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  • bethstephenson123

Door County, Wisconsin, One of America's best kept secrets.

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

One of the little-known perks of being a columnist is that sometimes communities will invite you to come see what they have to offer (tourists) so that you will write about it. I had never been to Wisconsin when I was offered the Door County, Wisconsin trip, (handled by a publicity company) and I was tickled. Jeff came along as the photographer.

The country takes its name from Death's Door, the passage at the northern tip of the island where wind and water currents wrecked many ships.

Door County sports dozens of archeological sites documenting ancient peoples who used the region for rich hunting and fishing. The abundant fish also attracted Europeans throughout the nineteenth century. The west side of the island has towering limestone cliffs.

Door county scene
Green Bay from a fire watchtower.

After the fishermen came the lumbermen, harvesting hardwoods and softwoods. The first sawmill was built at Fish Creek on the west coast of the county and many more soon followed.

Belgian farmers settled on both sides of Green Bay. Though other ethnic groups have integrated, the Belgians have maintained their culture. There are quaint little chapels throughout the region.

By 1905, the tourism industry began to gain momentum. Hotels and Inns began to pop up in the area. A Norwegian immigrant built one of the first hotels in the region in Ephraim.

The trip was fun from the very start. The most surprising aspect of the trip was the strong 'maritime' flavor of the region. I had never thought of the Great Lakes region being a site for shipwrecks, quaint lighthouses, fishing villages, and with orchards and cider houses.

The trip was rip-roaring fun, We took a fast pontoon boat to see the shipwrecks, lighthouse and scenery with Beach Boys blasting. Later, a ten-mile bike ride through the state or a ten-mile scenic bike ride through the state park yielded sightings of turkeys, deer, a multitude of wildflowers, including native orchids, water views, a tour of an old light house and fun, paved peddling. Another day we paddled rented kayaks through a swampy area for more flora and fauna.

I don't think it had ever occurred to me that immigrants would tend to settle in places that were similar to their home country. But most of the region of Door County, a small peninsula off the west shore of Lake Michigan, was settled by Baltic peoples. We loved our breakfast of Swedish Pancakes at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant and Butik where the lingonberry jam was the perfect compliment for our Swedish Pancakes. They topped them off with 6 inches of whipped cream. Most memorable for most people are the goats grazing on the grass on the ROOF of the restaurant.

Obviously from my photos, we were there in the fall, and the scenery was take-your-breath-away beautiful. Lake Michigan is clear and clean and the water is an inviting shade of turquoise blue.

We stopped in a gift shop/art gallery where we learned about scrimshaw, the art of carving on bone . . .usually done by bored sailors. Interestingly, there are very few legal sources of scrimshaw these days, but native peoples (mostly Alaskan) can legally collect and decorate on WOOLY MAMMOTH bones and tusks! As you might guess, they're pricey, but very interesting and many are wonderfully detailed.

I'm not a coffee drinker but the hot chocolate at Door County Coffee was positively decadent.

I ate my ice cream first at Wilson's Ice cream shop and OOOOOHHH was it worth it. The hamburger and fried cheese curds were nothing to sneeze at either. So yummy!

Part of the group went to a nearby island to see the lavender fields and processing plant while we went on our bike ride. I would have loved to do both!

Having spent much of my childhood on the coast of California, I loved the quaint marinas and tiny fishing villages.

More tart cherries are raised in that region than any other in the United States.

Between the history of shipwrecks, Belgian, Swedish and Danish culture showing everywhere, the old lighthouse with an authentic Fresnel Lens, the scenic beauty, the fun activities for outdoor enthusiasts, delightful restaurants with reasonable prices (and not-so reasonable for the upper crust, too) it's a fantastic destination for a couple or family. You get all of the fun of a beach vacation with tons of extras in culture and lanscape.


Yep, if I sound like I'm promoting Door County WI, I am! I'm doing it as a public service. It belongs on your bucket list!

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