4 qualities combine to make the Legacy Preserve at Clay Banks a place worth visiting: unique geology, a fun pebble beach, the lack of crowds, and a view to remember. This is one of our favorite places to visit at HelloDoorCounty.com.
When you first encounter the Legacy Preserve at Clay Banks, you will most likely be in the parking area. When you’re there, make sure to check out the posted notices and announcements. You might especially want to note if its hunting season. Hunting is permitted (with special permission) on the lands of the Door County Land Trust. And, we have seen hunters at the Legacy Preserve at Clay Banks.
Make sure to use the booth brush just to the side of the trail. The boot brush is important because it protects the nature preserve from invasive species. Your boots might have seeds on them that could cause these invasive species to spread.
You’ll begin your hike in a meadow. Keep an eye out here for wildflowers, butterflies, and other interesting wildlife. Eventually, as you keep walking, you will start to get your first glimpses of Lake Michigan.
The Legacy Preserve at Clay Banks is legendary for its amazing views of Lake Michigan. As you come to the edge of the meadow, you’ll have access to the best views.
At the edge of the meadow is a steep bluff. This is a really interesting area, geologically. This bluff used to be the shoreline of Lake Michigan during one of the ice ages that sent a glacier lobe south. It’s that glacier lobe that carved out Lake Michigan, and this was one of the edges of that glacier at one time.
By the trail at the buff is more evidence of the glacial past. You’ll pass by a huge glacial erratic boulder. It’s hard to believe, but this boulder would have been carried here from hundreds of miles away by glacial ice. Its composition is nothing like the dolomitic limestone bedrock that composes Door County.
The prominent bluffs of this area, often reddish in color, is how it came to be named “Clay Banks.” These prominent red outcroppings were so noticeable from the water that they were a natural navigational aid.
After you descend the bluff, you’ll come to a swampy area with cedar trees growing up in it. One of our favorite spots is when the trail passes through a cedar tree tunnel. When you’re in this area, think about how different the land and the plant life are here versus the upper meadow. This is the nature of glaciated landscapes. They can be quite different, even though they are close together.
Finally, you’ll come to the pebble beach. This is a fun spot to sit and relax for a while as you watch and listen to the waves roll in.
Make sure to examine the pebbles here. They’re all different. This is because, like the glacial erratic boulder you saw earlier, they were carried here by glaciers. As the glaciers passed other areas, they picked up rocks along the way. As those rocks churned inside the glacier, they were worn down smooth, like a huge natural rock tumbler.
When you are standing on this pebble beach, you are standing on land that traveled a far distance to get there, from as far away as the far northern reaches of Canada. That fact never ceases to amaze me!
From this spot you can see the Door Peninsula extending northeast into Lake Michigan. And, at certain water levels, you can hike along the pebble beach for a long distance in either direction.
The Legacy Preserve at Clay Banks is one of the many examples that, even while Door County is known for its state parks, it has much more to offer at other parks and preserves. Make sure to check out our comprehensive post on Door County’s Parks and Preserves to learn more about all of the opportunities to encounter Door County’s amazing natural beauty.
General Information for the Legacy Preserve at Clay Banks
1188 S Lake Michigan Dr, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235
There are minimal facilities at the Legacy Preserve at Clay Banks. There are no bathrooms, pit toilets, or drinking fountains here.
Those with mobility challenges likely will be able to traverse the trail as it crosses the upper meadow. From the bluff onward, those with mobility challenges will likely find it challenging.
Are dogs allowed?
Yes. Leashed dogs are allowed.