Come explore Plum Island’s miles of rugged shoreline, towering Range Lights, unspoiled natural areas, breathtaking views, and the only remaining Duluth-style Life Saving Station in the Great Lakes. Bring your kayak or snorkeling gear and view the wreck of the Grapeshot through Lake Michigan’s clear waters. Enjoy the peace of our Refuge as you look for birds, wildflowers, or just a happy afternoon.
Located in Lake Michigan, between Washington Island and the Door County Peninsula, Plum Island is part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It offers a unique opportunity to enjoy unspoiled natural beauty and explore the rich maritime history of the Great Lakes in one very special place. Bring your hiking boots, your bird list, your friends — even your dog! — for a special day on the island. And, don’t forget your camera!
An abandoned Coast Guard facility, uninhabited for decades, Plum Island is now a peaceful refuge for many species of birds and wildlife, including a small, stable Bald Eagle population. Miles of historic patrol roads will help you find your way around the rugged shoreline, woods, meadows, and wetlands. These diverse environments are home to a wide variety of wildflowers, including the rare and U.S.-listed Dwarf Lake Iris and Long-Spurred Violet, and an annual bloom of lovely spring ephemerals.
In addition to natural resource preservation, Plum Island has an important place in the area’s maritime history. Due to its strategic location in the dangerous Death’s Door (or Porte des Morte) passage between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Plum Island was earmarked for a lighthouse in the early 19th Century. The ruins of the original stone lighthouse, built in 1849 on the southern side of the island, can still be explored. Because there were no Native American settlements there, the first permanent residents of the island were members of the U.S. Life-Saving Service (USLSS) and the U.S. Lighthouse Service.
The Range Lights
The steel “skeleton” towers of the Plum Island range lights were first lit in 1897. The alignment of the Front and Rear Range Lights marks a line of safe passage for ships as they head through Death’s Door waters. Despite Door County’s many lighthouses and navigational aids, there were so many wrecks in the area that the USLSS (later the US Coast Guard) built and operated a Life Saving Station on Plum Island, to watch for and assist mariners in distress. This historic building is now the only Duluth-style station remaining on the Great Lakes. You’re sure to see all these beautiful structures, as well as the distinctive Roosevelt-style Plum Island Boathouse, as you travel between the peninsula and Washington Island.
In the clear Lake Michigan waters around Plum Island, ideal for kayaking and snorkeling, you can still see the remains of at least two shipwrecks: The Grape Shot (lying in relatively shallow water west of the Boathouse) and the Resumption (off the eastern end of the island). These wrecks are testaments to the treacherous conditions of the Death’s Door passage and the importance of those who served to keep others safe in dangerous waters.
Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Plum Island was transferred from the US Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2007 to become an important part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It remains the only part of the refuge open to the public in Door County
How To Get There
Plan to visit Plum Island during daylight hours between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There is limited public-access docking on the lake (eastern) side of the Boathouse pier for private boats. Commercial boat trips can be arranged through Shoreline Charters, http://shorelinecharters.net/ or Lew Clarke 920-737-3595, or through one of several annual events with tickets that include transportation to the island. Please join us for the Door County Lighthouse Festival, the Washington Islands Bird Festival, The Door County Festival of Nature, and Plum Island Days, and check local events calendars for other opportunities.
Things To Know
Plum Island does have portable toilets, but no potable water or trash collection, so please plan to pack in your drinking water and pack out your trash. Leashed dogs are allowed (with pet waste removal). Bicycles, overnight camping, and fires are not. There are two designated kayak landing sites. Due to hazardous conditions and boat traffic, kayaking across Death’s Door Passage is not encouraged, although kayak use in the waters close to the island is both allowed and highly rewarding.
For More Information
Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands: https://www.plumandpilot.org/
Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/green_bay/
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