Lush green parks, water sports galore, fish boils and cheese curds are just a few of the things that come with a family vacation in Door County, Wisconsin. This peninsula just past Green Bay is an idyllic spot to bring the kids any time of the year—with retro soda shops and drive-in movies that bring you back to a time before technology took over our lives. Read on to find out how to experience this little slice of midwest heaven.
One of the best things about Door County is the miles and miles of trails that meander through woods, to lighthouses and along the shore. Head to Peninsula State Park and rent your rides from Edge of Park. They have kids bikes, adult bikes, tandems, tagalongs and burleys to get the whole family out on the trail. Swing by the park’s nature center to find out if they are offering any birding, art or campfire programs that day. Hiking your thing? Eagle Trail will get you out to see some killer views and 150-foot cliffs (make sure to hold tight to those little ones!).
Kids will love to check out the Ridges Sanctuary where your visit begins with a stop at the nature center. Learn about the flora and fauna that makes this area such a lush ecosystem and then join in a guided hike through the property. You’ll get to see the iconic Baileys Harbor Range Lights (similar to lighthouses and still in use to guide ships into the harbor). Bonus for families: the boardwalks on the property are particularly stroller friendly.
Ask at the nature center to point you towards the Family Discovery Trail that is perfect for young explorers. Stations along the trail include bird blind building, butterfly catching, fort and bridge building and bone digging among many other outdoor activities.
photo: DC Adventure Center
Zip through the trees with DC Adventure Center in Rowley’s Bay. This four-span zip line tour is perfect for zip line newbies of all ages. The highest point is about 30 feet in the air, so not super scary for kids. Your guides will teach you the ins and outs of zip lining before you head up and you’ll be amazed how quickly everyone can learn the skills needed. Tiny tots can double up with mom or dad to ride from platform to platform.
photo: Door County Visitor Bureau
Treat the kids to an old-time favorite activity when you bring them to the Skyway Drive-In Theatre in Fish Creek (pronounced Fish Crick by the locals). Showing current movies including some kid favorites like Hotel Transylvania 3, it’s a bonus double feature as you can stay for both shows and only pay for one.
A fun stop to make on your way into Door County is The Farm in Sturgeon Bay. Meet the resident goats, meander through the sunflowers and enjoy your picnic on the grounds. Another spot to meet some farm animals is Plum Loco Animal Farm in Egg Harbor. Here you’ll find miniature horses, chickens, pot-bellied pigs and other farm friends. The littlest farmers will enjoy seeing what life was like as a farmer in the Play-Farm with a replica vet clinic, county store and diner to encourage pretend play.
On the Water
A major draw of Door County is its location on Lake Michigan. With the lake side and the bay side to choose from, you’ll have the best of both worlds for your on-the-water excursions. DC Adventures offers kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding rentals and tours all over the peninsula. Choose the calm waters of Rowley’s Bay or book an excursion from Whitefish Dunes State Park where you can see the Australasia shipwreck which is viewable under the water on calm and sunny day.
One of the best ways to see this part of Michigan is on a tour with Door County Boats. Take a double decker boat that leaves from Sister Bay to visit the islands, bluffs, coast and lighthouses of the surrounding area. Live music, refreshment and snacks adds to the experience.
Looking for more of a high-speed adventure? Door County Adventure Rafting will have you zipping around the peninsula to see the shoreline of Fish Creek, Ephraim, Peninsula State Park, Baileys Harbor, Cana Island and Plum and Pilot Islands. These small group tours are especially fun for kids as you can see a lot of the area in a short period of time.
Door County is known for its welcoming hospitality and delicious food so you will not have any trouble finding a plethora of family-friendly spots to bring the kids. Ephraim is home to Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor where dairy is the name of the game. Burgers and sandwiches dominate the menu with the whitefish sandwich a crowd favorite. Up the ante and get your fries topped with cheese curds for a local flair.
Don’t forget to save room for dessert. Sundaes, shakes and scoops are available in flavors like Door County cherry and chocolate peanut butter explosion. If you opt for a cone, you’ll be rewarded with a jelly bean at the bottom under your scoop—a long-time tradition that was originally started to keep your sweet treat from leaking out the bottom.
Don’t leave Door County without witnessing the long-standing tradition of the fish boil. Rowleys Bay Restaurant knows how to do it right with lively storytelling while the potatoes, onions, salt and whitefish are added to the large pot that is heated by a roaring fire. The performance reaches the pinnacle when kerosene is dumped on the fire causing an epic boil over. After the fish is cooked everyone heads inside to dine on an all-you-can-eat buffet that includes chicken, salad, rolls and rice, in addition to the whitefish boil—plenty of choices for everyone. The dessert table includes brownies and loads of cherry-flavored treats.
photo: Door County Visitor Bureau
An awesome spot to spend the a night enjoying the Door County sunset, good food and music is Fred and Fuzzy’s in Sister Bay. Try a cherry margarita (or Shirley Temple for the kids) and a grilled Wisconsin brat or a whitefish Reuben. The view cannot be beat and the kids will love checking out the property and chairs that line the pier.
Insider’s Tip: Local’s swear by Wild Tomato, some of the best wood-fired pizza coming out of Wisconsin. This Door County-born pizzeria now has two locations: Fish Creek & Sister Bay.
Families looking for the ideal home base will be very pleased with the amenities offered at the Landmark Resort in Egg Harbor. All of the rooms here are suites and they include a kitchen with microwave, fridge, oven and coffee maker, perfect for keeping the eating out to a minimum. The largest suites sleep eight with three bedrooms and a pull-out couch. Enjoy your coffee on your balcony or private patio.
Scattered around the property are BBQ grills and picnic tables where families can enjoy a meal and the sunset at the same time. Or make it easy and grab a spot on the deck at the resort’s on-site restaurant, Carrington Pub & Grill.
The Landmark Resort has one indoor pool (open 24/7) and three heated outdoor pools. Each building has its own sauna and whirlpool. Walk through the wooded grounds on the hiking path or take the kids over to play on the playground, tennis court or basketball court. Save your quarters and head to the game room for some arcade action.
The Landmark Resort
4929 Landmark Drive
Egg Harbor, WI
photo: Michael Pelto
A visit to Door County in late July/early August will bring you to the wonder of cherry season. Pick these sweet fruits right from the trees and enjoy cherry baked goods and even cherry bratwurst. Don’t worry, even if you aren’t there for prime cherry time you’ll be able to grab loads of this local fruit at stores and restaurants around town.
Visit in September & October for apple picking and some of the most epic fall colors you’ll ever see. The holidays bring exciting seasonal events, like horse-drawn sleighs and charming small-town shops all aglow. Biking trails turn into cross country and snowmobile trails. One thing we can promise is no matter what time of the year you visit, you will love it!
A family trip to Door County means recreation, relaxation, tasty food and adventure. For more help planning your getaway, head to the Door County Visitor Bureau website.
Photos by the author except where noted. This trip was paid for by Door County Visitor Bureau but all opinions belong to the author.