Door County is renowned for its parks. Sprinkled across the peninsula’s landscape are many spectacular public (and free!) locations for sight-seeing, hiking, boating (launch fees apply), swimming and other, sometimes unexpected, activities, including winter recreation opportunities.

The county has set aside over 948 acres of land for its 19 county parks. Within these parks is 12 miles of groomed trails, seven launching ramps, three swimming beaches and numerous picnic and playground facilities.

County parks are only the beginning.

There is a multitude of other public-access locations such as state parks (see separate story), town parks, nature preserves, Land Trust properties and a handful of non-profit and private sanctuaries to discover.

But you’ve got to start somewhere. We’ve listed the county’s parks here, and encourage you to explore all the options in Door County.

Cave Point, one the county’s most popular destinations, is a spectacular place located near Jacksonport. The park stands above a shallow sea cave and dazzling limestone bluffs along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. On windy summer days, freshwater mist fills the air as waves crash impressively against the rocky bluff. During the winter, cold spins the mist into whimsical art of icicles and frozen waves. A sizable and accessible gazebo can be rented to provide the perfect backdrop for weddings and special occasions.

Another favorite that boasts a bit of adventure, as well as a dose of maritime history, is Cana Island Lighthouse near Baileys Harbor. Park in the nearby lot and take a careful walk across the rock causeway for a rare opportunity to climb a still-functioning navigation lighthouse tower. From the catwalk, enjoy an unbeatable view of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. The Door County Maritime Museum oversees the 140-year-old lighthouse, which is open to visitors daily May through October for a modest admission fee.

Located in the remnants of the Leathem and Smith Company’s stone quarry north of Sturgeon Bay, George K. Pinney (formerly the Olde Stone Quarry) is surrounded by the impressive dolomite walls left behind from quarrying days. The setting is perfect for picnics, sunset watching and fishing. A modern six-lane boat launch and handicapped-accessible fishing pier provide access to the prime bass, northern and perch fishing waters of Green Bay. Scuba divers can enjoy exploring two shipwrecks, the Joseph L. Hurd and the Mueller, located in shallow waters adjacent to the park.

Ellison Bluff, a State Natural Area near Ellison Bay offers unparalleled views of Green Bay and is a spectacular place to watch a sunset. Accessible hiking trails can be found under the forest canopy, and adventurous visitors can give the challenging multiple-step GPS-guided geocache treasure hunt a try. Nearby is Door Bluff Headlands, which also features a high overlook of Green Bay and offers challenging hiking trails and breathtaking waterline views for kayakers.

A bay side sandy beach can be found south of Egg Harbor at Frank E. Murphy park, a hub of summer activities with a playground, volleyball court, picnic area and pavilion. The park is also home to the annual Door County Triathlon in July.

Several county parks are located on Lake Michigan’s shoreline, including Southern Door’s Robert LaSalle. Retrace the French explorer’s landing point in 1679, and enjoy the rise over the cobblestone beach. Children will enjoy the playground in the lower level of the park.

Farther north, and also lakeside is Baileys Harbor Ridges and its newly rehabilitated sand beach. On breezy days, this park is the perfect spot to catch a breathtaking glimpse of local kite boarders riding the wind and waves. The 30-acre park is adjacent to the Ridges Sanctuary.

A quiet haven for serious naturalists and visitors interested in a challenging hike on unmarked trails is Lyle-Harter-Matter Sanctuary and Meridian near Jacksonport. A highway wayside is the only access point to both of the State Natural Areas, which contain rock outcroppings that showcase the Niagara Escarpment and forested ridges and swales of past lake shorelines. The tallest sand dune in the county is hidden under a forested carpet in the Sanctuary near Kangaroo Lake.

In southern Door County, find Sugar Creek just a bit off the beaten path along the bay shore. It now features an 18-hole disc golf course through 20 acres of hardwood forest.

Forestville Dam along the Ahnapee River is a quiet inland setting for kayakers and also offers a new pier for catch-and-release fishing. Visitors can walk on the dam’s spillway to enjoy a spectacular view, then stay and play at the playground. The park provides access to the scenic Ahnapee State Trail that is a public pathway for biking, hiking, horseback riding and winter snowmobiling. The trail follows 12 miles of the retired railroad line of Ahnapee and Western.

John Miles not only hosts the Door County Fair in August but has multiple soccer fields, a playground, and is home to the county’s only stock car racetrack. Visitors are likely to see 4-H horse drill teams practicing in summer or special events such as the Century Ride or American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

For brilliant fall colors (and history of a horrific tornado of fire that swallowed an early settlement in the area) visit historic Tornado Memorial Park, a quick stop off County Road DK just north of Brussels.

Local fishermen have enjoyed access to the frozen waters of Green Bay for winter ice fishing for decades by way of Chaudoir’s Dock, Robert M. Carmody and George K. Pinney. Like Pinney Park, Carmody is a modern boat launch into Green Bay and its renown fishing grounds.

A fast fair-weather launch into Lake Michigan is Lily Bay, which leads to a 3-mile stretch of shallow reef north of Sturgeon Bay called “The Bank,” a hotspot for salmon and lake trout.

Enjoy the scenery and a bit of adventure with a ride on the ferry from the Peninsula to Washington Island to enjoy a serene waterside picnic and the sandy beach at Percy Johnson park.