What to do in Rock Island State Park

Wealthy inventor, Chester Thordarson, owned the island between 1910 and 1945. He developed approximately 30 acres including Viking Hall, a massive stone building that today house exhibits. This quiet, remote island is known for the primitive camping opportunities, 10 miles of wooded trails, fabulous Green Bay and Lake Michigan views, 120 bird species, three cemeteries, and Wisconsin's oldest lighthouse, Potawatomi Lighthouse. The lighthouse was originally constructed in 1836 and a replacement in 1858. The island's wildlife consists of white-tailed deer, coyote, muskrat and perhaps bear. Having supported a population up to 200 residents, Rock Island became a state park in 1965.

Cars and even bikes are not allowed on 912-acre Rock Island, making for an experience unlike any other Wisconsin state park. There are 10 miles of hiking trails, including a one-mile interpretive trail, a naturalist program, and 5,000 feet of beach.

Visitors may take their boats to Rock Island, but caution is urged since Lake Michigan and Green Bay can be hazardous due to reefs and storms. There is a fee for all boats mooring at Rock Island.

Rock Island has 40 primitive campsites, all of which are reservable. Pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings are provided; there is drinking water near the dock and boathouse. There are no carts or equipment for hauling camper supplies and equipment. Camping reservations are available online or by calling a toll-free reservation number. Contact information is listed below.

Swimming the beach at Rock Island is quite memorable. The half-mile stretch of wilderness beach is reached via a half-mile hike along Thordarson Trail from the stone boathouse. Changing stalls provided. Water temperature in July averages in the mid 40s Fahrenheit.

Visitors to this remote island enjoy hiking, boating, swimming, fishing, a primitive camping.

Rock Island State Park is Gills Rock or Washington Island. Take the ferry (Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day) to this primitive island off the tip of the Door County peninsula in Lake Michigan.

Northeast Wisconsin has four distinct seasons with warm summers and long winters. Great Lakes Michigan and Superior tend to make summers cooler and winters milder close to shore. January's average temperature is in the teens F (-teens C). Average July temperature is 68-70 degrees F (20 degrees C). During summer, temperatures can climb to above 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) for a several day stretch. The area's average yearly precipitation ranges from 30-32". Annual snowfalls in the Northeast Region have a wide range; the southern areas may receive 50" while the northern areas may receive in excess of 180". Nighttime summer temperatures can dip below freezing. Dressing in layers is a good way to remain comfortable in Wisconsin.

Rt. 1, Box 118A
Washington Island, WI 54246-9728

Phone: 920-847-2235

Fax: 920-847-3105

  • Rock Island State Park Travel Q&A