On Wisconsin: Big Fun in the ‘Thumb’
While Wisconsin may be best known as the heart of America’s dairy land, outdoor recreation enthusiasts venture to the Badger State’s Door County for 300-plus miles of shoreline where the order of the day is fun in the ‘thumb.’
This funky nickname is born from Wisconsin’s shape resembling a left-handed oven mitt. The Door County peninsula juts out like a thumb into Green Bay on its western shore and Lake Michigan to the east. Here, 19 small villages and quaint towns comprising the Door have their welcome mat out year-round for more than two million visitors the county hosts annually.
Hikers, cyclists, golfers, camping enthusiasts, and naturalists find five state parks in here, more than any other county in the country. Adding another 19 county parks, the Door boasts more than 23,000 acres of preserved parkland and one of the most diverse natural areas in the upper Midwest.
Get a lay of the land upon arrival with a Door County Trolley scenic tour. Learn the history of the area and how the county’s position on the dolomite-rich Niagara Escarpment allowed for the conversion of dairy farms to fruit orchards in the ‘50s, making Door County a leading U.S. producer of tart cherries. DCT offers a number of options including their lighthouse tour, wine tour, or the spooky, yet kid-friendly evening ghost tour.
Orchard visits are a must with Seaquist Orchards and Lautenbach’s Orchard Country area favorites. Walk among the famed Montmorency cherry trees as they welcome visitors in row after row of fragrant splendor. Tour the orchards and sample the oh-so-cherry goodness of pies, jams, jellies, salsas, tart cherry juice, and wine made from the local bounty.
Peninsula State Park, a 4000-acre land track, offers sweeping bluff views and access to the Green Bay shoreline. The park is a top destination for hikers and cyclists as climbs along the appropriately named Skyline Drive afford stunning views of the bay and nearby islands from Sven’s Bluff.
Amble through park and wind through the northern forest over miles of paved and off-road trails where encounters with barred owls, Eastern phoebes, and even a rare Bald eagle may be encountered. Kayakers and canoeists can paddle the one-mile crossing out to Horseshoe Island. Once there, have a picnic and traverse the Engelmar Trail, a one-mile route around the island, before heading back to the mainland.
Door County’s Lake Michigan coast offers plenty for naturalists too. Check out The Ridges in Baileys Harbor. Wisconsin’s oldest nonprofit nature preserve is a birder’s paradise. The sanctuary is designated both an Audubon Important Bird Area and National Natural Landmark, protecting 1600 acres of extraordinary forests and wetlands where more than 60 species of birds nest.
Golfers access the links at ten daily fee courses throughout the peninsula. One of the most beautiful holes in Wisconsin golf is unquestionably the spectacular par 3 ninth hole at Alpine Golf Course in Egg Harbor. Precision, steely nerves, and a smooth stroke are all that’s needed to tame this dramatically downhill tree-lined tester with the bay serving as a backdrop.
Two-wheeled upright touring is the rage courtesy of Segway the Door Tours. Roll through the Americana communities of Sturgeon Bay and Egg Harbor or take in Peninsula State Park, Baileys Harbor Lighthouse, or any one of several fun and inspiring tours that get you up close and personal with the Door.
You’ll need fuel for all your adventures and the locals are most happy to oblige.
Fish Creek’s White Gull Inn offers charming accommodations and the 2010 winner of “Good Morning America’s” best breakfast in the country competition with their Cherry Cream Cheese stuffed French Toast. The specially baked egg bread and real maple syrup make this eye-opener over the top.
Small-batch premium coffee roasters Door County Coffee & Tea have the perfect Cup-o-Joe to go along with freshly baked muffins, breakfast specialties, and the friendliest folk in Wisconsin. Take some premium roast home to help your memories linger.
Lunch is a retro-throw-back at Wilson’s in Ephraim. An old-fashioned soda shop and ice cream parlor, Wilson’s has been scooping up tasty treats since 1906. Specialty burgers, fried walleye sandwiches, and their own draft root beer-cured pulled pork are specialties.
Sharing the day’s activities over a Door County Brewing Company Polka King Porter can’t be beat unless you happen to quaff it alongside your meal at Chives in Bailey’s Harbor. Chef Aaron Havlovitz is a wizard with local produce, dairy, and proteins enjoying nothing more than treating guests to his culinary alchemy.
The chef’s table on this reviewer’s visit included a Wisconsin cheese board with house-made veal sausage, locally foraged morel mushrooms, and grainy mustard seed caviar. This was followed by freshly picked asparagus and micro-radish salad with local goat cheese. Bay-caught whitefish topped with tightly spiraled fiddle-head ferns delighted as did the finishing trio of local dairy sourced ice creams.
No trip to Door County is complete without experiencing a Fish Boil and there is none better than that found at Ephraim’s Old Post Office. Part theater, part history, all feast this local dining experience is one of a kind. Spoiler alert – Flames and corny fish jokes from the boil-master abound.
Vacationers are well-served in bringing two appetites with them when visiting Door County, one for adventure and an even larger one for mealtime.
*Photo credits: Door County Visitor Bureau, Michael J. Solender