Many years ago, Michael and I went on a weekend getaway to Door County, Wisconsin and fell in love with the area. Michael likes to call Door County as the 'thumb' of Wisconsin and I guess that's a good way to describe it. Look at a map of Wisconsin and you'll understand what he's talking about.
On your way to Door County you may pass by Green Bay (Go Packers!) and will definitely pass through Sturgeon Bay, but once you're past those two larger cities you'll find yourself in a much quieter setting with pastures, farmers' fields and orchards. Produce stands, wineries and cherry trees will become the norm. You'll be hard pressed to find a fast food restaurant.
Door County is a peninsula so it's surrounded on three sides by water…Lake Michigan and Green Bay to be exact. With the water comes boating, swimming and water sports. Oh…and don't forget the lighthouses!
There is so much to see and do in the area. You can camp at Peninsula State Park (or some other campground) or stay at one of the many hotels or resorts scattered around the county. Like to shop? You'll find souvenirs, clothing, artwork, cooking gadgets, etc. in the various shops, boutiques and galleries. Dining can be fun as well with a vast variety to choose from: fine dining, pizza, burgers, seafood and of course what Door County is famous for – the fish boil.
Here are some of our favorites things to do while visiting Door County.
We always visit the Cana Island Lighthouse. We usually stop in the nearest town (Bailey's Harbor) and pick up a sandwich, chips and fruit at one of the local stores and then head out to the lighthouse.
We walk across the causeway and down the path that leads to the lighthouse and then find a nice place to sit on the rocks along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Then we enjoy our picnic lunch while we listen to the sound of the water hitting the rocks, watch other visitors skip stones and just enjoy the beauty of the area all while sitting beneath the shade of the lighthouse. Ahhh….magical.
You're welcome to roam the grounds of the lighthouse and light-keepers home and for a small fee. You can even walk up to the top of the lighthouse. At the base of the lighthouse, there is a small museum that is worth wandering through to learn about the history of the lighthouse.
Just across the peninsula about 15 miles or so you'll find the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. It sits on a bluff overlooking the waters of Green Bay and - much like the Cana Island lighthouse - offers a tour of its light as well as a museum and small gift shop.
The Eagle Bluff Lighthouse is located within Peninsula State Park. The park has a lot to offer with a golf course, hiking and biking trails, swimming, fishing, boating, historic burial sites, winter sports and camping.
The campground is nicely laid out and well maintained. Our last visit to Peninsula State Park was in our pre-Heartland fifth wheel days...we camped in a pop up and had a great time.
Within walking distance of the campground you'll find the Northern Sky Outdoor Theater. They perform original musical comedies and you'll be sure to bust a gut from all the laughing you'll do.
Door County has a large Scandinavian influence that is easily seen in some of the architecture in the area, the dining options and in some of the shopping experiences.
Al Johnson's Restaurant in Sister Bay is one of those Scandinavian experiences. How many restaurants have you been to that have a grass covered roof with goats peacefully grazing on it? Swedish fare is the order of the day…meatballs, white fish, lingonberries and pickled herring among other things. Servers are all dressed in traditional Swedish attire, which makes the dining experience that much more fun.
A Door County staple for nearly 60 years, Al Johnson's offers a tour of the restaurant and a demonstration on how to make Swedish meatballs and pancakes.
Something that we have not tried yet but what Door County is known for is a Fish Boil. A fish boil is another Scandinavian tradition and very popular in the Great Lakes area. Lake Michigan white fish is the star of the dish with red potatoes almost always in the supporting role. Salt is normally the only spice used.
The cooking process is elaborate and patrons are normally encouraged to come early to watch the presentation. The fish and potatoes are cooked in a large cast iron pot over an open fire.
When the fish is done cooking the fish oils come to the top of the boiling water. When that happens, the cook will add a small amount of kerosene to the pot to cause the fish oils to boil over the sides of the pot and when that happens…it's time to eat!
Heartland Owners Club Director of Owner Interests, Jim Beletti, got a chance to experience a fish boil a few years back and said, "If you've never experienced this, you should do it once."
While visiting Door County you'll want to take a ferry ride to Washington Island. Washington Island is an island about 7.5 miles off the tip of Door County with a year-round population of about 700 people.
You can either take your car over on the ferry or just walk or ride your bikes. However, there is quite a bit to see and do on this small island. While just a small community lives on the island they offer lodging, shopping and dining among other things.
Schoolhouse Beach has a very interesting beach not made of sand…but rocks…smooth limestone rocks. There are several parks on the island as well – Sand Dunes Park, Percy Johnson County Park, Red Barn Park and Gislason Public Beach. You can even climb the Mountain Park Lookout Tower that overlooks Washington, Rock & St. Martins Islands.
A beautiful Stavkirke church was built on Washington Island to honor the Scandinavian heritage. The church is open for visitation and usually offers a weekly service in the summer.
And if that weren't enough…there are several museums. Jackson Harbor Maritime Museum, WI Farm Museum, and the Jacobsen Museum.
Don't let the adventure end there though! Beyond Washington Island is another, much smaller, island called Rock Island. Rock Island is only accessible by passenger ferry and is less than two square miles in size.
Camping on the tiny island is quite popular as is hiking the 5 mile perimeter trail, visiting the Pottawatomie Lighthouse, discovering rock carvings, wandering through the island's two cemeteries and swimming from the beautiful beach. Whether you just make a day trip to the island or stay and camp for a few days, you'll be glad you did!
If you're planning on attending the North American Rally in Goshen, Indiana, consider making a stop in Door County before or after the rally.