Rock Island State Park A Unique Wisconsin Experience

Rock Island State Park in Wisconsin

Nestled within the picturesque Door County in Wisconsin, Rock Island State Park stands as a hidden gem awaiting adventurers seeking a truly unique experience. Accessible only by a carefully orchestrated two-ferry journey, this enchanting destination offers an escape from the modern world, transporting visitors to a simpler time of rustic charm and natural splendor. (Pro tip: grab a meal at Jackson Harbor Soup to fuel up for your adventure!)

Journey to Tranquility: The Ferry Ride to Rock Island

The journey to Rock Island State Park is an adventure in itself. Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day, travelers embark on a two-step ferry expedition to reach the island’s pristine shores. First, the voyage takes them to Washington Island, a stepping stone en route to the ultimate destination. From there, the Karfi Ferry patiently awaits to transport them to Rock Island’s tranquil embrace. The slow rhythm of the ferry ride sets the tone for the serene retreat that awaits.

Rock Island Ferry
Karfi Ferry

A Glimpse into the Past: Pottawatomie Lighthouse, Thordarson Boat House, and Historic Stone Buildings

As visitors step foot onto Rock Island, they step back in time. The centerpiece of the island’s history is the iconic Pottawatomie Lighthouse, a testament to the island’s maritime significance. This historic beacon has guided sailors along Lake Michigan’s waters for generations, exuding an aura of bygone eras. Exploring the lighthouse offers a glimpse into the life of the lighthouse keepers and the critical role they played in maritime safety.

Adding to the allure of Rock Island State Park are the stone buildings constructed by a visionary inventor who once owned Rock Island from 1910 to 1964. These structures stand as captivating architectural remnants of an era when the island was a private retreat. Stepping through the doorways of these buildings is like stepping back into the early 20th century, a tangible connection to the island’s storied past.

The original Pottawatomie Lighthouse, erected in 1836, was a testament to early engineering and ingenuity. Yet, the march of time dictated the need for change. By the late 1850s, the original structure was replaced by the lighthouse that stands today, with its gleaming light first illuminating the night sky in 1858. The unwavering brilliance of its white beam stretched across a distance of 14 nautical miles, offering a lifeline of hope to seafarers navigating Lake Michigan’s unpredictable waters.

gravestone on rock island
David E. Corbin, 1st Keeper of the Pottawatomie Light

The historical significance of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island State Park has not gone unnoticed. In 1979, its enduring legacy was formally recognized as it was added to the National Register of Historic Places—a testament to its role in Wisconsin’s maritime history and its enduring impact on the development of the Great Lakes region.

Thordarson Boathouse is a cornerstone of the island. In 1929, the visionary Chester Thordarson collaborated with the esteemed Chicago architect Frederick Dinkelberg to erect a remarkable boathouse that now stands as a testament to their ingenuity. Crafted from limestone quarried on the island itself, this monumental edifice is a tribute to Thordarson’s masterful execution as he undertook the role of his own general contractor. A feat of engineering, the structure finds its moorings in bedrock seven feet beneath the water’s surface, a testament to its resilience against the elements. The majority of materials utilized, save for the substantial 50-ton red tile roof, were sourced from the island. With a lower level spacious enough to berth two 50-foot yachts, the boathouse seamlessly merges functionality with grandeur. Perched majestically above, at a height of 65 feet above the water, rests Thordarson’s crowning achievement – the Jewel House of Art and Nature, a breathtaking 40′ x 70′ masterpiece. Recognized as one of the most historically significant constructions in the state, Thordarson’s boathouse rightfully claims its place on the esteemed National Register of Historic Places, an enduring tribute to an architectural marvel that harmonizes with its natural surroundings.

Unplugged Wilderness: Rustic Camping and Endless Exploration

Rock Island State Park is a haven for those seeking respite from the fast-paced modern world. Vehicles are prohibited on the island, allowing nature to reign supreme. The park’s rustic charm is epitomized by its walk-in campsites, where visitors can immerse themselves in the tranquil surroundings without the intrusion of modern conveniences. The absence of modern distractions encourages a deeper connection with the environment and a chance to recharge one’s spirit.

Hiking enthusiasts will delight in the network of trails that crisscross Rock Island State Park, guiding them through diverse landscapes, from lush forests to rocky shorelines. The island’s miles of pristine shoreline invite exploration and introspection, as the gentle lapping of Lake Michigan’s waters against the rocks provides a soothing soundtrack.

Rock Island State Park offers primitive walk-in campsites. All supplies must be carried into and out of campsites. No vehicles are allowed on Rock Island.

Pottawatomie Lighthouse
Pottawatomie Lighthouse

Nature’s Playground: A Rustic Retreat

Nature’s grandeur takes center stage at Rock Island State Park. A pristine swimming beach offers the perfect spot to cool off on warm days, while the opportunity to witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets over Lake Michigan adds a touch of magic to every visit. As visitors meander along the trails, they might encounter native wildlife, and the absence of light pollution makes Rock Island an exceptional spot for stargazing, revealing a canopy of stars rarely seen in more urban locales.

Rock Island State Park stands as an oasis of tranquility and historical significance in the heart of Door County, Wisconsin. Accessible by a two-ferry journey, this primitive Lake Michigan island offers an escape from the modern world, inviting visitors to reconnect with nature, explore rich history, and find solace in the simplicity of the past. Whether camping, hiking, or simply basking in the beauty of the surroundings, a visit to Rock Island is an opportunity to create timeless memories and forge a connection with a truly remarkable place.