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Door County Photo Locations

Door County is a pretty great place to visit if you are in to photography.  There are 5 state parks, 19 county parks, and countless city/village/town parks and privately held (but open to the public) land preserves.  And Don’t forget about the county’s 11 lighthouses!  Here is a rundown of some of my favorite photo locations along with a couple photo tips for each spot.  I wrote this all pretty much from memory so if you have any tips for these spots or any other spots in Door County let me know!

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 is a really great place to visit because of the working waterfront.  The Michigan Street “Steel Bridge” is a really awesome and unique piece of history that we are lucky to have.  Bay Shipbuilding is located right downtown where you can get relatively close to huge freighters in the winter as they get repairs.  There are tugboats docked right between the two downtown bridges that 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 so be sure to stick around to watch.

– The old train bridge (map) is a park that goes out in to the bay that gives great views of the bridge.

– A great photo walk is to just walk around town on both bridges.

– In the winter, usually in January, the freighters start arriving in town.  They are great to watch as they navigate through the bridges with the help of the tugs.  They are equally impressive to watch leave town 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 great place to view all the good things about Lake Michigan.  The Sturgeon Bay North Pierhead Lighthouse is a great subject for pictures, there is a fully operational US Coast Guard station, you can watch boats and freighters leave and arrive at Sturgeon Bay, and it is a spectacular sight for sunrises.  As with Cave Point, when the wind is blowing the crashing waves can be quite spectacular.

Canal Tips

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

– The pier leading up to the lighthouse can be a bit 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 that is public access 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 can be 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 it’s use as a public boat launch.  However, this is a great spot for sunsets.  I also come here 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 of Door County.  It is a heavily forested park with plenty of hiking.  It’s perfect for forest photography.  The old ski hill is a lookout where you can see for miles towards Southern Door County and is a great place to watch sunsets.  It also has Door County’s only fire tower where you can witness stunning views of the bay of Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay.  

Potawatomi Park Tips

– Don’t miss the old ski hill area.  This is a good place for sunsets, especially in the fall with the fall colors.

– This whole park is great for fall colors.

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 fron 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 with a large property that is open to the public.  Big Creek flows through the property and offers a good chance for some forest photography.  In the spring and summer months you will likely see many wildflowers blowing 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

Sunrise at Cave Point County Park in Door County

Cave Point County Park in Jacksonport is an absolute must see park in Door County.  It is arguably the most photogenic spot in Door County.  The park sits on top of some spectacular cliffs on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Cave Point is most impressive when the wind up strong and the waves are crashing ashore.  You can hear the thunder as soon as you step out of your car.  When it is calm it is not uncommon to see young folks jumping from the cliffs in to the refreshing lake (Don’t do this yourself though!).  In the winter, the crashing waves creates an ice covered landscape that must be seen.  Cave point is stunning year round.

The cliffs of the park stretch all the way in to Whitefish Dunes State Park.  From the parking area, you 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 of the parking area 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 time astrophotography too.

– Come at sunrise for spectacular scenes of the rising sun over the lake.  The golden light on the rocks makes for some great shots.

– Be sure to explore the trail to the right.  There is a trail that heads south down the shore that had the best sights in the park.

– BE CAREFUL ON THE ROCKS!  The rocks get slippery when wet.  In the winter they are often covered in a layer of ice.  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)

Cana Island is a really awesome place.  The Cana Island Lighthouse is just so classic, iconic, and everything you’d expect a 19th century lighthouse to be.  There are historic building all around the island and the house itself is open to the public for tours and you can even climb the nearly 100 stairs to the top.  This lighthouse can be incorporated in to countless compositions from the surrounding grassy area or from the rocky shore.  Cana Island is a good 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. 

Cana Island Tips

– Don’t let the fact that it’s an island throw you off.  It is very easy to get to.  From the parking area there is a land bridge that you walk on to get to the island.  Only on windy days when the water is high is Cana a true island.

– There is admission to get to the island.  I think it’s about $6.  For access to the house it’s another $4.

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 but still a very cool spot located at Bjorklunden, just south of Baileys Harbor.  The chapel was built in the 1920’s in the style of a Norwegian church and pictures of it are often mistaken to the “church on Washington Island” (see below).    The grounds are open to the public so you can walk around it any time but the inside of the chapel is not normally open on the inside but I believe tours are sometimes held.  If you can get a tour don’t turn it down because it is quite stunning. 

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 is a really scenic inland lake that offers great photo opportunities.

Kangaroo Lake Tips

– County Road E gies right down the middle of the lake on a land bridge.  It is your best spot to see the lake.  You can not park in the middle of the land bridge but on either side there is a place to park and walk down the road.

Time of Day: Mornings or Evenings

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

 

The Ridges (BaileysHarbor)

The Ridges is an area that is another great place for forest photography.  There is an old range light here too that is a classic Door County photograph.

Time of Day: Any

Lens Recommendation: Wide or standard focal lengths

 

Peninsula State Park (Fish Creek) (map)

 

Door County’s largest state park is a great photo location.  Eagle Lighthouse and the many bluff lookouts give great views of water.  It is a heavily wooded park but had a lot to offer.  Eagle Lighthouse is on the western part of the park and can be a good late afternoon/sunset location. The stunning Eagle Panorama on the eastern part of the park is a scenic overlook that is a great sunset location where you can get a bird’s eye view of much of the park and islands off the shore.  There are many hiking and biking trails where you can find many opportunities for forest photography. 

  Peninsula Park Tips

– Being on the west side of the peninsula, this park is another 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.

  • Town Marina

The Fish Creek marina is a busy marina where you can get sunset shots of the harbor.

 

Anderson Dock (Ephraim) (map

Anderson Dock in Ephraim is a great place for sunset photography.  It is my opinion that sunsets in Ephraim are the most beautiful in all of Door County.  An old, historic barn sits on Anderson Dock that now serves as the Hardi Art Gallery.  This building is unique because of all the graffiti left by people leaving their names on the building’s walls.  This is 100% allowed and encouraged.  Every now and then they’ll paint over a side when all walls are filled up.  There are many opportunities to include all or part of the barn or dock in your sunset compositions.

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 that is a park.  This area, along with the entire shoreline in the village, is a great place to watch the sun set over Eagle Harbor.  During the summer months you’ll see the sun set in 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 is a great place to get 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.

 

Al Johnson’s Restaurant (Sister Bay) (map)

The famous Al Johnson’s Restaurant in Sister Bay is insanely popular for two reasons.  The first is the amazing breakfast food, especially their Swedish pancakes and meatballs.  It can be busy in the summer months but it’s worth it and they are usually pretty good about getting you in and out.  The second reason this restaurant is so well-known is the roof of the building is sodded with grass and populated with goats.  This makes for a wonderful and unique photo opportunity.

Time of Day: Afternoon/Evening

Lens recommendation: Standard to telephoto focal lengths.

 

Pebble Beach (Sister Bay) (map)

Pebble Beach in Sister Bay is a rocky beach famous for their very smooth rocks.  It’s a good place for sunset photography.  Please do not remove any rocks from the beach.

Time of Day: Afternoon and sunset.

Lens Recommendation: Wide to standard focal lengths.

 

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.  There are no buildings or marked trails.  You can walk down the steep bluff to get down to the water or stay on top of the bluff for some great 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.  This is one of the most popular photo spots in the county.  It is very rare to be the only one here taking pictures.  I have been here in the morning and afternoon and it is great to photograph any time of day. 

Winding Road Tips

– BE CAREFUL ON THE ROAD!  It is common to get shots while standing in the middle of the road but this is a pretty busy road so be careful.  There are always cars coming from both directions so always 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 others 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 still the best time to avoid shadows on the road.

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 all wood chapel build in the mid-1990’s.  The woodwork is very intricate and all round 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 photography 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.

– I’ve never heard of any orchard owners who complained about photographers.  But orchards are private property so please be respectful.  I’ve seen some 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 all summer long in Door County.  Fireworks make for a great photo.

 

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