Words inspired by the backroads of America

Exploring Door County

Lighthouses, cherry orchards, art galleries, sand dunes, country inns, rustic farms and rugged coastline, it’s all, and more, in Door County, Wisconsin.  Each year, it seems like, we venture up the peninsula of Wisconsin that protrudes into Lake Michigan, forming Green Bay on the west shoreline and standing stoutly, like its early settlers, to Lake Michigan’s raw weather on the east shoreline. 

Only 150 miles north of Milwaukee, Door County is a world apart from the big city hubbub.  Winter is quiet with a few hardy residents and the usual northern winter pastimes, spring boasts cherry and apple blossoms, summer its sailing harbors and outdoor restaurants, but for us, fall is the time to visit.  The summer tourists with their mini-vans and kids have headed back south and the Door starts to wind down for the winter.  With Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, autumn is long and mild with the weather moderated by the lake.  Door County has been called “The Cape Cod of the Midwest” due to its similar proximity to water and its weather patterns.  We like it for its laid-back charm and unique character all its own.  It’s a mix of Midwest farmland and New England harbor town with a little Swedish fishing village thrown in for flavor.

We usually stay at The White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, a quaint, but quality county inn known for its hospitality, beautifully decorated guest rooms and the best Wisconsin Fish Boil in the county.  We always schedule our visit to include, at least, one night for the Fish Boil and one night for their candle-light dinner and finish each night off with Door County cherry pie ala-mode and a stroll through Fish Creek to work off the calories.  It’s a great experience and a great place to use as a base for your Door County visit.  Contact information for The White Gull Inn will be found below.
Every trip to Door County we seem to find something we haven’t seen before, but we always make it a point to spend at least part of a day in Peninsula State Park, just north of Fish Creek.  The best way to see the park is by bicycle on the many trails that criss-cross through the woods and hit all of the overlooks.  Bicycles can be rented right at the Fish Creek entrance to the park. 
We always seem to find time for the lighthouses at the Peninsula State Park and Cana Island, the Whitefish Dunes, the Cave Point County Park, art gallery and gift shop touring in Egg Harbor and the other communities and exploring the many backroads throughout the county, but last year we took a day to explore Washington Island on the very northern tip of Door County.  I thought the term “island time” only referred to the laidback tropical islands.  I now know it is a universal term.
Access to Washington Island is the challenging part and exactly why everything moves slowly on the island.  The island ferry, at Northpoint and approached by the most intriguing winding road I have seen, is at the mercy of all kinds of storms and rough weather.  If the ferry is actually running, be sure to be there early and hope for a place among all the variety of mail scooters, construction vehicles, tourist campers, delivery vans and residents commuting to jobs on the peninsula “mainland”.  The 30 minute route to Washington Island crosses “Death’s Door”, the strait that has claimed many a sailing ship in days past, and skirts Plum, Pilot and Detroit Islands.
Unless you are planning on spending the night on Washington Island, you might consider planning on taking the next to last ferry of the day back to the mainland.  As our usual way of doing things, we wanted as much time as we could get on the island due to our late start in the morning.  Knowing the schedule for the ferry, we dawdled around checking out all of the backroads only to arrive 15 minutes before the departure time of the last ferry and with a long line of vehicles already in the queue.  Counting the cars and trucks ahead of us started me thinking of our options for accommodations still open on the island in mid-October.  Realizing we might miss the Fish Boil at the White Gull Inn started me to panic!
Loading of the ferry began and progressed at a steady pace, slowly eating into the long line of vehicles.  We moved closer and closer to the ramp, my panic growing as each vehicle was positioned precisely.  I finally let out a big sigh as we moved onto the ferry and one last compact car was loaded behind us!  Standing there looking at the sad faces of those still in line being left behind, I made a vow to arrive in time for the next-to-last ferry next visit and take time to enjoy a slice of pizza from Island Pizza next to the ferry terminal!


For more information about Door County, go to http://www.doorcounty.com/.
For information about The White Gull Inn, see http://www.whitegullinn.com/.