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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Rock Island State Park

Too small to get much attention and a pain in the neck to reach: The perfect Wisconsin escape.

by: Kristin Hostetter

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Contact Information:

Rock Island State Park Washington Island, WI 54246 (414) 847-2235 Location: Rock Island State Park is located at the northernmost tip of the Door County peninsula in northeastern Wisconsin.

Getting There: From Milwaukee, take I-43 north to Manitowoc. Continue north on SR 42 until the land ends and Lake Michigan begins at the Washington Island Ferry Line in Gills Rock. From Green Bay, take SR 57 north to Rt. 42. (If you arrive too late in the day to catch the ferry, camp at nearby Newport Beach State Park.)

Take the ferry to Washington Island, then make your way across Washington Island to the Rock Island ferry for the quick ride to Rock Island. Call (414) 847-2546 for schedules. Sea kayakers can paddle to Rock Island, provided they're experienced enough to deal with strong currents.

Seasonal Information: Around Memorial Day, temperatures are seasonable at 50 to 60 degrees F. By mid-June, the temperature rise into the upper-60s and 70s. Spring and fall are the best times to visit to avoid the bugs and other people. Lake Michigan warms up considerably around Labor Day, making September a perfect time to visit.

Wildlife: Deer graze in sunny meadows, and you might also see red squirrels and foxes.

Insects: Contact park office for information.

Plant Life: Among the scattered pines are an abundant array of wildflowers.

Facilities: There are 40 walk-in primitive campsites and two group sites, equipped with fire rings and picnic tables, nestled in the pines. Reservations (by mail or in person, no phone requests!) are highly recommended, especially in July and August.

Those with private boats can dock them and camp overnight for 40 cents per foot.

Beyond the beach, you'll find five backpacking sites perched high on dolomite cliffs.

Parking: Bring your vehicle to Washington Island and park for free at the Rock Island ferry landing.


  • No permits required.
  • Primitive campsite fees for Wisconsin residents are $10 per night for Fridays and Saturdays in-season, and $8 for Sundays through Thursdays in-season and any day during off-season. For non-residents, all fees increase by $2.
  • There are two ferries required to get to the island. The first year-round ferry travels a half-hour to Washington Island for $7 per person with a $16 fee for cars. (It's worthwhile to bring your car to Washington Island, because the dock for the second ferry is 9 miles from the first drop-off point and there is limited land transportation.) The second ferry travels 10 minutes from Washington Island to Rock Island for $8 per person (no cars allowed). This ferry runs from the Friday of Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day.


  • Visitors may bring bikes to keep with them on Rock Island, but they cannot ride them. No vehicles are allowed on the island.
  • Pets are allowed at half the campsites.

Hazards: There is a shelter on the island in the event of any storms.

Leave No Trace: Pack in, pack out.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: Free maps of the island are available at the boathouse/park office.

Other Trip Options: Within the county, there are many other ways to enjoy Lake Michigan. Call the park office for more information.

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Ranger Randy
Mar 16, 2011

Phone number prefix is now 920 not 414. All fees listed in this site are old and wrong. Check with the manager at 920-847-2235.


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