Newport State Park
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Not much is wild in Door County anymore, but the state’s only designated wilderness park is here (go figure); the rough, isolated Newport State Park (920/854-2500) constitutes half of the tip of the county, stretching for almost 12 miles along the Lake Michigan coast through an established scientific reserve—I might say it’s a perfectly realized park. A remarkable diversity of hardwood and conifers, isolated wetland, bog, and even a few hidden coves along the lakeshore make the hiking appealing.
Once an up-and-coming lumber village in the 1880s, the town decayed gradually as the stands of forests became depleted. (Ghostly outlines of foundations are still scattered about in the underbrush.) From wasted white pine cutover, the inner confines of Newport State Park are now dense tracts of bog forest. The southern section of the park is an established scientific reserve on 140 acres of mixed hardwoods.
Newport State Park’s magnificent ecosystem draws one of the planet’s highest concentrations of monarch butterflies, which make a mind-boggling trip from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to San Juan Capistrano and then all the way here to Newport State Park. Unfortunately, biologists have noted a dramatic drop-off in monarch numbers, mostly due to pollution and logging.
The Newport State Park maintains nearly 40 miles of trails, along which you’ll find wilderness campsites. By far the most popular area of the park is the northern tier and the two trails along Europe Lake—one of the largest of the county’s inland lakes—a pristine, sandy gem uncluttered by development. With sandy forests and rocky beaches with great views of Porte des Mortes and the surrounding islands, it’s got it all. Gravel Island, viewable from Lynd Point, is a national ornithological refuge.
In the southern section of the park, the Newport, Rowleys Bay, and Ridge Trails alternately pass through meadows, wooded areas, and along limestone headlands on the coast, mostly along old logging roads. Spider Island, viewable from the Newport Trail, is another wildlife refuge for nesting gulls.
Fifteen of the park’s trail miles allow mountain bikes, and bike camping is possible, though the park warns of porcupine damage to bikes overnight! Note that the trails are for the most part hardpacked dirt but are regularly pocked with bikers’ land mines—potholes of quicksand, python-size tree roots hidden under leaves, and more than a few spots of gravel (and porcupines). Essentially, anywhere that hikers go a bike can get to, just not always on the same trail. The most conspicuous off-limits areas are the shoreline routes—it’s too tempting for bikers to whip down onto the fragile sands.
Here’s the reason outdoor aficionados pilgrimage to Newport State Park regularly—there’s no vehicular access to campsites. Sites are strictly walk-in (a modestly strenuous hike to some, a serious pack to most, but it sure beats the traffic death of Potawatomi State Park and Peninsula State Park; the shortest hike in is one-half mile, the longest nearly four miles).
Two sites on Europe Lake are waterside, so canoes can land and camp; the Lake Michigan side has plenty of lakeside sites. Winter camping is outstanding here. As always, reserve way early.
© Thomas Huhti from Moon Wisconsin, 5th Edition