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Door County, Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Favorite Getaway Jewel
Article Date: February, 2011


With names like Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Sister Bay, and Bailey's Harbor you'd hardly expect this place to be a popular RV destination. Yet Door County is a very popular destination for RVers as well as the bed and breakfast set. Situated on Wisconsin's east coast, Door County is a peninsula that separates Lake Michigan from Green Bay. This peninsula is populated with a number of small communities that dot the shoreline.

Door County is rated as one of the "Top Ten Vacation Destinations" by Money Magazine and the "Best Small Town Getaway in the Midwest" by Midwest Living Magazine. This 70 mile long county boasts eleven private campgrounds as well as camping facilities in Peninsula State Park. The interior of the county is mostly agricultural with a number of fruit ranches and Door County is renown for its cherries. Its small towns dot the nearly 300 miles of coastline and many have harbors, which is where the nautical names come from.

Adventure Everywhere

Door County's main economy revolves around tourism. On any summer weekend you'll find the roads into Door County packed with tourists heading for the RV parks and other lodging facilities. Recreation activities such as SCUBA diving, boating, sailing, parasailing, hiking, and horseback riding abound. For those less adventurous the area offers small town atmosphere laced with local cuisine and plenty of shopping opportunities. Five local wineries offer tours and tasting and a number of local farm markets offer a large selection of the local favorites. A number of themed festivals occur on many weekends, especially in the fall. During our visit Egg Harbor's annual Pumpkin Festival was being held and activities such as carnival rides, bungee jumping, arts and crafts vendor displays, musical entertainment, and a large evening bonfire were planned. Fall is also a great time as the trees turn to shades of amber, yellow, and bright orange and is one of the most popular times with amateur photographers.

The west coast borders Green Bay. This side of Door County is the most popular and the majority of the amenities are found there. The east coast borders Lake Michigan and is known as the quiet side. The activity level is lower, and the natural scenery is ideal for relaxing hikes. At the very tip of the peninsula is Washington Island, which can be accessed by auto ferry. Door County was originally settled by Scandinavian immigrants and that influence is readily seen throughout the peninsula.

Marinas can be found at most of Door County's many villages.

A trip through villages such as Fish Creek are a step back in time.

Door County has many farm markets offering fresh fruits, jams, honey, and a multitude of tasty treats.

Scandinavian Roots

No trip to Door County would be complete without the fish boil. It is a local Fish Creek tradition with Scandinavian roots. The meal is prepared outdoors in a huge kettle over a large wood fire. When it's ready the kettle boils over and the fire, smoke, and steam soar upwards. Naturally, cherry pie made from the local groves is the dessert of choice.

The town of Ephraim was founded in 1853 by Norwegian settlers and marks the first permanent settlement in Door County. The old Moravian Church is flanked by a number of historical buildings, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Every Father's Day weekend the annual Fyr Bal festival is held, celebrating Scandinavian heritage. At dusk a number of bonfires line the shores of Eagle Harbor to represent the "burning of the winter witch" and welcoming summer. Ephraim has the most accessible shoreline of any community and borders the 3,700-acre Peninsula State Park, which features miles of excellent wooded hiking trails along rocky cliffs and shoreline. A mandatory stop is at Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. Founded in 1906, Wilson's is a classic Door County landmark serving up ice-cream specialties, home-brewed draft root beer, and flame-broiled burgers. Its old fashioned soda fountain and jukebox complement the dining areas.

No trip to Door County would be complete without a visit to Wilson's Ice Cream and Soda Shop. Wilson's has been an Ephraim landmark since 1906.

Sister Bay and Ellison Bay

Sister Bay is just up the road from Ephraim. A large harbor area accommodates boaters and the annual Fall Festival is one of Door County's largest. The Norwegian heritage is quite evident at Al Johnson's, which is a very popular restaurant in Sister Bay. Featuring a Swedish menu the restaurant is covered with a grass roof. In traditional Scandinavian fashion goats are set out on the roof each day to keep it trim, to the delight of tourists.

Traveling farther up the western shore brings us to the Ellison Bay and Gills Rock area. Ellison Bay is a historical area and at nearby Ellison Bay County Park you can see the 200-foot cliff escarpment from a viewing platform. Traveling up through Gills Rock brings you to Northport, where a ferry can take you and your vehicle over to Washington Island. Washington Island is a nice, quiet 35-square-mile island located 5 miles off the northern tip of the peninsula. The Maritime Museum tells the stories of the Scandinavian "iron men" who fished these waters.

Proceeding back down the eastern shore takes us to the "quiet side." Centrally located on the Lake Michigan side, Bailey's Harbor contains The Ridges Sanctuary, which is a 1,600-acre natural area. The ridges were formed as the waves in Bailey's Harbor deposited ridges of lake sand, then receded, repeating this process for hundreds of years until a series of ridges and swales formed parallel to the shoreline. This created unique environments for wildlife and vegetation. Five miles of hiking trails pass through the sanctuary.

The Moravian Church in Ephraim dates back to 1853.

Goats keep the grass covered roof trimmed at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay.

Cana Island's Lighthouse

The lighthouse at nearby Cana Island is another popular place. The island is accessible on foot via a causeway except in early spring when the water level is too high to get to the island. Surrounded by a rocky beach area, the lighthouse helps mark the shoals in the area and directs mariners south to Bailey's Harbor, which was first discovered by Captain Justice Bailey during a fierce storm in 1848. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse, which was built in 1869, and tour the grounds and quarters of the keepers.

South of Bailey's Harbor, near Jacksonport, Cave Point County Park allows viewers to stand on rocky bluffs and watch as Lake Michigan pounds away, carving out caves in the rock structure beneath your feet. Whitefish dunes have miles of sandy beaches and the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin.

At Cana Island you can climb to the top of the lighthouse and view the lighthouse keepers quarters.

What To Expect For RV's

While there are many campgrounds in Door County, many of them are small and do not feature full hookups. If you want a big rig friendly campground, Bailey's Grove is the best choice. Centrally located on the Lake Michigan side in Bailey's Harbor it's a great location to set up camp. You can easily traverse the peninsula to get to the busier towns and it's very close to many of the scenic areas. During the summer season be sure to call ahead and reserve your site early regardless of where you choose to stay. Fall weekends are also quite busy and feature a number of festivals that coincide with the peak fall colors so place your reservations early at this time of year also. Most tourists arrive on Friday and leave Sunday afternoon so if you can time your travel plans to arrive earlier and leave later you'll miss the heavier traffic. The extra time will let you kick back and enjoy the area.

Autumn is a popular time in Door County when the fall colors emerge.

The Washington Island Ferry leaves Northport and transports visitors and vehicle to Washington Island.

Bailey's Grove Campground is the best bet for a big rig friendly campground and has the most amenities. Conveniently located in Bailey's Harbor, it's a great location to set up your base camp.


Door County Visitor Bureau

Peninsula State Park
(920) 8686-1100

Door County Navigator
(877) 285-8715

Bailey's Grove Campground
(920) 839-2559

Door County Trolley
(920) 868-1100

The Ridges Sanctuary
(920) 839-2802

Wilson's Ice Cream Parlor
(920) 854-2041

Washington Island Visitor's Center

Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant
(800) 241-9914


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