Since the 1800s, lighthouses in Door County safely guided sailors as they made their way through the vast lakes. Although most of the beacons have long since retired, they still stand as symbols of strength and protection along Door County’s shores. A visit to this peninsula is nearly incomplete without seeing the Door County lighthouses! As you plan your vacation, be sure to make time for a visit to these picturesque local treasures.
Discover Door County, an area that is one of the most beautiful and unique places in the United States. Learn about the area’s best attractions in our free Vacation Guide! It’s filled to the brim with excellent recommendations for things to do during your Door County getaway that you won’t want to miss!
How Many Lighthouses Are in Door County?
Door County has over 300 miles of shoreline. Therefore, before the use of GPSs, lighthouses were necessary to navigate ships into harbors safely. Door County has 11 breathtaking, historic lighthouses located throughout the county. It’s hard to find time to see them all, so here are our picks for the must-see Door County lighthouses!
The Top 7 Must-See Door County Lighthouses
1. Baileys Harbor Range Lights
Only a 13-minute drive from the Ashbrooke Hotel.
No trip to Baileys Harbor is complete without experiencing the iconic Baileys Harbor Range Lights. Built in 1869 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, the Baileys Harbor Range Lights are lighthouses known as the Upper Range Light and Lower Range Light. They are arranged in a range light configuration to keep ships off the treacherous reefs and shallows at the entrance to Baileys Harbor.
History of the Baileys Harbor Range Lights
Originally, these lights were used by sailors to help guide them “on range” by aligning the upper and lower lights in a specific way. Each light is positioned at a certain height so that when sailors use them, ultimately it keeps the ships on course and away from shallow waters or hitting reefs.
In 1937, The Ridges Sanctuary was formed to protect the range lights and the surrounding area from land developers turning it into a trailer park. It is still run and maintained by staff, members, and volunteers who take care of the buildings and the surrounding areas to help preserve the cultural history.
How to See the Range Lights
There are both self-guided tours and guided hikes to learn more about the history of the area and the lights. Depending on what time of year it is when you go, different hikes are available. In the winter you can hike through The Ridges on snowshoes. Visit their website for specific details relevant to the time of year you are visiting. Or find them on Facebook for more regular updates.
Trail fees are generally $5 for 18 and up. Children hike free. Guided hikes are $8 for non-members and $5 for members.
Only a 19-minute drive from the Ashbrooke Hotel.
Many visitors and locals know this historical treasure as the “Birdcage Lighthouse.” Old Baileys Harbor Lighthouse earned its name from the lantern room’s strange birdcage-like design. The lighthouse was erected on an island near Baileys Harbor in 1852. By 1866 the lighthouse had signification deterioration and it was decided it would be rebuilt.
However, by the time the construction was about to begin they realized range lights would serve the harbor better. It was also decided that a light on Cana Island would help. So, the Old Baileys was shut down. Now it is privately owned and cannot be visited by the public, but many boat tours sail by to catch a glimpse of its unique structure.
3. Cana Island Lighthouse
Only a 28-minute drive from the Ashbrooke Hotel.
You’ll find the Cana Island Lighthouse on the north end of Baileys Harbor off narrow and rustic Cana Island Road. This lighthouse serves as the peninsula’s most iconic and photographed lighthouse. It was established in 1869 and became automated in 1944. Its island can be accessed by walking across a beautiful stone causeway.
For over 200 years, Door County’s lighthouses have stood as beacons of strength and protection along the peninsula’s shores. Of them all, the one that has always stood out from the rest is the Cana Island Lighthouse. Since 1868, it has inspired onlookers with its majestic beauty. Whether you are interested in history or searching for a unique Door County experience, a visit to the Cana Island Lighthouse is a must for your itinerary!
Cana Island Lighthouse History
Situated northeast of Bailey’s Harbor, Cana Island Lighthouse was constructed in July 1868 by the order of President Andrew Johnson. Once the beacon was complete, William Jackson and his wife were appointed its first keepers. However, they did not stay long and were replaced by the Sanderson family in October of 1875.
After many years of service, the Sandersons resigned as keepers of the light in 1891. On their way out, they called Cana Island “one of the most inhospitable and undesirable places that can be imagined.”
Many more lighthouse keepers came and went throughout the years, each leaving with very negative feelings toward the island. The deteriorating lighthouse was also a major drawback. During WWII, the lighthouse was used as a training facility for the Coast Guard. Many years later, the lighthouse was finally given to the Door County Maritime Museum under caretakers Louis and Rose Janda. They patiently restored the lighthouse, the dwelling, and the grounds while welcoming visitors to the island.
The Jandas officially left the island in 1995, but the museum continues to care for the lighthouse and its grounds. Today, visitors from all over travel to the island that endured so many years of hardships and service to catch a glimpse of the beautiful lighthouse that still stands tall.
Explore the Cana Island Lighthouse
You’re invited to travel back in time and take a look at one of Door County’s oldest attractions. After walking across the dry lake bottom, you’ll be free to explore the 8.7-acre island. The island’s main features include the 89-foot-tall tower, the original keeper’s home, and the oil house where fuel for the light was stored. However, you’ll also see a brick privy, a wooden barn, the foundations of a boathouse, and a stone wall built by one of the keepers.
A favorite for many visitors is the ascent up the 97 steps of the tower’s spiral staircase towards the gallery deck. As you climb, just imagine the lighthouse keeper trudging up and down the same steps each night with a large bucket of lard to keep the light burning! Once at the top, you’ll be greeted with sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the Door County Peninsula. The sight is sure to steal your breath away and become one of the highlights of your Door County vacation.
Cana Island Lighthouse Admission
Cana Island is open from May to October seven days a week. You can visit anytime between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., with the final tower climb starting at 4:30 p.m. each day.
Tickets include entrance to the island, keeper’s quarters, and light tower.
Adult admission is $12, and children get in for $9. For more tickets and information, visit the Door County Maritime Museum Hours and Admission Page!
Only a 28-minute drive from the Ashbrooke Hotel.
This impressive bright red, eye-catching structure is nearly impossible to miss from both land and sea. Its brilliant color has made it a sight to behold since its construction in 1882.
In 1899, it received its tower light and then was automated in 1972. Today, the Sturgeon Bay Canal North Pierhead Light sits on the fully operational U.S. Coast Guard Station on Lake Michigan. Visitors are not permitted into the tower, but you are more than welcome to explore the lower-level break wall. And you can explore other areas of Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal.
5. Sherwood Point Lighthouse
Only a 40-minute drive from the Ashbrooke Hotel.
The Sherwood Point Lighthouse is the last human-operated lighthouse on the Great Lakes. It was established in 1883 and automated in 1983. It is open to the public during the Lighthouse Walk, held the second weekend annually in June. For the r
est of the year, the Sherwood Point Lighthouse is operated as a rest-and-recuperation area for active members of the U.S. military on a rental basis. Also, it is part of the National Register of Historic Places.
Door County boasts a long histor
y of lighthouses, some of which are still active today! One of these beacons is the Sherwood Point Lighthouse. Although the lighthouse itself is closed to the public, many visitors opt to sail to Sturgeon Bay and take in its beauty
from the water.
History of the Sherwood Point Lighthouse
The Sherwood Point Lighthouse in Door County is the last maintained lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Its construction in 1883 was intimately connected with the completion of the canal in Sturgeon Bay. After years of controversy, it became apparent that Sturgeon Bay would expand as a port and a canal would need to be built. Maritime interests begandemanding additional aids to navigation in anticipation of increased traffic to Sturgeon Bay.
In 1881, Congress approved the construction of the Sherwood Point Lighthouse. After hiring a crew of 20 men from Detroit and clearing the land, a two-story brick dwelling and a light tower were erected. Sherwood Point is the only lighthouse in Door County to be constructed of red brick instead of limestone or cream-colored brick.
In the fall of 1884, one year after the completion of the lighthouse, Minnie Hesh from Brooklyn, NY, came to Sherwood Point after the death of her parents. However, she fell in love with the beauty of the region and decided to stay. She married William Cochems five years later and they became lightkeepers of the Sherwood Point Lighthouse. Sadly, Minnie passed in 1928 and was memorialized by a small marker northeast of the lighthouse.
Sherwood Point was the last manned lighthouse in Door County until its automation in 1983.
The Sherwood Point Lighthouse Ghost
Although it is unclear as to whether the lighthouse is haunted, many visitors have reported hearing strange noises at night, including voices and clinking teacups. Others have claimed to see the apparition of Robert Cochems in the lighthouse’s windows. Others believe it is Minnie, who suffered a stroke and passed away within the lighthouse. Despite these chilling rumors, the Coast Guard believes it is a friendly spirit and gladly shares the lighthouse with the paranormal resident.
How to See Sherwood Point Lighthouse
Since the lighthouse is on private Coast Guard property, it is not open for public tours. However, all are welcome to explore during the annual Door County Lighthouse Festival! You can also sail by the lighthouse and take pictures from Sturgeon Bay any time of year.
6. Plum Island Rear Range Lighthouse
Only a 41-minute drive from the Ashbrooke Hotel.
The gap between the peninsula’s tip and Washington Island earned the name “Death’s Door” due to its dangerous waters. To help save lives, the Plum Island Lighthouse was erected in 1896.
Visitors aboard the Washington Island Ferry will see the range light tower, keeper’s dwelling, and fog signal building. The front range light can only be seen by boats approaching Death’s Door from Lake Michigan.
Plum Island Rear Range Lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is closed to the public; however, it can be seen by boats and ferries that pass by the island during the annual Lighthouse Festival. Visit Door County Maritime Museum for more information.
7. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
Only a 20-minute drive from the Ashbrooke Hotel.
Since the end of the Civil War, Door County lighthouses have guided the way for hundreds of sailors through canals and the Great Lakes. Many of these lighthouses are still standing today, including the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. This historic structu
re proudly stands 76 feet above the waters of Green Bay and represents the lightkeepers who kept the lamp burning on many dark and stormy nights.
History of the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
Once the riches of northeastern Wisconsin were discovered after the Civil War, thousands of pioneers trekked through the challenging waters surrounding Door County. If it weren’t for the lighthouses, including the one standing at Eagle Bluff, the hundreds of schooners filled with immigrants and settlers never would have made it to land.
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse brought solace to sailors passing through the da
rk of the night. Today, the tradition continues! Although the lighthouse has been retired from its days of guiding ships, it is a museum that commemorates the lightkeepers and their families. Guests can visit the fully restored lighthouse, learn the personal stories of the keepers, see original furnishings, and more.
Visiting the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
From mid-May to mid-October, guests are welcome to visit the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and take guided tours! Knowledgeable guides will lead you through the grounds and tell you fascinating stories and the lighthouse, its keepers, and history you won’t find in any textbook. Tours are available from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the hour and half hours.
Students 13 – 17: $5
Youth 6 – 12: $3
Children 5 and under: FREE
Please note that a Wisconsin State Park admission sticker is required for visiting the lighthouse by motorized vehicle. Consider purchasing a day sticker to get the most out of your experience at the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and Peninsula State Park.
Is the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse Haunted?
Nobody knows for sure, but there have been several sightings of a ghostly young boy playing on the grounds of the lighthouse. Since there is no record of any children dying in or near the lighthouse, experts are unsure as to who this spirit once belonged. While it remains a mystery, many ghost hunters frequent the lighthouse in hopes of seeing the spirit for themselves.
Door County Lighthouse Tour and Lighthouse Festival
For a more in-depth and informational experience, we highly recommend joining a Door County Lighthouse Tour or attending the Door County Lighthouse Festival. You will be able to see the area’s most treasured lighthouse, including those usually restricted to visitors.
Knowledgeable guides will be available to answer your questions and share everything they know about these historic landmarks. You see additional Door County lighthouses, like the Pilot Island Lighthouse and Chambers Island Lighthouse or the Pottawatomie Lighthouse.
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