Pro Tips for a Perfect Weekend in Door County

As a Wisconsinite, every once in a while I have to enjoy the local treasures that my state offers. Door County is one of those places. Located on a peninsula over Lake Michigan and just a short drive from Green Bay, Door County is a quaint and unique traveling experience with beautiful views of the lake, extensive hiking options and some fantastic spots to appease your culinary interests. There's hardly a chain restaurant or store anywhere. It's all local here with Ma and Pop style shops and eateries filling the clean little villages that make up Door County. There's something in this county for travelers of all types, whether you want a chill weekend itinerary of drinking wine with friends or exploring remote islands and touring lighthouses.

When to go?
My wife and I visited in early June, which is basically the shoulder season with things just starting to heat up - both in terms of temperature and tourist activity. Prices are marginally cheaper and it's not quite as packed as it will be in just a few weeks. The busiest time of year to visit is in early fall when the colors typically peak. You'll be hard pressed to find affordable lodging during this time if you haven't reserved it weeks or months in advance. Winter activities will be limited, but photographers will have a blast searching for icy scenes on the rocky shores of the lake.

The marina in Sister Bay. 
My favorite villages
I call them villages because, outside of Sturgeon Bay, they really aren't cities or even towns. They are tiny communities with sparse populations outside of the throngs of tourists spending time there. Despite their limits in size, a handful of these quaint little places are full of restaurants, lodging and shopping. During our weekend in Door County, we passed through most of the key locales and I was quickly able to identify the places I'd be willing to stay at or spend more time in during following visits.

Sister Bay is where we had chosen to stay, and it was a beautiful village with a park right along the marina where visitors and locals alike all seem to gather in the evening. It's a great spot to chill with some ice cream and watch the sunset over the lake. There's a really good Swedish restaurant right across to the street too with grass on the roof. If you're there at the right time, you might even see goats mowing the roof! Everything in Sister Bay is in walking distance and taking a stroll down the main street by moonlight is pretty enjoyable.
Fisherman at Sister Bay on a calm evening

Fish Creek was another favorite. It's small, but loaded with good eateries and right next to Peninsula State Park. I'd definitely consider staying here in the future. Eat at the White Gull Inn...they're stuffed French toast is exquisite and famous.

Where to stay?
At first glance, finding lodging seems like a headache. If you search the main hotel booking websites, you won't find many options, and if you do, they're probably fully booked anyways. Don't worry though as there are dozens and dozens of privately owned motels, guest houses and even fancier resorts all over the county. You just need to know where and what to look for. I find this page very helpful for finding lodging all across the county.

Get out and explore
Cana Island lighthouse
Some people travel from far and wide to just relax in Door County with great food and drink. While I enjoy that as much as the next guy, you have to balance gluttony with adventure. There are a handful of state parks in Door County that you absolutely should try and visit. You probably won't have time to do all of them in one weekend, but my recommendation is to hit both Peninsula State Park and Whitefish Dunes. Right next to Whitefish is Cave Point County Park which you can easily hit on the same stop (they're even connected via a nice hiking trail).

One adventure I highly recommend taking is the Cana Island Lighthouse. You have to cross a small stretch of shallow Lake Michigan water to get to the pristine little island. During normal hours they have some type of trailer ferry you across to keep your feet dry. But walking across is pretty exciting too, especially on a day when the water is pretty rough. The island is a popular spot for night photographers to get an epic shot of pitch black skies with the lighthouse in the foreground. Explore the small island a bit and you'll find some good views, and a beach full of seashells.

Washington Island
Stavkirke Church on Washington Island

Ready to leave the peninsula and explore a quaint and beautiful remote island? Drive north and pick up a ferry ticket to Washington Island. You can even bring your car on the boat if you want. During shoulder and high season, the ferries run frequently during daylight hours. Bikes are also available to rent on the island if you have the time. There are a lot of rural roads with the main sights spread out fairly far apart. This means you'll need most of an entire day with a bike, or a half day or so with your vehicle. It feels almost like being in a different country out on the island. Washington Island actually lays claim to one of the biggest Icelandic settlements outside of Iceland itself. You can kind of see the influence too.

There are some fun shops, bakeries and restaurants scattered around. I loved the Danish Mill, but just heard that it burned down over the summer which is a huge bummer! Hopefully they can rebuild because their pastries were ridiculous. Beyond Washington Island, you have the ability to catch on to an additional ferry which goes go the even more remote Rock Island State Park but you'll need more time to do this.

A beach entirely composed of seashells on Cana Island 

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