Situated just beyond the tip of the Door Peninsula in Door County is majestic Washington Island, Wisconsin. This beautiful, historic island played an essential role in maritime activity long ago. It remains largely undisturbed today with beautiful wildflowers, pristine rocky beaches, and lush forest. Hands down, this is one of the most beautiful and pristine islands in the whole of the United States and makes for the perfect family getaway!
Open year-round and accessible via the Washington Island Ferry (an adventure in itself!), Washington Island is the perfect day trip destination for families looking to get off the beaten path of Door County and explore more.
Keep reading as we lead you through the logistics of getting there, some of the island highlights, and great pit stops along the way in Door County!
- How to Get There
- Washington Island Ferry Line At-A-Glance
- Highlights on Washington Island
- Adventure Beyond Washington Island: Visit Rock Island State Park
- Iconic, Delicious Pit Stops En Route to Washington Island:
- Great Places to Stretch Your Legs & Play Along the Way:
- More Fun Things to Do in Door County
How to Get There
Washington Island, Door County, is situated just north of the Door Peninsula in Northeastern Wisconsin and a stone’s throw across Lake Michigan from Traverse City, Michigan. From Sturgeon Bay, drive all of the way up the Door Peninsula on Highway 42 (keep reading for some awesome pit stop recommendations along the way!) until you reach its end in Ellison Bay and the Washington Island Ferry Line at Northport Pier.
Riding the ferry is a great experience in and of itself! You can choose to sit in a sheltered deck area or in the open air. The scenery is breathtaking, and you may even learn a bit about the maritime history and surrounding islands during your ferry trip.
Keep an eye out for Pilot Island (to your far right- a small, scraggly-looking, deserted-looking island) and Plum Island (you can’t miss this one; there are buildings in clear view, and the Washington Ferry circumvents it en route from the Door Peninsula to reach Washington Island). Both played a significant role in the shipping routes and Death’s Door shipwrecks of yesteryear in this region.
Washington Island Ferry Line At-A-Glance
- Address: 215 WI-42, Ellison Bay, Wisconsin
- The ferry will deliver you safely to Detroit Harbor on Washington Island
- Who Can Ride?: Cars, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, and pets are all welcome aboard!
- Hours: Open year-round, and hours change with the seasons. Take a look at the ferry schedule to plan your visit! They offer some nighttime hours during the late spring and summer on the weekends.
- Children 5 and under: FREE
- Children 6 – 11 years: $7.50
- Adults: $14
- Auto: $28 (occupants pay separately)
- Bicycle: $5
- Pets: FREE
- Pro Tip: If you plan to travel along to Rock Island State Park, make sure you buy the combination ferry pass to save yourself some money! You can also save money by bringing bicycles to Washington Island.
- Seasonal Changes: Again, look at the ferry schedule as it does shift majorly in the summer, fall, and then winter/spring. Washington Island is a popular destination year-round.
- Note: There is an alternate option to cross the Lake Michigan waters at Gill’s Rock on the Island Clipper Ferry. On the Clipper you’ll enjoy scenic views and have the opportunity to hook up with a Viking Train tour once you reach the island, or visitors can create their own self-guided tours and island adventures via bicycle or moped (cars are not accommodated on the Island Clipper Ferry).
Highlights on Washington Island
1. Birding on Washington Island
Did you know that Washington Island is a perfect place for bird-watching? In fact, the island is a bit of a bird sanctuary, and this is one of the most beloved outdoor activities here. Throughout the island and at the various spots we’re about to mention, bird watchers get their eye-full of birds of all kinds, including favorites like bald eagles! Birding is a great way to explore the entirety of the island and encourages visitors to enjoy the small things of the natural world happening all around.
2. Cherry Train Tours
One of the best places to check out the overall vibe of the island is on a Cherry Train Tour! Available seasonally from spring to fall, check out the island and learn everything you need to on this two-hour train ‘trolley’ tour of Washington Island. The tour takes you to many popular island destinations and historical sites, such as Schoolhouse Beach, Washington Island Stavkirke Church, and the Washington Island Farm Museum.
- Address: County Road W, Washington, Wisconsin (at the ferry terminal)
- Phone: (920) 847-2807
3. Field Wood Farm, Ltd
Ride the rare and hypoallergenic Icelandic horses here at Field Wood Farm! They offer pony rides, lessons, and welcome visitors with varying abilities.
- Address: 2118 West Harbor Road, Washington, Wisconsin
- Phone: (920) 535-3030
4. Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop, & Le Cafe
Immerse yourself in all things lavender here in their shop and gardens! This island lavender company is the largest single-site lavender producer in the Midwest!
Here, you can enjoy lavender-infused bakery items and specialty drinks from their coffee shop while sitting out in their peaceful lavender fields on the quiet island–simply blissful. A great time of year to enjoy these purple fields is around their peak in July or August. They will post updates on social media so that you can make your plans accordingly.
- Address: 1350 Airport Road, Washington, Wisconsin
- Phone: (920)847-2950
5. Washington Island Parks Pass
As of 2022, you’ll need a Park Pass to visit any of the Town Parks on Washington Island. This user fee helps to offset the maintenance of the parks. There are nine parks to visit, and we’ve included some of our favorites here.
- Mountain Park Lookout Tower
- This 186-step lookout tower offers amazing views of the surrounding island and water! There are picnic tables available at the bottom for your use.
- Address: 1641 Mountain Road, Washington, Wisconsin
- People’s Park
- Nearby the Jacobson Museum, People’s Park is a great place to enjoy a picnic while taking in the beautiful views of Green Bay.
- Address: 2123 Little Lake Road, Washington, Wisconsin
- Percy Johnson County Park
- The Park Pass is not required here! Washington Island’s only County Park, Percy Johnson Park is a great spot to spot Hog Island while picnicking and enjoying a family swim.
- Address: 868 Hemlock Drive, Washington, Wisconsin
- Red Barn Park & Gislason Public Beach
- This is a great, family-friendly park that features live entertainment in the summer months as well as a playground, picnic area, trails, and benches on the beach.
- Address: 1404 County Road West, Washington, Wisconsin
- Schoolhouse Beach
- Schoolhouse Beach is a must for your trip to Washington Island; one of only 5 beaches in the world like it! Many come here for the breathtakingly beautiful and pristine rocky beachline. This is a perfect spot for swimming, a picnic, or photos.
- Address: 1824 Washington Harbor Road, Washington, Wisconsin
6. Washington Island Art & Nature Center
Featuring both an art gallery and a nature center, the Washington Island Art & Nature Center is a wonderful place to check out some local artists and creativity. The admission cost is very affordable at $1 for adults, and children 11 and under are FREE! Donations are always appreciated.
- Address: 1799 Main Road, Washington Island, Wisconsin
- Phone: (920) 847-2025
7. Washington Island Farm Museum
Come learn about Washington Island’s agricultural history here at the Farm Museum. You can take a look at old farm buildings that were once scattered throughout the island, along with other farm implements, kitchen items, barnyard animals, etc.
You won’t want to miss some of the very special events held each year at this working farm. Their cider pressing event on the weekend nearest to Columbus Day is always a hit, along with Wednesdays in July when you can partake in FREE wagon rides, family crafts, and demonstrations of weaving from 1 – 3 pm. Check their website for other community events and friendly things to do on the island.
- Address: 1675 Jackson Harbor Road, Washington, Wisconsin
- Phone: (920) 847-2156
Looking for even more places to visit while you’re on Washington Island? Check out Washington Island’s website for all the details. Other highlights include Jackson Harbor Ridges State Natural Area, Trueblood Performing Arts Center, or try out a log cabin at Sunrise Log Cabins!
Adventure Beyond Washington Island: Visit Rock Island State Park
If you’re looking to adventure even a bit further, then we highly recommend you hop on the Rock Island passenger ferry for a trip out to Rock Island State Park! This pristine island park is a great place to explore by foot (no cars or bicycles allowed) and simply one of the best things to experience in Door County.
There are plenty of hiking trails, a lighthouse, beach access, and rustic walk-in campsites to enjoy while you’re here. You can also pack along a sandwich from Jackson Harbor Soup (located at the Rock Island ferry dock on Washington Island) and enjoy their picnic area, just a short walk from the ferry, complete with bathrooms & flush toilets and breathtaking views of the shoreline. There’s also a small gift shop tucked just inside the Boathouse right along the ferry dock.
Rock Island Passenger Ferry
- Address: 1924 Indian Point Road, Washington, Wisconsin
- Who Can Ride?: No cars or bicycles are allowed on Rock Island, but there is a large parking lot right at the ferry to leave your vehicles. You can bring along backpacking supplies, carts (at cost), and sometimes kayaks/canoes if space allows (at cost).
- Ferry Rates: Check their website for current rates. Perfect for young children because those under 5 years and pets are FREE! Bring along a stroller or baby-wearing backpack for little explorers.
- Ferry Schedule: Changes from the summer months to fall. Check their website for the current schedule!
- Seasonal Hours: Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day. There is no wintertime ferry access to Rock Island.
Iconic, Delicious Pit Stops En Route to Washington Island:
You haven’t experienced Door County if you haven’t been to these!
- Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik, 10698 North Bay Shore Drive, Sister Bay, Wisconsin
- You haven’t experienced Door County unless you’ve spotted the goats on the grassy roofs here! Also check out their Butik for some amazingly cute Nordic-themed gifts.
- Island Orchard Cider, 12040 Garrett Bay Road, Ellison Bay, Wisconsin
- Hard cider created right in Door County for beginners and novice drinkers. They offer beautiful charcuterie trays and outdoor dining, too.
- If you don’t get to the Cider House, you can also find Island Orchard throughout Door County.
- Not Licked Yet, 4054 Main Street, Fish Creek, Wisconsin
- Amazing custard, a sweet playground, and just outside of Peninsula State Park. This one is a Door County favorite and worth the splurge while you’re here!
- Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor, 9990 Water Street South, Ephraim, Wisconsin
- Think old-fashioned soda fountain and ice cream specialties! Located in the heart of Ephraim, across from the picturesque marina.
Great Places to Stretch Your Legs & Play Along the Way:
As you make your way to/from Washington Island in the Door Peninsula, we’ve got some of our favorite pit stops that you won’t want to miss! Plus, with children, who doesn’t need a few pit stops to get out and take a break from all of the family car time bonding.
- Newport State Park, 475 County Road NP, Ellison Bay, Wisconsin
- If you’re looking for rustic wonder and an amazing nighttime sky-viewing park, this one’s for you! There’s also a great nature center for kids in the park office.
- Peninsula State Park, 9426 Shore Road, Fish Creek, Wisconsin
- Wisconsin’s favorite state park! They have it all here, including hiking/biking trails, a beach, golf, theater, lighthouse, and an amazing accessible Eagle Observation Tower & Canopy Walk!
- Seaquist Orchards Farm Market, 11482 Hwy 42, Sister Bay, Wisconsin
- Kids can enjoy a rope maze, pedal car track, sandbox, corn hole game, and playground. The best FREE fun around! They offer a variety of cherry products, fudge, FREE samples, and so much more in their store.
- Whitefish Dunes State Park, 3275 Clarks Lane Road, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
- Enjoy the beautiful, sandy Lake Michigan shoreline and miles of great hiking trails, too, here on the quieter Bailey’s Harbor side of Door County. This park has a great pet beach as well!
- Wood Orchard Market, 8112 WI-42, Egg Harbor, Wisconsin
- Kids can enjoy a corn maze, pedal car track, and playground. Stop in the store for armfuls of seasonal goodies, Door County specialties, samples, and FREE apple cider popsicles for kids (in season)!
READ MORE: Family Road Trip! Our Favorite Things to Do in Door County with Kids
More Fun Things to Do in Door County
- Cherry Picking in Door County
- 10+ Family Favorite Things to Do in Door County in the Fall
- A Wintertime Adventure in Door County
- Exploring and Camping at Potawatomi State Park
- Wisconsin’s Only Designated Dark Sky Area: Newport State Park
- Refreshing Adventures at Peninsula State Park
- Feed Baby Goats and Explore the Beautiful Grounds at The Farm
- Stretch Your Legs On the Way at Bay Shore County Park and Wequiock Falls