Door County --- Our “Cape Cod” and better


Often called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, Door Peninsula separates Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Limestone outcroppings of the Niagara Escarpment are visible on both shores of the peninsula, but are larger and more prominent on the Green Bay side as seen at the Bayshore Blufflands. Progressions of dunes have created much of the rest of the shoreline, especially on the easterly side. Flora along the shore provides clear evidence of plant succession. The middle of the peninsula is mostly flat or rolling cultivated land. Soils overlaying the dolomite bedrock are very thin in the northern half of the county; 39% of the County is mapped as having less than three feet to bedrock. Beyond the northern tip of the peninsula, the partially submerged ridge forms a number of islands that stretch to the Garden Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The largest of these islands is Washington Island. The strait between Door Peninsula and Washington Island is a dangerous passage, referred to by the French as Porte des Morts Passage, which in English means the "Door to the Way to Death," or simply, "Death's Door."


Two of my trips to this area, which is also Door County, took me along the shoreline past the many famous bays and villages and towns. For these visits, I did not get inland, something I will do later downstream. So this chronicle will reflect what I saw along the shore. Believe me, this is one great place to tour and visit --- I am a nrthesterner, and it did remind me of Cape Cod, Masssachusetts, but better because not as crazy.

I lucked out with weather, which added to the beauty of the county. For the first trip, I went to Sturgeon Bay. Regrettably, I had miscalculated the time from Wausau to there and could not stay long. I’ve got to go back and do a better job. For the second trip, I staged from Algoma in Kewaunee County, on the shore of Lake Michigan, headed up the eastern coast along Lake Michigan, cut across to the west shore and then up to Northport, then down the west coast along Green Bay, and back to Wausau. This was a full day trip with little time to study each location seriously, which would require me to stay at each place at least for one night, not in the budget.

Sturgeon Bay

Sturgeon Bay is the county seat. The city rests on both sides of the narrows of Green Bay to its south, with most of the city on the northeastern side.







As I indicated, I goofed on my timing and had to get back to Wausau. I am always enamored with water scenes, but I can tell you the town is marvelous, and I must go just to Sturgeon Bay and stay overnight for a good look around. I’ll add the photos here once done.

Sturgeon Bay to Algoma

I guess I was so focused on the beauty of the region that for reasons unknown to me I headed south out of Sturgeon Bay on CH U and exited the county on it before I realized I had not cut over to the west, more toward Green Bay, to head home to Wausau. Well, the heck with it. I did get a few lovely shots along the way.


I would later learn that Door County is terrific fruit growing country, including vineyards supporting wineries. These apple trees were in full bloom.




Okay, now let’s get back on course with my second trip, from Algoma in Kewaunee County around the shoreline of Door County, starting on the east, zagging to the west, up to the north and then back down the west. I did not get to all the bays I wanted to visit, because of time, so I have a few more to see.

Bailey’s Harbor






The Red Gernanium, a gallery of fine gifts, a “kaleidoscope.”


Studio, a Nathan Nichols Co., furniture, rugs, lamps, accessories, one of a kind items for the home







Harbor Fish Market & Grille, distinctive waterfront dining


Nita’s Garden Gate, a garden shop, “enter my garden…leave an old friend”



Baileys Harbor Cornerstone Pub, around since the 1920s, a time honored tradition of “good food at a reasonable price served by good, reasonable people.”


A mural painted not the side of Nelson True Value Shopping Center


This building is called Bird’s Park, Bailey’s Harbor. I noticed it on my way out of town. I later learned it’s the Albert Zahn House and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Zahn lived in Door County and was known as the “Birdman” because he carved and painted bird forms. A noted folk artist, Zahn displayed many of his bird carvings around the grounds and named the property Bird's Park, which he inscribed on a sign and placed over the entrance to the house.

Ridges Sanctuary-Toft's Point-Mud Lake Area, Bailey’s Harbor


As I was leaving Bailey’s Harbor, I saw a sign identifying a right turn on a Rustic Road. I always like being in Wisconsin’s Rustic Roads so I turned. This building caught my attention, so I stopped and took a flick. I then saw a plaque mounted on a large stone rock that said this was Ridges Sanctuary - Toft’s Point Mud Lake Area, a registered natural landmark.


I then saw a path to this building back in the woods, and noted that there was a path going off to the right, east, but as usual felt I did not have the time to walk it, especially as I did not know to where it led or how long it would take me to hoof it, so I did not go in. When I got home, I did a bit of research, and boy-oh-boy did I miss something that will require almost a day devoted to exploring.


This is a satellite view of the Toft Point region. I was located at the point of the yellow arrow. You can see there is a walking path out to the peninsula and you can drive on Ridges Road to Point Drive all the way out to the peninsula’s southern tip and a bit around the corner to the east. There is parking back there. I wish I would have at least made the drive. If you decide to go in there, be sure to bring a camera and relax on the path and boardwalks to take great photos of the vegetation, all of which I missed on this trip.

This is what the Wisconsin State Natural Area program says about it:

“Toft Point contains several outstanding native plant communities concentrated on a 1-mile-wide peninsula along Door County's Lake Michigan coast. The natural area is bordered on the north by Moonlight Bay, and on the south by Baileys Harbor. There are more than two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, with areas of wave-cut dolomite cliffs. Stretches of limestone cobble beach, mixed with marly soil, are exposed during periods of low lake levels. The vegetation of the eastern shoreline, influenced by the cooling effects of Lake Michigan, consists of a narrow strip of relict boreal forest dominated by balsam fir and white spruce. The majority of the peninsula is wooded with a mesic forest of sugar maple, yellow birch, hemlock, balsam fir, and scattered white pine. To the north, along Moonlight Bay, is an extensive calcareous sedge meadow that grades into shrub-carr and wet-mesic forest dominated by white cedar with occasional paper birch and black ash. Pockets of tamarack swamp and alder thicket are imbedded in the wetland. Extensive stands of hard-stemmed bulrush grow offshore in 1 to 4 feet of water offering cover and spawning sites for a variety of fish. The natural area provides habitat for more than 440 vascular plant species and one of the most diverse bryophyte (mosses and liverworts) floras in the state. Several orchid taxa and many rare plant species find refuge here. Toft Point, along with the adjacent Ridges Sanctuary, contains many area-sensitive bird species including seventeen species of nesting warblers.”

Sister Bay






This building is known as The Village Exchange, in its prior form built in 1912. It now hosts On Deck Clothing and Bills Dry Goods. Fine casual sports wear and decorated resort wear for the entire family.


The Garage @ Husby’s food and spirits, an open air, outside garage bar, man craft brews, brags about having the “best burger”


Drink Coffee and Cookie Lady’s, offering an array of espresso drinks, homemade sandwiches and cookie bouquets.


Points North, a special collection of items in leather, antler, metal, word, ceramic, glass and fiber.


Grasse’s Grille, established in 2012 by Chef Jimmy Grasse and general manager, Jesica Grasse. Proud to use as much fresh produce as possible from a family farm, the Ellison Bay Farm Fresh.


Door County Confectionary, established in 1972 in Fish Creek, with stores there and in Sturgeon Bay, Egg Harbor, Ephraim and Sister Bay. Serves chocolates, hand-made fudge, and an assortment of candies.


Sister Bay Cafe, Breakfast/Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Takeout, Dessert.


Quite a surprise, two goats grazing on the grass sod roof of what I learned is Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik, an authentic Swedish family owned restaurant, in business for 60 years.

Ellison Bay



This is a view of Ellison Bay from the top of a hill nearby. I have to admit I really goofed up here at Ellison Bay on my way to the north. I was driving on Hwy 42 and thought the town and bay would just show up, as they did with other bay towns I visited. Not so here. You have to turn off on Cedar Shore Road and I did not do that, so I missed the town. I wandered up north for a while, then headed back and did get in to find my way into town, briefly.


The Pioneer Store, a grocery store. This is close as you can get to an old fashion general store in Door County. They have a little bit of everything, but not a lot of each item. It was rebuilt after an explosion destroyed the old building.


Htel Disgarden a B&B established in 1902.


Brew Coffee House. Go to the website. It looks really neat inside.


The Silly Goose General Store.

On my way out, heading south on Hwy 42, I found this neat home and Ellison’s Bluff State Park.


On the way


On the way into Ellison’s Bluff State Park


Nice walkway to the bluff area


I knew I was looking westward out into Green Bay when I reached the bluff lookout, but it took me until I read a map that I realized the other side was Michigan, the “UP,” Upper Peninsula.”


Looking straight down the bluff, I found two guys who understand what was important in life! Look how clear the water is here.

Gills Rock


Gills Rock is up on the northern section of Door County, just west of Northport, which I will cover in a moment. One citizen of the town told me that Gills Rock is one of the few towns left that reflect the old Door County. Being a north easterner by birth, it reminded me of New England.





Harbor House Inn, open under new management. I’ve talked to the owner. They close for the season during October. He was most friendly, a delight to talk with. I will stay here for sure next year.


This used to be Gills Rock Inn, but is now a private residence. Beautiful!




Northport is on the northeast tip of Door County. I show you this view so you can see its location, the route of the ferry to Washington Island, and, a very small island, east-southeast of Northport, a place called Pilots Island, which I will talk about later. Interestingly, note the larger island just to the northeast between Northport and Washington Island. This is called Plum Island, and I’ll get to it later as well. It lies in the strait called Passage des Mortes (Death’s Door) Passage. This is actually a strait that links Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Washington Island is one of a string of islands that are an outcropping of the Niagara Escarpment, which stretches from NIagara Falls arcing around through Canada and down through eastern Wisconsin. This strait is littered with shipwrecks. It was a dangerous strait for the older sailing vessels which were not very maneuverable. The strait is fairly narrow, shoals extend far from shore, and the winds are unpredictable here. Modern motor boats can handle it. While there have been a number of wrecks here, not many people have died. Indeed, some shipwrecks are attributed to this passage that did not occur there. Some fun history to explore.


Northport Pier Visitor Center and Ferry Landing


I just caught one of the two car and passenger ferries heading out for Washington Island. Straight ahead is Plum Island.


The remaining ferry preparing to let the next batch of cars and people aboard.


Now this is most intriguing to me. It is known as Pilot’s Island. From a distance, and this is a zoom shot from Northport, I thought at first it was a submarine!



A submarine it was not. Pilot’s Island is situated at the southern end of Passage de Mortes and the highest point of the island is only eleven feet. In 1848, Congress appropriated $3,500 to install a lighthouse in the strait to guide ships through it. Pilot’s Island was selected, as opposed to Plum’s Island, and a lighthouse was operational here in 1858. There is some great history on the web about this island that I commend to you. Frog trumpets and steam sirens were installed a bit later. The island was staffed until 1962.


It is interesting to note that a bird named the Cormorant settled here. Their acidic waste killed off most of the vegetation, making the island look bleak and even haunting. It turns out they love the Great Lakes Region. There is one faction of people striving to save them, another striving to kill them off because of how their living habits and waste destroy vegetation.


Plum Island


I noted the location of Plum Island in the middle of the
Passage de Mortes. Plum Island had a lighthouse, but a decision was made to move it to Pilot’s Island. But ship traffic grew quickly through here and by 1893 an appropriation was approved to put in another lighthouse back on Pilot’s Island. It became operational in 1897. The Coast Guard took it over in 1939. It now belongs to the US Bureau of Land Management and preservation efforts are underway. Many would like to preserve Pilot’s Island as well, but it appears too costly, especially to do both.



As usual, I’m starting to run out of time, there was so much to see in Door County, and I only touched the tip of the iceberg. When I entered Ephraim, I have to tell you this was one bustling place. It struck me as one each delightful place, tranquil, on a beautiful setting, with lots of people mingling and enjoying the fall day.





The Edgewater Resort, reminded me of being in New England. It overlooks the bay. It looked like a must stay for me later.


This is a beautiful home on Hwy 42, overlooking the bay. It was for sale, but there was a “sale pending”notice. I wished I had enough money to outbid the current buyer!


The Village Hall, Ephraim, Door County. She may be new, but at least they preserved the old look of the town, which was originally founded in 1853.


Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. Boy did this remind me of the old days. They were doing a land-office business, packed. She has been here since 1906.


The Hillside Inn, reopened in 2002, but originally opened in 1890 marvelously renovated. Gotta stay here too. Wow, so many places to visit!





Egg Harbor

I am embarrassed here. I had spent the day in Door County and was on my way south on Hwy 42 late and in a hurry to get back to Wausau, about two hours away. This is the only a photo I took as I raced through town. Here again, you need to duck into town off the main highway, which I did not do. Argh!


Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese, handmade Wisconsin cheese, dry cured artisan meats, sandwiches, beer, wine, gift selections.

Sorry, Egg Harbor. I’ll be back.