going to develop a RV park on this site and began to rally support to prevent this development. He worked with other conservationists and interested parties to educate the public about this unique resource in their midst.

The Ridges was created in 1937 by Door County and Wisconsin’s first land trust with 30 acres. Since then the Sanctuary has grown to over 1600 acres to protect this distinctive landscape. Within the Sanctuary are a series of thirty ridges and swales formed by the movement of Lake Michigan over the past 1400 years. These ridges each create a unique environment resulting in a rich diversity of plant material. For example, there are twenty-eight species of native orchids within The Ridges. It’s also designated an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area for the sixty plus species of birds that call The Ridges home.

The main entrance to The Ridges is just off State Highway 57 on the north edge of Baileys Harbor. The parking lot is small but there is plenty of street parking nearby. The first thing one notices is the Cook-Albert Fuller Nature Center that houses exhibits on the culture and history of The Ridges. It was built in 2015 so it’s new and serves as an educational gathering place for staff, members and visitors. Due to Covid, the Nature Center is open Tuesday thru Sunday from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. We had a peek inside just before it closed. It has a nice gift shop and the ever important restrooms. The trails and the rest of the Sanctuary are open from dawn to dusk everyday. When walking the hiking trails, non-members of The Ridges are asked to pay a $5.00 per person trail fee. There are locked drop boxes at access points to pay these fees. You are on your honor. No one is watching, I think!

Before taking to the trails, we admired the pollinator and butterfly gardens that surround the parking lot and the Nature Center. It’s quite a collection  and busy, with bees and a variety butterflies doing their job.

The Hidden Brook boardwalk (handicap accessible) meanders about 1/3 of a mile through the dense forest. The air is cool and fresh under the shade of the trees. We heard the birds singing and insects buzzing interrupted only occasionally by road noise from Highway 57. We stopped for a few moments to listen and watch the water in the shallow Hidden Brook gently making it’s way to Lake Michigan. Along this trail, there were a couple of observational platforms to view the watery swales between the ridges. The lily pads were ready to bloom. To describe our walk in one word, I’d say “peaceful.”

At the end of the Hidden Brook, we came to the one thousand foot boardwalk between the Upper and Lower Baileys Harbor Range Lights. This boardwalk is also handicap accessible. I wrote about our visit to these lights in a post about a month ago. Click here to read that article. A new fact I learned on this visit was this: Because of these range lights Baileys Harbor was considered the safest harbor on Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee. 

From the Range Light boardwalk, visitors have access to five trails that wind their way through the ridges and swales. We took the Sandy Trail, the closest to Lake Michigan. After a 1/4 mile we crossed over the Sandy Swale by way of a bridge to the Wintergreen Trail. A few hundred feet later we crossed to the Deerlick Trail, then to the Winter Wren Trail. As we traveled further away from Lake Michigan, the trees became bigger with more hardwoods than evergreens. It was interesting to observe these changes. The Winter Wren Trail led us to the Spruce Trail that ended just outside the Upper Range Light.

We followed the boardwalk past the Lower Range Light to the Ridges County Beach on Moonlight Bay. It was a very warm day so the nearby parking lot was filled with cars and the beach with sun and water seekers.

After a short walk on the sandy beach, we followed the boardwalk back to the parking lot. We remarked to each other how relaxing and refreshing our time in The Ridges turned out to be. Next time, we would walk the 1.3 mile Solitude Swale Loop from the Cabin Parking lot about a half mile north of the Nature Center.

As we were preparing to leave, a woman and her son arrived to take a late afternoon walk. They were regulars and asked us how we liked The Ridges. We replied: “It was spectacular!” And we meant it.

For more information, check our their website and don’t forget to pay your $5.00 trail fee!

Until next week, happy travels!