For my summer vacation this year I wanted to get back home to Wisconsin to visit my family. After spending three days in my hometown of Merrill, WI, my parents and I would pack up for the 3-hour drive to the Door County Peninsula, between the Bay of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, where we would spend the remainder of my vacation.
The Door County Peninsula is a popular tourist destination for residents in the Midwest and is commonly called “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” Most of the activities in Door County are outdoors which makes it very popular during the spring and summer months, but the area is well visited during the fall and winter months as well. The Door County is made up of mostly small towns and villages, the largest being Sturgeon Bay with a population of just under 9,200 residents and is home to the County Seat. The remaining towns and villages which include Baileys Harbor, Egg Harbor, Ephraim and Sister Bay to name a few generally have fewer than 500 residents but nonetheless are just a glorious and full of activities as Sturgeon Bay.
The RV and RV Park
While in Door County I stayed with my parents in their 45 ft. Entegra Aspire RV at Egg Harbor Campground and RV Park. Prior to this trip I had only seen the RV once while it was in storage, so we really had no idea how things would go but didn’t think it impossible even if I couldn’t use my wheelchair since I do have some mobility. We knew for sure one small obstacle I would face daily would be the stairs, of which there are 5, getting in and out of the RV. Upon entering the RV and seeing it with the four slides fully extended it was easily determined that I would be just fine staying in my wheelchair inside the common living areas of the RV and the master bedroom.
My only obstacle inside would be the master bathroom and half guest-bathroom. The Master bathroom although very large in size does have a lip that is several inches high and the shower that although does have a nice size seat wasn’t as comfortable for me as I would’ve preferred but I made do. The half guest-bathroom just off the kitchen is a little larger than an old telephone booth. Fortunately the commode and sink were close allowing me to sit and wash-up in the mornings. I cannot fault my parents for not having a completely accessible RV, which can be purchased, because when they purchased it we never anticipated I would spend the night with them while on vacation. And despite the obstacles mentioned I am glad I had the opportunity to experience RV living, something my parents have come to enjoy in recent years.
I didn’t venture around the RV Park and Campground very much but the RV driveway and street we were on was made of crushed and very packed gravel making wheeling around a lot easier than I had anticipated. Right next to the RV was a picnic table and fire pit where we spent a couple of nights roasting hot dogs and making smores.
The Hardy Gallery
Although it turned out to be closed when I was in Door County, The Hardy Gallery is one of those places that shouldn’t be missed, especially for art lovers. The gallery located in Ephraim on historical Anderson Dock is host to artwork for some of the area’s top artists. After enjoying the gallery, spend some time sitting along the Anderson Dock soaking up some breathtaking views of the Green Bay.
Door County, like the rest of Wisconsin is rich in fertile farmland which is one reason why Door County annually remains one of the country’s top producers of tart cherries, the same cherries used in most recipes and mid-July just happens to be cherry picking season, so I wanted to be sure I had an opportunity to pick some cherries before my vacation was over. We asked around during the week to find out when and where we could pick our own cherries. One place that was recommended to us was Choice Orchards in Sturgeon Bay. Upon arrival at Choice Orchards we checked in to receive our cherry bucket and were given directions to the cherry orchards where we were able to drive up right next to the trees giving me just mere feet to maneuver my wheelchair before reaching the trees. The trees were so full of fruit it took us under an hour to fill our 5 pound bucket.
Northern Sky Theater
Located inside Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek is Northern Sky Theater. Northern Sky is an amphitheater surrounded by tall Wisconsin pine trees providing the perfect outdoor setting to watch the various performances put on annually in the summer and fall by members of the American Folklore Theatre. During my time in Door County I had the opportunity to experience one such performance called “When Butter Churns to Gold.” The performance which involves some audience participation is a good versus evil romantic comedy telling how one young maiden’s dreams will be shattered unless she can come up with her overdue mortgage payment for the family farm.
Accessibility in the theater is limited but upon entering the parking area, disabled ticket holders will be provided directions to the disabled parking where you are then escorted along the side of the stage on a short wood-chip packed path to your seats. Food and beverage is sold however the stand is at the top in the back of the theater. I would suggest having someone able-bodied with you to provide any additional assistance.
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Whitefish Dunes State Park located about 10 miles outside of Sturgeon Bay on Door County’s eastern shore is a great place for family picnics, hunting, fishing, boating, swimming and nature hiking. At the entrance to Whitefish Dunes State Park is the Nature Center and is completely accessible. It is here you can also find the only beach wheelchair in the area. If you should visit the park on a day when the beach wheelchair is already being used, do not despair as the beach itself uses a plastic grid system allowing easy access onto the sand.
The park contains almost 15 miles of walking/hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty but the 1.5 mil Brachiopod Trail is intended to be accessible for everyone. However, you should still be cautious and have someone with to assist as parts of the trail can be difficult to navigate based upon recent weather conditions. No matter what you do or where you go in Whitefish Dunes State Park, always be on the lookout on the trails ahead of you and in the surrounding woods as the park is home to a variety of plants and animals.
Washington Island located 7 miles northeast of the Door Peninsula is the largest in an island group that borders Door County. It is relatively small in size at it is only 5 miles wide by 6 miles long and has only 660 residents but is abundant in historical significance to the area, most notably being the second oldest Icelandic community in the United States and one of the largest outside Iceland. It is also here where the Green Bay and Lake Michigan meet forming a treacherous water way knowing as “Porte des Morts” or “Door of the Dead.” It is here where scuba divers can find countless shipwrecks from early settlers and explorers.
Washington Island can only be reached by personal watercraft or the Washington Island Ferry which allows visitors and residents to take their cars from mainland Door County to the island during daylight hours. Upon reaching Washington Island harbor you are greeted by the Nordic Flags from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark, along with the U.S. flag. From the harbor it is a short and scenic drive to the town of Washington where you will find many great places to shop and eateries.
A little off the beaten path on Range Line Rd, you will find several large lavender fields and the Island Lavender and Historic Island Dairy shops. Now, please don’t let the name Historic Island Dairy fool you, although it was originally a dairy, it has been fully converted into a beautiful Lavender market, historical exhibit and art gallery on the first floor and a grand ballroom complete with overlooks of the lavender fields and Scandinavian Garden Pavilion on the second floor. The Historic Island Dairy building itself is fully accessible as are parts of the grounds around the gardens.
What I was able to experience during my 5 days in Door County is just a small sampling of the many adventures a person can have in the area. There are many more shops, museums, lighthouses and other local favorite spots along with the many festivals and concerts that occur during the spring and summer months. My parents have spent most of the last three summers in Door County and still have yet to experience it all. Despite any concerns or feelings I had about not being able to find something to do, I look forward to returning to Door County in the coming years and experiencing more of what it has to offer.