Danielle St. Louis
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
While I wouldn’t say we saved the very best for last, Whitefish Dunes State Park is definitely among the best of Wisconsin’s state parks. The morning of our visit to Whitefish Dunes, we also decided to visit one of Door County’s other famous local attractions – Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik in Sister Bay. While we waited for a table, my mom and I perused the local shops, and my dad walked around outside with Lucky. Then Lucky hung out in the car while my parents and I ate Swedish pancakes with Lingonberries.
Over breakfast, we discussed the plan for the day and deliberated whether we should pack up and vacate our campsite that day or stay for our final night. The next morning’s forecast was nonstop torrential rain, and the idea of packing up the campsite and closing the pop-up camper in torrential rain didn’t appeal to any of us. We made the decision to head back to camp after breakfast, pack up everything in the dry and pleasant weather, head over to Whitefish Dunes in the afternoon, and then head home from there.
As we returned the bedrooms and kitchen of the pop-up back to their stowed positions and carefully tucked the canvas walls and plastic windows into place, we knew we’d made the right call. Having to do all of this in the rain would have been miserable, and I’m sure the owner of this rental pop-up would much rather have it returned clean and dry. Finally, with everything stowed away, packed up, and locked down, we set off for Whitefish Dunes.
You know you are in for something special when even the scenery along the road that takes you to the park is beautiful. We passed driveway after driveway, and I wondered what it would be like to in this enclave of Wisconsin. If I weren’t such a city girl, my next move would be to the edge of a state park. We pulled over in the park’s entrance and went inside the office to collect intel. It was clear that Whitefish Dunes was a popular state park, especially for visitors with dogs; there was no shortage of information about where dogs could and could not go. Thankfully, dogs could go out to Beach Access #3, which is the designated dog beach. So, we moved our cars to the back parking lot and then set out on the Red Trail which would take us to the dog beach.
If I were to pick the best Wisconsin state park dog beach, this would be it. Not only is it actually designated as a dog beach, but it’s also actually a beach! It’s not a sad narrow strip of water adjacent land that’s been given over to dogs because it’s been rejected by people. It’s a wide, soft sandy swath that gradually meets the waters of Whitefish Bay. There were a couple of other dogs on the beach when we arrived, and Lucky chased after a dog chasing after a stick for a moment until his humping tendencies kicked in. Apologizing for his embarrassing behavior, I separated his bucking pelvis from the other dog and dragged him further down the beach. Once further removed from the temptation of dominating other dogs, Lucky was content to wade in the water and sniff the sand, and we enjoyed a leisurely, hump-free walk down the length of the dog beach.
From there, we hiked up to Old Baldy to check out the view and then completed the Red Trail loop. The entire time, I was amazed by the composition of plants and sand. The dunes are a significant departure from the classic Wisconsin deciduous forest I had become accustom to over the course of the summer. I kept stopping to take photos of unfamiliar plants and appreciate the biodiversity that existed over the course of a mere three miles.
It was almost 5:00 pm by the time we got back to the parking lot, and we were all ready for a meal. After a long week of being out in the wilderness, I decided we should treat ourselves to a civilized dining experience and of course, as it was a Friday, a traditional Wisconsin fish fry. With my phone roaming, I Yelped “fish fry” nearby, and we decided on Donny's Glidden Lodge.
We enjoyed drinks at a table in the bar – an Old Fashioned for my mom, a classic martini for my dad, and a Cosmopolitan for me – and thanked our good fortune. Donny’s Glidden Lodge was rustic yet elegant, classy but not stuffy, and had relaxing views of Whitefish Bay. We didn’t wait long for a table, and we weren’t out of place in our hiking clothes and boots. The food was amazing, and the service was great. I would highly recommend Donny’s to everyone I know; it was the perfect setting for our final memory of this trip to Door County.
Want more information about hiking with your dog at Whitefish Dunes State Park? Order your copy of A Dog Lover's Guide to Hiking Wisconsin's State Parks now!
Through the University of Wisconsin Press site.
And if you must, through Amazon.