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Tourists Can Experience An Island Wilderness on Rock Island

Updated on March 23, 2012

Rock Island: Relaxation and Adventure

Enjoy the scenic and spacious natural rock beach on Rock Island off the northern Door County peninsula.
Enjoy the scenic and spacious natural rock beach on Rock Island off the northern Door County peninsula. | Source

Rock Island is Part of the State of Wisconsin Park System

Although it is not an officially designated wilderness area, Rock Island, located off the coast of Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin, is truly a spectacular travel destination to visit.

The island is unique among Wisconsin parks, and an intriguing destination spot for tourists.

Rock Island Has No Roads or Vehicle Traffic

This primitive island has no roads, cars of even bicycles to disturb its heavily wooded 912 acres. Daytrippers or backpackers arriving by ferry must hike on foot to various destinations on the island, whether they seek the campground, the remote back-country sites, 5,000 feet of swimming beach along the island's south shore, or the restored 1836 Pottawatomie Lighthouse.

According to Kurt Smith, longtime northern Door County resident and self-proclaimed tour guide, Rock Island has some very neat areas to check out once tourists leave the ferry dock. “Tourists will find historic Native American settlements, a secluded fishing village and settler's cemeteries,” Smith said. “Back in the 1920's, the island served as a hideaway for infamous gangster Al Capone. The island's secrets are hidden under the bluffs that surround the island.”

Rock Island is a Camper and Hiker Paradise

Smith said that those daytrippers or backpackers who choose to stay overnight, Rock Island has 10 miles of hiking trails and 40 campsites, all of which may be reserved. At the ferry dock area, campers may purchase firewood and obtain drinking water. “Here too, they may explore the stone buildings – which now contain exhibits – built by wealthy Icelandic inventor Chester H. Thordarson, who owned the island between 1910 and 1945,” Smith said.

First Lighthouse Ever on Great Lakes Can Be Found on Rock Island

According to on-line Web site information resource, Wikipedia, the first lighthouse on the Great Lakes was built on Rock Island. In 1934, 30 Detroit merchants ans ship owners petitioned the U.S. Congress to build a lighthouse on Rock Island to guide their vessels through the Rock Island Passage.

In response, Congress appropriated the sum of $8,000 for the project, and title attained to a 134-acre parcel of land on the island, including a section of bluff 137 feet above the lake on which to build the structure that would become the Pottawatomie Lighthouse.

Plans for the tower and detached keeper's dwelling were drawn up, and work began in April of 1836. David E. Corbin, a a veteran of the 1812 War and a former employee of the American Fur Company, was selected as the station's first keeper. Corbin exhibited the light for the first time in October of 1837.

With the illumination of the lighthouse, a number of “firsts” were established, as the lighthouse was first in Wisconsin, first on Lake Michigan, and Corbin was by definition the first keeper for both. Ceremonies for the 100th anniversary of the completion of the lighthouse was held in 2008.

Door County, Wisconsin Destinations

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A map illustrating where Rock Island is located.
A map illustrating where Rock Island is located. | Source

An 8.2-Mile Kayak Navigation of Rock Island from Jackson Harbor on Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin

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