15 things to do on the peninsula
Door County has long been a favorite vacation destination in Wisconsin, with quaint lakeside towns offering plenty of activities for all types of travelers.
Everyone has their favorite places and traditions, but there are a handful that rise to the level of must-sees for any visitor – those things only in Door County that define the peninsula. From fish boils to the Isle of Cana lighthouse, check these items off your Door County bucket list on your next visit.
Boil the fish
This is one of those must-see things in Door County, even if you don’t like fish. Watching the fish prepare is half the fun anyway. A main boiler prepares it in a large kettle outside over an open flame, ending the performance by pouring kerosene over the flame, causing a huge fireball and overflow.
Reservations are required for most fish boils, which take place in the summer at Waterfront Mary’s in Sturgeon Bay, White Gull Inn Restaurant and Pelletier’s in Fish Creek, Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim, and Viking Grill in Ellison Bay .
Lake Michigan helps moderate the peninsula’s climate, preventing late frosts and making it ideal for growing cherries. While the cherry picking season only lasts a few weeks, usually in mid-July, you can still purchase cherry products from the orchards and farm shops throughout the year, and many restaurants serve cherry pie for dessert.
Door County Wineries
Some of these cherries, along with apples and grapes grown on the Peninsula, are found in wines at eight wineries along the Door County Wine Trail. While sweet fruit wines are the most common offerings, many also offer traditional varietals made from imported grapes grown on the estate. Sample a few wineries and forgo the need to designate a driver on a tour of the Door County Trolley, which offers pickups for larger groups and at select Egg Harbor hotels.
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Peninsula State Park
A trip to the gate isn’t complete without a visit to what the DNR calls Wisconsin’s most comprehensive park. It’s the second most popular park in the state, and it’s easy to see why. Fish Creek Park offers just about every type of outdoor activity, from camping and hiking to kayaking and biking, as well as a historic lighthouse and a new ADA accessible lookout tower, complete with a boat ramp. of 850 feet that crosses the canopy to the summit.
Newport State Park
Across the peninsula and further north, Newport is a calm contrast to the peninsula. The state’s only wilderness park, Newport is also the state’s only certified Dark Sky park, with top-notch stargazing along 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Go for a night hike (the park is open until 11 p.m.) or reserve one of the 17 backpacking campsites for a full night under the stars.
Cave Point County Park
Door County is also teeming with great county parks, and Cave Point, tucked away in Whitefish Dunes State Park near Jacksonport, is one of the most scenic (and popular), with white boulder cliffs along Lake Michigan. The bluffs – an exposed segment of the Niagara Escarpment – give the water a tropical hue and are equally beautiful in winter when the waves of Lake Michigan cover them with curtains of ice.
The sanctuary of the ridges
Wisconsin’s first private land trust is also a National Nature Site, an important National Audubon Society birding area, and a gem of Wisconsin’s wetlands. The Baileys Harbor Preserve protects a series of 30 sandy ridges and wet channels created by the evolution of the Lake Michigan shoreline over the past 1,100 years; a boreal forest of white spruce and balsam fir more typical of localities further north; and over 500 plant species including 25 native orchids and two carnivorous plants. The Ridges is also home to the Baileys Harbor Range Lights, two lighthouses that sailors use to navigate the harbor.
Cana Island Lighthouse
Door County is home to 11 lighthouses, and this one north of Baileys Harbor is one of the most scenic and fun to reach. The lighthouse sits on its own island, connected to the mainland by a rocky causeway which, during times of high lake levels (like now), is covered with at least 6 inches of water. If you have water shoes and don’t mind getting wet, you can walk a few hundred feet. Or you can ride the free tractor-drawn wagon provided by the Door County Maritime Museum, which maintains the lighthouse. You’ll have to pay $ 10 to tour the grounds, keeper’s quarters, and the 89-foot lighthouse tower, but it’s well worth it for the dose of history and views of Lake Michigan and the mainland.
RELATED:I spent a day with my family in Door County. Our getaway included everything from kayaking to boiling fish, drive-through and more.
Ice Age Trail
The only fully-located National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin, the eastern terminus of the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail is at Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay. The trail begins near the old lookout tower (which is closed due to heavy wood rot) and winds 2.8 miles through the park, including along Sturgeon Bay.
Did you even go to Door County if you didn’t take a photo of the goats grazing on Al Johnson’s rooftop in Sister Bay? You’ll have plenty of time to do this if you want to dine on Swedish pancakes and lingonberries inside, as there is usually a wait to get a table. The goats are usually on the roof during the day if the weather is nice from late May to mid-October, and you can check to see if they are out before your visit via the Goat Cam on the restaurant’s website.
This restaurant and ice cream parlor has been in the same location in Ephraim since 1906. Although it has since been expanded, the interior still looks like an old soda fountain with vinyl booths that have personal jukeboxes and house beer on tap.
Take a selfie next to the graffiti-covered red barn, home to the Hardy Gallery, on this pier in Ephraim. At the beginning of the 20th century, sailors wrote their names and the names of their ships on the building, and today visitors can add theirs. Don’t leave without visiting the gallery. Door County is home to many talented artists, and the gallery has rotating exhibitions showcasing their work.
Sometimes referred to as the Jens Jensen Road, this stretch of Highway 42 west of Northport, near the tip of the Peninsula, is a photographer’s favorite. The road has 15 short curves bordered by beautiful hardwoods which create a magnificent scene in any season. No one knows why the road was designed like this, since the curves do not bypass any natural or artificial features. Some believe it was inspired by landscape architect Jens Jensen, who founded the Clearing School in Ellison Bay, according to Destination Door County. Jensen had designed what he saw as an ideal highway that slowed down traffic and kept nature in sight – something this stretch of road certainly accomplishes.
Take the time to travel to Washington Island, accessible by ferry from Northport. Once there, drive (or bike) across the island to Schoolhouse Beach, covered in smooth white limestone rocks that give the water a tropical feel. A raft allows you to bathe in the protected bay.
Only foot traffic is permitted in this island state park, accessible by ferry from the north side of Washington Island. The park is home to Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse, Pottawatomie (built in 1858), as well as beautiful stone buildings constructed in the early 20th century by the island’s owner, a wealthy inventor. Reserve one of 40 backpacking campsites for a tranquil island experience once the day trippers are gone.