Naturally Cool: Door County
Outdoor fun and food in Wisconsin
If the words “visiting Wisconsin” conjure images of cheese and of Green Bay football fans milling about in Cheesehead hats, you’re in good company. The truth is, my trip to Door County – although dotted with the occasional cheese curd – was filled with outdoor adventure, fantastic food and drink, and an idyllic setting perfect for a relaxing getaway.
This Wisconsin peninsula offers mild summer temperatures, lush landscapes and a calmly artistic vibe. About a dozen picturesque communities and parks stretch along Door County’s two coasts – Green Bay on the west and Lake Michigan on the east. Town names – Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Sturgeon Bay – reflect proximity to and importance of the water.
POINTS & PANELS OF INTEREST
On Door County’s Green Bay coast, Sister Bay has earned a reputation as a dining destination. There are many must-visit restaurants throughout the county, but for a gardener like me, Wild Tomato Sister Bay (WildTomatoPizza.com) was an obvious choice. Dine right beside on-the-vine heirloom tomatoes and basil in the outdoor garden seating. And, if you must (and I certainly must), sample the fried cheese curds; then dive into a delicious pizza (my favorite was the savory Italian paisano); followed by hot apple crisp for dessert.
After dinner, I walked behind the restaurant to the largest public waterfront in Door County, scenic Sister Bay Waterfront Park (ComeToSisterBay.com). I watched a gold-hued sunset and graceful sailboats moving lazily in and out of the bay. Visitors can also enjoy the 600 feet of sand beach or take advantage of the park’s grills and picnic tables while kids enjoy the playground.
If you prefer a tavern-style sports bar, grab a cherry mule at Husby’s Food and Spirits (HusbysDoorCounty.com); see for yourself why the joint was voted to have the best burger by Door County Magazine.
SOAKING IN THE SCENERY
About five miles from Sister Bay lies Peninsula State Park’s Sunset Trail (dnr.wi.gov), with biking and hiking trails of various lengths and levels of difficulty. I pedaled along a 9.6-mile bike path meandering past beautiful trees, towering cliffs and scenic shorelines. I stopped along the trail at Eagle Bluff Lighthouse: shone over the waters of Green Bay for nearly 150 years.
Up north, near the tip of the peninsula, Rowleys Bay is known for its proximity to the Mink River Estuary: one of the few quality estuaries remaining in the country; also for the authentic fish boil dinner at Rowleys Bay Restaurant (RowleysBayResort.com). There, 93-year old Charlie regaled us with the rich history of traditional fish boils before our dinner buffet of flaky whitefish, sides and dessert.
I felt right at home at Blacksmith Inn on the Shore (TheBlacksmithInn.com) in Bailey’s Harbor, on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula. My room’s private balcony offered a breathtaking view of the harbor. This gorgeous bed-and-breakfast offers a fireplace and whirlpool in each room; it also encourages use of the kayaks and paddleboards tied up on the inn’s dock. Breakfast each morning was a treat – including delicious homemade cherry oatmeal cookies; all enjoyed from cheerful red Adirondack chairs overlooking the water.
DOOR COUNTY: DID SOMEONE SAY ‘SEAFOOD’?
White tablecloths and calming, scenic views of Lake Michigan contribute to the upscale dining experience that is Harbor Fish Market and Grille (HarborFishMarket-Grille.com). The restaurant specializes in fresh, flavorful New England-style seafood dishes, like the tasty lobster roll I enjoyed; followed by the cherry mimosa made with the county’s famed fruit.
At The Ridges Sanctuary (RidgesSanctuary.org) in Bailey’s Harbor, every picture I took looked like a postcard! The 1,600-acre preserve, surrounded by the picturesque flora and fauna, is one of Wisconsin’s most biologically diverse landscapes. Its Hidden Brook Boardwalk features a path: which, at 8 feet wide, is perfect for wheelchairs and strollers and is accessible year-round.
Farther south, at Cave Point County Park (DoorCounty.com), I enjoyed photographing the limestone “sea caves”; a result from the slamming force of Lake Michigan’s waves over the centuries. Connected to the park by a trail is nearby Whitefish Dunes State Park: boasting 863 acres of both forest and beach perfect for hiking, swimming and fishing. Tip: bring along a swimsuit, in case the temptation of Lake Michigan’s cool water is too strong to resist! While walking the park’s trails, I plucked fresh blackberries growing along the path; I also enjoyed a history lesson in the staged areas depicting Native American villages of Door County’s first inhabitants.
GET YOUR ADRENALINE ROLLING
Thrill seekers: consider a tour with Door County’s Adventure Rafting (DoorCountyAdventureRafting.com), which conducts exciting, high-speed boat tours on both coasts. During our escapade, many tears of laughter were shed, clothing was soaked and friendships were forged as the waves of Lake Michigan rocked us. We laughed maniacally, and it was possibly the most fun I have had in decades. This adventure is the good time you didn’t know you wanted to have! Tours cover your choice of Door County highlights, including: lighthouses, shipwrecks, caves and islands.
Wisconsin is rightfully known for cheese; but I returned from this relaxing venture with a new perspective of the state and a desire to return soon! I’d love another dose of tranquil breakfasts overlooking the harbor; relaxing bike rides along the shore; cherry-studded food and drinks; and a sense of complete restoration.
Richmond native Kari Smith is a freelance writer and professional musician.