They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In Door County, your eyes can behold undeniable beauty everywhere. About 4 hours north of Chicago and 3 hours north of Milwaukee, Door County is a 70-mile-long peninsula in northeastern Wisconsin. It’s long been called “The Cape Cod of the Midwest”

When you go, here are some amazing things to do.

1. Lake Michigan And Green Bay

Because Door County is a peninsula, it features miles and miles of shoreline. You’re never more than a 15-minute drive to the water. Go ahead, take off your shoes. Dip your toes in one of the Great Lakes and the bay of Green Bay.

Being this close to water also makes for great sunrise and sunset views. See Destination Door County’s recommendations for the best spots to see them.

See also  5 Ways To Travel To One Of New Zealand’s Most Sought-After Regions

Sherwood Point Lighthouse in Sturgeon Bay

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

2. Lighthouses Of Sturgeon Bay

With water everywhere, the peninsula has a long maritime history, and the Door County Maritime Museum honors that heritage. Visit the three lighthouses in Sturgeon Bay that harken back to that time. 

On the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula, you get a “two-for-one” opportunity. The 1899 Ship Canal Light sits on an active coast guard station that’s off-limits to visitors, but you can park your car, take photos, and walk out to a concrete pier head to see the North Pierhead Light — appropriately nicknamed Big Red. Go to the end for a great photo op of the iconic 1882 fog-signal light.

On the Green Bay side, you’ll find the 1883 Sherwood Point Light. It’s a bit trickier to find, but the GPS got us there for a quick photo or two.

Pro Tip: Half an hour south of Sturgeon Bay, Joe Rouer’s is legendary with the locals (and not-so-locals) for simple, mouth-watering burgers. In Sturgeon Bay, grab a great lunch at The Bluefront Café for soups, sandwiches, salads, and wraps. For fine dining, you can’t go wrong with Donny’s Glidden Lodge Restaurant (reservations are a must).

3. Potawatomi State Park

In Sturgeon Bay, Potawatomi State Park is a popular choice for hiking and camping. The Daisy Field campground has two loops with 123 campsites, 40 with electricity. For hikers, Potawatomi is the home of the eastern trailhead of the Ice Age Trail National Scenic Trail. This amazing trail winds about 1,000 miles through Wisconsin. If that’s too much to bite off, you can hike the 2.8-mile stretch through the park.

4. Fresh Cherries And Apples

Door County is a big apple and cherry country (the fourth largest cherry-producing region in the nation). Stop at one of the many orchards and farm markets or gift shops as you drive north from Sturgeon Bay. Try freshly made donuts, cherry cider coolers, or cherry pie.

Pro Tip: Summer and fall color/harvest season are busy times of year. Roads and lodging can hardly contain the influx, which is why we like the shoulder season in April/May or September. October gets busy again with fall colors and festivals.

5. Wonderful Wineries

In a place with such an abundance of produce, it’s no surprise that Door County wineries produce wonderful fruit wines, as well as reds, whites, and ports. As of this writing, there are eight wineries in Door County, with more in the planning. Follow the Door County Wine Trail to visit them.

Pro Tip: Learn more about Door County wineries, breweries, distilleries and cider houses here.

6. Egg Harbor

Door County is drivable (when traffic isn’t bad), and the small towns are delightful. We made our home base in Egg Harbor and took day trips to explore all the peninsula has to offer. We rented a condo at the Landmark Resort, the biggest resort in Door County. Located on 40 wooded acres, it’s open year round and loaded with resort amenities.

Pro Tip: If you’re after a water view, book a condo on the highest floor you can find. We were at ground level and the grounds are beautiful, but if you’re facing the water, the higher the floor, the better the view.

"Living Canopy," mosaic egg sculpture in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin.

Living Canopy mosaic egg sculpture in Egg Harbor

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

Egg Harbor EGGstravaganza

Egg Harbor has a thing for, what else, eggs. All over town, indoors and outdoors, you’ll see over 20 large, decorated artwork eggs. Inspired artists used wood, copper, beads, glass, metals, and clay to create these masterpieces, originally part of a public art project called EGGstravaganza. We saw a wooden egg with flowers, a bird-themed mosaic, one made of copper encircled by wings that “flew” in the breeze, and even one shaped like a stegosaurus (or… stEGGosaurus).

One Barrel Brewing

One Barrel Brewing claims: “We brew unique beers, one barrel at a time.” This brewery also has wines, hard ciders, and snacks. They have a welcoming, expansive outdoor area with decks, couches, chairs, tables, umbrellas, and a couple of fire pits.

Pro Tips

Hungry? Grab a bite at the nearby Shipwrecked Brew Pub. Try the fish and chips, or the fisherman’s (perch) sandwich.

Make a stop at Wood’s Orchard Market in Egg Harbor, too. It’s filled with local greatness like apple donuts, cherry pies (including half pies and slices) and cherry syrup (perfect on pancakes).

Goat on the roof at Al Johnson's in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.

Goat on the roof at Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

7. Rooftop Goats In Sister Bay

It wouldn’t be Door County without a stop at Al Johnson’s restaurant to see the famous “goats on the roof” (usually late May to late October). It’s the kind of place where there’s always a line to eat because folks love the Swedish bakery items, authentic dishes, and novelty of the goats. They also have a great gift shop.

Pro Tip: Sister Bay is also one of several small towns that offer summertime Concerts in the Park, great for live music. The family-friendly musical performances feature a variety of bands.

View of the bay from Sunset Bike Trail in Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin.

View of the bay from Sunset Bike Trail in Peninsula State Park

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

8. Peninsula State Park

I call Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek the crown jewel of Door County. It has great biking and hiking, golfing, a new fire tower with panoramic views, and incredible sunsets.

Sunset Trail

This beautiful almost 10-mile trail has a paved/fine-gravel surface great for biking. The trail winds through the Weborg Marsh among tall cedars and maple trees. We took the opportunity to get off our bikes at scenic stops like Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, and just walk down to the shoreline. The water is amazingly clear; you can see every stone on the bottom.

Pro Tip: A state trail pass is required for cyclists age 16 or older. Didn’t bring your bike? Rentals are available in Fish Creek and at the Nicolet Beach concession stand.

Eagle Trail

This 2-mile hike features 150-foot rocky cliffs, woodland springs, forests, and plenty of roots and rocks to earn its “difficult” rating. (Difficult, but worth it!) Much of it takes you along the coastline with great views of Eagle Harbor.

Panoramic view from Eagle Tower's observation deck in Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin.

Panoramic view from Eagle Tower’s observation deck

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

Eagle Tower

See sweeping panoramic views from the observation deck of Eagle Tower. You have two choices: Climb 100 steps up the tower, or, our preference, stroll along the 850-foot, ADA-accessible, tree-lined boardwalk to the top. Either way, from the 60-foot-high observation deck, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the park, nearby islands, harbor towns, and the Upper Michigan shoreline.

Sven’s Bluff

Sven’s Bluff overlook gives you a beautiful vantage point to watch the sunset unfold. When we visited, four eagles soared overhead!

Northern Sky Theater

We didn’t attend, but the Northern Sky Theater within Peninsula State Park is very popular with theater-goers. With indoor and outdoor venues, standard or premium pricing, and a variety of shows, there’s something for everyone.

Pro Tip: All seating is assigned, and visitors are encouraged to buy tickets in advance over the phone or online.

Peninsula State Park Golf Course

If you enjoy golf, check out the golf courses of Door County, including one at Peninsula State Park. The same scenery that makes Door County a great place to hike, bike, and kayak (our favorites) also makes it great for golf.

9. Old Post Office Fish Boil

Make reservations at any of the wonderful fish boils of Door County. We enjoyed one at the Old Post Office in Ephraim. The Norwegian tradition means locally caught Lake Michigan whitefish, small potatoes, and onions are cooked outside in a big kettle over an open fire that eventually roars to a fiery finish. Then, it’s time to eat! Do it up right with a piece of Door County cherry pie ala mode for dessert. It’s another Door County “must-do.”

10. Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor

Wilson’s is another Door County classic. My husband ordered up a single scoop of Coconut Joy, and I ordered my favoritem, peanut butter chocolate. Their single scoops are huge (about half would have been enough!). Eat it outside and soak in more Eagle Harbor views.

11. Door County Bakery

Door County Bakery is acclaimed for its crunchy, fragrant Corsica bread — a combo of French bread dough with a blend of olive oils and sesame seeds, inspired by the island of Corsica, France. They accept phone orders for pick-up at their delicious bakery, or they’ll ship to you. As an alternative, buy Corsica STIX in most any gift shop in Door County. They are crispy bread chips, great with local cheeses, dips, or spreads. 

12. Ferry To Washington Island

At the northern end of the peninsula, Gills Rock is the place to catch the Island Clipper passenger ferry for a 7-mile, 20 minute-ride that passes through the inevitable Porte Des Morts — “Death’s Door” — and past Pilot and Plum Island Lighthouses. We had smooth sailing on a beautiful mid-September morning. Alternatively, if you want to bring your car with you to the island, take the Washington Island Ferry, which departs from Northport just over 2 miles east of Gills Rock.

Pro Tip: Once on Washington Island, take the Karfi passenger-only ferry to the even more remote Rock Island, a pedestrian-only island offering a lighthouse and a state park with 10 miles of hiking trails. The Karfi is operated by the Washington Island Ferry Line and departs from Jackson Harbor.

13. Biking Washington Island

Washington Island is home to about 700 people but is an annual travel destination for thousands. We arrived in Detroit Harbor and set off on our bikes for a 22-mile ride. We passed small shops, churches, a tiny airport, and even Trueblood — an impressive performing arts center.

Pro Tip: Someone did their homework determining Door County biking routes and potential itineraries. Cyclists can take their pick of predetermined loop routes (PDF) for almost 300 miles of suggested cycling. We followed their Washington Island route, and it was great. (Perfect weather didn’t hurt, either!)

John's Garden Goodies in Washington Island, Wisconsin.

John’s Garden Goodies in Washington Island

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

Best Biking Stops On Washington Island

John’s Garden Goodies

As we biked, we came across an honor-system farm stand called John’s Garden Goodies, featuring homemade and homegrown goodies: sauerkraut, dill pickles, pickled beets, island maple syrup, and fresh vegetables. This is the kind of “slice of life” stuff I love.

Schoolhouse Beach

Schoolhouse beach was a beautiful stop on our ride, with its white rocks and, again, the crystal-clear water that is a trademark of Door County.

Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop

Washington Island is known for its fragrant lavender fields. By our trip in September, the fields of Fragrant Isle were post-peak but still beautiful. I could see why it’s a popular place for wedding photos when the lavender is in full bloom.

Hay wagon ride to Cana Island Lighthouse, Door County, Wisconsin.

Hay wagon ride to Cana Island Lighthouse

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

14. Cana Island Lighthouse

At Cana Island lighthouse, step back in time to see the original home of the lighthouse keeper. Climb 97 steps on the tower’s spiral staircase to get to panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the shoreline. Due to high Lake Michigan levels, the causeway to Cana Island can be flooded, but with paid admission to the lighthouse, you can take a hay wagon ride to get there. Depending on water levels, walking across is an option if you brought waterproof boots!

North Bay from The Gordon Lodge, Door County, Wisconsin.

View of North Bay from The Gordon Lodge

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

15. The Gordon Lodge

I like The Gordon Lodge, just north of Bailey’s Harbor, for the best panoramic view of North Bay and Lake Michigan. It’s a great place to order a cool drink, sit out on the deck, and enjoy the expansive views.

Kayaking the crystal-clear waters of Cave Point in Door County, Wisconsin.

Kayaking the crystal-clear waters of Cave Point

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

16. Cave Point County Park

With water on both sides, it’s no surprise that water sports are popular in Door County. We loved kayaking at Cave Point County Park. Frankly, it’s hard to believe little Cave Point is only recognized as a county park. It features limestone caves and clear, almost Caribbean-looking waters that are deserving of higher notoriety and fame. Then again, maybe that’s just the way Wisconsin wants it. It’s a gem of Door County! You can’t beat the free admission either.

We booked Kayak Door County for their 2-hour Cave Point Kayak Tour to see caves carved out by wind and water. The guide shared the history and geology of the area with us. I loved seeing the caves from the water, and even kayaked into a few of them.

17. Whitefish Dunes State Park

Trek the half-mile hiking trail from Cave Point through birch, maple, and beech trees to the adjacent Whitefish Dunes State Park, which borders Cave Point County Park on three sides. The Dunes claim to fame is Old Baldy, the highest sand dune in the state, rising 93 feet.

Boardwalk to the Lower Range Light, Ridges Sanctuary, Door County, Wisconsin.

Boardwalk to the Lower Range Light, Ridges Sanctuary

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

18. The Ridges Sanctuary

Wetlands and swales are the stars of the Ridges Sanctuary, along with the Upper Range and Lower Range lighthouses. Here, we liked walking the boardwalk to these lighthouses, along with a few of the hiking paths around the sanctuary’s 30 ridges and swales (formed by Lake Michigan over the past thousand years or so).

Pro Tip: There is a small admission fee at the Ridges.

Boardwalk to the overlook at Ellison Bay in Door County, Wisconsin.

Boardwalk to the overlook at Ellison Bay

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

19. Ellison Bay

A friend told me that the overlook at Ellison Bluff County Park is a must do. It was worth a stop to walk down the boardwalk and stairs to the lookout platform for striking views of 100-foot limestone bluffs and Ellison Bay.

20. “Dark Sky” Designated Newport State Park

Newport State Park (about 6 miles from Ellison Bay) is Wisconsin’s only wilderness park and a designated Dark Sky Park. With 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, the views are beautiful by day, but at night, it apparently really shines. It’s one of only 48 parks in the world to earn the Dark Sky designation. 

We saw this park during the day but didn’t return to see the Dark Sky features because we were staying in Egg Harbor, and it’s quite a distance to Newport, especially at night on rural roads.

The sun sets on another beautiful day in Door County, Wisconsin.

The sun sets on another beautiful day in Door County

Photo credit: Joan Sherman

Door County is a place where memories are made. You can be as active as you want to be, or you can find a cozy corner to relax and connect with someone special. 

Whatever you do, the sights, sounds, and scenery of the peninsula are good for the body and soul. This list will help you plan an itinerary that’s just right for you. Take your fill of all it has to offer — these amazing things to do in Door County can get you started.

Related Reading: