Rock Island, WI (Door County) 1998
by Sarah Ohmann

As many of you know, Bill Newman and I have been "researching" our two volume Guide to Sea Kayaking the Great Lakes (end of shameless commercial promotion). My most recent trip was to Door County, WI., which was new territory for me. I reached Door County well after dark, and couldn't see anything except mile after mile of tastefully lighted gift shops and galleries. "Oh no!" I thought, "It's been turned into one big boutique!" Fortunately when the sun came up I found that while the peninsula is not exactly wilderness, there are plenty of places that are still undeveloped with great islands for kayakers to visit. I paddled four of the state parks, but there are many more good trips in this area. Here's a brief overview of Rock Island:

This is a place most people have heard of, partly because of the annual Rock Island Rendezvous (see calendar below for October 2-4), and partly for the scenery. It is an undeveloped backpackers' and paddlers' park, and a little quieter than the ever popular Washington Island. The island is one of a chain stretching from the tip of the Door County peninsula to Michigan, part of a saucer-shaped basin of sedimentary rock also surfacing at the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. The islands are known for their brilliant white cliffs and the clear green water. There are trails on the island for hiking if the weather is too rough.

Extensive shoals all around the island make waves steeper and higher than they are out in deeper water. The cliffs can also create interesting reflection waves, and to top it off, there are currents between the islands as wind and pressure differences cause water to move between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. While the maximum current is 2 knots this has been enough to push paddlers out to sea as they lost ground against both wind and current. It all makes for a challenging paddle in the fall!

There is one lighthouse on the island, Potawatomi Light, on the northwest corner of Rock Island which can be reached by landing at the cobble beach and hiking up the staircase and through the northern white cedar woods. The other structures on the island are at the southeast corner near the cobble/sand spit, and are the remains of a large country estate, which was forfeited to the state for failure to pay taxes. The buildings were designed with an Icelandic theme (Washington Island was a popular spot for immigrants from Iceland), and the Viking Hall/boat house has Nordic runes and Viking style chairs and chandeliers. The main building, unfortunately, was bulldozed by the state since the government didn't want to maintain it. The Viking Hall is open as long as park personnel are out on the island, until mid-October.

Rock Island can be reached by paddling from Northport at the tip of the Door County Peninsula, or you can take ferries to Washington Island and even to Rock Island from the north end of Washington Island if the weather is rough. For more information on the island ferries, Rock Island and other Door County paddling destinations, check out the website for the Peninsula Paddlers Sea Kayaking Club at or call Russ Cross at 920-743-7959



© 1998 Sarah Ohmann