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Explore “The Door”

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It happens every so often. You visit a new place and it absolutely knocks your socks off.

Door County, Wisconsin is one of those places.

If you formed your left hand into a fist and stuck your thumb out a bit, that is where you will find Door County – jutting out in a 70-mile stretch from the central east coast region of Wisconsin between Green Bay (to the west) and Lake Michigan (to the north and east). At the northern tip, it is less than two miles across and the county is 18 miles wide at its widest point.

Door County is a great place for a quick getaway or a long stay because it is within 500 miles of Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Des Moines and Detroit. This is just one of the many reasons why Door County ranks as one of the most popular Midwest vacation destinations, attracting more than 2 million visitors per year.

The drive north from the Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay is picturesque, changing dramatically from city to open expanses of farmland and orchards—cattle, corn, cherries, apples, grapes and more—as you move along Highway 42.

To some, the area represents the dreams of their childhood—quaint, two-story homes, beautiful tree-lined streets, oodles of mom-‘n-pop boutiques and restaurants–that spoke to her from the pages of books where small town life represented nirvana on earth.

Door County has a very deep and remarkable maritime history, as evidenced by it’s over 300 miles of shoreline, 200-plus shipwreck spots and 10 historic lighthouses. Even today, Sturgeon Bay is the place for ship repair and refurbishing during the long winter months.

Among the most visible and popular of Door County tourist attractions are its lighthouses that provide much needed navigational guidance to sailors coming toward the shoreline areas. Of the 10 lighthouses in Door County—each possessing their own unique history and preservation heritage—four are accessible by vehicle and are open to visitors. 

It takes a village…

Door County is comprised of several charming, small (with a year-round population ranging from a few hundred to just over 1,000) villages: Carlsville, Fish Creek, Jacksonport, Ephraim, Baileys Harbor, Ellison Bay/Gills Rock/Rowley’s Bay, Sister Bay, Egg Harbor and Washington Island.

Each were settled in the early to mid-1800s by a wide variety of immigrants from Scandinavia, Europe and other countries and today still possess their own unique flavor and flair.

Although not a town but part of the county, Sturgeon Bay, at the far south end, is Door County’s first community, the only city, and regarded as the “big city,” with a population of about 10,000 denizens. Carlsville (originally named Karlsville by the Germans) was named in honor of the many men named “Karl” in the community back in the day. 

Fish Creek is chocked full of performing arts venues, making it the heart of the county’s artistic life, while Jacksonport began as a lumber town and is now home to two of Door County’s most popular attractions: Whitefish Dunes State Park and Cave Point County Park. 

Ephraim (pronounced ee-frum), a Norwegian Moravian biblical term that means “fruitful”, is a beautiful village that boasts Wisconsin’s largest and most popular state park – Peninsula State Park.

Over in Baileys Harbor, residents and visitors alike can enjoy great shopping and dining in the business district, as well as a wealth of outdoor recreational activities along the Lake Michigan shoreline. 

Ellison Bay/Gills Rock/Rowley’s Bay are usually mentioned together because of their close proximity to each other at the north end of the county. Pristine wilderness, fishing, cross-country skiing, hiking and maritime history is just the beginning of the adventures here. 

Sister Bay—originally Big Sister Bay and Little Sister Bay—features an extraordinary waterfront park system and popular annual Fall Festival, while Egg Harbor is a beautiful, picturesque village that exudes quintessential Wisconsin charm.

Last but not least Washington Island, spanning approximately 35 square miles and the largest island in the county (the peninsula is home to 34 named islands), is accessible to the rest of the county via a vehicle/passenger ferry that crosses what is called the Death’s Door water passage, a reference to the area’s early shipwreck history.

Whether you visit during the spring, summer, fall or winter, Door County offers a wealth of activities to suit everyone’s particular tastes and desires from outdoor recreation to nature adventures, historic haunts, culinary escapades shopping, performing arts, family fun, tours and sightseeing, art galleries and studios and more.

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