Whitefish Dunes State Park sign

Whitefish Dunes State Park

This is the account of our third visit to a state park during our week-long stay in Door County, June 4 through June 9, 2023.

1) Rock Island
2) Peninsula
3) Whitefish Dunes
4) Newport

Whitefish. What is whitefish? It’s what they use in a Door County fish boil. But what kind of fish is it exactly? And why is it included in the name Whitefish Dunes State Park?

Those questions are more difficult to answer than you might first think. I’m not sure they even have definitive answers.

Whitefish is a nebulous term for several species of fish such as cod, haddock, pollock and several others. It generally refers to fish that feed along the bottom of the lake or sea or ocean and can be pretty good to eat.

As to why the term is used in the name of a Wisconsin state park, I can only guess that it’s because fishermen catch them (or used to catch them) off the shores where the sandy dunes of the park are located.

In any case, it’s not so much the whitefish that are important for a visit to Whitefish Dunes State Park. It’s the dunes.

Beach Access 1, 2, 3

Beach access 1

You can get to the beach via any of three access points. The first one, shown above, is near the main parking area.

As of this writing, the DNR site says that the beach access point shown above is no longer ADA accessible due to erosion. That was as of 8/1/22. It looked fine when we were there in June of 2023.

The second access point is on the Red Trail. Stairs go up and then down to the beach.

Beach access 2 going up
Beach access 2 going down

Here’s a view (I crouched down) of some of the sands at this point.

Beach access 2 view

While it’s true that most visitors will encounter these access points in the order I’m presenting them here, it still feels a little presumptuous to call them the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd access points.

3rd access sign

It’s possible to see the 3rd access point first. If you did, wouldn’t that be a bit confusing? Why not name the points something creative that doesn’t use numbers? (Yes, I’m being really picky.)

This is the path to the beach at the 3rd access point.

Beach access 3 path

Speaking of confusing signs, how about this one? Actually, it’s only confusing if you don’t know that this is also a biking trail. Even so, it made me smile as we walked up to it.

Blind Corner sign

I appreciated that one of these signs told dogs where they should hike.

Dog sign

There is an abundance of brown dragonflies at Whitefish Dunes. This one is trying his (or her) best to blend into the background. Can you spot it?


Speaking of things that are hard to see, this is one of several outdated posters on the back side of a display near the Nature Center. I’m guessing most or all of the staff doesn’t know where it is or that it’s still on display.

Loon 2001 poster

As per usual, the Nature Center wasn’t open when we were there. It seems that this one may actually be accessible during certain hours though.

Nature Center

Near the end of the Red Trail is a boardwalk and stairs to the highest dune in the area, Old Baldy.

Old Baldy boardwalk start
Old Baldy stairs

I’m guessing that, based on its name and the plaque shown below, Old Baldy used to be a bare dune from which you could see a variety of flora and fauna. However, as with many high places we’ve hiked to, the trees now obscure nearly everything.

In the distance you can still see a bit of Clark Lake, but you won’t see any of the critters mentioned from this vantage point.

Old Baldy fauna sign
Old Baldy view

I think this seemingly random plaque is associated with the Brachiopod Trail, which overlaps the Yellow and Green trails we had been on. It was the only such numbered item we saw.

Plaque 15

We didn’t examine it closely, but this shelter looks like a decent place for those who need it.


I think it was along the Red Trail that we encountered this sign. I understand there’s a difference between a state park and an official natural area, but I don’t know why someone thought it was necessary to let us know at this point.

Whitefish Dunes Natural Area sign

This is one of several displays of ship wreckage that we saw in Door County. Wrecks from the past are a significant part of the history of the area. (You may think of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but that was in Lake Superior.)

Wreckage display

All in all, Whitefish Dunes is a nice place to visit, but since we don’t really swim or sunbathe, there’s not much reason to return. The hike was easy. The only effort needed was climbing the steps of Old Baldy, which is a bit you can skip without losing anything of significance.


Nearest City

Whitefish Bay, Door County, Wisconsin (4 miles)

Nearest Emergency Facility

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin (14 miles)


6:00 AM to 8:00 PM, year-round


Vehicle admission sticker required

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