This peninsula along the state’s eastern shore is a hodge-podge of orchards, lighthouses and state parks, all nestled within a landscape that harkens back to a simpler time. The region is also a haven for lake lovers and watersports aficionados who arrive each summer to enjoy the more than 300 miles of pristine shoreline. Whether you’re looking for fun-in-the-sun or laid-back luxury, life just seems a little easier in Door County.
Loads of Lighthouses
Cana Island Lighthouse during Summer in Door County Wisconsin
Getting its name from the 19th-century ship captains who called the waters around its northernmost point ‘Porte des Morts’ – or ‘Death’s Door’ – it’s no wonder that the coast of Door County is dotted with lifesaving lighthouses. These days, touring all eleven is the perfect introduction to the region’s quaint waterfront towns. Sturgeon Bay, the county’s largest, has three lighthouses, as well as quirky boutiques, carriage rides, and plenty of boating opportunities. Farther north, the lighthouses around Bailey’s Harbor are easily accessible, with many open to the public. The most photogenic of the bunch, the Cana Island Lighthouse, lies just off the coast and can be waded to during low tide. More remote lights, like the Chambers Island Lighthouse and the Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island, are only accessible by boat or ferry.
To learn more about the region’s longstanding relationship with Lake Michigan and beyond, head to the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay. Exhibits at the waterfront site include deep dives into the area’s long history of shipbuilding, its most fantastic captains and craftsman, and a growing number of workshops and classes for those looking to gain hands-on experience. At the northernmost tip of the peninsula, in the small fishing town of Gills Rock, the Death’s Door Maritime Museum offers up insight into the shipwrecks and storms that have come to define the region’s waterways. You can explore a 45ft wooden fishing tug, see artifacts from decades old wrecks, and learn more about the finely-crafted lenses used in the nearby lighthouses. Amazingly, many of the most prominent shipwrecks are submerged in less than 60ft of water, which means that kayakers and snorkelers can see them from the surface when the water is clear. Join a guided boat tour or scenic cruise for an even closer look.