Introduction to Door County:
A 5-Minute Primer

Welcome to Door County, Wisconsin

We know you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to Great Lakes vacations and midwestern getaways, so take a few minutes to explore this introduction to Door County and learn why the region is one of the top vacation spots in the US for couples, families, solo travelers, and large groups alike.

Want to explore another way? Use the Trip Planner to create a custom itinerary that remembers your top trip ideas.

Just the Facts: Door County Q & A

Where in the world is Door County?

Door County is a region in “the left thumb” of Wisconsin, USA—the small land mass projecting into the water from the east-central side of the state. The county is about a 2.5-hour drive northeast from Milwaukee and a 4.5-hour drive north from Chicago or east from Minneapolis.

How do I visit an entire county?

The short answer is…you don’t! DC is comprised of 2,000+ square miles and more than 19 distinct communities, so your best bet is researching individual towns, choosing 1–3 near each other that suit your getaway style and tastes, and exploring this pocket and its surrounding areas.

How do I get around Door County?

Like many relatively rural areas, Door County lacks public transportation, and its towns are spread out enough that driving between them is a must. So, although you will definitely need a car to get around, the streets and highways will be pleasantly void of buses, high-speed trains, rideshare companies, and taxis.

What’s a peninsula?

A peninsula is a land protrusion almost entirely surrounded by water. In DC’s case, Lake Michigan (east side) and Green Bay (west side) flank three sides; its southern-most base connects to Wisconsin’s mainland. DC also contains Washington Island and Rock Island, both of which are a few miles off the peninsula’s northern shore.

What’s the landscape like?

No, you won’t be climbing any mountains or exploring any deserts here, but our beaches, islands, lakes, forests, woods, meadows, and nature preserves are sure to satisfy your longings to connect with nature. DC boasts five state and 19 county parks, and a lack of light pollution has earned Newport State Park an International Dark Sky Place designation.

What’s the weather like?

Wisconsin has four distinct seasons that more or less create the conditions you’d expect. We won’t pretend the summers can’t be extremely hot or that our winters can’t be brutally cold. They very much can, but those beautiful extremes also result in 3–4 months of perfect beach weather and 2–3 months of stupefyingly gorgeous winter landscapes.

Can I bring my kids? My dog? My iguana?

Absolutely—Door County is a top destination for family trips, and dogs are welcome in many local businesses and public spaces. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant or attraction that doesn’t cater to kids, but do your research before bringing your pet with you to an establishment.

star

Let's Get Acquainted

Let's Get Acquainted

“Door County” refers to a 70-mile long region in Wisconsin, USA that contains 34 named islands and dozens of small cities, towns, and communities, each with its own distinct look and feel. The entire region is located on a peninsula, with the exception of the islands. A “handy” way to remember this is to hold out your left hand—keeping the fingers together—and studying the area between your bottom thumb knuckle and the top of the thumbnail. You betcha: we’re the thumb of the Wisconsin mitten.

Explore Door County Locales

Sister Bay

Sister Bay has gained a reputation for being the outdoor dining hub of the county. Visitors also flock here for the beaches, where sunbathing, swimming, paddling, boating, and other water sports are all on the menu.

Top Attractions: Food & Drink, the Waterfront, Water Activities
Top Events: Peninsula Century Spring Classic Bike Ride, Fall Festival, Capture the Spirit

Sturgeon Bay

Maritime and nautical themes reign supreme here, with iconic stops like the Pierhead Light, two additional lighthouses, a maritime museum, waterfront parks, a shipbuilding yard, the famous steel bridge, and plenty of fishing and paddling opportunities. Hundreds of shops, restaurants, and the arts and theater scene are also here.

Top Attractions: Three Shopping Districts, Potawatomi State Park, Pierhead Light
Top Events: Fire & Ice Festival, Shipyard Tours, Open Bass Tournament

Egg Harbor

Egg Harbor is a vibrant and bustling community on the peninsula if dining, shopping, nightlife, and social life are your aim. Here you will also find a marina, boating, a glittering waterfront, numerous golf courses, hiking and biking, and tons of festivals and events throughout the year.

Top Attractions: Golf Courses, Top-Tier Dining, Community Marina
Top Events: Door County Triathlon, Egg Harbor Ale Fest, Pumpkin Patch Festival

Southern Door County

Southern Door is the entryway to Door County. The area features a quieter, more pastoral version of Door County that offers peace, quiet, and room to roam. Here are two of the most popular southern communities:

  • Brussels: Come here for the Belgian chapels and architecture, traditional food, and beautiful countryside.
  • Forestville: Get a taste of Door County without the crowds—try motorcycling, biking, and hiking down here.
Rowleys Bay

Sitting just across its namesake bay from Newport State Park, Rowleys Bay is an out-of-the-way town tucked away on the northeast side of the peninsula. Its signature offering is the Mink River and Mink River Estuary, a beautiful and ecologically diverse wildlife area perfect for a quiet paddle, hike, or fishing.

Top Attractions: Mink River Estuary, Paddling, Birding & Wildlife

Juddville

Juddville is small and residential enough that you’ll have to head to a nearby town to find lodging, but its rusticness and natural landscapes more than make up for its lack of commercial services. Come here for the beautiful countryside, the Write On, Door County center, and lots of backroads perfect for driving, biking, or motorcycling.

Top Attractions: Motorcycling, Write On, Door County, and Farms & Orchards

Gills Rock

Gills Rock is the last stop at the tip of the peninsula before the highway heads back down south or you (and your car) continue north to the Washington Island Ferry port. Stop here for the coastal feel, quaint maritime scenery, the famously windy road, views of Death’s Door, the maritime museum, and access remote Newport State Park.

Top Attractions: The Windy Road, Washington Island Ferry, Portes Des Morts Park

Ephraim

Ephraim is known as Door County’s quiet, historic town nestled on the shores of Green Bay. The idyllic setting offers the famously graffitied Anderson Dock, access to the county’s largest state park, and tons of water sports and activities in addition to a slate of restaurants, fish boils, and old-timey treats.

Top Attractions: Peninsula State Park, Fish Boils, Boating & Sailing
Top Events: Door County Half Marathon, Fyr Bal Festival

Baileys Harbor

A near-perfect confluence of art and nature, Baileys Harbor is home to thousands of acres of beautiful, protected lands. Here, you’ll also find plenty of space for hiking, biking, motorcycling, and paddling as well as a fair share of independent restaurants, a brewery, a coffee shop, waterfront lodging, and three historic lighthouses.

Top Attractions: The Ridges Sanctuary, Paddling & Kayaking, Lighthouses
Top Events: Peninsula Century Spring Classic, 4th of July Celebration, Autumnfest

Fish Creek

In many ways, Fish Creek is the hub of Door County. A good portion of the region’s top restaurants, shops, and outdoor attractions are in or near this quaint-yet-bustling town. Come here if you seek social and family life, arts and culture, historic sites, world-class dining, and shoreline sunsets.

Top Attractions: Shopping, Restaurants & Bars, Peninsula State Park
Top Events: Winter Festival, Inside/Outside Days, Jack O' Lantern Days

Washington Island

Start with the 30-minute ferry ride across Death’s Door strait and drive your car or rent a bike or UTV to explore the island. You’ll find a few lodgings, restaurants, and art and historical museums, but mostly you’ll find wide-open spaces perfect for biking, hiking, driving, and exploring. Don’t miss the smooth-stone Schoolhouse Beach, the lavender farm, or the rolling fields of green. If you have a whole day, hop a second ferry and explore incredible Rock Island State Park.

Top Attractions: Schoolhouse Beach, the Stavkirke, Rock Island State Park
Top Events: Death’s Door BBQ, Washington Island Lavender Festival, Washington Island Music Festival

Ellison Bay

This tiny town is a fascinating combination of art, history, oddity, and maritime allure. Between The Clearing Folk School, artist studios and galleries, and indie shops, there’s no shortage of unusual experiences to be had here. Outdoorspeople will enjoy exquisite lake views, dramatic bluffs and cliffs, boating and paddling opportunities, and access to the extraordinary Newport State Park.

Top Attractions: The Clearing Folk School, Newport State Park, Kayak Tours
Top Events: Groundhog Day Parade, Spring Arts Crawl, Uncork Summer

Carlsville

Carlsville may be famous for attracting early settlers named “Karl,” but these days it’s better known for offering an outsized number of artisan goods and shops. Find local coffee, wine, spirits, sweet treats, and fish boils in addition to farm and animal experiences as well as biking and motorcycling or driving.

Top Attractions: Local Coffee, Peaceful Scenery, Wine & Spirits

Jacksonport

Located on the “quiet” side of the peninsula, Jacksonport is a small town with unexpectedly big attractions, from the wildly popular Cave Point County Park and adjacent Whitefish Dunes State Park to an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops.

Top Attractions: Cave Point, Beaches, Biking
Top Events: Maifest, Polar Bear Plunge

Quiz: Find Your Travel Style

Scroll through this series of images and check the ones that depict the activities and experiences you’re interested in. Then, we’ll help identify your top trip styles and provide you with the activities, businesses, and attractions you’ll like the most.

Door County’s People, Places, & Things

Get to know the region on a deeper level by exploring its history, natural landscape, and most iconic sites.

A (Very) Brief Overview
of Local Maritime History

Door County is defined by its proximity to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. These waterways are why many nomadic settlers would camp here, and they’re how the earliest permanent settlers got around and sustained life. Residents have worked as fishermen, mariners, and shipbuilders, and others worked as loggers and farmers, relying on ships to transport their wares. In the 20th century, Door County’s shipyards were producing as many as five ships a day to keep up with the military’s demand for large boats and other sea vessels.

A Quick Foray into
the Nature of Door County

From a 93-foot sand dune and the jagged walls of Cave Point to The Ridges Sanctuary and the lavender fields of Washington Island, Door County is a lesser-known treasure trove of ecological wonders. Nature and its endless splendors are woven into both town and city design as well as daily life, as evidenced by passionate locals who operate nature-based businesses, artists constantly inspired by the landscape, and those who’ve chosen to make their homes among pines and rivers and wide-open spaces.

A Tiny Taste of Iconic Door County

If you want to see into the heart of any culture, start by looking at its cuisine. The menus, recipe books, and dinner tables of Door County are likely to contain cherries, lakefish, meat, cheese, and Scandinavian and Western-European dishes. But food is just one avenue for understanding a culture. Visitors can also look to the roadside Belgian chapels, British-Victorian homes, Swedish-influenced Stavkirke and Björklunden chapels, and Viking-inspired Thordarson boathouse to get a feel for the people who settled Door County and made it what it is today.

The 7 Must-Instagrams of Door County