Travel Guide: Door County, Wisconsin

Door County seems to be known as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.”  The entire peninsula is situated in Lake Michigan, allowing the small towns on the shoreline of the peninsula a chance to offer guests accommodations with lakefront views.

View of Sturgeon Bay from Snug Harbor Inn
View of Sturgeon Bay from Snug Harbor Inn
We planned to take our trip to Door County during the three-day Memorial Day weekend which made it difficult for us to find waterfront lodging anywhere on the peninsula with only two-weeks notice, which, looking back now, was not the best way to go. After multiple phone calls and online searches, we were finally able to find a vacancy in Sturgeon Bay about three days before our trip.

Luckily, we were given one of the first floor rooms of Snug Harbor Inn, which has a backdoor that leads to a patio and picnic area facing the Sturgeon Bay waters. Waking up in the morning with a view of the water was a delight, although the mosquitoes and other bugs that came with being in close proximity to the water were not. Since the inn also rents out boats, there were different types of boats on the dock, such as pontoons and speed boats, ready for whoever wanted to sail around Lake Michigan.

View of Snug Harbor Inn from the docks
View of Snug Harbor Inn from the docks
Since we’ve never been to Door County, we quickly realized upon our arrival that the only way for us to be able to take everything in is to drive all the way to the tip of the peninsula then back down to Sturgeon Bay. To make the most of the trip, we left Sturgeon Bay at around 10am and drove north through the eastern towns that face the wider part of Lake Michigan, then back south through the western towns. We stopped in a few towns throughout our drive for different reasons—got our feet wet in freezing Lake Michigan waters crossing the causeway to get to Cana Island and its lighthouse in Baileys Harbor, visited gift shops at Gills Rock (the very tip of the peninsula) after deciding not to take the ferry to Washington Island from Gills Rock due to the weather, had a late lunch at Fish Creek and witnessed a Fish Boil, and walked around Egg Harbor. We realized that the towns on the east side of the peninsula were quiet and serene while the towns on the west side were bustling with diners, shoppers, and sailors. The mini road trip took us the whole day, although the GPS said that the drive to and from Gills Rock would only take an hour each way. By the time we got back to Snug Harbor Inn, we were wiped. So we decided to just cook our dinner in the kitchenette and stay in for the night.

Fish Boil in progress at Fish Creek
Since we only had one full day to spend in Door County, driving all around the peninsula was a great way to get an overview of what Door County had to offer. We drove by many different wineries, restaurants, campgrounds, and shops. Unfortunately, the weather was best on the day we left Door County, so we were not able to enjoy any water activities, but there is an abundance of businesses that offer boat rentals, kayak tours, and other outdoor activities throughout the area. According to our restaurant server in Fish Creek, the lakeside towns of Door County are usually packed with people throughout the warm months, then it quiets down in the winter. It gets so quiet that many establishments close down for the season and locals like himself leave town during the winter to find employment elsewhere, then return the following summer.

Souvenir for climbing up the Cana Island Lighthouse
We planned…

  • To go during Memorial Day weekend.
  • To stay somewhere with a waterfront view.

We didn’t plan…

  • What to do once we’ve arrived.
  • Where to eat.

Lodging

  • Make reservations as soon as possible, especially during peak times.
  • Many places are pet friendly.
  • Accommodations with waterfront views are best.
  • Campsites (tent and RV) are also available.
  • Accommodations with kitchenettes or outdoor grills are great when you just want to stay in and eat on the patio or picnic area.

Activities

  • Many places offer boat rentals, kayak tours, bike rentals, and other outdoor activities.
  • Explore the different islands of Door County.
  • Witness Fish Boils!
  • Lots of different dining and shopping options.
  • Visit (and climb) different lighthouses throughout Door County.

Convenience

  • Sturgeon Bay has the most when it comes to department stores, large grocery stores (e.g., Walmart, Econo Foods, etc.), pharmacies, gas stations, etc.
  • In any of the towns, lodging, restaurants, and shops are mostly within walking distance of each other.
  • Bring bug sprays and other bug deterrents.
  • If you’re visiting for just a weekend, leave Door County early (around noon or earlier) to avoid heavy traffic and getting stuck with other weekend road trippers.

Weather

  • Memorial Day weekend still had unpredictable weather. We suggest visiting mid-summer to enjoy the warmer weather and be able to do more outdoor activities, although there may be bigger crowds.
  • The east side of the peninsula (facing the wider part of Lake Michigan) was colder than the west side of the peninsula.

 

Share your Door County stories, questions, and trip suggestions below!

 

 

 

 

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