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Rock Island State Park, Wisconsin
From the pages of Camping Life Magazine
The state of Wisconsin has the shape of a mitten, and the majority of the landmass that forms the “thumb” is known as Door County — a Mecca for tourists. Many consider Door County “The Maine of mid-America,” because of its maritime atmosphere of rugged, rocky shores and safe harbors, a theme oft-repeated by local shops and restaurants.
Driving the shore roads at sunrise or sunset, with the moored ships’ reflections silhouetted in the bays and marinas will leave lasting impressions on your mind, as well as on your photographs.
Just beyond the tip of “The Door,” as the county is lovingly referred too, is Washington Island, and a short boat ride from the northeast corner of the island is Rock Island, our destination.
SHORT RIDE AWAY
Rock Island is unique in that there are no roads, therefore, no vehicles (and no traffic noise or pollution), and the only overnight accommodations are bring-your-own-gear, walk-in campsites. If that is not your style of camping, that’s OK, there are hundreds of other sites available on the mainland and Washington Island, offering more “luxurious” arrangements. If you opt to stay on the mainland, then Rock Island becomes a great place to spend the day hiking, swimming, picnicking on the beach, and viewing a bit of history.
Getting to Rock Island is half the fun. You have two boats to catch, both going and returning, and even though they run often, they operate on strict schedules that must be coordinated. So plan on being early.
HOW TO GET THERE
Head north from Sturgeon Bay on either Highway 57 or 42 — eventually you will end up on Highway 42, anyway. The first boat you need to meet is the Washington Island Ferry Line, out of Northport Pier, at the very end of Highway 42 on the northeast tip of Door County. This is a car ferry, and unless you are bikers, you will need your vehicle. The trip from Northport to Detroit Harbor, on Washington Island, takes about 45 minutes, plus loading and unloading time of the vehicles and passengers.
Once on Washington Island, head for Jackson Harbor, on the other side of the island. Here you board a 36-foot boat that will carry you and everything you need for either your day or your stay on the island. Park your car in a lot by the dock — there is no fee for parking.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
If you are going to spend more than just the day on the island, there are 40 campsites at your disposal. Reservations can be made in advance for all sites. Pit toilets, tables and fire rings are provided and there is drinking water near the boat dock area. Bring containers to carry the water to your site.
Again, everything you require for your camping comfort must be carried to your site from the boat dock. The campsites are located south of the boat dock and generally are laid out to follow the curve of the island’s shore. Many, but not all, sites have “private” beaches.
TRAILS AND BEACHES
The island has 10 miles of hiking trails — all wooded. The trails take you to three cemeteries, the old water tower, long sand beaches with small dunes, and rocky shores with stone beaches. Along the south shore, the remains of old carvings on the rock faces can be found. When we first “explored” the island way back in 1975, they were very clear and distinct. Today wind, waves and rain have taken their erosive toll on them, but if you look carefully, you will see a child’s face, a Native American’s head, and a Native American in a canoe.
With the exception of the 30 or so acres that were cleared, the island has been left in its natural state. Huge hardwoods and cedars cover the island and the trails crisscross the entire area. Bring your camera, tripod and macro lens, you’ll find plenty to shoot.
BEFORE YOU GO
For more information, contact the Door County Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 406, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235-0406; 800/52-RELAX (73529). Contact the state park at