Moon Wisconsin's Door County
By Thomas Huhti
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Soak up stunning coastlines, picturesque villages, and classic Midwestern charm with Moon Wisconsin’s Door County.
What you’ll find in Moon Wisconsin’s Door County:
- Strategic itineraries for every budget and timeline, from a weekend getaway to a week-long trip, curated for outdoor adventurers, foodies, history buffs, and more
- Must-see attractions and off-beat ideas for making the most of your trip: Spend the day cycling through forests and along rugged shorelines, or hiking to extraordinary caves and historic lighthouses. Unwind at a charming B&B, or wake up to a refreshing breeze at a beach-side campground. Sign up for a scuba dive into Lake Michigan to see perfectly preserved shipwrecks, or island-hop the bay by kayak or canoe. Peruse local art galleries or the fascinating Maritime Museum, and sample local cheeses and fresh cherries. Pick up a bottle of Door County wine, and find the best spots to sit by the water and watch the sunset
- Honest advice from Wisconsin native Thomas Huhti on when to go, what to pack, how to get around, and where to stay, from cozy lakeside inns to secluded island campsites
- Full coverage of Door County including Sturgeon Bay, Washington and Rock Islands, Sheboygan, Fond du Lac, and more
- Coverage of gateway cities like Milwaukee and Madison
- Detailed maps and helpful reference photos throughout
- Thorough background on the culture, weather, wildlife, and history
Exploring more of the Midwest? Try Moon Minneapolis & St. Paul or Moon Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Headed North? Try Moon Ontario.
DISCOVER Wisconsin’s Door County
Planning Your Trip
The Best of Door County
SUNRISES AND SUNSETS
The Best Places to Stay
The first Europeans who arrived in Door County viewed this landscape with awe and fear. Calling it “Death’s Door” due to the variable weather conditions on Lake Michigan, they didn’t realize its touristic magnificence.
Flash-forward a couple of centuries and new immigrants began to appreciate Door County’s bounty: rich fish harvests, an equable climate perfect for agriculture, and timber ready-made for shipbuilding.
The secret eventually got out. Today, Door County is a perfectly realized Midwestern escape. You’ll find epic seascapes and sculpted sand dunes; vast tracts of cherry blossoms and daffodils; artists colonies and round-the-fire chautauquas; lighthouses and isolated island camping; extraordinary fine dining in villages of less than 500 people; and yes, even one of your greatest chances to land a lunker.
Yet despite its popularity—with tourist numbers rivaling popular national parks—Door County never loses its charm. Farmers atop John Deeres raise a hand in greeting as you pedal past, locals are always willing to offer advice on anything from cherry pie to fishing holes, and quaint hasn’t been forsaken for upscale.
Open the door and you’ll find endless opportunities for adventure, fellowship, and even solitude. Step outside.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Door County’s most popular draw is the magnificent scenery along its nearly 300 miles of Great Lakes coastline, and the big three beautiful state parks—Potawatomi, Peninsula, and Newport. Bike, hike, boat, or fish, and visit the country’s largest concentration of lighthouses. Several of the Door’s villages are delightfully quaint. Find a historic hotel, a plush B&B, or a rustic cabin, and for sustenance, organic locally grown beef or, for traditionalists, a fish boil. For the more intrepid, off the northern tip of the county is time-locked Washington Island, and beyond that, another jewel in Rock Island State Park, the most superb camping spot in Wisconsin.
These waters truly made the state, welcoming legions of immigrants and floating timber for paper mills of the Fox Cities, dominated by Lake Winnebago. To the west are picturesque resort lands as well as the wild and wonderful Wolf River. The heart and soul of the region is the football mecca Green Bay and Lambeau Field, home of the Packers football team.
This gateway region welcomes many travelers coming from Chicago. Milwaukee has a fabulous art museum, Miller Beer, Harley-Davidson, and one of the best summer festivals in the country, Summerfest. Extraordinary museums and parks await in Kenosha and Racine, the latter also home to architecture by Badger State native Frank Lloyd Wright.
Know Before You Go
When to Go
The droves of travelers begin arriving in early-mid-May to see the blossoms; then from Memorial Day to Labor Day there are so many visitors here that the bedrock likely sinks an inch or two. Another friendly invasion takes place at the end of September through the middle of October—leaf peepers love the Door. Remember that prices rise dramatically during these peak seasons. A nice time to visit is in September, just after Labor Day. The weather is beautiful, there are few other visitors, and prices as well as insect numbers are lower. Some find winter lovely and enjoy skiing or snowshoeing in the empty parks; others find it too cold and annoying that half the county’s businesses have closed for the season. The least desirable season is March, when a visit is ill advised. It’s cold, windy, cloudy, and muddy.
What to Pack
You can buy almost anything you need in Door County, even in the village outposts. This does not include technology; the availability of tech supplies is severely limited. Don’t get caught without mosquito repellent in the warmer months.
Heels, ties, and skirts are fine for a few places in Door County, but you’ll stand out in all but the most chichi restaurants, so feel free to dress casual. Sweatshirts are perfectly fine in supper clubs. Dress appropriately for the weather at all times—that includes wearing a hat. Do not come in winter without a good pair of gloves or mittens. Arctic-grade mittens are something you’ll be grateful for on a sleigh ride or while you wait for a tow truck. A good pair of boots is also a necessity in winter; some people carry a heavy-duty pair in the car at all times in case of emergency.
Given the state’s somewhat iffy weather, it’s paramount to prepare your car for any possibility by winterizing your vehicle. Carry an emergency kit with booster cables, sand, or gravel (in a pinch, try sandpaper strips), flares, candles, matches, a shovel and scraper, a flashlight and extra batteries, blankets (space blankets are excellent), extra heavy clothing, high-calorie nonperishable food, and anything else you might need if you have to spend the night in a snow bank. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is.
The Best of Door County
At only 45 miles from one end to the other, Door County is misleadingly runty if you’re looking at a map. While you could hit all of the highlights in a weekend, a week-long trip would allow for more relaxed exploring.
Start in Sturgeon Bay, learning about the history of shipping and shipbuilding at the Maritime Museum. Head to Potawatomi State Park to get outdoors and get the blood moving after the drive up the day before.
It’s time for the bay side. Avoid the congested state highway and head northward to walk along the harbor side or browse the shops in Egg Harbor before strolling through the historic downtown of Fish Creek and sampling a trail in Peninsula State Park. Head to Ephraim and secure your lodging. A great way to relax is to watch the sun go down on South Shore Pier.
Head to Washington Island for a lovely day trip without your car. Park it in Gills Rock in the morning and take a bicycle over (or rent one there). You can take in virtually all of the sights in a day before hopping the ferry back and overnighting in Baileys Harbor.
Take a casual drive down the lake side to The Ridges Sanctuary and Cana Island Lighthouse near Baileys Harbor. Afterward, jump in the car for a short drive south to sit atop the dunes and take pictures of sea caves at Whitefish Dunes State Park.
With More Time
There are many other sightseeing and recreational options to extend your trip by two or three days.
IN DOOR COUNTY
Try the hiking or bicycling at Newport State Park, the last vestige of untouched wilderness in the county. At some point you may want to get on the water; top picks are either kayaking around Peninsula State Park, taking a tugboat cruise of the county out of Sturgeon Bay, or hiring a fishing charter out of Baileys Harbor. Isolated Rock Island State Park is as far from anywhere as you can get in the county and offers some of the best camping in the state.
To understand the region’s dominant religion, visit Green Bay to learn everything there is to know about the Green Bay Packers professional football team and take in a game.
The Fox Cities are worth a day for the region’s history of paper-making along with Harry Houdini at the History Museum at the Castle, which includes the fabulous A.KA. Houdini exhibit, and Oshkosh for the nation’s premier aircraft museum, the EAA AirVenture Museum.
Another day could be spent snapping pictures of Point Beach State Forest’s lighthouse before learning about the crucial part that Manitowoc has played in shipbuilding at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
• Guided trips: Travelers to the county who want to wet a line generally head to Sturgeon Bay and Baileys Harbor to take a guided fishing trip onto Lake Michigan for some salmon or lake trout fishing. You can’t beat charter operators here, which rival even Milwaukee for fish taken.
• On your own: Head to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal to try tossing your own line. You can also land salmon and trout along here starting in May.
• Smallmouth bass fishing: Sturgeon Bay and Detroit Harbor on Washington Island have some of the country’s best smallmouth bass fishing, no exaggeration, and these are two great places to catch a trophy.
• On a budget: Travelers on a budget or leery of Lake Michigan swells have an excellent opportunity for a middle ground of fishing at Baileys Harbor. Guided kayak fishing tours are available.
• Ice fishing: You can’t really say you’ve experienced all of Wisconsin until you’ve stamped your feet for hours inside a shanty fishing for whitefish, northern pike, or walleye. Head to Green Bay or Sturgeon Bay for the best ice fishing around and check http://icefishdoorcounty.com for shack rental opportunities and fully-guided trips.
• Potawatomi State Park: The 3.6-mile Tower Trail has great lakeside scenery and a commanding view of the sunset from its fire lookout tower, but you may want to hike along the bay on the first three miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.
• Whitefish Dunes State Park: The 2.8-mile Red Trail has outstanding dune-scape topography; alternately, take the 2.5-mile Black Trail to extraordinary sea caves.
• Peninsula State Park: The aptly named 10-mile Sunset Trail is a mixed-use trail with commanding views.
• Baileys Harbor: The Ridges Sanctuary has myriad nature trails through 1,000 acres of what the U.S. Department of the Interior has described as one of the most ecologically precious in the nation.
• Newport State Park: The seven-mile Europe Bay/Hotz Trail leads into the last remaining true wilderness in the county at the only designated wilderness park in the state, and for a reward, you get magnificent lake views.
• Rock Island State Park: The effort of taking two ferries to get here is balanced by the reward of sublime isolation and a five-mile loop trail passing lighthouses and innumerable commanding views of Lake Michigan.
• Peninsula State Park: The 10-mile Sunset Trail is a favorite Door County trail; it’s aptly named, with lovely sunset views.
• Newport State Park: Off-roading is best here; it’s isolated and challenging but not death-defying. The top choice is the Europe Bay/Hotz Trail, which leads to a promontory overlooking Lake Michigan.
• Potawatomi State Park: Eight miles on its bicycle-only trail takes you through woods and meadows and along ridges as well as a rocky shoreline before rewarding you with views of Green Bay from high atop a bluff.
• Highway B: On this road in Door County, pretty much everything is lovely, but the stretch of county road from Sturgeon Bay to Egg Harbor is unbeatable, running right above the water.
• Highway T: This county road departs Sturgeon Bay and leads to Whitefish Bay along a Wisconsin Rustic Road. Enjoy tunnels of trees, a lighthouse, and epic dunes.
Kayaking and Canoeing
• Baileys Harbor: At Kangaroo Lake you’ll find the easiest and most stress-free paddling; in fact, most use a canoe to explore the Nature Conservancy-protected lake, a crucial waterfowl area home to rare ecosystems. Should you wish to go out on Lake Michigan, do it with a guided tour to be safe. A great option is a glass-bottomed kayak tour out of Baileys Harbor.
• Peninsula State Park: Virtually anyone can kayak to Horseshoe Island and hop out to scramble along its short trail.
• Potawatomi State Park: Island-hop the protected bay, which is dotted with islands.
• Newport State Park: It’s hike-in, cycle-in, or canoe-in camping only here at the state’s only designated wilderness park; you can’t beat it.
• Rock Island State Park: Second to Newport State Park, Rock Island is as far as you can go on the Door Peninsula. There’s always a refreshing breeze at the beach-side campground.
• Peninsula State Park: It gets more visitors than Yellowstone National Park, yet you can find your own solitude. Go for North Nicolet Bay, which is smaller and has no electricity.
• Potawatomi State Park: The sites are close to each other, but go for even numbered sites (against a cliff for some solitude) and you’ll be all right. There’s even a camping cabin.
• Rowleys Bay: There are many sites and top-notch facilities in a lovely setting along the bay at Rowleys Bay Resort. A separate tent area features three isolated tent sites. There is an excellent private campground, and you can even rent a yurt.
• The icy waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, particularly near Potawatomi State Park and Baileys Harbor, have preserved numerous wrecks. Lakeshore Adventures or Dark Side Charters will take you to the best diving sites.
The Best Places to Stay
Door County, like the rest of Wisconsin, is a place where you generally deal directly with the proprietors of your lodging rather than with a centralized agency. Showing up unannounced on a summer Friday and hoping to get a room may be possible, although the options will be very limited, and you may have to drive around to find a vacancy. Each city or village has a visitors information kiosk, a few of which even have computerized lists with up-to-the-minute details on room availability.
Cabins and Cottages
Most of the cabins and cottages in Door County are much more comfortable than typical rustic lodgings, with private baths, heat, cooking facilities, and other standard amenities. These are on the lower end but still cozy.
• There’s a reason folks have been returning to Robertson’s Cottages in Sturgeon Bay: It’s quaint, offers friendly service, and has the perfect location on a peninsula near Potawatomi State Park.
• The rustic and cheery Sunset Motel and Cottages in Baileys Harbor have the plus of being dog-friendly.
• The traditional Fish Creek Motel and Cottages are also charmingly traditional and very clean.
• Gibson’s West Harbor Resort and Cottages on Washington Island features top-notch but very rustic traditional cottages.
Even though Door County is a relaxing getaway, it has also been a fishing and hunting ground for three centuries. For every antiques shopper there is an angler or a hunter. Remember that in the more basic motels you will hear these folks loading their gear and heading out before sunrise.
• The quaint boutique motel Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay is also a music studio, owned in part by musician Jackson Browne.
• The Beachfront Inn in Baileys Harbor offers pet-friendly accommodations, nice grounds to build fires and mingle with other guests, and helpful management.
• The Lullabi Inn in Egg Harbor is one of the friendliest lodgings around.
• Julie’s in Fish Creek has great guest rooms and friendly staff, welcomes pets, and is one of the best places to eat on a budget in the county.
Bed-and-Breakfasts and Historic Inns
If there’s a Door County specialty, this is it: B&Bs have been established in every type of habitable dwelling, including lighthouses, sheep farms, and gingerbread Victorian homes. A couple of historic structures were even skidded over the ice to relocate them here.
• Top-notch for a balance of old and new and with extraordinarily gracious owners are Black Walnut Guest House and Foxglove Inn in Sturgeon Bay.
• Lodgings at Pioneer Lane in Ephraim also balance the past and present with the tastefully redone accommodations with a nod to its historical roots.
• Fish Creek takes the top prize for historic structures turned lush guest lodgings at both the White Gull Inn, welcoming guests since 1897, and The Whistling Swan, so precious it was relocated here in 1907, as its stately presence perfectly matched the picture-postcard quality of Fish Creek.
The word “resort” is used loosely in Door County. It could mean simply extra-large hotel grounds with a pool, or it could be a hotel with its own golf course. It may have guest rooms only, or it may have guest rooms, suites, or cabins. Egg Harbor and Sister Bay have the most resorts.
• The large but still cozy and impeccably well-run Newport Resort in Egg Harbor is good for families or couples.
• The Country House Resort, on more than 16 acres in Sister Bay, has 1,000 feet of its own shoreline and guest rooms with ocean views.
• One of the granddaddies of the old-style resort days is the 1920s Gordon Lodge, near Baileys Harbor, which has the most superb location in the county, jutting out on a promontory and offering villas right atop the water.
• The venerable Glidden Lodge is recommended for its absolute isolation, excellent dining, and amazing sunrises.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
S POTAWATOMI STATE PARK
S WHITEFISH DUNES STATE PARK AND CAVE POINT COUNTY PARK
S THE RIDGES SANCTUARY AND CANA ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE
S NEWPORT STATE PARK
- On Sale
- May 16, 2017
- Page Count
- 200 pages
- Moon Travel