Door County, Wisconsin is often called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” Famous for its stunning views, numerous state parks, and story-book small towns, it is no wonder this peninsula is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Midwest. I am fortunate to have grown up in Door County and visit it often when I return from college. I look forward to sharing the many natural and historical wonders of this special place.
One of the most popular destinations for tourists and residents alike is Cave Point County Park, which is just south of Jacksonport. A favorite spot for picnics and photo ops, Cave Point seems to be first on every travelers’ Door County bucket list.
picture: Michaela Kraft
CAVE POINT’S “ROCKIN” HISTORY
In our technology-fueled times, sometimes it is difficult to comprehend how old popular natural wonders can be. In fact, the history of Cave Point can be traced back millions of years (410-440 million to be exact), to a period when the waters of Door County were not freshwater lakes but a large tropical sea near what was then the equator, a time known as the Silurian period. Even though time has changed the climate and geological features, there is still evidence to be found of this ancient ocean- even at Cave Point one may find fossils of organisms that roamed the Earth long ago. Standing on the shore, one is free to imagine what it may have looked like during warmer times.
Today, the Door Peninsula has morphed into what is called a “Cuesta”, or a unique geographical feature with a sharp cliff on one side and a soft slope on the other. Cave Point is an example of the cliff, though the signature underwater caves and large inlet are results of the millions of years of erosion by the waves constantly crashing into the thick limestone, wearing it away into silt. The waves can spray up to thirty feet in the air, and in the winter leave stunning ice formations on the rocks and cedar trees above. (Some of these trees are over 1,000 years old!)
Cave Point is also a part of the famous Niagara Escarpment, which runs all the way from the state of New York, through Wisconsin, and into northern Illinois. By viewing the cliffs here you are gazing back millions of years into the formation of that escarpment, a history that is ever-evolving as the waves continuously batter the rocks.
Fun Fact: The Niagara Escarpment is best known (and most photographed) as the cliff which forms Niagara Falls. So if you aren’t able to make the trip out east, you’ll be able to see part of the same formation right here in the Midwest.
By visiting Cave Point, you are able watch history in the making!
Another fascinating geological feature of Cave Point is the dense dolomite shelf that extends outwards under the water, for over a quarter mile. Much of it is visible and visitors are able to walk on it along the shore. In the common world, dolomite is taken as a calcium and magnesium supplement.
The area surrounding Cave Point has been inhabited by humans for nearly the past 14,000 years. It has long been favorable for settlement due to its abundance of fishing opportunities and access to the possibilities for travel that Lake Michigan provides. There is evidence of eight separate human occupations in the area that range from 600 BC to the late 1800s. Thousands of human stories have played out beside the waves.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF CAVE POINT COUNTY PARK
Though Cave Point is one of the most picture-worthy places in the County, visitors often miss out because as the title indicates, it is neither a state or national park, but a county park. It was established in 1943 as the fifth county park in Door County (the county now has 19), and boasts picnic tables, grills, a gazebo, public bathrooms, and numerous trails for visitors to enjoy. Though it may cover a smaller area and have fewer amenities than its state park neighbor Whitefish Dunes, Cave Point has one very valuable advantage over other parks in the area- it’s completely free! Families can hike, enjoy a picnic, or travel the rocky beach, without purchasing an admission ticket.
LEAVE YOUR MARK AT THE PARK
A popular activity at Cave Point that has gained momentum in recent years is the construction of carins, or piles of stones to mark an important place, along the rocky coast at the park. Often during the peak of summer one may be able to see hundreds of these traditional place markers. Making a carin is an unique way to spend time with family and enjoy the natural beauty of the park, while creating something that does not disturb the natural habitat.
WHAT MAKES IT “HIP”
Cave Point has also been a favorite spot for adventure-seekers for decades. However, take a lesson from the stormy waves and the example of the many shipwrecks in the area that encourage you not to cliff jump. If you don’t want to miss out on an in-depth experience of the site and choose to kayak the area, be sure to go with a cautious, trusted guide.
If you’re looking for some quiet time alone in nature, find a secluded spot along the shore and listen to the water lapping at the rocks while enjoying a book, a snack, or some good company. Cave Point has become an increasingly popular spot among the younger population, and has become known as one of the best places to see the sunset in the county.
Become a part of Door County history and take a hike along the shore at Cave Point County Park! I encourage you to share your stories and pictures in the comments below!
Cave Point County Park: 5360 Schauer Rd, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235. Open most days 6am-11pm. (920) 746-9959
If you’re looking to learn more about the Niagara Escarpment in Door County, I encourage you to read the article below from prominent Door County geologist Roger Kuhns. It provides tons of interesting information and is definitely worth a look.
*I only own the rights to the first photo. All others are from Google.