View of Cana Island in Door County during the winter.

The Most Beautiful Islands in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a north-central state bounded by Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa. It is also a surprisingly water-bound state full of lakes and rivers formed by glacial melt. Many islands come with these bodies of water, most of which are available to visitors year-round. In total, the state is home to over 400 named islands and countless unnamed ones and islets to explore. Whether you are looking to take the ferry over for the day or whitewater past them, discover some of the most beautiful islands in Wisconsin.

Madeline Island (Apostle Islands)

View of the coast in Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island in Wisconsin.
View of the coast in Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island in Wisconsin.

Located on Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands Archipelago is a cluster of 22 islands. Madeline Island is the largest of the cluster, sitting at 14 miles (21 km) long and three miles (5 km) wide. Madeline Island is also the only of the islands that have been developed, offering a main village called La Pointe and the Madeline Island Museum to explore.

The Madeline Island Ferry, departing from Bayfield, is just a 25-minute ride over to the main island, from which you can view and explore the remaining islands. To make the most of exploring this beautiful island, consider joining one of the free walking tours run by the island, which offer history and natural tidbits about the era.

Washington Island

View of the Jackson Harbor on Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin
View of the Jackson Harbor on Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin

Along the morbidly titled shores of the Porte des Mortes (Death's Door), visitors will find the scenic Washington Island. The waters received their spooky name as a result of numerous shipwrecks that occurred along the peninsula. To learn about local history, visitors can take the Island Clipper, a boat tour of the area's history. Those here for the scenery can opt for one of the many outdoor areas instead. For example, part of what makes this island so beautiful is its two main beaches. The Sand Dunes Beach offers white sandy shores, while the Schoolhouse Beach is covered in smooth, white limestone pebbles.

Like Madeline Island, Washington Island is the largest of a range of 30 islands along the Door County Peninsula, sitting at 35 square miles. The island is accessible by the Washington Island Ferry Line, which runs every half hour during peak seasons.

Rock Island

Greenery and a historical building on Rock Island, Wisconsin.
Greenery and a historical building on Rock Island, Wisconsin.

Rock Island is part of the greater Washington Island area, accessible only by hopping on the Rock Island Ferry from Jackson Harbor on Washington Island. Upon arrival, visitors will find a stunning abode of natural scenery, as the majority of the island comprises the 912-acre Rock Island State Park. No permanent residents live on the island, and outdoor enthusiasts can make the most of many camping sites. This island is also home to soft white sand beaches, which are a prime location for fishing, hiking, and kayaking throughout summer. Apart from the endless forests and coastal charm, there are also several landmarks worth exploring. The historic and beautiful Pottawatomie Lighthouse is Wisconsin's oldest, and volunteers live in the lighthouse for a week at a time, acting as tour guides through the historic structure.

Cana Island

Aerial view of the Cana Island Lighthouse on Cana Island, Wisconsin.
Aerial view of the Cana Island Lighthouse on Cana Island, Wisconsin.

Cana Island is another stunning island in Wisconsin, located in the town of Baileys Harbor in Lake Michigan. The island is home to a famous lighthouse, the Cana Island Light, accessible by crossing a sandy causeway by foot during low tide. When the tide is too high, visitors can reach the island by hay wagon or tractor ride over the sandy causeway.

The unconventional nature of how one crosses into Cana Island is one of the major charms of this island. The Cana Island Lighthouse looks out over a sandy-shored part of the lake, seeing miraculous brown, green, and blue waters rippling out from the Peninsula.

Chambers Island

View of Chambers Island from the coast of the Peninsula State Park in Wisconsin.
View of Chambers Island from the coast of the Peninsula State Park in Wisconsin.

Chambers Island, located just a few miles northwest of Fish Creek, Wisconsin, is a four sq. mile (10 sq. km) island that is part of the town of Gibraltar in Door County. What makes it special is that the island has two of its own inland lakes, creating a unique environment rarely found elsewhere. For those seeking outdoor recreation, Chambers Island has plenty to offer. Its 350-acre Makaysee Lake and Lost Lake are worth swimming in or visiting the shores of during the warm months.

Along the island's external shores, you will find a mix of sandy and pebble beaches ideal for sunbathing, picnicking, or simply taking in the stunning scenery. Apart from the outdoors, Chambers Island's history dates back to the 1830s when it had only two or three families of European descent. Today, a small seasonal community lives on the island, with a beautiful lighthouse on its shores.

Hog Island

Birds along the coast of Hog Island in Wisconsin.
Birds along the coast of Hog Island (Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge) in Wisconsin.

Hog Island, part of Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the most beautiful islands in the state of Wisconsin. The island is located just off the coast of Washington Island, featuring a relatively flat plain of land. While it boasts fascinating tales ranging from Native American stories to shipwreck history, the island’s main draw is its flora and fauna.

To this end, President Roosevelt designated it as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1940. For plant lovers, the island is covered in Canadian yew, red raspberry, and white cedar plants, along with considerable herbs and low shrubs like tawny cotton grass. Meanwhile, animal lovers adore the local bird population, housing species such as the Great blue heron and the black-crowned night heron.

Stout Island

Red Cedar Lake Wisconsin State Natural Area
Red Cedar Lake Wisconsin State Natural Area. Image credit Joshua Mayer via

Stout Island, located in Red Cedar Lake, is renowned for its captivating beauty and tranquil atmosphere. Known as "The Island of Happy Days," this picturesque island hosts the historic Stout's Island Lodge, a resort that combines rustic charm with refined comfort. This island, part of a larger chain of islands within the lake, is characterized by its gently rolling terrain, dense woodlands, and well-maintained gardens. The shoreline is dotted with picturesque coves and inlets, providing a variety of secluded spots for visitors to explore.

Red Cedar Lake, spanning over 1,800 acres, surrounds Stout Island with its clear, blue waters, making the island accessible only by boat, which adds to its secluded charm. The lake itself is fed by several small streams and springs, contributing to its pristine condition and rich aquatic life. Built in the early 20th century, the lodge offers a variety of cozy cabins and lodgings that harmonize with the island’s natural surroundings. Visitors can engage in activities such as kayaking, fishing, and hiking, or simply unwind in the peaceful ambiance.

Hundreds of beautiful islands throughout the state are worth exploring. Wisconsin's islands are characterized by freshwater bodies, short sand beaches, and often rocky shores. Many of these beaches can become busy during warmer, sunny days, so it's always worth scouting a spot on the beach early in the day if you want to spend an evening on the shore. Otherwise, one of the best ways to explore these islands is by driving to sites near them and canoeing over.


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