Complete Guide to Potawatomi State Park

Complete Guide to Potawatomi State Park

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Enjoy Potawatomi State Park’s recreational options as well as its four unique landscapes.  Views of Michigan Lake, the geologically important cliffs, hardwood forests, and the panoramic view of the bay are all available here.

Complete Guide to Potawatomi State Park

This park features the Niagara Escarpment, which provides the rocky cliffs of the park. There are over a thousand acres to enjoy lots of water recreation, including boating and fishing. Enjoy hiking any of the four trails, including Wisconsin’s National Scenic Ice Age Trail eastern terminus section. Picnic and bike in the summer or witness the park’s splendid colors in the autumn. Potawatomi even offers a full range of activities in winter. This park is a hidden gem that is fun to visit no matter what time of year it is.

Potawatomi State Park is in northeastern Wisconsin. It’s 127 miles from Milwaukee and only 44 miles from Green Bay. Sturgeon Bay is an inlet of Green Bay. Potawatomi State Park is in Sturgeon Bay on the Door peninsula. Located near the city of Sturgeon Bay, it’s considered the gateway to Door County.   Potawatomi is Peninsula State Park’s quiet and reserved cousin.

History of Potawatomi State Park

The park was named after the Potawatomi people who lived here initially. The tribe was called Potawatomi by the colonists. The tribe called themselves Bo-De-Wad-Me, which means “keeper of the fire.” Door County named the park after the tribe in 1928.

Potawatomi was a government limestone quarry in the 1800s. The area was then known as Government Bluff. Later, the land was called “Nicolet Park.” The government sold the land to Wisconsin in 1928. The park was officially dedicated in 1929.

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Observation Tower at Potawatomi State Park

The 75-foot-tall Observation Tower was built in 1931. The tower was closed in 2017. By 2021, the tower was added to both the National Registry and the State Register of Historic Places. There is currently a plan to restore the tower by the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society. Due to safety issues, the tower remains closed until full restoration.

Potawatomi State Park Fall Colors

This state park is the first stop on the Door County Coastal Byway and for a beautifully good reason. From about the middle of September to the middle of October, the reds and oranges of the trees contrast brilliantly with the blue of Lake Michigan. Visit here in the fall for panoramic views of the tree canopy from the summit of Old Ski Hill.

The roads in the park are a big loop. The quickest route to the trails, picnic areas, and shore is to keep to the right after entering the park. There are four parking sections that include grassy areas.

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Things to do inside Potawatomi State Park

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the Nature Center and amphitheater host naturalist events as well as performers. Take a stroll through the lush forest that includes beech and sugar maples, while viewing a variety of wildlife. It is common to see deer here, among other woodland creatures.

Bring binoculars to observe any of the hundred bird species spotted here.  Climb any of the four trails and admire the Niagara Escarpment’s cliffs. The most popular activities here are fishing and viewing the bay. Paddling and motorboating on the lake are other great options. Enjoy a shoreline picnic while the kids play at the playground.

Hunting and trapping are both allowed at Potawatomi State Park. There are several trails for different winter activities. From photographic opportunities to paved biking trails to playgrounds, this park has something for everyone.

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Camping at Potawatomi State Park

There are several choices for camping at Potawatomi. There is a group campground, two family camping areas (south and north), and an accessible cabin for those with disabilities. The campsites are not lakeside, but they are wooded sites that offer privacy. The park store has firewood, camping supplies, and grocery items.

All the campsites have water, vault toilets, and dumpsters. Showers and the park’s dump station are available to use in season. Only 40 of the 123 sites in the two family campgrounds have power. Each group campground accommodates 30 people. Trailers and RV’s are permitted at 60 of the group campsites. Tent campers occupy the other half of the group sites. The cabin is fully equipped for accessibility and accommodates up to 6 people.

potawatomi state park camp map

Potawatomi State Park Water Sports

Over two miles of shoreline provide a variety of water leisure activities. Potawatomi provides recreational opportunities for scuba divers, fishermen, boaters, paddlers, and water skiers alike. There is no swimming beach here, and the shoreline is rocky.

Potawatomi State Park Fishing

Anglers can try their luck catching bass, whitefish, rainbow trout, and walleye.  The fishing pier is ADA accessible with seating and lowered railings. It is connected to the accessible path, which also connects to trails, parking, and picnic areas.

There’s also fishing off the boat launch at Sawyer Harbor, as well as a fish cleaning station. Stop in at the park office and see if there is any fishing equipment available to check out for free. Fishing supplies can be purchased at the park store.

Potawatomi State Park Boating and Boating Rentals

Visitors here enjoy paddling and boating on Lake Michigan. The park store rents kayaks, canoes, rowboats, and paddleboards. At the park’s northern edge, there is a boat launch at the Sawyer Harbor inlet.

Hiking at Potawatomi State Park

Hiking at Potawatomi State Park

There are four hiking trails in Potawatomi that vary in difficulty. These trails are a perfect way to see the best of the park and view the bay. Remember to wear repellent so you don’t get mobbed by mosquitoes. Some of the trail spots can be rugged or slippery. Wear proper footwear and use caution when hiking.

Ancient Shore Trail:

Take the half-mile Ancient Shore Trail for a quick and easy hike.  Starting at the park store, this trail passes the amphitheater and loops back around. Learn about the park’s ancient shorelines and wildlife with the educational signs posted along the trail.

Hemlock Trail

The Hemlock Trail is a moderate, two-and-a-half mile hike. It overlaps on the shoreline with a section of the Ice Age trail. Hikers enjoy this path because it offers some moderate challenges when hiking through the woods. This trail also connects the park’s lodging areas, store, and nature center.

Ice Age Trail

The Ice Age Trail is a 1200-mile long National Scenic Trail. It follows the glacier trail that carved out Wisconsin during the last ice age. The eastern trailhead of the Ice Age Trail is in Potawatomi State Park.

The trail follows along the bluff line, which was once Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Hikers can begin or end their 1,000-mile trek at Potawatomi. Park visitors enjoy a leisurely day hike on the 2.8-mile stretch within the park.

Tower Trail

The Tower Trail is the park’s longest trail at 3 ½ miles.  This moderate hike goes along both the shoreline and through the woods.  The Tower trail is a loop trail that gradually increases in elevation and offers a panoramic view midway. The Tower Trail is part of the Ice Age Trail, so don’t get confused by the mixed signage.

Hiking at Potawatomi State Park

Biking at Potawatomi State Park

Visitors can rent a hybrid or mountain bike at the park’s store. The biking trail is a one-direction paved trail. The trail is easy to moderate depending on what section of it you ride. The biking trail overlaps with some of the cross-country ski trails, so don’t let mixed signage confuse you. This lovely trail is mostly tree-covered, and cyclists enjoy the views of wildlife and scenery.

Picnicking at Potawatomi State Park

Picnicking and playing are great benefits for families here. Along the shoreline, there are several picnic areas and two playgrounds. There’s also a large grassy site with a picnic area at the Old Ski Hill overlook.

There are two picnic shelters near the park’s shoreline, and one of them can be reserved.  It’s great for gatherings because it’s accessible, enclosed, and has power outlets and a fireplace.

Hunting and Trapping in Potawatomi State Park

Hunting and trapping are allowed in the open areas of the park during Wisconsin State Park’s hunting and trapping time frame. Hunting is limited around paved areas, trails, and designated use areas. Trapping is not permitted in closed areas, within 100 yards of any designated use area, or in areas noted on the Potawatomi State Park hunting and trapping map.

Certain trap types are restricted on state park properties. Make sure to check the map for the rules and regulations for hunting and trapping at Potawatomi State Park.

winter in peninsula state park

Potawatomi State Park in Winter

Winter sports enthusiasts find Potawatomi State Park a terrific place to visit.  The park has trails for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoers, and hikers. The park’s boat launch is a popular ice-fishing spot.

Cross-country skiers enjoy gliding on the four groomed cross-country ski trails. Three of the trails are for both classic and skate skiing. The final trail is groomed only for classic skiing.

For those who love to hike and snowshoe, the park is an oasis. Snowshoeing and hiking are allowed throughout the park, except for the groomed ski trails. In addition, there are three trails that are specifically for hikers and snowshoers. The Nature Trail, a 1-mile section of the Ice Age Trail, and a 1-mile loop at the South Shoreline Picnic Area are all designated winter hiking and snowshoe trails.

Snowmobilers can roar through Potawatomi State Park using the snowmobile trails that connect to the Door County Snowmobile Trail System. The trails are marked with orange blazes, and there are some restrictions. Snowmobiles can’t be run on plowed roads, ski trails, or the former ski hill. Make sure to check for trail closures before you go.

Ice-fishing off the boat launch at Sawyer Harbor is a popular winter activity at Potawatomi State Park. Every winter, many ice anglers set up shacks here to try their luck at catching fresh perch. If you are new to this Wisconsin tradition, make sure to get a guide for ice fishing. Next to the park is the  Beach Harbor Resort, which has a list of fishing guides.

Hiking at Potawatomi State Park

Potawatomi State Park and Dogs

Let’s start with the obvious: dogs shouldn’t be left unattended, and you should pick up the poop. Waste should be disposed of in dumpsters or trash receptacles.

Dogs are allowed in most campgrounds, trails, roads, and outlying areas of the parks. They must always be on a leash no longer than 8 feet. If they are not under control, they can be seized and subject to local laws pertaining to stray animals.

ID tags are a good idea if your dog isn’t micro-chipped. If you do lose your pet, contact the Door County Humane Society at 920-746-1111.

Rabies could be a thing as there are wild animals such as raccoons your pooch could meet, so make sure your pooch has all current vaccinations.

Pets are not allowed in the following places:

  • Buildings
  • Picnic areas and picnic shelters
  • Beaches
  • Playgrounds
  • Marked Nature Trails.
  • No Pets are allowed on the ski trails when they are snow-covered.

Of course, if your dog is a service animal, those rules do not apply.

State Permit

You will need a Wisconsin State Park System vehicle admission sticker to get into Potawatomi State Park. This permit also allows you to get into all the state parks, forests, and recreation parks in the state.


Restaurants Near Potawatomi State Park

There are several eateries in Sturgeon Bay. Here are our favorites for a delicious, fun experience. Each of these is right around the corner from Potawatomi State Park and takes less than fifteen minutes to get to.

Name: Waterfront Mary’s Bar and Grill

Location:  3662 N Duluth Ave, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

More Information: http://waterfrontmarysbarandgrill.com/

Cuisine Style: American

Waterfront Mary’s is true to its name. This eatery is located next to the park and overlooks Sturgeon Bay. The menu includes standard fare such as hamburgers, wings, and pizza. Try one of the daily specials, such as the half-back of ribs or battered shrimp.

There are also fish sandwiches and dinners like the perch sandwich and baked cod. In the summers, Waterfront Mary’s is part of the Door County fish boil. Take part in a Wisconsin tradition as you sit waterside watching your dinner boil over a huge bonfire. This is a popular event, so check the schedule on the website to make reservations.

Name: The Bluefront Cafe

Location: 86 W Maple St, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

More Information: https://thebluefrontcafe.com/

Cuisine Style: American

For those who prefer an eclectic menu, the entrees here include specialty sandwiches and vegetarian options. The Bluefront Café takes pride in using fresh ingredients and eco-friendly packaging. Try the Maple Street Grilled Cheese, made with aged cheddar. Sophisticated palates may enjoy Banh Mi, a 5-spice marinated grilled pork dish.

This café also has a kid’s menu with basics such as peanut butter and jelly or a snack plate. There are also seasonal specials and homemade sweets. The Blue Café is lunch-centric but is also open on Saturday evenings. Check the website before you go, as hours are subject to change.

Name: Wanda Jean’s Family Restaurant

Location: 846 Egg Harbor Rd, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

More Information: https://www.facebook.com/WandaJeans/

Cuisine Style: American

Wanda Jean’s has comfort food at great prices. The breakfast menu offers a smorgasbord of breakfast items, from pancakes to country-fried steak. From the Farm Favorite Belt Buster to the Spicy Black Bean Breakfast Burrito, these meals won’t disappoint. Don’t miss out on the Sunday buffet. Served cafeteria style, the buffet provides the ideal fuel for outdoor pursuits.

The lunch menu includes a range of entrees. Nashville Hot Chicken and the infamous Wanda Burger are among the specialties. This eatery is open for breakfast and lunch.

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Hotels Near Potawatomi State Park

There are several great places to stay near Potawatomi State Park. If camping isn’t your thing, there are awesome lake resorts around the bay where you can stay and relax. Here are some inviting options to consider, all of which are within a ten-minute drive of the park.

Name: Beach Harbor Resort

Location: 3662 N Duluth Ave, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

More Information. http://beachharborresort.com/

This lodging is located next to Waterfront Mary’s, one of the eateries on our list. This beach resort is next to Potawatomi State Park and offers a classic Door County vacation stay with its sandy beach and recreational amenities.

The resort provides kayaks and stand-up paddleboards free of charge. This fisherman’s paradise has a fish cleaning station and a boat launch. There’s also trailer parking here with electrical hookups. Guests can even bring two of their furry friends to stay with them here!

This family-owned and operated resort has three different types of lodging at reasonable prices. Choose from a cottage-style motel room, a standalone cottage, or an apartment.  The motel rooms range from king-sized rooms with king beds to standard rooms with two double beds.

Other choices to rent are a beach or studio cottage, and upper or lower-level apartments. There is a three-day minimum stay, which is the perfect length of time to enjoy the lake and explore Potawatomi State Park!

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Name: Cliff Dwellers Resort

Location: 3540 N Duluth Ave, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

More Information. https://www.cliffdwellersresort.com/

This resort is in a rustic setting overlooking the waters of Sturgeon Bay, but the only rustic thing about this resort is its location. True to its name, Cliff Dweller’s is located between the limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment and the bay’s shoreline. In addition to lounging while overlooking the lake, guests enjoy taking a dip in the outdoor heated pool.  All the modern amenities are provided, including a Tesla charger.

Choose to stay at any of the six cottages or any of the five townhouses. Both the cottages and townhouses are fully furnished with all the modern amenities. The amenities include AC, heat, Wi-Fi, and fully equipped kitchens. There are also plenty of recreational amenities that guests can enjoy during their stay here.

Relax in the indoor whirlpool and sauna, play ping pong, or check out one of the resort’s bicycles and ride the paved paths. Finally, grab one of the non-motorized boats and enjoy some time on the water.

This is not a pet-friendly resort, but it’s conveniently located next to Potawatomi State Park. Staying here allows you to extend your peaceful outdoor experience when visiting Potawatomi State Park.

Name: Bridgeport Waterfront Resort

Location: 50 W Larch St, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

More Information. https://www.bridgeportresort.net/

If luxury is your game, then Bridgeport is the name! Guests here enjoy complete comfort without fuss. Choose from bedroom suites with full kitchens, living rooms, whirlpools, fireplaces, and balconies.  Most of the suites offer a view of the waterfront or the city.

Families enjoy the hotel’s heated pool and the kid’s splash park. Guests relax poolside and watch Sturgeon Bay, or swim in the heated pool with a waterfall. This condo hotel is in the historic district of Sturgeon Bay.

Places To Stay Nearby

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Bridgeport serves as a base for visiting Potawatomi State Park, Cave Point County Park, and other points of interest. Check out “The Farm” with the kids or stroll down historic 3rd Avenue to check out art galleries and specialty shops. A nice bonus about this resort is that it is pet friendly and offers a dog sitter service.

Where is Potawatomi State Park?

Potawatomi State Park is located at 3740 Cty Hwy PD, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

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