Door County, Wisconsin

Door County

Knock, knock, knocking on Door County’s summer haven

Cruisers who transit the Great Loop—the waterway route around the eastern half of the U.S.—typically travel in a counterclockwise direction, with Lake Michigan as the last of the Great Lakes on their journey. Many follow the lake’s eastern shoreline southward to Chicago, but in doing so, they miss out on a delightful peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan from its western side and offers exploration of 300 miles of shoreline, 34 named islands, 11 quaint communities, 19 county parks, 5 state parks, year-round festivals, bike trails, cultural events—the list is endless. And that is Door County, Wisconson.

Door County is only a three-to-five-hour drive for Midwest urbanites in Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis/St. Paul, so roads and accommodations are usually packed with weekend visitors during the summer months. But with many transient-friendly marinas, enchanting coves and shipwrecks to explore on both the lakeside and in Green Bay on the west side of the peninsula, Door County is an enchanting late-summer detour to experience the outdoors and take in the early fall colors before resuming the Great Loop voyage to Chicago and the inland river system.

The Sturgeon Bay Canal bisects Door County and connects Green Bay with Lake Michigan, so cruisers can circumnavigate the county if they wish to see the entire shoreline on one trip. It was built to provide safer access into Green Bay rather than having to navigate the northern entrance, known as the Porte des Morts Passage (Death’s Door), which is riddled with shoals—and shipwrecks—and should be navigated only in good weather with updated charts.

Washington Island on the north end of Door County is the largest of the county’s 34 islands and offers more than 100 miles of roads to explore with your bicycle. For those who are less interested in exercise, rent a moped or take a guided Segway tour. A ferry transports residents and visitors with and without cars from the peninsula. Washington is the only island that’s inhabited year-round; it was settled by Icelanders who were accustomed to the cold winter months.

Scandinavians established Central Door County, and their influence is still evident, especially in dining options. Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, in Sister Bay on the west side of the peninsula, serves authentic dishes by waitrons dressed in Scandinavian clothing. Feast on Swedish meatballs, pancakes with lingonberries, limpa bread, Scandinavian cheeses, and a host of other options. Reserve some time to dally in its huge gift shop; the wooden Dalecarlian horse brought back memories of playing with one at my grandmother’s house when I was a young girl. When you leave, look up! A family of goats grazes on the sod roof, and it’s quite a sight!. (aljohnsons.com; 920-854-2626)

Rowley’s Bay Resort and Restaurant host a traditional “fish boil” that began as a way to feed large groups of lumberjacks and fishermen. The boil consists of whitefish caught from Lake Michigan, combined with salt, onion, red potatoes, and butter cooked in the same manner as the early settlers during which the liquid “boils over” in a fiery show.