The Door: A Heavenly Vacation Spot Belies its Death Passage Name

The county begins on a thumb-shaped peninsula that separates Lake Michigan from Green Bay (the body of water, not the city) where there are a smattering of stoplights. But once you cross a drawbridge over Sturgeon Bay, a shipping waterway that cuts across the peninsula to connect Lake Michigan to Green Bay, you enter a world where a curve in the road reveals yet another scenic view and where villages have a few scattered stop signs, not stop lights.

Once you drop the travel bag at your Door County lodging (hopefully, you did book ahead of time), you are ready to shrug off stress by gazing at the quiet blue expanse of Green Bay or the ever-changing colors of Lake Michigan.

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But an hour later, the stomach rumbles, so next is to investigate food options. Ask your accommodation manager what’s good around here, because Door County is loaded with stellar restaurants and diners, so choosing one is only a matter of what kind of food you’re in the mood for and how far you want to go.

For lunch, consider Chef’s Hat Café for yummy soup and salad or Wilson’s for great cheeseburgers and home-made root beer. They’re both in picturesque, historic Ephraim across from Eagle Harbor. Walk off that food baby by exploring the village’s shops and museums.

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When ready for dinner, you can go back to Ephraim to experience the fish boil at the Old Post Office. Or go to The Cookery in Fish Creek for fabulous chowder and really good pork chops.

Or dine upscale in Sister Bay at the Boathouse on a lobster mac and cheese with a great view of the bay or at Lure in a former church that has delicious cheddar biscuits and crab cakes. For a bistro, pasta dishes, or creative beers on tap, stop at Egg Harbor’s Liberty Square.

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Goat on Al Johnson's grassy roof watches the watchers.
Goat on Al Johnson’s grassy roof watches the watchers

The next morning, start the day with coffee and a pastry at the Door County Coffee & Tea Company or with yummy cherry-filled French toast at Fish Creek’s White Gull Inn or with Swedish pancakes at Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay. All of these establishments have been Door County landmarks for years. It only takes a day to realize that Door County residents and visitors really enjoy their food.

However, to experience the dangerous waters where Lake Michigan waves bump against those from Green Bay, giving the peninsula its name, drive north about 40 miles from Sturgeon Bay to Gills Rock and then a short distance to Northport. There you would take a ferry across to Washington Island.

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Among the stories floating between the peninsula and the island is a tale of how one native tribe lured another tribe to travel from Washington Island to the peninsula. Those who attempted the crossing died in the stormy waters, thus giving the crossing the name Death’s Door.

Safe? Yes, though sometimes the trip can be rocky. But the Washington Island Ferry is so popular that the best plan is to check the season’s schedule and get to its departure ramp at Northport ahead of time so there is room for your car.

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While exploring, look for Island Stavkirke, a recreated 12th-century Norwegian church, and the Jacobsen Museum of island artifacts.

Explore the gallery walk but also go inside to see great paintings, glass works and jewelry.
Explore the gallery walk but also go inside to see great paintings, glass works, and jewelry

Where to explore or eat are merely a couple of the decisions facing Door County vacationers. No matter how long you stay, you likely won’t get to all the great eating places on The Door or to all of its activities.

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Choosing which state park to hike or bike, which golf course to play, which boating activity to do, which winery or cheese market to visit and how many art galleries to see for that special piece of pottery to take home can be bewildering unless you realize you simply have to return to The Door.

Pro tip: Try another season. If there in the summer, plan to come back in the fall when the colors are spectacular. To find more Door County info, visit Door County Visitors Bureau.

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