USA Today has described Door County as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”. Wisconsin’s “thumb” is a 75-mile long peninsula with 250 miles of shoreline dotted with 11 lighthouses each built over a century ago. Sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan, the world’s fifth largest freshwater lake, Door County is renown as a summer destination in which to enjoy sun and water fun in a wooded and rural setting.
Door County has been attracting visitors far longer than might be imagined.
- The current landscape was carved from ancient marine sedimentary rock by glaciers during the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago.
- Soon after, nomadic Paleoindians came to fish and hunt game including woolly mammoths.
- Archaeological evidence of permanent Indian settlements date back over 2,000 years.
- In 1634, French adventurer Jean Nicolet travelled to Door County searching for a water passage to Asia.
- Instead, he found a route to the Mississippi River and eventually New Orleans.
- He also established the fur trade in the settlement which became Green Bay.
- Wisconsin, a Northwest Territory ceded to the U.S. by Britain, became a state in 1848..
- Logging and fishing industries became the dominant activities in Door County.
- Stone quarrying and agriculture followed, with cherry and apple orchards in the 1870s.
- Tourism as we think of it began here in the 1870s with construction of resort hotels.
- Soon steamship excursions from Chicago and Milwaukee began in volume.
- Some of today’s tourist attractions date their beginnings back 100 years.
- Early tourism was often a multi-week stay, but Door County has changed with the times.
- Vacation patterns have changed with more, but briefer vacations.
- Improved roads have put Door County within convenient driving time from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis and even further away make weekend trips possible.
- The 21st. century has brought even more change to Door County, including:
- Increased popularity of off-season activities:
- Door County vies for top ranking in the beauty of its fall foliage with New England.
- Snowmobiling is a popular winter activity.
- Summer hiking trails become winter snowshoe trails.
- With more offseason visitors, more service businesses stay open year round.
- Recently, trending remote work options driven by the 2020-1 covid pandemic and enabled by increased internet connectivity have led to longer stays and even family relocation away from big cities.
As Door County evolved as a tourist destination since the middle of the 19th. century, its recreational options have kept pace:
- 10 golf courses and several miniature golf and go-cart parks for the young-at-heart
- Boating – both cruises and rentals are available at several of the towns
- Dozens of year-round hiking options for all skill levels
- Over 100 art galleries – most of which allow you to meet and watch the artists
- Nationally ranked fall colors within minutes of where you stay
- World class fishing, especially for bass and salmon.
- Several live theatre troupes – outdoor and indoor
- A proliferation of restaurants for foodies
- Year-round festivals in the picturesque small towns of Door County
- Museums for both art and the maritime heritage
- Winter activities include: ice fishing, snow shoeing, and snowmobiling