Explore Door County

Explore Door County – A Drive Up & Down The Peninsula

Coming soon, individual pages for each of the Door County towns, for now…

…Explore Door County Through the Windshield

As you explore Door County you will undoubtedly travel paths into the world of secluded beaches and little-traveled country roads.  The County’s natural beauty will compel you to hike, stroll, pedal, ski and paddle to experience Door County at its natural best, and for most this begins a dream of owning a home or land in Door County–a place to relax, have fun and create memories and traditions. 

The Door Peninsula is a fragile place–a delicate balance of land, lake, and of course rock, that commands our special attention and protection. 

Door County leads all other American counties in shoreline frontage with almost 250 miles of coast surrounded by the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.  If you love the water, Door County is definetly the place for you!

Our beauty is largely due to the geology of the County.  Door County was carved by glacial action, and is part of the spectacular limestone peninsula that juts 80 miles into Lake Michigan and known as the Niagara Escarpment.  The escarpment forms the rugged backbone of the whole Door County Peninsula and then arcs through Canada into New York State where it supports the plunging waters of Niagara Falls.

Sometimes gentle, often wild and rugged, the terrain of rocky limestone cliffs give way to sandy beaches, verdant forests and marshy bays.  Over 30 caves are known to exist here, including the longest cave in Wisconsin, Tecumseh.

Door County also leads the nation in lighthouses, but despite these life-saving beacons of decades ago over 200 shipwrecks lie off the coasts of Door County.  Divers frequent Door County in the summer season to explore the wrecks at the bottom of our waters.

Of all the Wisconsin counties, Door County is tops is the number of parks and nature preserves. 

We are an ethnic melting pot and the folks who live here are as varied as our terrain.  Icelanders settled on Washington Island, Brussels to the south remains a stronghold of Belgian ancestry.  Settlers from Prussia, Bohemia, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Canada were recorded in the 1870 census.  The bratwurst and beer at nearly every summer festival attest to the strong German heritage.

A 1914 publication of the United Fruit Growers Company touted Door County as the, “California of the North”.  That may be a stretch, but we do enjoy a climate that is somewhat better than our northern neighbors.

The trip from lakeside to  bayside  is just eight miles long, and in those eight miles you may very well experience a ten-degree change in temperature in the summer.  In the winter you might experience twelve inches of snow on our lakeside and only a light dusting  on the bayside.  These variances are never extreme and add to the variety and never-ending wonder of living in Door County.

Door County remains a large cherry producer for the nation, and we produce almost half of Wisconsin’s apple crop.  Large and small dairy farms dot the country-side as do Alpaca ranches, and it seems that on every road you will find at least a horse or two at pasture.

Getting to Door County

You can get to Door County by land, water or air.  Visitors usually arrive via Interstate 43 from Milwaukee and Chicago, Highway 29 from Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Highway 41-141 from the north and Green Bay. These highways converge in Green Bay and continue to Door County via State Highway 57.  Travelers by air can land in Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay, Ephraim or on Washington Island.

AThrough the Windshield Tour of Southern Door County

Once considered a stepping stone to parts north in Door County, Southern Door County is becoming a final destination for many.  The dairy farms, gently rolling land and water vistas captivate visitors, and many appreciate the reasonably priced shore front.  Discover this land once inhabited by the Potawatomi and Winnebago Indians.

Outside Green Bay and heading toward Door County you will find Wequiock Cascades County Park is a great place to begin to take a close look at the rock outcroppings.  An exposed limestone ledge supports the falling waters of Wequiock Creek.

At Red Banks you will get your first look at the grand view overlooking Green Bay.  A historical marker here commemorates the visit of French explorer Jean Nicolet in 1634.  Nicolet had been dispatched from Quebec to locate a convenient route to Asia–Nicolet was an emissary of Governor Samuel de Champlain of New France.  After paddling more than 1000 miles through the Straights of Mackinac and on to Lake Michigan, Nicolet was convinced he had reached China.

Bay Shore County Park is just north of Red Banks and situated atop the Niagara Escarpment.  It offers breathtaking views of the Green Bay waters, a boat lauch ramp for excellent access to perch and walley in Green Bay, along with campsites.

Crossing into Door County you pass through the Belgian settlements of Namur and Brussels.  These communites represent the largest rural concentration of Belgian-Americans in the United States.  The unique architecture of the over 250 homes, barns, churches and chapels earned the communities a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and as a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

A wayside park north of Brussels marks the place that 57 pioneers perished.  The pioneers sought refuge from a horrible inferno in open fields but were unable to escape the blaze.  A well site still stands that served as the last place of refuge for seven people attempting to escape the heat.  The last man to crawl into the well pulled a wet blanket over the opening.  Five of the seven survived.

Sugar Creek County Park and Chaudoir’s Dock County Park provide boaters with access to Green Bay.  These are located west of Brussels, as is the Gardner Swamp Wildlife Area–a nesting and resting location for migratory and local waterfowl.  The 1000 acre preserve is open to the public.

Traveling up Highway 42 toward Door County visitors pass through Kewaunee.  In the 1830’s an unknown explorer found what he thought was gold at the mouth of the Kewaunee River.  The ‘gold fever’ didn’t pan out and Kewaunee instead settled into an economy fueled by the harvesting of lumber.  Today gold of a different kind is collected from the Kewaunee River.  In 1990 the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources created a facility to collect and raise CoHo Salmon and Steelhead (sometimes known as Rainbow) Trout.

Highways 42 and 57 converge in Sturgeon Bay where you can see from its size why it is the center of government, commerce and industry in Door County.

A Through the Windshield Tour of
the Door County Bayshore

Why visitors arrive in Door County each year is as varied as their backgrounds, but is seems they, and locals alike, all seek the serenity of a sandy beach or a red sunset.  And the sunsets on the bayside of Door County are spectacular.

Summer brings professional theater, music, dance, art and educational opportunities to what some consider the cultural center of Door County, Fish Creek.

Travel up the bayside of Door County from Sturgeon Bay to Egg Harbor via one of two routes–Bay Shore Drive which winds along the shore, or on Wisconsin State Highway 42.

About 4.5 miles north of Sturgeon Bay are the remants of an old limestone quarry, now known as Quarry Park and a part of the Door County Park System.  The waters here offer excellent smallmouth bass fishing.  Stone quarrying was big business on the Door Peninsula in the 1800’s, hence the name Quarry Park.

As you cruise up the bayshore on Bayshore Drive the  Frank E. Murphy County Park offers the opportunity for an afternoon of lounging on the sand beach or swimming in the warm bay water, or perhaps you’ll put your canoe or kayak in for a paddle along the shore.

As you leave Sturgeon Bay via Highway 42 you will enjoy the farm fields and rural scenery.

If you are interested in the agricultural past and future in Door County you will enjoy the University of Wisconsin Agriculture Experimental Station on Highway 42.

The Village of Egg Harbor is nestled in a protected harbor along the shore of Green Bay.  Two village parks, one with a sand beach, offer access to the harbor.

Side tracking a bit on County E, east of Egg Harbor, is the Peninsula Center Sanctuary.  The 160 acre preserve serves as a University of Wisconsin natural area.  If you continue on County E, the road crosses a causeway dividing Kangaroo Lake.  Kangaroo Lake is a 1,100 acre inland lake.  A small public swimming beach can be found at the end of Beach Road on the western shore of the lake, and you will find the water much warmer than that of either Lake Michigan of the Bay of Green Bay.  A boat launch is available at the end of O’Brien Road.

Back up Highway 42, leaving Egg Harbor and entering Juddville you will find the Peninsula Players Theater in a Garden.  This is the best spot to view the sunsets over Hat Island.  An all-weather pavillion allows the show to go on whether rain or shine.

Highway 42 descends along a bluffside curve into Fish Creek.  At the intersection of Highway 42 and Main Street stands the Noble House museum.  A left turn leads to Founders Square where a log cabin built by Asa Thorp and his brother in 1855 was built–is is the oldest structure in Fish Creek.

A short stroll from Founders Square brings you to Sunset Town Park.  Chambers Island is situated about five miles off-shore and in the shadow of the Strawberry Island chain.  The Town of Gibraltar maintains a forty-acre park located near the lighthouse on the northwest side of the island.  A Catholic retreat house is located on the island on a sand isthmus that separates the waters of Green Bay from Lake Mackaysee.  The 354-acre lake is one of two inland lakes on Chambers Island, however there is no public access to this scenic beauty.

Back on the mainland, a short walk down Main Street brings you to the Fish Creek Village Beach.  A marked swimming area and sand bottom make it a great place to swim.

A few blocks north is the entrance to Peninsula State Park.  The park is 3,700 acres that encompasses all of the bayshore property between Fish Creek and Ephraim.  A 75-foot high tower rests on a limestone bluff perched high above the blue waters of Green Bay.  Built in the 1920’s, Eagle Tower soars 200 feet above the Strawberry Island chain.  Known as the “Strawberries”, the islands Adventure, Jack, Pirate and Little Strawberry are privately owned.

Leaving Fish Creek you pass the Gibraltar School and the home of the 750-seat Door Community Auditorium.

At the northern entrance of Peninsula State Park, near Ephraim, you encounter a championship-caliber 18-hold golf course, complete with views over the bay.

Winding into Ephraim you enjoy the first view of Eagle Harbor.  The protected bay affords swimmers an excellent beach when the wind is low.  Most of the buildings in Ephraim are white–an unwritten law requires that buildings in the Village be painted white or carry no paint at all has survived since Moravian pioneers staked their claim on this harbor in the nineteenth century.

Sister Bay is the largest community in northern Door County.  A fabulous public beach and marina offer excellent access to Green Bay.  The village and the bluffs that tower above it take their names from the two publically owned “Sister Islands” offshore.  The Sister Islands are preserved under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Natural Areas Preservation Council and provide nesting areas for shore birds.  Birds banded here have been reportedly recaptured as far away as Panama.

Departing Sister Bay you enter the northern orchard country of the Door Peninsula.  A trip on County Z leads to Rowleys Bay and the mouth of the Mink River Estuary.  The Mink River is on of the most pristine natural areas of the peninsula.  Continuing up Highway 42 you might sidetrack to Ellison Bluff County Park and an impressive vantage point atop bluff headlands overlooking the Green Bay waters.  And a bit further up Highway 42 you will reach the awesome bluff showcasing Ellison Bay.

Ellison Bay may be most well-known for popularizing the fish boil dinner, a tradition dating back to pioneer days.  Heading out of Ellison Bay you will follow the road that threads to Gills Rock and the Northport Pier to catch the ferry to Washington Island.

A Through the Windshield Tour of
Door County’s Lakeshore

Sandy beaches, rolling sand dunes, rocky ledges, isolated bays and natural wetlands characterize Door County’s lakeshore.  Private preserves, lighthouses, uncrowded beaches and a variety of scenery keep visitors returning year after year.

If you want to drive a path less traveled, exit Highway 57 onto County T and follow it to Glidden Drive.  This is one of the most scenic drives on the Peninsula.  A number of paths with names like Deerpath, Birch and Arrowhead provide all residents along the drive with access to sandy beaches.  Glidden Drive passes over the Shivering Sands Creek, named because it is said the sand at creek bottom “shivers” in the wind.  Dunes Lake, one of the richest privately owned wetlands on the peninsula is a shallow drainage occupying and area submerged by the glacial Lake Nippissing.  Almost 400 acres of woods and swampland border the lake, and the lake feeds Maple Creek into Shivering Sands Creek.

Further along Glidden Drive you pass over Whitefish Bay Creek, which feeds Clark Lake.  Clark Lake is a dream for boaters, canoers or kayakers–864 acres.  Fisherman cast their lines for Bass, Walleye, Northern and Perch, and swimmers enjoy several sandy swimming areas.

If you are visiting in July or August, plan to take a swim at Whitefish Dunes State Park.  Here you will find the best beach on the Peninsula, and a backdrop of majestic, but fragile, sand dunes.  You will also discover wonderful biking and hiking at the park, or in the winter super cross-country skiing.  The dunes separate Lake Michigan from Clark Lake.  Clark Lake was once a bay of Lake Michigan, but over time–many, many years ago–the sand bars became sand dunes.  Grasses stabelized the dunes and allowed other plants to thrive.  Whitefish Dunes State Park protects a large portion of the southern shore of Clark Lake and some Lake Michigan frontage.

Just outside Sturgeon Bay you will pass The Farm–an outstanding mix of history, animals and fun for everyone aged one to ninety-one.  A little further north you will pass the Sevastopol School District–one of the last remaining districts that houses all of its students in the same building.  The mix of students, early childhood through twelfth grade benefits everyone and is evidenced in Sevastopol’s strong reputation for outstanding test scores and accomplished graduates.

If you lack the time to take the detour along Glidden Drive you will find a clearly marked road north of Valmy that brings you to Whitefish Dunes State Park.  Less than a mile from the Whitefish Dunes State Park entrance is another Door County treasure, Cave Point County Park.  The thunderous waves of Lake Michigan have created sea caves in the over 30-foot high cliff.  You will find the landscape and the scenery inspiring no matter what the season.

Traveling Cave Point Drive and back onto Highway 57 brings you to Jacksonport, located on the 45th Meridian, a point halfway between the North Pole and the Equator.  Over 300 years ago this area was a large Potawatomi Indian village.  In the mid-1800’s Andrew Jackson arrived here and began the harvest of the great cedar forests.  Jacksonport is appropriately named for, Jackson.

Today Jacksonport is a pleasant community with farms to the west and a long stretch of sand beach along Lake Michigan to the east.  Most of the settlers to this town were of German heritage, which we celebrate with the annual “Maifest”, a celebration of the beginning of summer with a parade, polkas, fish boil, brats, softball and horsepulls.

A pretty wooded, winding road between Jacksonport and Baileys Harbor passes you over Hibbards Creek where fisherman wait for the trout runs every year.

Baileys Harbor was once the original Door County seat, but today is a popular resort community.  Today fishing captains launch their excursions from the village hoping their guest will land a trophy Salmon or Trout.

South of Baileys Harbor is the entrance to Lawrence University’s Bjorklunden Chapel and other extensive lakeshore holdings.  Winifred and Donald Boynton hand-crafted the Norwegian-style chapel from 1939 to 1947.  Lated donated to the University, today the chapel and grounds are open at scheduled times to the public.

At the north end of Baileys Harbor is the world-renowned Ridges Sanctuary.  The Sanctuary is open to the public and protects 17 wooded sand ridges and tghe wetlands that lie between them.  The 900-acre preserve is a haven for spieces of orchids and rare flowers.  A pair of rangelights once guided ships into Baileys Harbor.  The synchronized beacons were built in 1870 and replaced the original Baileys Harbor lighthouse that had served since 1852. 

Leaving Baileys Harbor you have the option to travel down County Q that snakes through the Ridges Sanctuary, Moonlight Bay, and Riebolts Creek.  The ecosystem of the Ridges Sanctuary combined with Toft Point, Moonlight Bay, Riebolt Creek and Mud Lake have been designated a national landmark.  Continuing along County Q you will come to the side road leading to the Cana Island Lighthouse.  Accessible by foot along a stone causeway, a historic lighthouse awaits you.  The Door County Maritime Museum offers tours mid-May through October.

The Baileys Harbor Boreal Forest and the Moonlight Bay Bedrock State Natural Areas remain some of the largest tracts of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline in Wisconsin.

Further north along County Q you encounter North Bay.  Accessible by boat of North Bay Road, this shallow bay provides a striking contrast to the limestone cliffs and sandy dunes.  County Q intersects Highway 57 in Sister Bay.

Whether you take a day trip from the Fox Valley or are here for a month, take some time to travel our roads and discover these treasures.  If you are planning a trip here, email me and I’ll send you my list of recommended reading and travel guides for Door County. 

Please check back soon for individual pages on our town, parks, beaches, schools, services, attractions and recreational opportunities.