Rock Island State Park, located at the far tip of the Door Peninsula, has had an interesting history. The isolated 912-acre island was purchased by the state in 1964 from the estate of Charles H. Thordarson. Thordarson, an electrical inventor, was born in Iceland in 1868, moving to Milwaukee at age 5. Thordarson purchased the island in 1910 (for under $6,000), hoping to turn it into his own Icelandic retreat. The inventor had a deep passion for botany and the natural beauty of the island.
During the 20’s, Thordarson built the massive Viking Hall and boathouse from Rock Island limestone. He ferried Icelandic artisans and workmen from Washington Island (having the oldest Icelandic community
in the United States), in order to build the structures in true Icelandic style.
Viking Hall is now a museum, complete with natural history displays. The island also features Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse. Built in 1858, the Pottawatomie Lighthouse sits on the northwest corner of the island. This lighthouse replaces the original structure, built in 1836, due to inferior mortar and moisture damage.
Native Americans were the first residents of the islands, arriving in 600BC. The island features the remains of a Native American fishing village from the 1650’s, atop 140’ limestone cliffs. Famed explorer, Sieur de LaSalle landed on the island in 1679. For years after that Europeans and Ojibwe lived together on the island. At the island’s peak, 1850, it was home to 200 people. However, it was never well suited to the main pursuits of its inhabitants – fishing and agriculture. Although fishing Lake Michigan is productive, it was difficult for boats to readily dock on the island. Poor soils on the island lead to poor yields. Thordarson, for example, cleared an area on the south shore for a vegetable garden, but could only grow Rutabaga (the site is indicated on the map as “Rutabaga Field”).
There are also 3 very old cemeteries at various points on the island. Cliff carvings on the northern shore of the island reference the early Indian residents. The southern shore of the island features a 5000’ white-sand beach, affording an excellent swimming opportunity during summer months. A vista on the northeast corner of the island (indicated on the map), features a view of the islands across the Michigan state line, further to the north. The section of the Thordarson trail from the stone tower to Fernwood is reported as the most scenic, and least used. Near the boat house, the mile long Algonquin Nature Trail Loop offers interpretive signs discussing the natural history of the island, including the old sand dunes now solidified by vegetation.
Given the isolation and size of the island, mammals are rare – if you’re lucky you may see: deer, coyote, red/gray fox, red squirrel, lemming, muskrat, and four species of bats. On very rare occasion, black bear (they’re excellent swimmers). There is tons of poison ivy on the island; however, the rangers spray for poison ivy on the trails. In the event of an emergency, call 911. Areas of the island do have cell phone reception. It may be necessary to hike to the boat house to get reception (a little less than a mile from the camp site). There is also a camp host on the island, near the maintenance shop. The boathouse is open 8AM to 8PM. Tours at the lighthouse are free and are available 10AM to 4PM, hosted by volunteers of Friends of Rock Island State Park.
The remote campsites have a fire ring, with grill, table and nearby pit toilet. Expect an abundant supply of fallen timber to burn. Anything burned must fit into the fire ring. Firewood is sold on the island for $6/bundle near the maintenance shop from 4:30-5:30PM. There are carts available for toting wood to the campsites but they are not always available as sometimes they are not returned right away.
The $10 fee covers the backpacking camp site at Rock Island for 2 days.
This is a beginner level trip.
• Washington Island Ferry - http://www.wisferry.com/ (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/rockisland/pdfs/rockislandmap.pdf)
• Rock Island Website - http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/rockisland/
• Rock Island Ferry - http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/rockisland/ferry.html
• Washington Island Map - http://wisferry.com/downloads/island-map.pdf
• Rock Island Map - http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/rockisland/pdfs/rockislandmap.pdf
• Strong coverage out of Sister Bay
• Avg Low – 50°
• Avg High – 65°
Day 1 – Friday, 9/12
• Drive to Northport Pier
○ GPS: Latitude:[masked], Longitude: [masked]
○ From Green Bay, WI –2h MapQuest (http://mapq.st/1h3bImi)
○ Bryan – Planning to arrive at 11:30AM.
• Washington Ferry (http://www.wisferry.com/)
○ http://www.wisferry.com/ (http://www.wisferry.com/)
○ Ferry leaves for Washington Island on the hour, 8AM – 6PM. Ferry cost is $26 per vehicle plus $24.50 per individual (includes Rock Island passenger ferry) round trip. Be at the dock and in line 15 minutes prior to departure. Tickets are first come, first serve.
○ Estimate 25 minute ride to Washington Island.
• Washington Island (Optional)
• Drive to Jackson Harbor – 15m
○ Park at Rock Island Parking. No fee.
• Rock Island Ferry
○ Karfi Ferry leaves for Rock Island at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm.
○ Primitive Site B & Site D
Day 2 – Saturday, 9/13
○ TBD, 8.4mi of trail available
○ Primitive Site B & Site D
Day 3 – Sunday, 9/14
• Rock Island Ferry
○ Karfi Ferry leaves for Washington Island at 10:15am, 12:15pm, 2:15pm and 4:15pm.
• Washington Island
○ (Optional) Post-trip burger/beer
• Drive to Detroit Harbor - 15m
• Washington Island Ferry
○ Ferry leaves Washington Island on the hour from 7am to 5pm. Be at the dock and in line 15 minutes prior to departure. Estimate 25 minutes to Northport Pier.