A County to Adore
Measuring only 16 miles at its widest, Door County, Wis., has always been relatively easy to explore by car. But the peninsula—flanked by tranquil Green Bay on its west coast and more rustic Lake Michigan on its east coast— is no longer a sedentary destination.
Today, all ages can enjoy the natural beauty of Door County by hiking, biking, parasailing and horseback riding.
By varying the modes in which you explore Door County, you can experience the full flavor of this 75-mile-long peninsula, which boasts picture-perfect maritime towns perched on Lake Michigan, as well as orchard-graced, rural interiors. Door County’s diversity is one of the many reasons why it was recently named one of the top 10 vacation destinations in North America.
Door County lies just 150 miles north of Milwaukee; the two-and-a-half-hour drive from downtown is a scenic one, with views of Lake Michigan, well-kept farms, sparkling marinas and flower-bedecked villages.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Good old-fashioned hiking and biking are some of the best ways to explore the area. With five state parks, the peninsula is brimming with hiking and biking trails that meander from wooded areas to coastal views. Favorite destinations include Newport State Park, with its scenic beach on Lake Michigan; Peninsula State Park, boasting gentle bike paths; tranquil Nicolet Bay Beach, located in Green Bay; and Whitefish Dunes State Park, which features hiking trails that lead to the highest sand dune in Wisconsin and the county’s loveliest beach on Lake Michigan.
Door County has 10 historic lighthouses, the second most of any county in the United States. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Peninsula State Park and Cana Island Lighthouse are not to be missed, as is Pottawatomie
Lighthouse on Rock Island, located off of Washington Island, which is north of the peninsula. Both islands can be reached via ferry; once you disembark, hike or bike your way around and explore.
With 300 miles of coastline, Door County offers a host of water sport options. The majority of rentals take place on Green Bay, especially in the village of Ephraim and Nicolet Bay Beach. Pontoon boats are easy to navigate, can accommodate the entire family, and allow spectacular views of the tiny islets that dot the coast. For a bird’s-eye view of the peninsula, try parasailing, and if you’re in the mood to delve a little deeper, try scuba diving around schooners sunken in formerly treacherous waters.
For landlubbers, there are many ways to explore Door County’s rural interior. There are a number of stables offering horseback riding for all ages. One of the more unique ways to “get lost” in Door County’s countryside is via a corn maze offered by Dairy View Country Store.
And, since the county is a leading producer of cherries, leave time to visit a couple of roadside stands for fresh cherries, pies and dried snacks.
After wearing yourself out during active adventures, hop on one of the narrated trolley tours, offered in various themes, such as lighthouses, scenic vistas or ghost tales.
If you prefer to glide, hop aboard a Segway for lessons and group tours of Cana Island, Peninsula State Park, Ridges Sanctuary and Washington Island.
CULTURAL & HISTORICAL ATTRACTIONS
After a full day of exploring, relaxing at a musical or theatrical performance is the ticket. There are several companies that perform in a variety of outdoor settings, including the American Folklore Theatre and the Peninsula Players Theatre.
Also, the Door Community Auditorium hosts the Peninsula Music Festival each summer, while Birch Creek Music Performance Center features symphonies, percussion and steel bands, and jazz concerts during the summer.
Many of the peninsula’s historical attractions feature farming pioneers. There are a number of 19th century farms to visit, including Old Anderson House Museum, a renovated 1875 farmhouse located within Corner of the Past; Ephraim Village Museums, which features costumed docents and a pioneer schoolhouse; and The Farm, highlights of which are restored log cabins and a petting zoo.
Many towns in Door County are proud of their Scandinavian heritage. Sister Bay, for example, is home to a resort hotel called Scandinavian Lodge.
Just down the road is Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant; from pancakes with lingonberries to Swedish meatballs, a traditional meal is at your fingertips in this native Norwegian log construction. Additionally, there are annual Scandinavian festivals, including the Washington Island Scandinavian Festival in August.
Not surprisingly, Door County is widely known for its Scandinavian-style, outdoor fish boils. Whitefish from Lake Michigan is boiled with onions and potatoes in a huge kettle over an open fire. When the meal is ready, the water boils over, causing big dramatic flames. There are 10 different restaurants that hold the dramatic fish boils, including White Gull Inn and Square Rigger Galley.
DINING AND LODGING
One of Door County’s most popular casual eateries is Wilson’s Restaurant. Famous for its ice cream, this landmark also serves burgers, fries and home-brewed root beer on an outdoor patio. Other no-frills restaurants include Digger’s Grill & Pizza, Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill, and Neighborhood Pub & Grill.
As far as lodging goes, there is plenty to choose from. Scandinavian Lodge rooms come equipped with a kitchen and fireplace, and the property also boasts indoor and outdoor pools. Evergreen Hill Condominiums also features many of the same amenities.
For accommodations overlooking the bay or lake, spend your nights at Glidden Lodge Beach Resort, located along Lake Michigan near Whitefish Dunes State Park. Or, stay at the exclusive Hillside Inn of Ephraim, which overlooks Green Bay and the quaint Ephraim harbor. For those looking for a more intimate setting, there are plenty of historic inns and B&Bs, including The Inn at Cedar Crossing, which boasts quaint rooms with fireplaces and/or whirlpool tubs.
The peninsula’s variety, be it the ways to explore or its Scandinavian heritage, is the key to a wonderful Door County vacation.
MIDWEST AIRLINES offers daily flights to and from Green Bay.
Door County SHOPPING GUIDE
Door County is a thriving arts center bursting with studios and galleries. The peninsula has nearly 100 galleries, so make sure to pick up a special art shop map from a visitors’ center. Below is a taste of what Door County has to offer:
Native Affairs, LLC
This contemporary American Indian arts and crafts store displays artwork from Native American tribes based in Door County and from around the U.S.
In addition to weekly demonstrations of indigenous American folk art, this shop sells heirlooms from all over, and focuses on items from Door County.
Dovetail Gallery and Studio
This cozy gallery has a range of fine arts, and artist and owner Kathleen Beck creates carved and painted personalized Fabergé-inspired eggs.
Door County also has many clothing boutiques and specialty stores where you can find plenty of unique items—no chain stores here. In most towns, the stores are clustered together, making it easy to park your car and walk from charming shop to shop. Here are some of the peninsula’s well-known specialty shops:
Fish Creek Moccasin Works FISH CREEK AND BAILEYS HARBOR This is the place to go for handmade footware, including Minnetonka moccasins.
STURGEON BAY This old-fashioned toy store is loaded with goodies that will charm and entertain kids of all ages.
Made in Britain, Ltd.
EGG HARBOR Food, tea ware, clothing and London Underground signs are some of the items that are “made in Britain.”
Tannenbaum Holiday Shop SISTER BAY Set in an old church, this store makes holiday shopping a year-round event.