by Tom Bross
Attentive travel planners should have no problem spotting two of the most prominent peninsulas on U.S. maps. Viewing the Massachusetts coastline, see how Cape Cod—shaped like bent arm with a clenched fist—pokes into the Atlantic Ocean. Then swing westward, over to Wisconsin’s side of Lake Michigan. The Dairyland State’s northerly contours are noticeable for what resembles a skinny, fractured finger. Namely: Door County. Total length, from Green Bay past Sturgeon Bay to fingertip Gills Rock, amounts to 75 miles (maximum width: merely 18 miles). Adding 22-sq.-mi. Washington Island and its craggy limestone bluffs completes the geographic layout.
“The Door” has been a prime vacation destination since the late 1800s, when steamboats began navigating northbound lake routes. European settlers came earlier, emigrating from Norway and Sweden, mixed with lesser numbers of Belgians. For added Scandinavian heritage, Washington Island claims the distinction of having America’s most populous ethnic Icelandic community.
The present economic pinch, aggravated by less-than-favorable currency-exchange rates, might keep your clients from considering long-distance domestic or overseas travel. Here’s an appealing Midwest alternative. Big-city escapees like the leisurely tempo—and the 300 miles of Lake Michigan (east) and Green Bay (west) shoreline, plenty-enough for five coastal state parks and midyear water sports. While exploring the peninsula last spring, Jax Fax came upon impressively huge marinas and yacht clubs enhancing such picturesque resort towns as Ephraim, Fish Creek, Ellison Bay, Sister Bay and Baileys Harbor.
Touring the Lakeside Lighthouse Trail
Kayakers and sailboaters prefer Green Bay’s calmer waters. Rentals and tours can be arranged in Ephraim, Egg Harbor and Sister Bay. For different perspectives, sand dunes and beaches comprise much of the opposite lake shore, marked by signs describing old-time shipwrecks. Among historic lighthouses, Cana Island’s beacon—connected to the mainland by a causeway—gets the most attention. Inside the white-brick tower, a cast-iron stairway spirals 89 feet to an observatory perch for terrific panoramics.
Bicycling enthusiasts pedal onto 100-plus miles of back-road trails. An eight-mile loop swerves through Peninsula State Park’s woodlands and wetlands, midway between Ephraim and Fish Creek. That’s topped by 13 miles of winding trails farther north, in Jackson State Park’s pristine environment. Best centrally situated resource for rentals and equipment (bicycles, plus wintertime snowmobiles and cross-country ski gear): Fish Creek’s Nor Door Sport & Cyclery. Call 920-868-2775; www.nordoorsports.com
Rural inner-county roads pass 4,000 acres of cherry-tree orchards, 11 golf courses and the peninsula’s five vineyards, Wisconsin’s highest total. For tours and tastings, book clients through Simon Creek Vineyard & Winery. 920-746-9307; www.simoncreekvineyard.com
Heading North from “Big” Sturgeon Bay
Size (pop. 9,500) and commercial buzz qualifies Sturgeon Bay as the county’s “metropolis”—last stop for burger chains and strip malls. The best itineraries include five waterfront towns. To reach four of them, follow bayside Highway 42.
Egg Harbor: Downtown’s Liberty Square combines the casual Bistro (serving breakfasts, lunches and dinners), the upscale Board Room seafood restaurant, decorative-arts shop and a gourmet grocery/bakery. www.libertysquareshops.com. Fireworks above Harbor View Park follow Door County’s longest Independence Day parade. Evening concerts are regularly scheduled at the Birch Creek Music Performance Center. 920-868-3763; www.birchcreek.org
Ephraim: Founded on Eagle Harbor by Norwegian Moravians in 1853, this town hosts midsummer music festivals and, each June, weekend Norse celebrations highlighted by bonfires and fireworks. Five folkloric museums stand at various locations. Folkloric, too: paintings exhibited in Ephraim’s Hanseatic Art Gallery. On Water Street, vacationers gravitate to Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor, complete with juke boxes and a classic 1906 soda fountain www.wilsonsicecream.com
Sister Bay: Another town with 19th-century Scandinavian origins. Summer concerts at the Beach Park Pavilion, each May’s Blossom Festival and September’s Marina Fest draw enthusiastic crowds. Jax Fax recommends Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant on Bay Shore Drive; Swedish-import clothing and keepsakes displayed in the on-site gift shop. www.aljohnsons.com
Fish Creek: Two blocks inland from the Alibi Dock Marina, cute shops, sidewalk cafés, a brewpub and artisans’ studios line a three-block stretch of Main Street. For prearranged group dinners and Tradewinds Lounge entertainment, keep the C&C Supper Club in mind. Call 920-868-3412, www.ccsupperclub.com
Baileys Harbor, the fifth of Door County’s most-favored towns overlooks Lake Michigan. Get there via east-side Highway 57—the local main thoroughfare, where antiques shops and bookstores are prevalent. Anclam Park, near two 19th-century lighthouses, features picnic groves and a sandy beach.
Washington Island attractions include horseback riding, the Heritage Nature Trail, Maritime and Farm Museums, Capital Wheat Beer brewery, charter-boat fishing from Kap’s Marina and a culinary school’s restaurant, plus a replicated, elaborately carved Norwegian stave church. Sightsee via narrated Cherry Train Tours. 920-847-2039
Accommodations & Getting There
Four swimming pools, four whirlpools and a full breakfast buffet make Egg Harbor’s Landmark Resort, situated on four wooded hillside acres, a tempting choice for long stayovers. Doubles range $111-199 (800-273-7877, www.thelandmarkresort.com).
Turn-of-the-century charm pervades the Eagle Harbor Inn, comprising a cluster of stylishly decorated two-story cottages on Ephraim’s harborside main street. Room rates range $98-195; request the seasonal rate structure for this high-class b&b’s romantic suites (800-324-5427, www.eagleharborinn.com).
A grand Fish Creek landmark since 1896, the White Gull Inn wows guests with traditional open-fire “fish boils,” (left) Wednesdays and weekends during summer and fall. High-season room rates from $152. 800-624-1987, www.whitegullinn.com.
Five airlines fly to/from Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB): Midwest, United, American, Northwest and Air Canada. This Door County gateway is Wisconsin’s third-largest airport. Driving mileages: Milwaukee (101), Chicago (184), Minneapolis-St. Paul (270). Carrying passengers and vehicles, Washington Island Ferry Line vessels make round-trip crossings between the peninsula’s Northpoint Pier and the island’s Detroit Harbor. Call 800-223-2094; www.wisferry.com
Call the Door County Visitor Bureau at 800-527-3529; www.DoorCounty.com.