Wisconsin is Midwest Ski Country in winter, but come summer Door County is one of the Great Lakes top destinations. Looking at a Wisconsin map it's the long pointy thumb sticking out in Lake Michigan. Surrounded by lake waters it makes a cool, lush environment to beat the stagnant summer heat inland. It's often been called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.”
Part of the Niagara Escarpment, it's 75 miles long, averages about 15 miles across and offers over 300 miles of shoreline to explore with a blend of diverse activities and numerous quaint villages tucked into bays along the coastline. The charm of the peninsula begins above Sturgeon Bay, which you cross about halfway up.
Much of the Door is rural with agriculture featuring orchards, vineyards and farms in the highlands between the Lake Michigan side and the Green Bay side. You can hike to lighthouses scattered around the peninsula, through state and county parks, and hike and bike along cliffs that rise over 200 feet above the water The county roads make a wonderful area for road biking between small villages. Kayak among numerous off-shore islands and underneath the cliffs.
In addition to the many outdoor activities there are numerous art galleries, painters and stores offering a unique blend of culture, and an outdoor amphitheater, Northern Sky Theater, that's been putting on plays for over 50 years. One of the best ways to get a feel for the lay of the land is to board the Door County Trolley for a narrated tour.
Whitefish Dunes State Park, on the Lake Michigan side, attracts more annual visitors than any other day-use park in the Badger State. It offers three miles of sandy shoreline, windswept dunes and the state's largest sand dune. Peninsula State Park, on the Green Bay side, offers a dramatic landscape. Limestone bluffs rise a couple-hundred feet above the park's cobblestone shoreline. Nicolet Bay's secluded beach is considered one of the 10 best around the Great Lakes, according to Midwest Living. The Sunset Trail, a graveled biking path, runs past the beach and underneath rocky bluffs as it circles the park. Another 14 miles of woodland trails are available for mountain biking. The Ridges Sanctuary, in existence since 1937, preserves ancient dune swells, which is home to dozens of rare wildflowers and a boreal forest. Located in Bailey's Harbor the 1,600-acre preserve with over five miles of hiking trails and boardwalks is considered one of the most biological diverse areas around the Great Lakes.
For kayak tours check out Door County Adventure Center in Rowley's Bay on Lake Michigan for a blissful tour of the Mink River. While you're there check out Grandma's Swedish Bakery next door for delectable treats.. Also check out the geological wonders of the rugged, rocky Lake Michigan shoreline with a guided tour of Cave Point Country Park with Door County Kayak Tours.
A tour of the Open Door Bird Sanctuary that provides a home for un-releasable or injured birds of prey offers unusual up close encounters with a variety of birds and narrative by founder Rob Hult and his passion for the birds.
For dinners offering wonderful local dishes, seafood and lake fish check out the rooftop dining at the Mezzanine in Egg Harbor with eye-catching sunset vistas over Green Bay, and the gourmet dinners served at the Harbor Fish Market & Grille in Bailey's Harbor. For a couple of great lunch spots you can't beat Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay. Outstanding Swedish food and the attraction of live goats munching daily on the grass thatched roof. Also you can't beat the old fashioned Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor that's been attracting visitors for nearly 70 years.
A quiet place in the middle of the country for lodging and easy access to all of the above mentioned locations is Gustave's Getaway: Henson Haus. It's an updated stone house with four bedrooms and lots or room for families or multiple friends. Quiet and very nice. Dogs are included.
Wisconsin’s Door County has long been on my radar. Anyplace that’s hailed as “The Cape Cod of the Midwest,” has got a lot to live up to. I wasn’t disappointed when I recently visited. Much of the Door Peninsula is rural with agriculture – farms, orchards, and wineries – and numerous little villages tucked into bays along the coastline.