Baileys Harbor  is sandwiched between the strategic safe harbor on Lake Michigan and Kangaroo Lake, the peninsula’s largest inland lake. Travelers are so preoccupied with these two sights that it’s easy to miss the two large promontories jutting off the peninsula just north of town, forming Moonlight Bay. These two capes may be the state’s most awesome natural landmarks and definitely have the most inspiring lighthouses.
North along Highway Q is a critical biotic reserve, The Ridges Sanctuary (Ridges Rd., 920/839-2802, www.ridgessanctuary.org , trails open daily, $4 adults), 1,000 acres of boreal bog, swamp, dune, and a complete assortment of wildflowers in their natural habitat. The eponymous series of ancient spiney sand ridges mark the advance of ancient and modern Lake Michigan. All 23 native Wisconsin orchids are found within the sanctuary’s confines, as are 13 endangered species of flora.
Ridges Sanctuary was established in the 1930s by hardcore early ecologists (such as Jens Jensen) in one of the state’s first environmental brouhahas, incited by a spat over plans for a trailer park. The U.S. Department of the Interior recognizes the site as one of the most ecologically precious in the region; it was the first National Natural Landmark in Wisconsin.
The famed Baileys Harbor Range Lights are a pair of small but powerful lighthouses: a shorter, wooden octagonal one across the road on the beach, the other 900 feet inland—raised in 1869 by the Coast Guard. Three easy trails, ranging from just under two miles to five miles, snake throughout the tamarack and hardwood stands—20 miles in all and well worth the effort. Also on the grounds you’ll find a nature center. Many have found the educational programs some of the best in the state.
Continue on Ridges Road to additional sites deemed National Natural Landmarks by the Department of the Interior and dedicated by The Nature Conservancy. Toft’s Point (or Old Lighthouse Point) is along a great old dirt road that winds through barren sands with innumerable pulloffs. A few trails are found throughout the 600-plus acres that take up the whole of the promontory and include almost three miles of rock beach shoreline. To the north of the Ridges, the Mud Lake Wildlife Area is more than 1,000 acres protecting the shallow lake and surrounding wetlands. A prime waterfowl sanctuary, Mud Lake and its environs may be even more primeval and wild than the Ridges. Canoeing is also very popular, as Reibolts Creek connects the lake with Moonlight Bay.
And the bays don’t end yet. North of Moonlight Bay is isolated North Bay, site of a handful of cottages and resorts. On the southern promontory you’ll find undoubtedly the one lighthouse on the peninsula that everyone simply must visit, the Cana Island Lighthouse (10 a.m.–5 p.m. May–Oct., $4, and another $4 to climb the tower), accessible via Highway Q to Cana Island Drive to a narrow spit of gravel that may be under water, depending on when you get there. (Please note that this is a residential area, so really go slowly—blind curves are everywhere—and never, ever park inappropriately.)
Impressively tall and magnificently white, the lighthouse is framed naturally by white birch. One of the most crucial lighthouses in the county, it stands far off the coast on a wind-whipped landform. Built in 1870, it was obviously considered a hardship station during storm season. North Bay is also the site of Marshall’s Point, an isolated stretch of wild land completely surrounded by private development oft touted as a possible state park for its remarkable microclimate.