My niece graduated from UW Nursing school back in May of this year (2021 that is!).
And when my sister asked me to come for her graduation, I said sure – but can we do some exploring of your state afterwards??
As soon as my sister agreed (took her all of about two minutes to say yes 😂), we immediately began to research and plan for our three day adventure in this northeast corner of the state…
I have been visiting the state of Wisconsin since I was two years old when my family moved out of the midwest but honestly only ever went to the towns my relatives lived in for visits.
FYI – those towns are Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Lake (in case you were wondering).
I did attend a family reunion in De Pere, Wisconsin once a loooonnggg time ago as that is where my mom’s side of the family is originally from and my husband has taken our kids and their cousins to Green Bay a couple of times for summertime Packer events but other than that – we have stayed in our usual WI spots for the last almost 50 years!
My mom went on this adventure with my sister and I and it was so fun listening to her reminisce about her childhood memories from Door County as her family would vacation there when she was younger :).
In a rush?
Tips For Spending Three Days in Door County
- Where Exactly is Door County, WI?
- How Long to Stay and When to Go
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- What to Do
- Explore historic lighthouses
- Spend time on the water or the lakeshore
- Drive the Door County Scenic Byway
- Go wine tasting
- Enjoy the Cherry Blossoms and Festivals
- Go hiking or biking in Peninsula State Park
- Drive the famously curvy part of Highway 42
- Take the ferry to Washington Island
- Go star gazing at Newport State Park
- Things to Do Outside of Door County
Where Exactly is Door County, WI?
Door County is a peninsula that is in the “left thumb” of the state of Wisconsin in the region of the US known as the Midwest. It is flanked by Lake Michigan on the eastern side and Green Bay on the western side. The northern most part of the region is Washington Island which is accessible only by ferry.
It is a 2.5 hour drive northeast of Milwaukee and a 4.5 hour drive north from Chicago and east from Minneapolis.
It consists of 2000 square miles and 19 distinct communities so picking a few to explore on your adventures is your best bet!
Door County actually got its name because the strait linking Lake Michigan and Green Bay was once one of the most treacherous stretches of water on the Great Lakes. It is now sometimes called Death’s Door and has been the home of multiple and sometimes deadly shipwrecks dating as far back as 1837.
How Long to Stay and When to Go
My mom, sister, and I drove from their hometown about two hours away on a Tuesday morning and stayed two nights in Fish Creek, WI. While this was by no means a long getaway – it was the perfect amount of time for me to get a good sense of what Door County has to offer.
Someday, I am sure I will be making a return trip with my husband and I know my sister is already excited about when she can go back to this cute corner of her home state!
You could easily spend an entire week relaxing in Door County and doing as they call slow-traveling 😎.
Spring Season – April to June
I do have to tell you that our trip was May 11-13 which was literally the days before the official start of vacation season in the area. Also – we missed all the cherry blossom trees blooming by about a week. But we got a slight peek at how pretty it was going to be as the blooms were just starting for us that week.
The benefit of our timing was there were zero crowds. Like ZERO. But that also meant not every store and restaurant was open for us. Which didn’t really bother us because I will take uncrowded, half open towns any day over very crowded 😉. I also thought the weather was just perfect for us with temps in the 50’s and 60’s :).
Summer (peak) Season – July to Mid September
From talking to everyone in the area during our off-peak visit, we learned summer is amazing in Door County. It is known for relaxing on the lakes, wine tasting, hiking in the parks, star gazing, and just soaking up the sun.
My mom had plenty of fun summer memories visiting family in the area as a young girl and my nephew has camped in the area during the summer – which is a huge Door County activity with five state parks in the region.
Fall Season – Late September to November
I have seen photos of the scenic drive we took in Door County and let me just say – I sure hope a return trip in the fall to this destination is in my future!
There are plenty of fall festivals and apple picking farms to enjoy for days in Door County!
Winter Season – December to March
For this Cali girl – I can truly say I will likely never make a visit to this part of the state in the winter months. However, I imagine a getaway to this quaint corner of Wisconsin for midwesterns could be quite peaceful. Not my cup of tea with the potential to have below zero temps but who am I to judge if that’s appealing to you?? ☺️
I will add however that I bet the town of Fish Creek where we stayed as well as a few other of the quaint Door County towns are pretty dang cute when decorated for Christmas. So I guess I should say – never say never for a winter visit to Door County for me…
If you are an avid cross country skier – this place would be perfect for you too!
Where to Stay
This was the trickiest part of our research when we started! Like I said above – there are NINETEEN towns in Door County. Some ridiculously small with only a couple of buildings but still – having never been there, I was quite nervous figuring out what town to stay in!
In the end we stayed in THE PERFECT TOWN called Fish Creek.
In my own humble opinion – there is no place else to stay in Door County that is as ideally located and as quaint as this town is. My sister and I did A LOT of researching of the towns and didn’t even know what to expect once we headed out on our getaway – but boy did we luck out with picking to stay here!
It has a quintessential Main Street with plenty of shopping, restaurants, and ice cream shops to appeal to every traveler.
It is also the gateway for Peninsula State Park where there is a very large campground if you are camping.
We were lucky enough to be comped two nights at this lovely property. Pretty much the most ideal location for walking around the town – it is one block up from Main Street so there is no traffic noise at this hotel. And a short walk out the front door will put you at Founders Square where you will find plenty of cute shops and treats!
The owners of this Inn, Matt and Darlene, were incredibly kind and made sure we had everything we needed during our stay. They gave us a full tour of all of the rooms and said they book up in peak season and for the holidays pretty quickly so be sure to book your stay here as soon as you start planning your Door County adventure!
Thorp House Inn and Cottages is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a long time part of the Door County history.
We stayed in the two bedroom Teal Cottage which was just as quaint as can be and had a well stocked kitchen if you would rather cook on your getaway then eat out.
Ideally located across from Founders Square on Main Street. This property looked very charming!
This hotel is affiliated with Thorp House Inn. Matt and Darlene suggested we eat breakfast here one morning so we had a delicious breakfast here on our last morning.
This Bed and Breakfast Inn is also renowned for their Fish Boils on the back patio!
Rumor has it (well and all the tourist pamphlets on Door County) that Sister Bay is where the nightlife of the region is… did we experience this for ourselves during off season? Nope… but be that as it may – if you are looking for nightlife and live music during your vacation – you should consider staying in this town more than any other DC town!
A brand new boutique hotel that definitely looks worthy of a stay!
We drove past this waterfront hotel on our scenic drive meandering through the county. If I wasn’t so adamant about staying in Fish Creek, this would have been the second town to stay in on my list with this hotel as it’s number one :).
Another property we drove past as we were driving the scenic byway that looked worthy of a stay!
Where to Eat
The closest thing to a Supper Club in Door County!
Nationally famous for their cherry stuffed French Toast and fish boils!
Where the goats are on the roof!
Had we stayed one more night in Door County, this incredible sunset views restaurant would have been where we would have eaten (well if it was up to me that is).
A classic Door County establishment since 1906 with an old fashioned soda fountain and home brewed root beer!
What to Do
Explore historic lighthouses
We explored the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Peninsula State Park as well as Cana Island Lighthouse near Bailey’s Harbor.
The Cana Island Lighthouse is meticulously kept up and would be my recommendation if you are only planning to see one lighthouse in Door County! Plus you get to take a bumpy as all get out tractor ride across a narrow strip of water in Lake Michigan – now how many times do you get to say that in your life??
Spend time on the water or the lakeshore
While the weather was a tad too chilly for us to do any beach sitting or boating, we did walk the waterside park and marina in Sister Bay after our delicious breakfast at Al Johnson’s (which is right across the street!)
Door County offers every type of water fun you can imagine – kayaking, canoeing, boating, fishing.. there are rental places in every town for you to choice from if you are not coming with your own equipment.
You can find a list of the best beaches to enjoy in Door County here.
Drive the Door County Scenic Byway
To be honest, this is really how I thought we were going to spend our one full day in Door County – just meandering through the quaint towns and enjoying the scenery. And it is exactly what we did. Plus a couple of small hikes further down the road from Fish Creek that had us looking for the iconic photos of the Door County rocky shoreline ☺️.
Remember how I said we were there the second week of May? Not many leaves on the trees yet at that time of year FYI…
Go wine tasting
If it were up to my sister, we would have basically gone from winery to winery on our girls’ weekend. But she was nice enough to make this non-wine drinker only stop at three wineries the entire three days! She found a winery that appealed to me however because of its additional fruity flavors and fun names at Door Peninsula Winery 🤪.
Another one of our winery stops on our drive up to Door County on that Tuesday in May was Lautenbach’s Orchard Country. This was where we were able to get a glimpse of how pretty the cherry blossom orchards in the county were about to be!
Enjoy the Cherry Blossoms and Festivals
You can read all about the cherry blossom experiences that are possible in late spring in Door County here…
Again – we got a small glimpse of how gorgeous this area can be if timed correctly (this kinda seems alot like timing your leaf peeping correctly too – have any of you tried to time that?? I did… for a fall foliage trip to Vermont. You can read all about that in my post on that trip!
I also tried to time a leaf peeping trip perfectly in Tennessee – you can read about that adventure here as well!
Go hiking or biking in Peninsula State Park
Our first night in town, we watched the sunset from Peninsula State Park. We were so excited to be on this girls weekend together and knew this was the start of a great three days together!
So while we did not do any actual hiking or biking in this amazing park, I know this is one of the first places I will bring my husband back to when I finally bring him back!
We did a quick hike in Ellison Bluff State Park in an attempt to see the steep cliffs of the waterfront on Green Bay. While we caught a glimpse – our understanding is the view while kayaking in the water is incredible!
Drive the famously curvy part of Highway 42
In order to see the infamously windy part of Highway 42 through the woods, you have to go all the way to the end of the peninsula and right up to the Washington Island Ferry dock. So after we got there, we decided to get out and stretch our legs and watch the next ferry come in :).
This is the view of this stretch of the road in late spring (which is what we saw ☺️):
And this is what the road looks like when all the greenery is back:
This one mile stretch of road looks truly spectacular in its full fall foliage glory (or so the photos I have seen of it then make it seem). It is also one of the most photographed places in Wisconsin and in my opinion a shouldn’t miss – no matter what the season you visit!
Take the ferry to Washington Island
We did not have the time to actually take the ferry across to the island as this was our furthest north stop while driving the scenic byway and we took the entire day to do this drive :).
However, from what I have read about Washington Island – it sounds like a perfectly peaceful island with a Scandinavian history worth exploring.
Certainly worth a return trip for me!!!
Go star gazing at Newport State Park
My sister was super excited to learn all about this incredible International Dark Sky Association park right in her home state! Did you know there are only 48 dark sky designations in the world with only 18 in the US?? Newport State Park is joining the ranks of Grand Canyon, Big Ben, and Glacier National Parks!
While there is plenty to do in this 2373 acre park – it’s dark sky designation is what truly makes it stand out. It is on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula and offers hiking, camping, and beach access as well as the Milky Way or an Aurora Borealis sighting ;).
Things to Do Outside of Door County
- Explore Green Bay
- Tour Lambeau Field in Green Bay – just at the southern tip of Door County peninsula (75 miles from Fish Creek)
- Explore Sturgeon Bay – technically the start of Door County however it is a big city that isn’t what first comes to my mind when I think of quaint Door County peninsula that is why I am putting it on this list instead!
- EAA Aviation Museum – two hours south of Fish Creek in OshKosh, Wisconsin
I hope you found my three days in Door County, Wisconsin post informative and helpful.
Even if you live all the way in western USA like I do – I hope this post gives you a glimpse into how amazing a getaway in the Midwest could be for you and your family and/or friends!!
If you are looking for more information on Door County, Wisconsin – check out their website!
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