A monthly travel journal from two full time RV nomads about RV living and full-time travel.
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Door County is a peninsula in Wisconsin with Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other. The County is home to around 30,000 people but draws over 2 million visitors each year! Having spent the month of September there, we understand the appeal.
Door County consists mainly of charming beach towns, orchards and vineyards, sailboats, wooded parks, and golf courses. There are farmer's markets, restaurants, and cafes on every corner, 300 miles of shoreline, and dense forests filled with hiking and biking trails under dappled sunlight.
Door County is made up of one city (Sturgeon Bay) and a series of little towns and villages. You can drive the entire length of Door County in about an hour, so you're never far away from wherever you want to go.
We loved it. In fact, we loved it so much that we stayed a week longer than originally planned. If a trip to Door County is in your future (and you must go!), here are all our recommendations for what to do and see while you're there.
The first thing we did when we arrived in Door County was to take a Trolly Tour. Our tour guide was entertaining and knowledgeable and the tour helped us get our bearings by providing a fantastic overview of the area.
We highly recommend the tour as a first stop for anyone who visits Door County for the first time.
Ellison Bay and the Northern Tip of Door County
We stayed at Hy-Land Court RV Park in Ellison Bay for the entire length of our Door County stay and would highly recommend it. (If you're curious about how we find places to stay, here's some insight into our travel planning process.)
The Hy-Land Court campground is divided into two areas that have a completely different feel. One half is located in a forest with all the sites under a canopy of trees. The other half of the campground is in an open, grassy area.
We spent the first three weeks of September in a forested spot and the last week in the open area of the campground. Honestly, both areas are appealing for different reasons. I loved being nestled in the forest under a thick canopy of trees. But, it gets kind of dark in the forest and it was nice spending a week in full sunlight.
Things to do and see in Ellison Bay and the northern tip of Door County:
- Newport State Park includes 2,300 acres of forest and 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, 30 miles of hiking trails, and perfect conditions for star gazing.
- Ellison Bluff State Natural Area was just a mile up the road from our RV park and we spent many evenings walking the densely wooded trail through the park and watching the sunset from the top of a bluff overlooking Green Bay. (See the photos below.)
- The Savory Spoon Cooking School in Ellison Bay. I took a class here during our stay and would recommend it to anyone looking for something unusual to do while visiting Door County. The school also houses a wine and specialty food and kitchen shop, picnic lunches, and other fun events.
- While at the Savory Spoon Cooking School, I met a couple who work at Island Orchard Cider, a delicious hard cider company in Ellison Bay. Visit their tap room for a flight or order online for a taste of Door County any time.
- Death's Door Maritime Museum at the northernmost tip of Door County where you can explore a 45-foot wooden fishing boat built in 1930 by Sturgeon Bay Boat Works.
- Take the ferry to Washington Island. Ferries run all day every day from the northern tip of Door County to Washington Island. We took our bicycles on the short 5-mile ferry ride and spent a beautiful Saturday riding around the island (more about Washington Island below).
Washington Island is located 5 miles off the northern tip of Door County with a population of about 700 people. Most of the people who originally settled on Washington Island were Scandinavian and today the island is home to one of the oldest Icelandic communities in the US.
We took our bicycles on the ferry over to Washington Island and spent a Saturday riding around the island. Here are some things to do and see:
- Schoolhouse Beach is one of 5 beaches in the world with perfectly smooth limestone rocks instead of sand. Perfect rock-skipping conditions! (photo below)
- The Jacobsen Museum houses a truly eclectic collection of Washington Island artifacts from the area. The area outside the museum includes several historical buildings and a huge rudder from the shipwreck of the Louisiana.
- Washington Island Farm Museum - this looked like a great place to go if you're visiting Washington Island with kids!
- Nelson's Hall and Bitters Pub is famous for their "bitters club" which you can join by slamming down a shot of bitters. Why are they known for such a thing? Tom Nelsen, who built the hall in 1899, did not want to close his doors during prohibition. He was granted a pharmacist license to serve bitters as a “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes” and happily distributed shots of 90-proof Angostura Bitters as a cure for "stomachaches". 😂
- Fragrant Isle is the largest lavender farm in the Midwest. View the lavender fields, browse through the lavender shop or pick out a lavender infused treat from the cafe.
Sister Bay is a village on the Green Bay side of Door County that was named for the Sister Islands that flank the harbor opening to the Bay.
- Seaquist Orchards Farm Market was right next to our RV park and I visited often. They have a huge selection of cherry and apple-related products plus a bakery and produce market.
- Sister Bay Marina. The marina includes a beach, picnic and swimming areas, and 12 restaurants within easy walking distance.
- Corner of the Past Museum includes 15 galleries filled with historical artifacts in 15 restored buildings.
- Sail Door County offers day sails, private charters, sunset sails, and lighthouse tours. We went on one of their sunset tours the last night we were in Door County sailing with just one other couple aboard a 40-foot sailboat. It was magical. (photos below)
- We had dinner at Lure the night we arrived in Door County and it was a delicious welcome!
- Door County Creamery. I had a dish of olive oil and sea salt gelato here that I'm still dreaming about. Besides gelato, this shop also includes wine by the bottle or the glass and cheese. Wine, cheese, and ice cream. Be still my beating heart.
- Stabbur is a Swedish restaurant and beer garden with - I'm not joking here - grass growing on the roof and real, live goats up there to munch away on it. They have a live goat cam so you can spy on the goats when they're up there.
Ephraim is just down the road from Sister Bay and also on the Green Bay side of Door County. The village was settled by Norwegian Moravians, a deeply religious group, in the 1850's and much of their influence can be seen today.
For example, the village was dry until 2016 when residents voted to end the 163-year ban on alcohol.
Things to do and see in Ephraim:
- The Hardy Gallery is an art gallery located in Ephraim at Anderson Dock. The gallery is housed in an old warehouse and the outside of the walls is completely covered in graffiti. Sailors were known to write on the warehouse from around 1910 into the 1950s, perhaps out of sheer relief for surviving their passage through the notoriously dangerous waters. The tradition of writing your name on the walls of the gallery continues to this day, if you can find a free space!
- All of Door County is home to a staggering number of art galleries, but Ephraim seems to have the most. If you love art, you'll find plenty of amazing artists in Ephraim.
- The Ephraim Historical Foundation includes a wide variety of exhibits, historical buildings and tour options.
- On our Trolly tour we learned that one of the most popular things to do in door County was go to a fish boil and that the best place to do that is at a restaurant in Ephraim called The Old Post Office. I made a reservation for the next day and we went! While it wasn't the most amazing culinary experience, it was a really fun experience that we recommend to anyone visiting Door County for the first time. Locally caught fish and vegetables are cooked over an open fire while dinner guests gather around to watch. At the end of the boil, the cook tosses in a kerosene "bomb" that shoots flames 15 feet (or more!) in the air and causes the foam that has collected on the top of the pot to boil over leaving just the fish and vegetables behind.
- Wilson's is one of the most popular ice cream parlors in Door County - and there are a lot! Every time we drove by, there was a crowd of people outside waiting for their chance to go in and order ice cream. Wilson's is also a restaurant with an outdoor patio and we ate lunch their twice. If you visit, there's rarely a wait for a lunch table but always a wait for ice cream. Our recommendation is to go for lunch and then order ice cream for dessert.
Like the other towns and villages of Door County, Fish Creek is home to shops, restaurants, beaches, and coastline. Fish Creek is also adjacent to Peninsula State Park, and its main entrance is in the village.
Besides passing through it on your way into Peninsula State Park, here are some things to do in Fish Creek:
- See a show at Peninsula Players Theater. This was truly one of the best things we did during our stay on Door County. The Peninsula Players is America’s oldest resident summer theater located in the woods along the coast of Green Bay. During the show, the huge doors and sides of the theater remain open, allowing for a theater-in-the-woods experience. We saw Murder for Two and it was fantastic. But honestly, it doesn't matter what's playing - if you're in Door County go see a Peninsula Players show.
- Have a meal at The White Gull Inn. The tour guide on our Trolly Tour recommended visiting The White Gull Inn for their cherry-stuffed french toast and who are we to argue? It was delicious, but I was drooling over so many of the other items I saw on other people's plates I was determined to go back. Alas, we ran out of time before making it back but it's on my list of places to return the next time we're in Door County!
- One rainy Saturday, we happened upon a glass blowing demonstration at Burnt Bluff Stone and Glass in Fish Creek and it was a fascinating way to spend an hour or so.
Bailey's Harbor is on the Lake Michigan side of Door County and home to several great beaches and hiking trails. It's also where you'll find many of Door County's kayak and bike tour companies.
- Visit the Canna Island Lighthouse. You can even ride a hay-wagon over the causeway to the island, where you can climb up to the top of the lighthouse.
- Walk through the Ridges Sanctuary, the most biologically diverse ecosystem in Wisconsin.
- Kayak with Lakeshore Adventures. We originally signed up for their glass bottom kayak shipwreck tour which was sadly canceled due to weather. BUT, we were able to go out in tandem kayaks to paddle around Green Bay. (photos below)
- We stopped in to Cornerstone Pub for lunch before our Kayak Tour and were pleasantly surprised with their delicious standard and not-so-standard pub fare.
There are several stories about how Egg Harbor got its name, but this is my favorite…
In 1862, several boats were traveling between Mackinac Island and Green Bay to deliver goods. The sailors decided to stop at the yet unnamed harbor and started a race while rowing ashore.
A witness, Mrs. Elizabeth Baird, wrote in her journal that the rowers were throwing hardtack at each other while racing toward the shore. Then they began throwing eggs, a few of which hit her in the head.
The great egg battle stopped only when the men ran out of eggs and the next morning the harbor was so strewn with egg shells that it was christened Egg Harbor.
- Go cheese tasting at Door Artisan Cheese. What's a trip to Wisconsin without eating your weight in cheese???
- Order a flight (or two) of Door County wine or hard cider at Door County winery. We spent a rainy afternoon under their outdoor covered pavilions sipping away next to a huge fireplace.
- Visit Off the Wheel Pottery featuring pottery, glass, sculpture and paintings from 20 local artists.
- Egg Harbor is where you'll find Door County Trolley, which we talked about at the beginning of this post! We highly recommend taking one of their tours as one of the first things you do when you arrive in Door County!
Sturgeon Bay is the largest city in Door County and the place to go for essentials like major grocery stores, hardware stores, and the like. There are also a lot of great things to do and see in Sturgeon Bay. Here are just a few.
- What do you do when you just want to be out on the water but the weather won't cooperate? Visit the Door County Maritime Museum! A totally worthwhile way to spend time around boats when you can't actually be in one.
- Visit Whitefish Dunes State Park, the largest Great Lakes dunescape in Wisconsin.
- Shop the Sturgeon Bay Farmers Market. A wide variety of local vendors every Saturday from June through October.
Door County State and County Parks
Door County is home to 19 (!) State and County Parks. One of the most popular is Peninsula State Park which includes 460 campsites, three group camps, a summer theater, an 18-hole golf course, sandy beach, bike trails, a lighthouse, and eight miles of Green Bay shoreline.
The bike trails through Peninsula State Park on some of the most beautiful we've ever seen!
Peninsula State Park is also home to Eagle tower, a 60-foot-high tower on the edge of a bluff overlooking Green Bay.
Door County Fun Facts
Door County was originally named “Door of Death” by the Potawatomi Indians because so many of the local tribes lost members trying to cross the passage in canoes.
As westerners began to arrive on the peninsula, many of them also lost their lives in the treacherous waters between the northernmost tip of Door County and Washington Island. They began to call it “Death’s Door”, which was eventually changed to the more palatable Door County.
There are 11 lighthouses in Door County, which gives you an idea to how treacherous the waters surrounding the peninsula can be.
If you'd like to visit some of them, here's a lighthouse map and more information about most of them.
The most popular time to visit Door County is from May through October. Spring is less crowded than the summer months, but the weather can be unpredictable. October is one of the most popular months to visit Door County with people flocking in to see the leaves and attend the Sister Bay Fall Festival.
Door County is most known for fish boils and cherries. Door county is the 3rd biggest cherry producer in the US and includes 2,000 acres of cherry orchards. Between 8-15 million pounds of cherries are harvested in Door County every year.
More fun facts...
- The 45th parallel runs through the middle of Door County, which means the region is located halfway between the equator and the North Pole.
- There are 240 known shipwrecks in the waters of Door County.
- Nelsen’s Hall and Bitters Pub on Washington Island is the single largest purveyor of Angostura bitters in the world. They serve over 10,000 shots of bitters every year!
- The Door County peninsula has been inhabited for about 11,000 years. Artifacts from an ancient village site at Nicolet Bay Beach have been dated to about 400 BCE.
- Door County's resident population is just under 30,000 but in the summer, the population is often as high as 250,000.
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