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Whitefish Dunes State Park

The variety of plant and animal life at Whitefish Dunes is considerable.


On an early spring morning overlooking the beach, one may see a white-tailed doe and fawn drinking from the lake. Red fox tracks are found throughout the forested dunes while red squirrels chatter from trees as you hike by. Mammals are seldom seen but traces of them can be found throughout the park. Tracks in fresh mud, piles of hair and bones from last night's meal or scat alongside the trail are all ways to see the mammals at the park.

Some mammals that have been seen in the park include black bear, beaver, little brown bat, chipmunk, coyote, white-tailed deer, fisher, gray and red fox, snowshoe hare, mouse, mink, muskrat, opossum, porcupine, rabbit, raccoon, shrew, skunk, squirrel, vole, weasel and woodchuck.


Visitors are likely to see and hear many kinds of birds in the forest, brush, grassland, open water, wetlands and shoreline of Whitefish Dunes. The birds you see will vary with the season and the part of the park where you're looking.


You may notice flowers blooming later at Whitefish Dunes than in other areas. The close proximity to Lake Michigan keeps their timetable as much as two to four weeks behind the western shore of Door County. The cold lake temperature cools the climate, which explains this phenomenon.

Living conditions are harsh on the sand dunes. The wind-driven sand and the hot sun make life difficult. Plants and animals living in this hostile environment have special adaptations to cope with extremes. These special adaptations make plants and animals unique to the sand dune environment. Another special environment is the rocky shoreline. Shallow soil and temperature extremes make life challenging for plants to grow. Both of these environments hold unique life. Please stay on the trails at the park to help protect these rare plants.

Reptiles and amphibians

One of the joys of spring is sitting on the boardwalk over the wetland and listening to the chorus of frogs and toads. Snakes are a rare find but one worth the wait.

The common reptiles and amphibians seen at the park include the wood frog, spring peeper, chorus frog, American toad, gray tree frog, red-backed salamander, blue-spotted salamander, spotted salamander, painted turtle, snapping turtle, Eastern garter snake, fox snake, red-bellied snake and milk snake.


Whitefish Dunes is home to many kinds of animals without backbones; insects, spiders, crayfish, worms and more. By closer observation, you will find that these creatures are fascinating and beautiful to observe and are very important members of our world.

  • Ant lions make their traps in the sand.
  • Butterflies are prevalent on sunny days after the heat has warmed their bodies.
  • Moths are most likely to be found near lights at night.
  • Beautiful spider webs in many varieties become visible the morning after heavy dew (though always there, they often go unnoticed).
  • Dragonflies and damselflies abound near a wetland where much of their life cycle occurs.
  • Crayfish hide under rocks in the water.
  • Sowbugs and centipedes hide under rotting logs.

The only known Wisconsin population of Lake Huron locust is found in Door County, making it a state-endangered species. This species is found at Whitefish Dunes State Park. These insects prefer to live in open dunes and upper beach areas with very little vegetation. Without habitat protection, the grasshoppers could become extinct. Please protect them by staying off the dunes.

Mushrooms and other fungi

Hundreds of fungus varieties of many different colors grow at Whitefish Dunes State Park. Though picking plants in a state park is prohibited, gathering mushrooms (considered a fruit of the plant) is allowed. Some are edible and others are deadly and it's difficult to tell one from another. Use extreme caution when collecting edible species, do not trample other plants and do not rip mushrooms out of the ground. Use a knife and leave the stem base in the soil. Never take more than you need.