PHOTO: DOOR COUNTY VISITOR BUREAU
Sure, a trip to Door County wouldn't be complete without the famous Wisconsin cheese, but there's a lot more to this pretty peninsula. With it's impressive state parks, extensive shore line and pristine water, there are plenty things to do in Door County for the whole family.
Wisconsin is known for its cheese, so you’re going to want to chow down on some cheesy goodness any chance you get. Start at Renard’s Cheese, a family-owned fromager where you can grab lunch on the patio while the kids play at the onsite playground. There's even a giant mouse statue where kids can say "cheese!” for a selfie. And, of course, try the famous curds. These misshapen blobs are a savoury Wisconsin staple with a mild taste, that's known for its squeak when you take a bite. Eat them on top of a burger, on pizza or as a snack. But be warned, once you try deep-fried cheese curds you will want them with every meal.
Door County is home to five state parks. At Whitefish Dunes State Park, hike to “Old Baldy”, the highest sand dune in Wisconsin. You can explore on your own or take a guided tour to get a history of the park where eight significant Native American villages were situated from 100 BC to the late 1800s. Kid's will enjoy the stroll through the park to see replicas of the native village homes. Be sure to sample a thimbleberry (similar to a raspberry), which grows along the trail. (Check with your guide before trying.) Once you hit the beach, if the weather is nice enough, take a dip in Lake Michigan. At Cave Point Park, marvel at the limestone sea caves created by the pounding waves of Lake Michigan.
For an easy, kid-friendly walk with tons of birds and flowers to spot, visit Ridges Sanctuary, Wisconsin's oldest nonprofit preserve. At the Nature Center, kids can learn about flora and fauna in the surrounding area before heading out for a guided hike. There's also a play mud kitchen and water activities outside. For those travelling with small children, the boardwalks are stroller friendly and the Family Discovery Trail also includes activity stations along the way, for young explorers, such as bone digging and bridge building. Note: There is a small trail fee and extra fee for a guided hike.
More experienced hikers will love Peninsula State Park. The Eagle Trail with 150-foot cliffs, springs and forested areas has varying levels of steepness and rocky sections, and is recommended for moderate to difficult level hikers, but the views are definitely worth it. Or if hiking isn’t your thing, rent a bike and peddle the gorgeous 10-mile Sunset Trail, which includes stunning waterfront views where you can pause to watch sailboats. The trail is relatively flat and doable for beginners and little riders. Note: State parks require a state park fee to enter.
If you’ve got a little Picasso in your family, head over to the Hands On Art Studio for a walk-in, no reservations required, do-it-yourself art experience that’s fun for all ages. Little artists can choose from tons of art projects, including ceramics, jewellery, mosaics and painting. The average project can cost between $10-40 but you can budget based on which materials or projects you’d like to try.
Your summer culinary adventure doesn’t stop at cheese. Cherry season typically runs from mid-July to mid-August. If you’re having lunch at Renard’s, order the slow roasted cherry pulled pork sandwich and wash it down with a refreshing cherry soda. The menu describes it as “melt in your mouth delicious!” and trust us, this is not an exaggeration. A visit to Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, a Door County landmark, has juke boxes at every table that play the classics and home-brewed draft root beer. Be sure to try the creamy black cherry ice cream with cherry chunks in it. Order your ice cream in cup then ask the server to put it in the cone. It’s a cute trick that involves two spoons and will definitely charm little ones. If you’re looking for a good breakfast spot, head over to Julie’s Park Cafe and Motel, conveniently located near Peninsula State Park. The cafe serves breakfast and lunch, but if you’re here for the cherries, order the cherry crepes with whipped cream. For dinner and a gorgeous view by the water, dine al fresco at Fred and Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar and Grill. You’ll come for the delicious, fresh fish and stay for the stunning sunset where parents can sample the famous cherry juice margarita.
At PC Junction, a train-themed restaurant, families can sit at a counter made of old doors and get their food and drinks delivered by a little train. There’s also a playroom in the back, a patio and a playground with a wooden train structure outside. If you've got little animal-lovers in your family, stop at Al Johnson’s, an authentic Swedish restaurant and one of the most famous restaurants in Door County, where you can see real life goats grazing on the sod roof. The waitstaff are dressed in Scandinavian outfits and serve up tasty Swedish fare.
The Farm is a living museum of rural America where kids can cuddle kittens, pet piglets, milk a mama goat, bottle feed a baby goat or see chicks hatch. There are nature trails and gardens to explore as well as exhibits for learning about your new four-legged friends. At Plum Loco Animal Farm, kids can feed goats, pigs and chickens and ride or brush a pony. There’s also a child-sized farm village (best for toddlers to eight-year-olds) where little ones can pedal a tractor, play in the garden and even hang laundry. Don't miss the charming kid-sized 1880’s style general store with plenty to buy and sell, the country vet clinic with hands-on equipment to play with, and the adorable 1950’s style diner. And the eight-foot, hands-on farm table with toy barns, animals, tractors and trees will guarantee hours of farming fun! There’s enough at both farms to keep kids entertained all day, so pack a picnic and make it a day trip.
Kids will love this interactive dining tradition, at Rowleys Bay Restaurant. This charming waterfront resort is rustic and old-timey with Dirty Dancing vibes. There's even a library full of board games and quaint old paintings on the walls. As you gather around a fiery cauldron, the boil master (cook) will ceremoniously prepare the Wisconsin whitefish for dinner while a charming 93-year-old storyteller entertains guests with the tale of the fish boil and other humorous stories about the resort and surrounding area. This traditional Door County fish boil is cooked outside over an open fire just like the Scandinavian settlers did 100 years ago. Once dinner is ready, you’ll head inside for a cozy buffet dinner of, you guessed it, fish, but also tasty salads and homemade bread. Be sure to save room for dessert—the tasty, homemade cherry pie squares are made with cherries harvested right down the road.
Never taken your kids kayaking, zip-lining or stand up paddle boarding? It’s time to discover your family’s adventurous side. At Door County Adventure Center families can rent gear and get their adrenaline pumping with certified guides and facilitators who will teach and safely challenge you. At the Rowley's Bay Resort location, you can soar through the treetops on the Canopy Zip Line Tour, explore the Mink River on an Eco Kayak Tour and paddle one of the most pristine estuaries in the United States. Adventure centres are located throughout Door County, however, not every centre offers every activity, so check the website first to plan your fun. Some centres also offer segway tours and rock climbing.
If you’ve never been on adventure raft before, here's a hot tip: pack your poncho! Door County Adventure Rafting offers families (with kids ages 3 and up) the chance to ride in a safe high speed tour boat. Note: Kids must be capable of holding on to the boat as well as their parents. During the tour, you’ll cruise through the waves, get soaked and scream for joy, as you see and learn about some of the quaint islands and deserted beaches, all while taking in the breathtaking views of the shoreline of Peninsula State Park, the historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and many other Door County highlights. Some kids tend to be a little scared when the tour starts, but the majority are all smiles and begging for more once they get used to the speed. Insider tip: You will get extremely soaked in the back of the boat and the front is quite bumpy (perfect for thrill-seeking kiddos, but not ideal for ones who get sick easily.) For minimal discomfort and right amount of bumps and splashes, try to get a seat in the middle.
Some of the writer’s costs were covered by Door County Visitor Bureau.