Door County is a scenic peninsula located between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. There are plenty of free things to do in Door County, Wisconsin, like visiting the Door County Historical Museum and one of the area’s many parks. Speaking of parks, many of them are open year-round and transform into snowy wonderlands in winter. From cross-country skiing to snowshoeing to snowmobiling, there are fortunately lots of things to do in Door County in winter.
If you have a limited amount of time in the area, hop on a scenic tour with Door County Trolley to see a lot of the main sights. But don’t miss doing a spot of Door County shopping at specialty stores located across the peninsula. Continue on for lots of other fun things to do in Door County.
1. Peninsula State Park
On average, one million people visit Peninsula State Park annually. So, why is it so popular? Well, it’s home to eight miles of Lake Michigan shoreline for starters. But there’s also the 10-mile Sunset Bike Route, 20 miles of hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, and swimming at Nicolet Beach. Don’t be deterred in winter either, as it has plenty of snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails. The number 17 fairway at the golf course magically transforms into a great sledding spot as well.
2. Cave Point County Park
A visit to Cave Point County Park is one of the best things to do in Door County for photographers and divers. With its impressive carved limestone cliffs jutting out of Lake Michigan, it’s one of the most beautiful spots in the region. Divers can head down and see amazing underwater caverns, while photographers will want to visit around sunset. Cave Point County Park is also equipped with picnic tables, cooking grills and fire rings.
3. Cana Island Lighthouse
Located just north of Bailey Harbor, Cana Island Lighthouse is undoubtedly the region’s most iconic lighthouse. Cana Island itself is bordered on three sides by water. Open seasonally from May until October, hop aboard the free tractor and hay wagon ride as it takes you across the low-lying causeway to Cana Island. Then climb the 97 steps up the lighthouse’s spiral staircase for scenic views across Lake Michigan and the entire Door County peninsula.
4. Newport State Park
Newport State Park is Wisconsin’s only wildlife-designated state park. It’s also been named a Dark-Sky Preserve by the International Dark-Sky Association, due to its exceptional starry nights. Located near Ellison Bay, Newport State Park is open year-round. It features 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, 30 miles of hiking trails, and camping opportunities (perfect for observing its dark sky status). Head into the forest along Fern Trail, which is fitted with interpretive and engaging panels.
5. Rock Island State Park
Rock Island State Park is indeed located on Rock Island – a wooded island found at the mouth of Green Bay. You have to take two ferries to get to Rock Island, and no wheeled vehicles (including both cars and bikes) are allowed on the island. Although the state park’s open year-round, the ferry only operates from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day. Two top attractions in Rock Island State Park include the stone Viking boathouse and Pottawatomie Lighthouse, Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse.
6. Potawatomi State Park
One of the top things to do in Door County is to visit Potawatomi State Park. Spread over 1200 acres, its scenic landscape includes rolling hills, limestone cliffs, and over two miles of Green Bay shoreline. Potawatomi State Park has plenty of hiking and biking trails, which transform into cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails come winter. There’s also an accessible pier for fishing, and an observation tower to climb for sweeping views across Green Bay.
7. Schoolhouse Beach Park
Schoolhouse Beach Park is located a ferry ride away on Washington Island. It’s a beach with a difference, as instead of sand its shoreline consists of smooth limestone rocks. A geological marvel, there’s apparently only four other similar beaches in the entire world. Locals and visitors alike flock to the beach in summer, as the water is clear, calm and perfect for swimming. Schoolhouse Beach Park has a marked swimming area with a diving raft.
8. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
Nicknamed ‘The Guardian of the Strawberry Channel,’ Eagle Bluff Lighthouse was built in 1868. Located in the previously mentioned Peninsula State Park, today the lighthouse operates as a museum. Visitors can take guided tours and learn what life would have been like for the lighthouse keepers. It’s actually the only lighthouse in Door County that offers guided tours, thanks to the local historical society. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse is open from mid-May until late October.
9. Door County Maritime Museum
Door County Maritime Museum has three museum sites spread across the peninsula. There’s maritime museums in Sturgeon Bay and Gills Rock, as well as Cana Island Lighthouse. The maritime museum located on Sturgeon Bay’s historic waterfront features exhibits on the region’s lighthouses (and lighthouse keepers), shipbuilding companies, and shipwrecks. There’s even a restored tugboat on display that served the US Army in World War II. At Gills Rock, you will find an interesting exhibit on the pirates of the Great Lakes.
10. Door County Historical Museum
The Chicago Tribune named Door County Historical Museum the ‘Best Small Museum in the Midwest.’ Open from May until October, it’s one of the best free things to do in Door County. It features displays on the area’s unique history, and a native wildlife exhibit by renowned taxidermist, Mike Orthober. The museum also has a replica fire station that houses three restored trucks and fire-fighting artifacts. Children will love to sit in the 1920s Oldsmobile on display.
11. Whitefish Dunes State Park
Whitefish Dunes State Park is home to the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin. Cave Point County Park (mentioned above) is actually an enclave within Whitefish Dunes State Park, so you can tick off two top things to do in Door County in one place. The state park has plenty of hiking trails, and a white sand beach perfect for swimming. The Whitefish Dunes Nature Center is also open year-round and has displays on the park’s ecology, geology, and cultural history.
12. Washington Island Ferry Line
Washington Island is a year-round home to approximately 700 residents. The Washington Island Ferry Line is an important mode of transport that connects the island to the Wisconsin mainland, via the curiously-named Death’s Door passage. Leaving from Northport Pier, the passenger, vehicle and freight ferry makes the 30-minute crossing multiple times a day. One of the best things to do on Washington Island is the two-hour narrated Cherry Train Tour, which takes you past the island’s most popular attractions.
13. Stone’s Throw Winery
Opened in 1997, Stone’s Throw Winery is a multi award-winning company. The team at Stone’s Throw Winery makes their wines onsite from premium Californian grapes. They produce a huge variety of red, white and sparkling wines, so there’s truly something for every wine connoisseur. Stone’s Throw Winery also has a tasting room (with guided wine tastings) and two restaurants. Vino! Vino! is a Tuscan-inspired tapas bar, while Bocce specializes in oak barrel-fired pizza.
14. Historic Island Dairy
Built in 1916, the Historic Island Dairy is located on Washington Island. It was the epicenter of the island’s dairy industry for over 50 years, until it closed in 1969. The building sat dormant for decades, until it got a complete makeover in 2012. Today, its first floor is home to an art gallery featuring local artists, and an exhibit on the island’s history. The second floor has a grand ballroom and event space, overlooking one of the largest lavender farms in Wisconsin.