MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Door County

Lighthouses of Door County

On this Wisconsin peninsula, beacons are reminders of a more rugged past.

Today, Door County is not a very rugged place. It's a favorite vacation spot for city folk, and it reflects their tastes with dozens of art galleries, bistros and B&Bs.

But once, Wisconsin's Door Peninsula was rough and remote, settled first by Scandinavian fishermen and loggers.

Navigating this long finger of land, which separates the wind-whipped expanses of Lake Michigan from Green Bay, was no treat for early mariners.

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Fall in Door County

On this Wisconsin peninsula, autumn colors gild a much-loved landscape.

Around the Upper Midwest, Door County is the tourist destination that other tourist destinations envy.

Everything a tourist loves, it’s got: Lighthouses, craggy shorelines, sand dunes. Golf courses, boutiques, bistros. Bicycle paths, hiking trails, beaches.

There’s a little bit of New England in the white-frame buildings of Ephraim, where tourists click photos of Wilson’s, a century-old ice-cream parlor.

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Outdoors in Door County

Beaches, bays and forests are keys to this lovely peninsula.

Fish boils, cherry pie, chic shops and a nonstop stream of tourists.

Yes, that’s Door County, all right. But so is this:

Secluded beaches of fine white sand. Estuaries lined with herons. Hiking and bicycle trails winding through sun-dappled cedar forests.

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Arts in Door County

On this Wisconsin peninsula, vacation isn't complete without a dose of culture.

Once, evening entertainment in Door County consisted of watching the sun set over Green Bay.

Then, at the turn of the century, the seven sons of the Eagle Bluff lighthouse keepers formed a band to entertain at various gatherings, arriving with a horse-drawn piano.

The arts scene really got going in 1935, when the first theater was founded on the lawn of a Fish Creek motel. The same year, a Danish landscape architect from Chicago started the first arts school. In 1953, the first music festival was founded.

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Where to stay in Door County

This tourist playground has a dizzying array of resorts, cottages, motels and inns everything but chains.

If you think it’s expensive to stay in Wisconsin's Door County, you haven’t looked very hard.

In early June, rates can be almost ludicrously low, cheaper than a Super 8. And even on weekends in July and August, it’s not hard to find a decent place for $100 or less if you book in advance.

The Door Peninsula's breezy beaches are the place to be when the rest of the region is sweltering. During one early June heat wave, temperatures there were 20 to 40 degrees lower, and lodging rates were low, too — I got three nights for the price of two.

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Wisconsin's Icelandic outpost

On Lake Michigan, a pioneering inventor transformed an island.

In Wisconsin, the American dream came true for a penniless boy from Iceland — and the rest of us made out pretty well, too.

In 1873, 5-year-old Hjörtur Thordarson traveled with his family from Iceland to Milwaukee, where his father soon died of typhoid fever.

The youngster's schooling stopped in second grade as the family moved to farms in Wisconsin and North Dakota, then resumed when the boy — called Chester — joined his married sister in Chicago and, at age 18, entered the fourth grade.

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Door County 101

Want to check out this popular peninsula? Here's everything you need to plan a visit.

Around the Upper Midwest, Door County is the tourist destination that other tourist destinations envy.

Everything a tourist loves, it’s got: Lighthouses and sand dunes. Wineries and boutiques. Bicycle paths and beaches.

There’s a little bit of New England in the white-frame buildings of Ephraim, where tourists click photos of Wilson’s, a century-old ice-cream parlor.

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The door to Door County

A longtime gateway, Sturgeon Bay also is a great getaway.

It would be natural, for a tourist, to arrive in Sturgeon Bay and just keep going. It would also be a mistake.

The rest of Door County has all the tourist trappings. But Sturgeon Bay has appeal of its own.

"Most people want to go farther up on Door County, for all the shops and such," says Bill Munroe, a volunteer at the Door County Maritime Museum. "But this is a working town. We like it down here. We like it very much."

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Fish Creek in Door County

In this historic resort town, crowds come for the shops and the scenery.

Few tourist towns are more blessed than Fish Creek.

It's known as Door County's shopping town, and if people think that's too much of a good thing — well, they're in the minority, judging by throngs on the streets.

It's also the gateway to the wildly popular Peninsula State Park. This big park is more like a resort, with a beach, boat rentals, playgrounds, tennis court and golf course, plus a theater, lighthouse, bike trails and one of the state's best-known hiking trails.

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Egg Harbor in Door County

On the famed Wisconsin peninsula, it's the first and perhaps prettiest town.

For most tourists, Egg Harbor is the “first’’ village on the Door Peninsula. 

After crossing the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, they drive 17 miles past orchards and fields before they get another glimpse of water.

Now, visitors see something else first: giant eggs. Artist-decorated eggs line roads and adorn parks to mark a village anniversary — and give tourists something to look at.

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Sister Bay in Door County

Near the top of the peninsula, this town snares tourists with its beautiful beach and marina.

Sister Bay is all about the water. And Swedish pancakes. And goats.

It's a tourist town, with one of its biggest draws the goats grazing on the roof of Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant, placed there after a 1969 National Geographic story drew a flood of vacationers.

But Sister Bay also is where the locals go, because not only can you get ice cream and T-shirts there, but also groceries and socks.

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Baileys Harbor in Door County

On the Lake Michigan side of the famous peninsula, this town draws nature-lovers.

Every May, wildflower followers find their way to Baileys Harbor.

They walk past two 1870 range lights on a boardwalk lined by endangered dwarf lake iris.  On  strips of wetland called swales, they look for bogbean and goldthread. In June, they search for 25 species of orchids.

The land Ridges Sanctuary occupies almost became a trailer park. Now, it's habitat for more species of plants than any other place in Wisconsin.

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Spring in Door County

On this Wisconsin peninsula, a vast array of wildflowers rewards those weary of winter.

Goldthread and gaywings. Bogbean and trailing arbutus. In Wisconsin's Door County, it's enough to make a naturalist hyperventilate.

Cherry blossoms and daffodils are the showiest spring flowers on this tourist playground between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. But it's the wildflowers, many of them rare, that provide the most joyous proof that spring has arrived.

On sandy ridges, the first flower spotted often is the once-common trailing arbutus, whose waxy white blossoms emerge in April.

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Classroom in the Clearing

In a tranquil Door County forest, students gather to reflect and learn.

In a cedar and pine forest on Lake Michigan, moments of illumination fly around like sparks off a campfire.

The best way to capture sunrise on film. Handy techniques for depicting shadow in watercolors. How to harness the power of the inner eye.

At the Clearing in Door County, everything becomes clearer.

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10 splurges in Door County

If you've been pinching pennies, here are some fun ways to reward yourself.

Door County isn't known as a budget destination. But this popular peninsula in Lake Michigan is like everywhere else — you can spend a lot if you want, but you don't have to.

We've already told you how to find deals on places to stay in Door County. Why did we go looking? Because sometimes, we like to do the rich man-poor man routine — that is, pinch pennies in one place so you can treat yourself in another.

And in Door County, there are so many good ways to treat yourself.

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At sea in Door County

From Sister Bay, a tall ship and a double decker take tourists for a ride.

There's a lot of water in Wisconsin, but only one place that's surrounded by it: the northern Door Peninsula.

It's really an island, since the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal connects Lake Michigan to the slightly more tranquil waters of Green Bay. From there, the peninsula is lined by beaches, limestone cliffs, lighthouses and picturesque villages.

All of the views are good, but the best are from a boat.

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