Cars are a huge part of our modern life – there’s no escaping that. Very rarely do we run across any place where cars are completely absent. But just off of the coast of Door County, there’s a sweet little island where time seems to have stopped decades ago…and there are no cars to be seen.
The only way to reach Rock Island is by ferry, which you board on Washington Island.
A short but scenic ride takes you to the shores of Rock Island, which encompasses just 912 acres.
This little island's history is long and rich.
It was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before European explorers arrived. This is where European settlers set up their first permanent village on the Door peninsula.
The settlers eventually abandoned the island for nearby Washington Island...and this lonely little place sat empty for many years.
It looks today much like it did then, with lovely beaches, beautiful flora...and absolutely no cars. No motorized transportation of any type is allowed on the island. Even bikes are forbidden. It's all in an effort to keep this special place beautiful, peaceful, and close to nature.
That's not to say that the hand of modern human has never touched Rock Island, though.
The Potawatomi Lighthouse was built on the island in 1863, and today it still stands as the oldest lighthouse in Wisconsin. In fact, it's the oldest lighthouse on all of Lake Michigan. It no longer operates, but it does house historic items that tell the lighthouse's story.
The historic Rock Island Lighthouse isn't the only building on this car-free island.
In 1910, Chester Thordarson purchased the island to build an elegant summer estate. Following his death in 1945, Thordarson's heirs sold his land and property to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 1965. The man who loved this island so much is still there, buried in a small cemetery. Today, his magnificent boathouse contains information and artifacts related to the history of the island.
Other than a few buildings and the ferry dock, the island is a true retreat into nature.
The shoreline is so quiet and peaceful that it almost feels like going back in time. Hiking paths criss-cross the island and lead through lush vegetation. The greatest thing about the trails is that you never have to worry about moving aside for cyclists.
You may not even realize to what degree cars and city noise affect you daily until you visit a place like this.
With no cars, no towns, and no permanent residents, Rock Island might actually be the most peaceful place in Wisconsin. You can easily traverse the entire island by foot, breathing in the sweet, clean air and tuning your ear to the sounds of nature.
There are a few places on the island where man and nature have worked together to create special little surprises.
In some of the many rock formations on the island, you'll find mysterious carvings. They were made by the men who worked on the island constructing Thordarson's buildings. Their fun distraction is now our treasure hunt. Can you find the carvings when you visit?
If you can't stand the thought of getting back to civilization right away, don't worry. You can camp here.
There are, of course, no electrical hookups and no modern facilities. But what you give up in convenience you gain in unforgettable experiences. You can bring your dogs along, too, as long as they remain leashed.
The lack of cars and the untamed natural beauty of Rock Island State Park have made it a popular getaway. It is truly a place where you can unwind and enjoy the simple joys of nature.