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Spotlight: Door County

Take a trip to the Cape Cod of the Midwest

Door County, a popular destination for vacationers and tourists from around the United States, is named after the strait between the Door Peninsula and Washington Island. It is said that because of the natural hazards of the strait, where the waters of Green Bay meet Lake Michigan, early French explorers gave it the name Porte des Morts, which translates to Death’s Door.

Slightly scary stuff, but don’t worry, despite the name, the Door County you will encounter on your trip will be absolutely teeming with life. And the good news is that you don’t have to hazard the sea—simply drive in your RV to the peninsula that many consider to be the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.”

Door County Visitor Bureau

Door County Visitor Bureau

Beautiful Beacons

Lighthouse lovers will enjoy visiting the county’s most majestic beacons. Looming over Sturgeon Bay is the Sturgeon Bay Canal Lighthouse. Located at a Coast Guard station, it was originally constructed in 1899 and then reinforced with additional steel in 1903. Another must-see is Pottawatomie Lighthouse, which ranks as the oldest lighthouse in Wisconsin, having started duty in 1836. While the original was demolished in the late 1850s, a new light was constructed and lit in 1858. Today, it is open for summertime tours under the name of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse Museum.

There are a number of intriguing shipwreck sites in the area. One of the most popular for visitors is the site of the schooner Fleetwing, a lumber cargo vessel that ran aground in Door County in September of 1888. Today, the broken hull of the Fleetwing lies on the lake bottom close to shore, little more than 10 feet below the surface, making it easily accessible for divers, snorkelers and kayak enthusiasts.

Those who would like to learn more about the nautical history around Door County without getting wet can visit the Door County Maritime Museum. The museum features a detailed rundown of the region’s shipbuilding history, as well as a larger ship model collection, a collection of classic boats and a restored steamship pilothouse.

Another water-based attraction that makes Door County unique is its array of surrounding islands. Accessible only by boat, the islands give the visitor a sense of seclusion that is enhanced by a total absence of motor vehicles. The most famous of these getaways is Washington Island, which is situated just beyond the tip of the Door County Peninsula. Take hikes in local trails, duck into a museum to learn about history and folklore of Door County here. Also of note is Cana Island, which features the Cana Island Lighthouse, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Door County. The attraction’s keeper’s house, oil house and tower are open for tours May through October.

Door County Visitor Bureau

Door County Visitor Bureau

Cherries on Top

Door County is a haven for lovers of the great outdoors. Peninsula State Park features an 18-hole championship golf course, camping sites, hiking trails and bicycle paths. Snow on the ground doesn’t mean an end to the frivolity. Instead, prepare to bust out the skis for groomed ski trails, snowmobiling and sledding. Bring the kids to family-friendly White Cedar Nature Center, which hosts a number of hikes, nature-based arts and crafts, and outdoor skills workshops to keep the kids’ minds off the TV remote control and into the beauty of the surrounding forest.

Whitefish State Dunes, on the other hand, offers more than 860 acres of ground on the Lake Michigan shoreline, including a mile of sand beach and the tallest sand dunes in the Badger State. Visitors can enjoy swimming, hiking and fishing in the summer and snowshoeing in winter.

At the end of a busy day, there often is nothing better than a nice adult beverage, and Door County has offerings for you. If beer is your thing, make sure to check out Door County Brewing Company. The Baileys Harbor brewer, established in 2012, has made a tremendous reputation for itself as a brewer of distinctive beers. The taproom serves up a number of selections for the sophisticated beer sampler, including farmhouse ale, a pale ale, a smoked imperial stout and a witbier.

However, if it’s the smashed grapes you are about, there are many that are worth your attention, including Simon Creek Vineyard & Winery, Orchard Country Winery & Market and Red Oak Winery. Take your pick of these Midwest vintages.

Don’t leave Door County without taking in the fruit of choice in the region: the cherry. Because of the region’s distinctive geography, climate and soil, cherry trees grow in abundance. As a result, Door County features over 2,500 acres of blossoming cherry orchards, and visitors flock each year to pick the harvest. If you are visiting during the summer, make sure you make this Door County tradition part of your itinerary at a destination such as Choice Orchards or the aforementioned Orchard Country Winery & Market.

For More Information

Door County Visitor Bureau
Wisconsin Department of Tourism