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How Long Is The Ferry Ride To Washington Island?


by Tasia Lamontagne



Welcome to Washington Island, a hidden gem nestled in the waters of Lake Michigan, just off the tip of the Door County Peninsula in Wisconsin. This picturesque island is a haven for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With its tranquil beaches, charming communities, and rich maritime history, Washington Island offers a unique blend of relaxation and exploration.


However, before you can embark on your island adventure, you’ll need to hop on a ferry to reach this idyllic destination. The ferry ride to Washington Island is not only a means of transportation but also an opportunity to soak in the breathtaking views of the lake and immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere.


In this article, we will provide you with valuable information about the ferry options available, the duration of the ferry ride, and other factors to consider to ensure a smooth journey to Washington Island. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, we’ve got you covered with all the essential details you need to know.


Overview of Washington Island

Washington Island is a charming and secluded destination located off the coast of Wisconsin in Lake Michigan. It is the largest of the thirty-two islands that make up the Door County Peninsula and covers an area of about 35 square miles. With its unspoiled natural beauty and rich history, Washington Island offers a unique experience for visitors.


One of the highlights of the island is its pristine beaches. Sand Bay Beach, Schoolhouse Beach, and Percy Johnson County Park are just a few of the picturesque spots where you can relax, swim, and soak up the sun. The island is also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, and fishing.


In addition to its natural beauty, Washington Island is home to a vibrant community. The main town, named Detroit Harbor, features quaint shops, restaurants serving fresh local cuisine, and art galleries showcasing the work of local artists. The Island’s rich history can be explored at the Washington Island Farm Museum and the Jacobsen Museum, where you can learn about the island’s maritime heritage and the lives of its early settlers.


Washington Island is also known for its unique attractions, such as the Stavkirke, a wooden medieval-style church imported from Norway, and the Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, where you can stroll through fields of fragrant lavender and shop for handmade lavender products.


Whether you’re looking for a peaceful retreat in nature, a chance to immerse yourself in history, or a taste of island culture, Washington Island has something to offer for everyone. Now, let’s dive into the details of getting to this captivating destination.


Ferry Options to Washington Island

When it comes to reaching Washington Island, there are two main ferry options available: the Washington Island Ferry and the Rock Island Ferry. Both ferries offer convenient and reliable transportation to and from the island, allowing visitors to embark on their island adventure.


The Washington Island Ferry, also known as the “Mainland Ferry,” operates year-round and provides regular service between Northport Pier on the Door County Peninsula and Washington Island. This ferry is a lifeline for both residents and tourists and offers a comfortable and enjoyable ride across the waters of Lake Michigan.


On the other hand, the Rock Island Ferry is a seasonal service that takes passengers from Washington Island to the neighboring Rock Island State Park. This ferry provides access to the pristine natural beauty of Rock Island, which is known for its stunning beaches, historic lighthouse, and hiking trails.


Both ferry options offer different experiences, so it’s worth considering your preferences and itinerary before choosing the appropriate ferry. If you’re planning to explore both Washington Island and Rock Island, you can take advantage of the combination ticket, which allows you to visit both destinations without the hassle of purchasing separate tickets.


It’s important to note that the ferry schedules and availability may vary depending on the season and weather conditions. Therefore, it’s advisable to check the ferry company’s website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information.


Now that we have an overview of the ferry options, let’s delve into the next section to understand the ferry schedule and duration.


Ferry Schedule and Duration

The ferry schedule for Washington Island and Rock Island varies depending on the season. The Washington Island Ferry operates year-round, with increased frequency during the peak summer months. The Rock Island Ferry, on the other hand, operates from mid-May to mid-October, coinciding with the park’s open season.


During the summer months, the Washington Island Ferry typically offers multiple departures throughout the day, allowing for flexibility in planning your visit to the island. The ferry schedule may change due to factors such as demand, weather conditions, or operational requirements. Therefore, it is advisable to check the ferry company’s website or contact them directly for the most accurate and up-to-date information.


The duration of the ferry ride to Washington Island can vary depending on weather conditions and the ferry you choose. On average, the ferry ride may take around 30 minutes to one hour. The Rock Island Ferry, specifically, takes approximately 20 minutes to reach Rock Island from Washington Island.


It’s important to arrive at the pier well in advance of the scheduled departure time, especially during peak season, to ensure a smooth boarding process. Consider factors such as parking availability, ticket purchase, and security checks when planning your arrival time.


During the ferry ride, you can enjoy the scenic views of Lake Michigan, the surrounding islands, and the mainland. Keep your camera ready, as you may encounter sightings of wildlife, such as birds or even dolphins, during your journey.


Now that we know the schedule and duration, let’s explore the factors that may affect the ferry ride duration to Washington Island.


Factors Affecting Ferry Ride Duration

While the average ferry ride duration to Washington Island is around 30 minutes to one hour, several factors can affect the actual time it takes to reach the island. These factors include:

  1. Weather Conditions: Adverse weather conditions such as storms, high winds, or heavy fog can potentially cause delays or even cancellations. Safety is the top priority, and ferry operators may adjust their schedules accordingly to ensure a smooth and secure journey for passengers.
  2. Passenger Load: During peak tourist seasons or busy weekends, the number of passengers and vehicles boarding the ferry can impact the ride duration. If there is a high volume of passengers, it may take longer to board and disembark, which can add a few extra minutes to the journey.
  3. Size of the Ferry: The size and speed of the ferry can also influence the ride duration. Larger ferries equipped with powerful engines may have a faster cruising speed, reducing the overall duration of the trip.
  4. Traffic on the Waterway: Like any other mode of transportation, there can be congestion on the waterways, especially during busy periods. If there are multiple vessels navigating the same route, it may slightly prolong the duration of the ferry ride.

It’s important to keep in mind that these factors are beyond the control of the ferry operators, and delays can occur despite their best efforts to maintain the schedule. It’s always a good idea to plan some buffer time in your itinerary, especially if you have time-sensitive plans after reaching Washington Island.


Now that we have covered the factors affecting the ferry ride duration, let’s move on to the next section for some tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable ferry ride experience.


Tips for a Smooth Ferry Ride

To make your ferry ride to Washington Island a seamless and enjoyable experience, here are some helpful tips:

  1. Arrive Early: It’s recommended to arrive at the pier at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time. This will give you ample time to purchase tickets, park your vehicle if applicable, and complete any necessary check-in procedures.
  2. Check the Schedule: Ferry schedules may vary depending on the season and weather conditions. Before heading to the pier, check the ferry company’s website or contact them directly to ensure that there haven’t been any changes or cancellations.
  3. Pack Essentials: Bring along any essentials you may need during the ferry ride, such as sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a light jacket or sweater in case the weather changes. It’s also a good idea to pack snacks and drinks, especially if you or your fellow travelers have specific dietary requirements.
  4. Follow Instructions: Pay attention to announcements and instructions from the ferry crew. They will provide guidance on where and when to board, safety protocols, and any other important information you need to know during the journey.
  5. Respect Other Passengers: Be considerate of other passengers and follow proper etiquette. Keep noise to a minimum, avoid occupying excessive space, and refrain from smoking or using strong fragrances that may bother fellow travelers.
  6. Capture the Moment: The ferry ride offers beautiful views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding islands. Don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone to capture the breathtaking scenery along the way.
  7. Plan Ahead: Have a clear plan for your visit to Washington Island. Research the attractions, activities, and dining options available on the island, and consider making any necessary reservations in advance to ensure a smooth experience.
  8. Be Prepared for Changes: Remember that travel plans can be subject to unexpected changes, such as weather conditions or other unforeseen circumstances. Stay flexible and adaptable, and have backup plans in case of any disruptions or delays.

By following these tips, you can enhance your overall ferry ride experience and start your Washington Island adventure on the right foot.


Finally, let’s summarize what we’ve covered in this article.



Traveling to Washington Island is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture of this captivating destination. With convenient ferry options available, reaching the island is a breeze. The Washington Island Ferry and Rock Island Ferry provide reliable transportation to Washington Island and its neighboring attractions, allowing visitors to create unforgettable memories.


By checking the ferry schedules, understanding the duration of the ferry ride, considering the factors that may affect the journey, and following some helpful tips, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Arriving early, packing necessary essentials, and respecting fellow passengers will contribute to a seamless journey across Lake Michigan.


Once you arrive on Washington Island, you’ll have the opportunity to explore its pristine beaches, scenic hiking trails, charming communities, and rich maritime history. Unwind in nature’s embrace, savor local cuisine, engage with the island’s heritage, and embark on memorable adventures.


Whether you choose to visit for a day trip or plan an extended stay, Washington Island offers an escape from the everyday and a chance to connect with nature and yourself. Take in the breathtaking vistas, relish in the tranquility, and create lifelong memories on this hidden gem of Wisconsin.


We hope this article has provided you with valuable insights and useful tips to ensure a delightful and hassle-free ferry ride to Washington Island. So pack your bags, book your tickets, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable island getaway!