We hiked Whitefish Dunes State Park on our third morning in Door County — after our third massive breakfast at the Viking Grill just down the road from where we were staying in Ellison Bay. Fabulous potato pancakes with a big dish of applesauce. Heaven
At this park there were many more visitors than on our first two nature walks. I think it was partly due to the fact that it was the July 4th weekend and also that Whitefish Dunes has an area set aside for people who want to bring their dogs to the beach. And they were there in force, as were the kayakers.
Whitefish Dunes State Park protects the fragile dune environment on the eastern Door County Peninsula. It is the largest and most significant Great Lakes dunescape in Wisconsin. We left the crowds behind and ambled and scrambled along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, as well as hiked some of the trails throughout the forested sand dunes and beech forest. If you look closely at the image below you can see the sand building up underwater and slowly re-shaping the shoreline.
Blackened sand (below) indicates the presence of Magnetite, an iron mineral found in the Lake Superior basin. These sand grains are debris that glaciers eroded from the bedrock of Canada and dumped into Lake Michigan. You can use a magnet to pick it up!
This area is stabilized with a variety of beach grasses. The photo below is right at the edge of the Lake Michigan shoreline and really gives you a sense of how this sandy landscape is held together. This whole area is such a different landscape that we watched the movie in the Visitor Center that showed how dunes are formed. If you are interested, here's a good description from the Wisconsin DNR site.
After walking the shore, we hiked — slipping and sliding — up the dunes to the various trails. We also hiked up to Old Baldy, the highest dune on this side of Lake Michigan: 100 feet. Doesn't sound very high but it certainly seemed like a good climb by the time we got to the top. Then we walked through some of the meadows and woods back to our car.
Again we saw a large variety of ferns, many of them not only growing in a very sandy soil but also in lots of sun. Though many of them looked familiar to me, I was able to positively identify very few. We also saw more Reindeer moss but were unable to determine if there are two kinds of moss growing here or one kind at different stages. All three of our "nature hikes" left me with questions and a desire to read more about these landscapes, to say nothing of visiting them again.
Whitefish Dunes is a day-use park, there is no camping. One area of the beach is closed to swimming because it has such strong rip tides. Every day it seems I saw or learned something new: my kind of vacation.
Note: Some of the specific information about the park came from the Wisconsin DNR website.