Rock Island State Park


Rock Island is definitely a unique destination reached either by private watercraft or by taking two ferries from the "mainland" at Gills Rock.

Some of the 40 campsites are less than a quarter mile from the ferry landing, while others are close to two miles away.

Campsites can be reserved by clicking here.


Washington Island Ferry

Rock Island Ferry

Park Web site

Park Map

Technically, this was not really a backcountry trip, but since it was our first time carrying our gear on our backs, and since we were on an island...what theheck. A little background is in order. This trip was meant to be a test run for our Glacier trip planned for the next July. Gear was purchased only a few weeks prior, and along with things that I already had, we figured we'd be in pretty good shape. Hey, it was only for one night, right?

Getting to Rock Island is half the fun. We departed Manitowoc early the morning of September. Our first stop would be to the tip of Door County at Gills Rock to catch the Washington Island Ferry. the drive up highway 57 was pleasant as the sun was shining and a few clouds dotted the sky. At least we probably wouldn't freeze tonight.

By 11:00 Am we were at the dock and boarded the ferry a few minutes later. Perfectly timed. The cruise across "Death's Door" proved to be uneventful. I had been on the Island about 20 years prior and had forgotten about the many islands and shoals that dotted the bay.

We drove off the ferry and sprinted across Washington Island so that we could catch the 1:30 Rock Island ferry, but came up just short. We killed our idle time by munching on snacks from the dilapidated snack bar adjacent to the dock. By 2:00 we were loaded and casting off toward Rock Island.

The island is not that far from Washington Island. In fact, the water level in Lake Michigan was so low it almost looked like you could walk a shoal from one island to another.We arrived and confirmed which camp site would be ours for the night with the ranger, filled our water jug and walked the 1/2 mile to our campsite. Our site was fabulous. A mere 75' from the lake, we were nestled in the woods protected from the wind. Just about perfect. We quickly set up the tent, unstuffed our sleeping bags and gathered some firewood for later.

View of Washington Island from the lighthouse trail.

We spent most of the afternoon walking along the shoreline taking in the sights the island had to offer. later on we decided to walk the two miles to the light house. this was a bit disappointing as the building was being renovated and we couldn't get a look. Undaunted, we hiked back to the boathouse/museum to check that out. Even though we didn't get to see the lighthouse, I discovered one thing: I needed to get into shape before going to Glacier or I was going to die in the mountains.

Dinner was uneventful in that my ancient Svea 123 fired right up and efficiently boiled water for our Yummy Mountain House dinner. Like I said, we were there to test things out. After dinner we went back over to the boathouse where a volunteer entertained us on the history of the Island. Very interesting stuff even with the bats buzzing our heads every few minutes. The sunset was gorgeous, the night warm

When we got back to the tent, we made a fire and relaxed. After about an hour we decided to hit the sack. Sleep came fairly easy, but that wouldn't last. Our foam pads were not up to the task of handling the Rock Island rocks. Once we woke up, it was very difficult to get comfortable enogugh to get back to sleep. Note to selves: Therm-a-rests.

When we finally got up, we were stiff and sore. I managed to get breakfast ready---more MH meals and oatmeal. After the dishes were done we decided to take a walk to the east side of the Island before packing up and catching the ferry back to Washington Island. We wanted to catch the 10:00 ferry so that we wouldn't have to wait until noon to catch the next one. The island was nice, but not too substantial.

We got packed and walked back to the dock. It looked like there were already 200 people at the dock, but we managed to squeeze on anyway.

Overall, Rock Island is a nice place to get away for a weekend, though a bit of a hassle and pricey to get there.


July, 2011
Winter camping in the Beartooths in July
teton August, 2010
6 nights in the heart of the Absaroka mountains
July, 2009
Another 7 nights with the crew in the Beartooths
August, 2008
7 nights in the Beartooths with Ward and the Canadian
July, 2008
5 nights in the Bighorns with a Canadian

August, 2007
Yumi and I return to GNP for some fun

July, 2007
6 nights in the heart of the Northern wind Rivers
August, 2006
A 3-night solo in the Absaroka-Beartooth
July, 2006
Yumi and I spend 8 nights in the Wind Rivers
Aug-Sept., 2005
Dorf gets his GNP fix with 8 nights on the trail
July, 2005
A quickie solo in the Cloud Peak Wilderness
July, 2005
Our return to GNP aborted 6 hours in :-(
July, 2004
Two weeks of camping and backpacking in Glacier.
September, 2004
Yumi and I get to the Porkies before fall arrives
July, 2004
Yumi and I take the kids to the Porkies
June, 2004
Todd and I prove that last years' Newport debacle was no fluke
October, 2003
Yumi and I test some more gear and nearly die
September, 2003
Yumi and I decide to do a little camping & test gear


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