Whitefish Dunes State Park

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Whitefish Dunes State Park is an 867 acre state park of Wisconsin. The park is located on the eastern side of the Door Peninsula and the Western shores of Lake Michigan. It is one of five state parks located in Door County. Whitefish Dunes is home to and preserves some of the tallest sand dunes in the state. [1] It contains remains of eight prehistoric Native American villages. [2]
An entrance sign for Whitefish Dunes State Park. Source:Door County


Whitefish Dunes State Park has an evidence of settlers dating back to 100 B.C. all the way up to the early 1800's. From 100 B.C to 300 A.D. The North Bay people lived on the land. Their existence can be recorded by the pottery they left in the sand dunes. These people came to the Door Peninsula by canoe. The rising lake level washed away many of their remains. Their descendants, the Heins Creek people inhabited the area after them. They lived in the area from 500-750 A.D. The Heins Creek people thrived on the fishing of Lake Michigan for survival. In 900 A.D. the Oneota inhabited the area. They hunted and gathered the area, but practiced agriculture as well. These people may have lived in the area year round or left during the winter months. In the early to mid 19th century the area was used as a shipping port. At the turn of the 20th century the port was barely used for shipping at this time due to its small size. In 1967 the area became a state park and in 1982 was recognized as a state natural area. [3]



Due to the sand dunes, plant life struggles to grow. Plants have adapted to deal with the sand and hot sun during summer months. The rocky shoreline also creates a struggle for plants, because of extreme weather conditions year round. The park is home to unique plants that thrive in these conditions, like the dune goldenrod, dune thistle, dwarf lake iris,and sand reedgrass. [4] These exotic plants are protected by the park and are recognized as threatened on Wisconsin's endangered species list. While walking on the trails through the forest, one can encounter cedar trees, sugar maples, aspens, beech trees ferns, trillium, goldenrod, thimbleberry bushes, and flowering yarrow. [5]



Mammals are rarely seen throughout the park, but their tracks can be seen all around the park. The park contains a vast amount of rodents including; squirrels, mice, voles, chipmunks, beavers, muskrats, and woodchucks. Other mammals in the park include white-tailed deer, black bears, little brown bats, coyotes, fisher, foxes, mink, opossums, rabbits, porcupines, raccoons, skunks and weasels. [6]


The park is home to many different types of birds depending on the area of the park and the time of year. The areas of wetland contain Great blue heron and wood ducks, the Canadian warbler, black-throated blue warbler, black-throated green warbler, black-and-white warbler osprey, Least flycatcher, and veery. Whitefish Dunes is home to few populations of blackburnian warblers in Door County. [7]



View from the observatory platform atop Old Baldy.
View from the observatory platform atop Old Baldy. Source: Wisconsin Explorer
The park has 14 miles of hiking trails, three miles of bike trails. During the winter there is nine miles of ski trails and three miles of snowshoe trails. The black trail is 2.5 miles long and takes hikers through the forest and gives them a chance to see limestone bedrock. This trail also offers the ability to see part of the Niagara Escarpment. The Brachiopod trail offers is an interpretive trail. The trail allows people to see the the remains of brachiopods and fossils. Hikers are able to sit on the Leopold bench to enjoy singing of the birds or to view other wildlife. Hikers can also see the highest sand dunes on the western shore of Lake Michigan. The red trail is 2.8 miles in length. This trail allows hikers to hike up Old Baldy, the tallest sand dune at the park at 93 feet above the lake. At the top of Old Baldy there is an observation deck to view Clark Lake and Lake Michigan. The yellow trail, 4.2 miles, takes hikers through a red pine forest into a wooded dune part of the park. [8]


Fishing can be done at Clark Lake. The lake offers the ability to catch multiple types of pan fish, bass, trout, and walleye. Wisconsin state fishing licenses and regulations apply to be able to fish in this area. Fishers may check out equipment for free from the park office. "Whitefish Dunes State Park:Fishing," Wisconsin DNR, Accessed 2018-05-01,https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/todo.html.</ref>


Visitors of the park are able to go swimming in Lake Michigan and Clark Lake. Lake Michigan swimmers are to be cautious of any riptides in the water. The park doesn't have a boat launch to Lake Michigan. Small watercraft and flotation devices are allowed, but are to be weary of the strong winds that can occur on the water. Kayaking and canoeing is a favorite of visitors. [9] On a calm day visitors enjoy the relaxation of riding the waves in either a canoe of kayak.

Nature Center

The Nature Center offers multiple interactive exhibits. These exhibits are about geological, natural, and human history of the park and area that surrounds it. The Nature center also offers multiple hands-on educational activities for people of all ages. There is an indoor auditorium and outdoor amphitheater for presentations. [10]

Village Site

Located right outside of the Nature Center, the village site is a replica of how three different human civilizations had lived. The site is created to show how the middle woodland, late woodland, and Oneota would have lived at the dunes. Wigwam replicas are constructed at the site to see how the people lived and how they built their shelters. The sites are based off of archaeological digs done in 1986 and 1992. [11]


  1. "Whitefish Dunes State Park," Environmental Education in Wisconsin, Accessed 2018-04-26, http://eeinwisconsin.org/net/content/go.aspx?s=80539.0.0.2209.
  2. "Whitefish Dunes State Park:History," Wisconsin DNR, Accessed 2018-04-23,https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/history.html.
  3. "Whitefish Dunes State Park:History," Wisconsin DNR, Accessed 2018-04-23,https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/history.html.
  4. "Whitefish Dunes State Park:Plants," Wisconsin DNR, Accessed 2018-04-23,https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/nature.html.
  5. "Geology, Flora & Fauna," Lauren Bremer: Door County Living, 2011. https://doorcountypulse.com/geology-flora-fauna/.
  6. "Whitefish Dunes State Park:Mammals," Wisconsin DNR, Accessed 2018-05-01,https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/nature.html.
  7. "Important Bird Areas: Whitefish Dunes-Shivering Sands" Audubon, Accessed 2018-05-01. http://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas/whitefish-dunes-shivering-sands.
  8. "Whitefish Dunes State Park:Trail descriptions," Wisconsin DNR, Accessed 2018-05-03,https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/trails.html.
  9. "Whitefish Dunes State Park: Activities and Recreation," Wisconsin DNR, Accessed 2018-05-01,https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/todo.html.
  10. "Whitefish Dunes State Park," Environmental Education in Wisconsin, Accessed 2018-04-26, http://eeinwisconsin.org/net/content/go.aspx?s=80539.0.0.2209.
  11. "Whitefish Dunes State Park:Village Site," Wisconsin DNR, Accessed 2018-05-02,https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/naturecenter.html

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