16 Top Attractions in Door County | Midwest Living

16 Top Attractions in Door County

A long-time vacation destination for many Midwesterners, Wisconsin's Door County peninsula offers a wealth of activities for all ages and interests.
Photo Courtesy of DoorCounty.com/Door County Visitor Bureau

Peninsula School of Art

With a beautiful wooded setting and a main building inspired by Door County's octagonal barns, the Peninsula School of Art campus serves as a hub for the area's art colony. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the school on Fridays, view exhibits or register for workshops that range from oil painting to metalwork, pastels to pottery. (920) 868-3455; peninsulaartschool.com

Artists from across the country come for the school's biggest event, the Plein Air Festival, in late July. It's an ideal time to catch artists in action, painting at easels set up in Door County harbors, along the wooded shore or above favorite vistas. Paintings are auctioned to the public in Fish Creek.

Peninsula School of Art

Plein Air Festival

Land of lighthouses

Lighthouses guided 19th-century sailors through the treacherous waters along Door County's shoreline. At least a dozen businesses now offer tours of these beacons by trolley, boat or kayak. An annual Lighthouse Walk encourages visitors to explore six Door County sites. (920) 743-5958; dcmm.org

Among the most popular to visit on your own: Cana Island Lighthouse (left) sits on its own tiny island; park at the end of a forested road and trek across a rocky Lake Michigan causeway to the lighthouse (weather permitting). Step inside the Keeper's House, peek in the Oil House (from the days before electricity fueled the light), and climb the stairs to a spectacular view from the top of the 89-foot tower.

Door County Lighthouses

Door County's performing arts

The arts scene in Door County has nurtured a variety of performing artists. Nestled in the woods at Peninsula State Park, the 750-seat, open-air American Folklore Theatre (left) has an idyllic setting for its feel-good, humorous musicals about Midwest history and culture. (920) 854-6117; folkloretheatre.com

The Peninsula Players Theatre, the country's oldest professional resident summer theater, offers plays in another lovely setting overlooking the waters of Green Bay, with outdoor tables, a bar and a giant bonfire at intermission. (920) 868-3287; peninsulaplayers.com

For music, look to Birch Creek Music Performance Center, a summer music school for advanced young musicians ages 13-19. By day they're taught by nationally recognized performance artists and educators; by night students and teachers perform at public concerts. Though Birch Creek musicians perform throughout Door County, try to attend a concert on the campus, an old dairy farm with a beautiful new rehearsal hall and renovated "concert barn." (920) 868-3763; birchcreek.org

American Folklore Theatre

Peninsula Players

Birch Creek Music Performance Center

Whitefish Dunes State Park

This Lake Michigan shore park attracts more annual visitors than any other day-use park in Wisconsin, but Whitefish Dunes State Park's beech forests and wetlands, plus 1.5 miles of sandy beaches and 1.5 miles of rocky shoreline, still feel quiet. 

Windswept dunes rise up from the lake, some barren, some covered with swaying dune grasses. The tallest, "Old Baldy," climbs some 90 feet above lake level. A nice network of hiking trails and boardwalks lets you explore the area without damaging the fragile dunes. And the soft sand beach is a perfect spot for swimming, wading and sunning. (920) 823-2400; wiparks.net

Whitefish Dunes State Park

Shoreline scenic cruises

Shoreline Charters trips, ranging in length from 45 minutes to more than 2 hours, give visitors a chance to view Door County's lovely coastline from the water. Sights include Peninsula State Park's limestone cliffs and caves; Chambers, Horseshoe and Little Strawberry islands; multimillion-dollar vacation homes; and historic eagle Bluff Lighthouse (pictured at left). The first mate gives a spirited, informative narrative and some interesting trivia. Most trips depart from Sister Bay. Be sure to bring a jacket, even if you don't think you'll need it; it's often cooler on the lake. (920) 854-4707; shorelinecharters.net

Shoreline Charters

60-Second Video: Door County

The charming communities on this peninsula have earned it the rep as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. This video highlights Bailey’s Harbor Lighthouse, Sweetie Pies, Peninsula State Park, The White Gull Inn, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay and Ellison Bay.

The Ridges Sanctuary

The Ridges Sanctuary preserves ancient dune ridges that are home to dozens of rare and threatened wildflowers, including more than 25 species of native orchids. In fact, this 1,600-acre plot is believed to be the most biologically diverse area in Wisconsin, with more than 475 plant species. The Ridges, on the north side of Baileys Harbor, was formed in 1937, making it Wisconsin's oldest member-based nature preserve.

Wildflowers are the stars here, but even visitors with little knowledge of native flora will enjoy the five miles of trails and boardwalks, winding through hemlock woods and meadow down to the protected beach. Naturalist-led hikes help visitors appreciate all the treasures. (920) 839-2802; ridgessanctuary.org

The Ridges Sanctuary

Hands On Art Studio

It used to take a rainy day to inspire summer tourists to leave the beaches. Now they head to this vibrant Fish Creek barn and its outbuildings year-round, no matter what the weather, for hands-on art lessons.

Would-be artists can choose from projects including fused glass, metal sculpture, mosaics and ceramic pieces. Special events include weekly Adult Nights, seasonal Rock and Roll Art Nights and Art Camp sessions for kids. Be sure to check out the silo colorfully decorated in tiles created by visitors. (888) 868-9311; handsonartstudio.com

Hands On Art Studio

Peninsula State Park

Hiking, biking, boating, swimming, fishing, camping, golf, a nature center and the historic Eagle Bluff lighthouse are among the highlights of this Fish Creek park, one of the most popular destinations in Door County. Visit the nature center for information on hikes, crafts programs and outdoor skills workshops. (920) 868-3258; wiparks.net

The Sunset Trail, a 9.6-mile gravel route, is a great introduction to Peninsula State Park. The relatively flat trail begins at the Fish Creek entrance and winds along the western and northern part of the park, through forest, over marsh and rarely far from the waters of Green Bay. The trail is open to bikes, wheelchairs and foot traffic.

Peninsula State Park

Peninsula State Park Sunset Trail

Peninsula State Park Golf Course

Washington Island

Accessible by a 40-minute ferry ride from Northport Pier and Gills Rock, the 35-square-mile Washington Island offers beaches, museums and farms. The trip covers the once-treacherous waters that mariners dubbed "Death's Door" (but you’re likely to make a safe crossing).

Among the attractions on the island: Stavkirke (left), a timber-frame Lutheran chapel modeled after the medieval churches in Norway built in the 15th century; and the Farm Museum, which showcases life on an 1880s Washington Island farm. (920) 847-2179; washingtonislandchamber.com

Washington Island

Rock Island

The entire 900-acre Rock Island is a forested state park, where visitors discover great spots for hiking, fishing, picnicking and camping. No cars or bikes are allowed; access is by private boat or a passengers-only ferry from Washington Island. (920) 847-2235; wiparks.net

Rock Island has 40 reservable campsites, picnic tables and fire rings, plus 10 miles of trails, naturalist programs and 5,000 feet of beach. The Pottawatomie Lighthouse on the northern tip of the island dates from 1836 and was the first lighthouse along Wisconsin's Great Lakes shorelines.

Rock Island

Door County fish boils

This Door County cooking method, started by Scandinavian settlers more than a century ago, remains popular with visitors today. A huge black pot of fresh whitefish, potatoes and onions bubbles and hisses over an open fire. When the fish is done, a Master Boiler tosses a small amount of fuel oil or kerosene under the pot. A burst of flames causes the water and floating fish oils to boil over, and the steaming meal is ready to serve.

Many local restaurants offer fish boils; among the best-known is the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, which hosts fish boils four nights a week during the summer (and on Fridays the rest of the year). (888) 364-9542; whitegullinn.com

Door County Fish Boils

Peninsula School of Art

With a beautiful wooded setting and a main building inspired by Door County's octagonal barns, the Peninsula School of Art campus serves as a hub for the area's art colony. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the school on Fridays, view exhibits or register for workshops that range from oil painting to metalwork, pastels to pottery. (920) 868-3455; peninsulaartschool.com

Artists from across the country come for the school's biggest event, the Plein Air Festival, in late July. It's an ideal time to catch artists in action, painting at easels set up in Door County harbors, along the wooded shore or above favorite vistas. Paintings are auctioned to the public in Fish Creek.

Peninsula School of Art

Plein Air Festival

Door County wineries

The rolling land in the middle of the Door Peninsula is home to several wineries. Download a winery map from the Door County Visitor Bureau website (doorcounty.com) and visit them at your own pace, or ride along on the Door County Trolley's wine tour. (920) 868-1100; doorcountytrolley.com

Tours at Simon Creek Vineyard and Winery (left), the largest vineyard in Wisconsin, are free. (920) 746-9307; simoncreekwines.com

Door County's famed Montmorency cherries are picked, packaged and made into wine at Lautenbach's Orchard Country Winery and Market (920) 868-3479; orchardcountry.com, which offers free wine tastings (up to six per person).

Door County County Visitors Bureau

Iconic restaurants

The Door County dining scene includes landmarks such as Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant and Butiks (left) and Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. Al Johnson's, in Sister Bay, serves Swedish staples in a log building known for live goats on the grass roof. (800) 241-9914; aljohnsons.com

Wilson's, with its old-fashioned jukeboxes, has been an Ephraim institution since 1906. For a cheap lunch, order a flame-broiled burger and a thick malt or fresh-brewed root beer. (920) 854-2041; wilsonsicecream.com

Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant and Butiks

Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor

Cave Point County Park

Limestone ledges rise 20 to 30 above Lake Michigan, etched with caves and overhangs from eons of scouring ice and crashing waves in this park. On many days, Lake Michigan's waves crash into the rock with a resonant boom and explosion of spray. Bring a picnic to this small (19-acre) park to enjoy the show. A trail in Cave Point County Park connects with more extensive trails in the adjacent Whitefish Dunes State Park. (920) 746-9959; map.co.door.wi.us/parks/ 

Cave Point County Park

Door County shopping

The county's tourism industry supports a fabulous variety of shops, galleries and markets. Among our favorites:
For clothing: Maple Grove Gallery, in the middle of the peninsula, features colorful handwoven scarves, jackets, shawls and more, most made by designer and weaver Gloria Hardiman. (920) 839-2693; gloriahardiman.com
For art: Edgewood Orchard Galleries, a beautifully restored fruit barn-turned-gallery near Fish Creek, showcases work by more than 150 artists from Wisconsin and around the country. (920) 868-3579; edgewoodorchard.com
For home and garden: Blue Dolphin House in Ephraim, housed in a renovated farmhouse, has contemporary furniture, home and garden accessories, and gifts. (800) 765-0141; bluedolphinhouse.com
For Christmas: Pipka's of Door County, in Sister Bay, sells Santas, snow globes and other collectibles inspired by the sketches of folk artist Pipka Ulviden. (800) 829-9235; pipkasofdoorcounty.com

 

A taste of cherries

Door County, Wisconsin's leader in cherry production, is home to almost 50 orchards. You can pick them (harvest season typically runs from late July into August), eat them in still-warm pies, or take them home in one of the county's many packaged cherry products.

During peak summertime season, Seaquist Orchards Farm Market (north of Sister Bay) sells more than 700 cherry pies a week -- plus cherry pie filling, cherry salsa, cherry vinaigrette dressing and dozens of other cherry creations. (800) 732-8850; seaquistorchards.com 

Sweetie Pies, south of Fish Creek, sells tempting cherry, apple-cherry and cherry-rhubarb pies, among other goodies. (877) 868-2744; doorcountypies.com

For pick-your-own orchards, check the Wisconsin Cherry Growers website. wisconsincherries.org

Wisconsin Cherry Growers

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