As you drive through the rolling fields of Northeast Wisconsin, gaining on its peninsula, the earth subtly morphs. Gradually, the Midwestern landscape becomes a scene New Englanders would be familiar with. Here, on a tapered parcel known as Door County, the endless rugged shorelines of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, with a climax of towering bluffs set along its western edge, outline a land of peaceful adventures and relaxation. Of course, with any setting of maritime and natural elements, lighthouses and state parks abound. With chances at water sports, hiking, camping and biking, not to mention food and drink, one can assume that the peninsula is a multi-.purpose vacation spot.
The most troubling question, when setting out on this 2,370 square mile chunk of land, is where to relax, adventure or play. For this entry, I’ve selected a state park highlighted with some signature Door County attributes. Near its borders, two placid towns, animated with the nonchalant buzz of lounging tourists, adds food, drink, ice cream and souvenir shops to the experience. The name of this burden quelling and spirit raising setting is known as Peninsula State Park.
So on with my experience at Wisconsin’s second oldest and third largest state park…….
Its early evening and our Ford Escape rolls along the narrow winding roads of Peninsula State Park. Its mostly a trek through rough timbers accompanied by a base layer of lush vegetation. Occasionally, the scene breaks for a peek at royal blue waters flecked by flitting sunray reflections. At times, our SUV’s engine growls in protest as we scale a ginormous hill.
There are many aspects of this forested playground, which covers nearly six square miles and has been hosting vacationers since 1909. Bike trails, easy ones for the average sightseer and mountain bike paths for the athletic adventurer, course the park. There’s also an amphitheater set among the woodlands, providing family entertainment. A nature center offers a bit of education, while a serenely beautiful cemetery calms the senses. Campgrounds and a sandy beach, complimented with amenities a step above base level, ensure a fun filled and comfortable stay.
Forget all that. With only a few hours in which to frolic about the park, Heidi and I have chosen two other adventures. First, we’ll visit a lighthouse. And secondly, we’ll do a little hiking.
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse is a small hexagonal brick tower, accompanied by a keeper’s quarters comprised of the same shell. The clearing, where this old friend of Great Lakes vessels resides, lovingly interrupts the wooded shoreline; the modest 1860’s structure overlooking Green Bay. The throwback setting allows for Facebook worthy photos, as blue waters and emerald Islands serve as a backdrop.
We traipse the grounds, standing in awe of a mammoth sized sailing apparatus, and appraise the house-like structure quietly basking in the background. Tours are available during set hours when the park is fully operational; now is not one of those times. We snap some photos, leaving this throwback maritime scene.
We then climb a motor straining grade towards Eagle Panorama. Here, we park our car and begin our descent on Eagle Trail. The winding path meanders down tricky terrain. Rocks, tree roots and a few downed timbers add slight obstacles.
Under the dense leafy ceiling, this woodland world’s lighting is a bit dim. Yet rays of light find their way through the foliage, creating a wall art worthy photo op. Birds cry and small mammals scurry, while wildflowers and grasses keep them hidden from full view.
Reaching the Green Bay Shore line, as it’s slightly veiled by a spread wall of trees, I can hear the softly lapping waves and the unmistakable squealing of gulls. Today is practically bug free and the temps reside in the low seventies. There really is nothing more serene than this setting, even if the world that surrounds is brimming with turmoil.
The highlight of Eagle Trail is its bluff, which dwarfs the trees standing on this Rocky shore. The stone face is impressive and worth a few photos. We then make the slightly arduous trek back towards our vehicle, leaving the park refreshed.
In closing, Peninsula State Park is a forested haven. Full of potential outdoor adventures, it begs a return visit halfway through your first excursion. A bit of historical significance and attractions adds a second layer to its allure. I’ve visited the park many times, and not once did I leave disappointed.