Door County

Overview

Introduction

This beautiful recreational area is a peninsula bordered on one side by Green Bay and on the other by Lake Michigan. The waters have sculpted the shoreline into scenic, rocky cliffs and caves. It's a relaxing place to rent a cabin and fish, water-ski, boat, bike or just take it easy. The area is particularly nice in fall, when the foliage bursts into brilliant color.

The shipbuilding port of Sturgeon Bay sits on the ship channel that runs between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, allowing boats bound to and from the city of Green Bay to avoid a long trip around the tip of the Door Peninsula. In the summer, boat tours run through the ship channel and out into both the bay and lake. The Door County Museum in Sturgeon Bay has thousands of historical artifacts—among our favorite exhibits is an early-1900s fire station. Tour Wisconsin's largest vineyard and enjoy a free tour and tasting at the Simon Creek Vineyard and Winery. Just outside of Sturgeon Bay on Highway 57 is The Farm, where you can hike nature trails, feed baby farm animals and enjoy the gardens.

Northeast of Sturgeon Bay, Highway 57 eases toward the lake side of the peninsula. Whitefish Dunes State Park, near the town of Valmy, has the highest dunes in the state and is a good place to do some walking. North again on Highway 57 will take you to Baileys Harbor. Take the detour to Cana Island Lighthouse, built in 1869 and originally powered by a lard-oil lamp.

Continue north on Highway 57 until it meets Highway 42 at Sister Bay. Continue on to the tip of the peninsula, where you'll see Washington Island—6 mi/10 km across the Porte des Morts (Death's Door) Strait. Cross the strait (named for its perilous currents) on the 30-minute ferry that leaves from Northport Pier, near the town of Gills Rock. On the island, you can take sightseeing tours aboard the Cherry Train (an open trolley car pulled by an SUV) and enjoy breathtaking Lake Michigan views by hiking the tower at Mountain Lookout Park.

From Washington Island, take another ferry to reach nearby Rock Island, a very beautiful and remote island that's a state park. (No vehicles or bicycles are permitted.) Visit the old Rock Island Lighthouse, and don't miss the unique Great Hall built by Chester H. Thordarson. He wanted a structure that recalled his native Iceland, and he succeeded—partly: It seems Scandinavian and also Japanese—we think it's fair to say there's no other building like it on the continent. If you happen to miss the ferry, resist the urge to cross by foot—even though most locals will insist it's safe. The crossing is relatively shallow, but the currents are unpredictable, and lives have been lost in past attempts.

As you return down Highway 42, along the bay side of the peninsula, you'll pass through Ephraim, an old Moravian town. Take the time to see some of the town's historic buildings, including the Pioneer Schoolhouse, Goodletson Cabin and the Anderson Store. Spend an evening under the stars in Fish Creek, watching original (and usually very funny) musicals at the outdoor American Folklore Theatre within Peninsula State Park. In Egg Harbor, watch the brewmasters in action at the Shipwrecked Brew Pub and be sure to sample the Door County Cherry Wheat beer. Try your hand at painting, pottery or mosaics at the Hands On Art Studio, open to both children and adults.

You'll notice lots of cherry orchards on the peninsula, as well as several wineries, most of which offer tours and tastings. And if the opportunity arises, take part in a Door County fish boil, a meal consisting of locally caught whitefish or trout boiled over an open fire and served with new potatoes, coleslaw and cherry pie. 125 mi/200 km north of Milwaukee.

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