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Door County Photo Locations

Door County is a spectacular place to visit if you enjoy photography. With 5 state parks, 19 county parks, and countless city/village/town parks and privately held (but open to the public) land preserves, it’s easy to stumble upon one picturesque location after another.  And don’t forget about the county’s 11 lighthouses!  Here’s a few favorite photo locations and photo tips for each spot.

Not all locations have sample images but I’m working on it! 🙂

Please note that I have my lens recommendations below.  My definition of focal lengths is as follows:

Wide: 14-24mm on full frame cameras (10-17mm crop sensor cameras)

Standard: 24-70mm on full frame cameras (17-55mm on crop sensor cameras)

Telephoto: 70mm+ on full frame cameras (55mm+ on crop sensor cameras)

 

Downtown Sturgeon Bay (map)

Sturgeon Bay Michigan Street Steel Bridge

My hometown.  Sturgeon Bay’s working waterfront offers a plethora of photo opportunities.  The Michigan Street “Steel Bridge” is a an awesome and unique piece of history we are lucky to have.  Bay Shipbuilding is located right downtown, you can get relatively close to huge freighters in the winter when they undergo repairs and prepare for the next season.  The tugboats docked between the downtown bridges make for great photos too.  Be sure to check out Third Avenue and its historic buildings.

Sturgeon Bay Tips

– Stone Harbor is a great sunset location (map).

– The bridges each open every half hour.

– The old train bridge (map) offers fantastic views of the bridge.

– Wander around town on both bridges for a stimulating photo walk.

– In the winter, usually in January, the freighters start arriving. Watching as they navigate through the bridges with the help of the tugs is a treat, equally impressive when they depart in March-April.

Time of Day: Afternoon/sunset but any time is fine

Lens recommendation: Wide to standard

 

Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal / Coast Guard Station (Sturgeon Bay)(map)

The Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal is a stellar location to take in Lake Michigan.  The Sturgeon Bay North Pierhead Lighthouse makes for a vivid subject. There is a fully operational US Coast Guard station where you can watch boats and freighters arrive and depart Sturgeon Bay, and it is a spectacular sight for sunrises.

Canal Tips

– You can view everything from either side of the canal.  On the south side ( map) is a sandy beach that leads to the south pier.  The north side (map) brings you to the Coast Guard station where you can walk down the pier and get close views of the historic lighthouse.

– The pier leading to the lighthouse can be tricky to find on the north side of the canal.  Park in the lot and look towards the water, you will see a narrow path about 4 feet wide marked ‘Public’ leading to the pier.  The property on both sides of the path is not open to the public.

– The canal is a great sunrise location.

– BE CAREFUL ON THE PIER!  It can be quite slippery when wet.

– In January and March you can watch freighters come in and out of the canal.

Time of Day: Sunrise is the most stunning but evenings are beautiful as well.

Lens Recommendations: Wide, standard, telephoto focal lengths.

 

George K. Pinney Park (Sturgeon Bay) (map)

There is not much to this park other than a public boat launch.  However, this is a great spot for sunsets.  I also come often to watch storms roll in from the east.

Time of Day: Sunset

Lens recommendation: Standard focal lengths

 

Potawatomi State Park (Sturgeon Bay)(map)

Potawatomi State Park is a hidden gem.  This park features plenty of hiking trails – perfect for forest photography.  From the top of the old ski hill, you can see for miles towards southern Door County and catch gorgeous sunsets.  This park also features Door County’s only fire tower where you can take in stunning views of the bay.

Potawatomi Park Tips

– Don’t miss the old ski hill area, a great place for sunsets, especially in the fall.

– The park’s fall colors are stunning.

Time of Day: Afternoon

Lens Recommendation: Standard focal lengths

 

Sherwood Point Lighthouse (Sturgeon Bay) (map)

Sherwood Point Lighthouse is a bit tricky to visit.  The grounds are only open to the public one weekend per year during the Lighthouse Festival in mid-June.  Otherwise it is best seen from the water so…you’ll need a boat.

Time of Day: Any

Lens Recommendation: Wide to standard from the grounds.  Telephoto from a boat.

 

Crossroads at Big Creek (Sturgeon Bay)(map)

Crossroads at Big Creek is a nature preserve and education center featuring a large property that is open to the public.  Big Creek flows through the preserve and offers awesome opportunities for forest photography.  In the spring and summer months you will likely see many wildflowers in the open fields.

Time of Day: Afternoon

Lens recommendation: Standard focal lengths

 

Cave Point County Park (Jacksonport)(map)

Cave Point County Park in Door County

Cave Point County Park in Jacksonport is an absolute must-see, arguably the most photogenic spot in Door County.  The park sits atop spectacular cliffs off the shore of Lake Michigan.  Cave Point is most impressive with strong gusts when the waves are crashing ashore. When the water’s calm it is not uncommon to witness a few brave souls jump from the cliffs. (I recommend you refrain from this yourself, the currents are unpredictable and it’s rocky!) In winter, the crashing waves create an eerie, ice covered landscape. The park is stunning year round.

The cliffs stretch into Whitefish Dunes State Park.  From the parking area, go straight down to see the main cliffs area.  A trail to the left will allow you to access the rocky shoreline.  A trail to the right will allow you to walk along the rim of the cliffs.  Be sure to explore both trails.

Cave Point Tips

– Cave Point is a great spot for night astrophotography too.

– Come at sunrise, the golden light on the rocks makes for some beautiful shots.

– BE CAREFUL ON THE ROCKS!  The rocks are slippery when wet and are often covered in a layer of ice throughout the winter months.  Stay back from the edge.

Time of Day: Sunrise or Night Sky

Lens recommendation: Mostly wide-angle to standard focal lengths would be most common but a telephoto might allow for closeup compositions of the rocks and ice in the winter.

 

Cana Island (Baileys Harbor)(map)

The Cana Island Lighthouse is classic, iconic, everything you’d expect a 19th century lighthouse to be.  There are historic buildings around the island and the house is open to the public for tours. You can even climb the nearly 100 stairs to the top.  This lighthouse can be incorporated into countless compositions from the surrounding grassy area or the rocky shore. The island provides a stunning sunrise location, but can be a good spot any time of day.  (During the summer season you will be required to pay an admission fee to access the island.)

Time of Day: Mornings but any time is fine.

Lens recommendations: Wide to standard focal lengths.

 

Boynton Chapel at Bjorklunden (Baileys Harbor) (map)

The Boynton Chapel is relatively unknown structure on the grounds of Bjorklunden, just south of Baileys Harbor.  The chapel was built in the 1920s in the style of a Norwegian church. Pictures of it are often mistaken for the “church on Washington Island” (see below). The grounds are open to the public, but the inside of the chapel is only open when tours are held.  If you can’t get a tour don’t turn it down a chance to see this stunning place.

Time of Day: Any

Lens Recommendation: Standard

 

Kangaroo Lake (Center of the peninsula between Baileys Harbor and Egg Harbor)(map)

Located just outside of Baileys Harbor on County Road E is Kangaroo Lake.  This scenic inland lake offers great photo opportunities.

Kangaroo Lake Tips

– County Road E goes down the middle of the lake on a land bridge – your best spot to see the lake.

Time of Day: Mornings or Evenings

Lens Recommendations: Wide, standard, and telephoto focal lengths.

 

Peninsula State Park (Fish Creek) (map)

Door County’s largest state park boasts a picturesque lighthouse and  countless breathtaking lookouts. Eagle Lighthouse, located on the western part of the park, is a great late afternoon/sunset location. The stunning Eagle Panorama, located on the eastern part of the park, is a scenic overlook where you can get a bird’s eye view of much of the park and islands offshore.  The many hiking and biking trails offer many opportunities for forest photography.

Peninsula Park Tips

– This park is a great sunset location.

– Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and Eagle Bluff Panorama are two must stop locations within the park.

Time of Day: Afternoon and Sunset

Lens recommendations: Wide to standard will likely be the most useful but there might also be opportunities for telephoto lenses.

 

Anderson Dock (Ephraim) (map)

In my opinion, sunsets in Ephraim are the most beautiful in all of Door County. The old, historic warehouse, bearing graffiti by locals and visitors alike, sits on Anderson Dock and now serves as the Hardi Art Gallery. The graffiti is 100% allowed and encouraged.  Every now and then they’ll paint over a side when the walls fill up.

Time of Day: Afternoon, Evening, Sunset

Lens recommendation: Wide to standard focal lengths.

 

Eagle Harbor (Ephraim) (map)

Right across the street from the Ephraim Town Hall building is a strip of grass.  This area, along with the entire shoreline in the village, is a perfect place to watch the sun set over Eagle Harbor.  During the summer months you’ll see the sun set between Horseshoe Island and the point of Peninsula State Park. When fall colors are peaking you will have a classic view of the village nestled among beautiful fall colors.

Time of Day: Afternoon, Evening, Sunset

Lens recommendation: Wide to standard focal lengths.

 

Sister Bay Marina (Sister Bay) (map)

The town marina in Sister Bay is a great place for an after dinner sunset photography session.  You can walk along the outer breakwall and watch the boats come in and out of the harbor.  This place offers many opportunities to capture a sunset silhouette of people or boats out in the bay.

Time of Day: Evening

Lens recommendations: Wide to standard with the occasional telephoto opportunity.

 

Door Bluff Headlands County Park (Ellison Bay)(map)

Door Bluff Headlands County Park is a relatively unknown park. Other than a gravel road leading in to the park it is 100% undeveloped – no buildings or marked trails.  You can walk down the steep bluff to the water or stay atop the bluff for awesome views of the water.  Ice shoves tend to form here during the winter months too.

Door Bluff Tips

– Take it slow.  The path is steep and in the winter can be very icy and slippery.

– There are no guardrails on top of the bluff so BE CAREFUL ON THE BLUFF!

– This is a good place for sunset photography.

Time of Day: Afternoon and sunset

Lens recommendations: Wide to standard focal lengths.

 

 

Winding Road (Gills Rock)(map)

Door County’s famous “Winding Road” is a must have photo for any Door County photo trip.  Arguably the most unique and recognizable roads in not only Wisconsin, but the entire Midwest was designed by a local artist, Jens Jenson.  The road is on the very tip of the peninsula and is about a mile away from the Washington Island Ferry dock.  As one of the most popular photo spots in the county it is rare to be the only one here taking pictures.

Winding Road Tips

– BE CAREFUL ON THE ROAD!  There are always cars coming from both directions so keep an eye on the road behind you or, better yet, have a watcher keep an eye out with you.

– You can park on the side of the road but please be courteous of other photographers and park a ways back.

– This road is shielded by the sun pretty well so there is not really a bad time to be here but the morning and evenings are the best time to avoid shadows.

Time of Day: Any

Lens recommendation: Standard to telephoto focal lengths.

 

Stavkirke Chapel (Washington Island)(map)

The Stavirke chapel on Washington Island is a stunning chapel built in the mid-1990s.  The woodwork is very intricate and all-around amazing.  The grounds as well as the inside of the chapel are open to the public so this is a must see when visiting “The Island.”

 

Cherry Orchards (All over Door County)

Cherries are one of the industries that put Door County on the map.  The peninsula is dotted with them from south to north and back again.  These orchards are great when the fruit is ripe but my favorite time to photograph the orchards is when the blossoms are peaking.  It’s difficult to predict exactly when this happens but a good rule of thumb is between mid-May and early-June and they usually last about a week.  The Door County Visitor Bureau’s website is a good resource to track the progress of the blossoms.

Cherry Orchard Tips

I like coming to the orchards in the morning or afternoon when the sun is low and casts a warm light on the cherries/blossoms.

– There is wonderful opportunities for wide angle shots of entire trees to telephoto shots focusing on individual bunches.

– When driving north, take Highway 42 up the west side of the peninsula.  You can drive on this road from Sturgeon Bay all the way to Gills Rock and pass orchard after orchard.

– Orchards are private property so please be respectful.  I’ve seen orchards fenced off so please don’t jump any fences.  Don’t climb trees or disturb the land in any way.

Time of Day: Morning or Afternoon.

Lens Recommendation: Wide, standard, or telephoto.

 

Fireworks!

door county fireworks

In the summer there are many fireworks displays throughout the county.

 

Check out my Door County photo gallery for more images from the peninsula.