walking on the ledge
Are you in Northeast Wisconsin and looking for a daytrip? How about a destination where some of Door County’s most prominent natural attributes combine, meshing into a fantastic shoreline landscape? I speak of natural attributes such as forests, crumbling limestone cliffs and Wisconsin’s eastern boundary, Lake Michigan. The result is showcased in a Door county park known as Cave Point.
This rock defining the shoreline is ancient, forming during the Silurian period over 400 million years ago. For what seems an eternity, waves have been crashing against the limestone cliffs in this area of the state. As they assault the shore, they play the role of both scalpel and paintbrush, cutting through the rock to paint underwater caves into the cliffs.
But first things first, after all, I did mention a day trip. Unless you’re staying in Door County and want take in the sights, you’re trek will take you through woodlands and fields as you head north on either highway 42 or 57, depending on your location. 42 will take you through rural and lakeside towns, while 57 is a double lane highway coursing over fairly picturesque landscape.
42-57 meet before Sturgeon Bay and separate, once again, as you pass the winery leaving the town behind. You may want to take 57 business, as you enter Sturgeon bay, and check out the city, with it’s shipyards, resorts on the canal and shops on Third Avenue, it’s a fusion of blue collar city meets tourist appeal.
However, once you leave Sturgeon Bay and veer right on 57, the drive becomes one on a Wisconsin country road. You will pass through farmland, wooded areas and drive through rural communities, whose buildings lack the high priced facades of many other Northern Door towns. Even the Sevastopol school is unflattering, as Valmy, Institute, and Sevastopol greet you warmly with their agrarian charm.
Turning on to County Road WD, the farmlands yield to a dense forest once you enter Whitefish Dunes State Park. The road winds and narrows as you find yourself immersed in woodlands. After passing the main entrance for the state park, Schauer rd veers right towards Cave Point.
When you arrive, the park appears as an ordinary county park would, an open expanse sprinkled with picnic tables and grills greeting your eyes. However, walk closer to the shoreline and you will find a limestone cliff and a vantage, as you look down into the turquoise waters and dolomite shelf, one can rarely find.
In some spots, the sounds of the waves slapping the interior of the caves can be felt as you stand above them, thumping like an aquatic bass drum. Lake Michigan appears as an endless sea as you survey the east. The natural elements seem at their peak in this park, as I was transported to another world aside from the rigors of city dwelling.
If you’re a thrill seeker, a portion of limestone juts out into deeper water, allowing for some cliff diving. I believe it is the only place in the county, despite the peninsula having over 300 miles of shoreline, where one has the opportunity. The drop from the cliff, while not requiring death defying leaps, is intimidating to the average person.
Personally, my favorite attraction are the trails, created for the surefooted hiker. Paths run both north and south along the shoreline, entering the forests that encompass the park. As Cedars and a mixture of deciduous trees rise from the cliffs, their roots wrestle for nutrients atop a thin layer of topsoil that veils the rock, creating an attractive and rugged terrain.
If you follow the shore south, you will walk along the cliff on trails that erratically fork and resume. Sometimes a pathway branches off right onto the rocky ledge. Downed trees, at other times, are obstacles while sprouting rocks and roots keep you alert. The lush green combined with the slapping of the waves, are a step above the average nature trail, inspiring both awe and tranquility.
If you head north, the cliffs abate and transform into a rocky shoreline. It is here where human influence has collaborated with nature to create something unique. Hundreds of Cairns (rock towers) have been built on the shore, reaching three to four feet tall, a delightful sight.
There is also a trail heading west at the other side of the park, unfortunately I didn’t have time to investigate it. I was just to consumed with the shoreline beauty. Its trailhead is located where the restrooms and parking lots are situated.
As for the picnic area, the grounds are well maintained and an attractive gazebo rests at its south end. Bring a basket or cooler and enjoy lunch outdoors, listening to the waves crash in the cave
If you want a great vantage of the caves, Whitefish Dunes State Park offers kayak tours. However, the price of the tour is $50 a person, quite steep if you have a family. As for me, I will make the voyage one day, of course it will be with my own kayak.
If the kayaking tour doesn’t sound interesting, their is absolutely no cost, save for the gas to reach the park, for this trip. Unless you plan on stopping in whitefish dunes, the admission to the park is free. That’s right, cliff dive, sight see, hike and picnic all you want, no cost.
That’s my daytrip for this week, at least if you live in Northeast Wisconsin it’s a daytrip. If your looking for something out of the ordinary but close to home, Cave Point is set apart from most Wisconsin shoreline, especially the Lake Michigan shoreline. Your only expense would be the fuel for the journey.