Not much is wild in Door County anymore, but the state’s only designated wilderness park is here; the rough, isolated, backwoods Newport State Park (920/854-2500) constitutes half of the northern tip of the county, accessed from Highway 42 and stretching for almost 12 miles along the Lake Michigan coast through an established scientific reserve—a perfectly realized park.
A remarkable diversity of hardwoods and conifers, isolated wetlands, bogs, 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 were depleted. Ghostly outlines of the foundations of buildings are still scattered in the underbrush.
Once wasted white pine cutover land, the inner confines of the 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. The park’s magnificent ecosystem draws one of the planet’s highest concentrations of monarch butterflies, which make a mind-boggling trip from Mexico all the way here. Unfortunately, biologists have noted a dramatic drop-off in monarch numbers, attributed to pollution and logging.
And the best part: Even on a summer holiday weekend, few people visit the gorgeous beachfront here, probably because it requires a couple of miles of walking. It is truly a secluded gem in a busy region.
The park maintains nearly 40 miles of trails, along which you’ll find wilderness campsites. A “rugged” rise here means 40 or 50 feet. Basic maps are available at the contact station. By far the most popular area of the park is the northern tier and trails leaving from the picnic area, including the Europe Bay/Hotz Trail (over 3 miles one-way) to Europe Lake—one of the largest of the county’s inland lakes—a pristine, sandy gem uncluttered by development. The trail runs through sandy forests to rocky beaches with great views of Porte des Mortes and the surrounding islands.
As you stroll the Europe Bay Trail toward the lake, consider a quick jaunt toward a promontory called Lynd Point along Lynd Point Trail (1 mile one-way). Gravel Island, viewable from Lynd Point, is a national wildlife refuge.
In the southern section of the park, the picnic area also has access to the Newport Trail (a 5-mile loop), which heads west to Duck Bay on the eastern edge of the park; Spider Island, viewable from here, is another national wildlife refuge for nesting gulls. Along its western segment, the Newport Trail connects to the Rowleys Bay Trail (4 miles), which heads to the southern tip of the park at Varney Point and also passes most of the campsites. Both trails alternately pass through meadows, wooded areas, and along limestone headlands on the coast, mostly along old logging roads.
Mountain bikes are allowed on 17 miles of the park’s trails; essentially, anywhere that hikers can go, bikers can also get to, but generally on a parallel trail. Basic maps are available at the park contact station. Bike camping is possible, although the park warns of porcupine damage to bikes parked overnight. Note that the trails are mostly hard-packed dirt but have regular bikers’ land mines—potholes of quicksand, python-size tree roots hidden under leaves, and more than a few patches of gravel. The most conspicuous off-limits areas are the shoreline routes—it’s too tempting for bikers to whip down onto the fragile sands.
Camping in Newport State Park
Here’s the reason outdoor aficionados pilgrimage here regularly—there’s no vehicular access to the campsites. The 16 sites (13 are reservable) are strictly walk-in—a modestly strenuous hike to some, a serious pack to most, but it beats the traffic of Potawatomi and the peninsula; the shortest hike in is 0.5 miles, 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. Make your reservations (888/947-2757) as early as possible.