8 Outdoor Things to do in Door County that the Tourists Don’t Know About

In 2016, I was a kayak tour guide for the summer. I lived among the locals for 3 months, and while there, I decided that I would find unknown or underappreciated gems in the county. Although this is a good list of some of the hidden gems in Door County, I had to leave a couple secret beaches out for the locals to continue to enjoy. So it looks like you’ll have to do some more digging if you want more true hidden gems. For now, enjoy these secrets of Door County that most tourists never find.

Door County Land Trusts

Ephraim_preserve_Dan_Eggert_pond2
Land Trust in Ephraim! Credit: Door County Land Trust

Starting with the Land Trusts is crucial. These are truly hidden gems! There are 14 land trusts in Door County, which are just pieces of land set aside for the public to enjoy that keep the native nature and wildlife in tact. These are all unique ecosystems with diffhttps://wordpress.com/post/venturewisconsin.blog/1690erent sights and trails to see. The Land Trusts are run by a non-governmental organization which is why they are under advertised.

Cana Island Light House

One of Door County’s 11 lighthouses (the third most lighthouses in any US county.) Being off the beaten path and on an island on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula, Cana Island is not as well advertised of an attraction. If you want a unique Door County experience, walk across the land bridge and explore the Cana Island light house!

Newport State Park

NewportSP-feat-700px-366px
Newport Nightsky. Photo by Denny Moutray

It’s hard to call a state park a hidden gem, but of the FIVE state parks in Door County, Newport State Park is the least know among tourists. A mile or two off the beaten path, Newport is actually IDA certified as a Dark Skies Park and Wisconsin’s only wilderness-designated state park. What that means is that Newport is a huge nature reserve that has very limited infrastructure, so that visitors can get a genuine nature experience!

Mink River Estuary

The Mink River almost cuts through the northern tip of the Door Peninsula. Located just West of Newport State park, the river is spring fed and runs into Rawley’s Bay. A Ramsar certified Wetlands of International Importance. Click the link and ctrl+f “Door County Coastal Wetlands.” The Mink River can be toured via your own kayak or canoe or rented from local companies. The Mink river is home to a large variety of birds and mammals, and is very pristine. SECRET: A hidden gem within a hidden gem is the grass beach and the only public place where you can access the Mink from land! Click the link for approximate directions!

Europe Beach

Another hidden gem on the East side of the peninsula, Europe Bay, Europe Lake, and Europe Beach are basically attached to Newport State Park on the north end. If you visit, you will find an intense and well maintained beach that overlooks the vast Lake Michigan. You will also find peace and quiet. This beach is much less visited, so if you visit the area, especially during the week, you may be visiting it alone. At least with many less people than say, Peninsula State Park’s beach. As for Europe Lake, it joins Clark Lake and Kangaroo Lake as the three impounded lakes of Door County. What’s an impounded lake? You’ll have to visit the nature centers and ask! Mention Venture Wisconsin if you ask. 🙂

Garrett Bay

I would argue Garrett Bay is in the top 3 for hidden gems on this list. It is a small, quick stop that has something for everybody. Just a mile-ish off the main path (Hwy 42), Garrett Bay has a public boat launch where you can skip perfectly flat rocks at the stone beach, launch you kayak, or just look across the bay at the Deathdoor Bluff. If you do bring a kayak or book a tour of the bay with a local kayak tour company, you will find the Fleetwing Shipwreck right off the shore and an amazing view of Door Bluff County Park and the rest of Door County to once you get around the corner. (If you read this far and are wondering which corner, it’s around the left corner.)

Door Bluff County Park

Right next to Garrett Bay, Door Bluff County Park is the hidden gem version of Ellison Bluff County Park. (Another kind of hidden gem you should check out.) The cliffs of limestone become more prominent as you travel north on the peninsula. So naturally Peninsula State Park is not the only spot where you can catch a beautiful bluff. Drive to the flat stone beach at Garrett Bay, skip some stones, and drive 2 minutes to the park to see trails less traveled and a unique perspective of Lake Michigan.

Pick Thimbleberries

Thimble berries are unique to the great lakes region, and are relatively unknown within the general public as they are not sold at many market places. These sweet red berries are widespread in the norther half of Door County. If you are a visitor, a common place you will find them and didn’t even know it is Whitefish Dunes State Park along the hiking trails! Note: They are very soft, so don’t be concerned if you think they are too ripe.

Thimbleberries on a leaf
This is what Thimbleberries look like!

This article should be titled, “The Lake Michigan side of Door County.” Most of the larger towns, shops, and attractions are on the Green Bay side of the Door Peninisula, so don’t be afraid to explore the East side and use these suggestions as an excuse! I hope you like this list and at least check out a few of these awesome things to do outside while you visit one of the Midwest’s favorite touring regions! If I missed any or you try them out, and want to share your tips and experiences with others looking for the less traveled trails of  let me know in the comments.

WI Pride! 9 Things Northeast Wisconsin does Better Than the Rest of the World

Aaron Rodgers number 1

When most of the world thinks about Wisconsin, often they don’t think about a world competitor with great local leadership and thriving communities. Most of the world thinks of cheese and cheese heads. Even if you asked our neighbors in the Midwest what Wisconsin was known for, they would likely take the Packers and cheese and add beer, Milwaukee, Madison, and a lot of lakes. Even though Northeast Wisconsin only has a regional population well under 2 million, they hold many unique titles, and many top ten spots in some unexpected lists.

Official Bests

Sheboygan Best Freshwater Surfing

Sheboygan claims the best freshwater surfing in the world. Called the Malibu of the Midwest, Sheboygan is best surfed from August to April when the water is freezing and wind blows between 20-25 miles per hour. Apparently Sheboygan has embraced freshwater surfing for over 50 years!

Home to the only NFL team owned by fans

Northeast Wisconsin hosts one of the most humble football programs in the NFL. Not only are the Green Bay Packers located in one of the smallest cities for a professional football team, but they are the only professional team in the country that is owned by its fans! Operating as a “publicly-owned non-profit,” the Packers sell stock to their fans, and consider themselves a “community project.” This type of mentality brings the Packers to often make decisions that are in the best interest of the community rather than profit.

This model is not even allowed to be adopted anymore. There was a rule written in the 60s that states that teams entering the NFL can not exceed 32 owners. Despite this model, the Packers are the 17th most valuable team in sports according to Forbes.

Fox River Flows North

Not exactly the world’s only, but the Fox River, much like the Nile in Egypt, flows opposite of neighboring rivers. Due to an elevation change, roughly the same as Niagara Falls, from Appleton to Green Bay, the Fox River Flows north into the Bay of Green Bay. Joining a list of a little over 30 rivers known for this behavior.

lower_fox_hydro_profile-1024x371
Fox River elevation profile. Credit: FoxLocks.org

UW Oshkosh Third Most Sustainable School in US

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (UWO) prides itself in sustainability. In 2015 UWO was rankest the third most sustainable school in the US by the Sierra Club. Beating schools like Colorado State, UC Sand Diego, and oh yeah… every other university except UC Davis and UC Irvine! UWO is part of a biodigester project that burns methane from food waste to provide 20% of the heat for its buildings. They also have cutting edge environmental programs, and hold the designation of a Tree Campus USA school.

EAA Airventure

Oshkosh, WI is home to, “the world’s largest and most significant annual aviation event.” The event quickly turns the humble Wittman Regional Airport into the busiest airport in the country, if you measure by flights per hour. The last event had approximately 590,000 attendees! Generating approximately $110,000,000 throughout Eastern Wisconsin communities. Money aside, a large number of aviation enthusiasts call Oshkosh home for a week each summer!

EAA
EAA Airshow. Credit AOPA.org

Most Lighthouses in any US County

Door County is not number one, but number three. They are behind Suffolk and Barnstable Counties, which are host to Long Island and Cape Cod respectively, Door County, WI has the third most lighthouses in any county. The county has 11 lighthouses in total, and there are many options to tour them all! Long Island has 15 and Cape Cod has 13.

 

Largest Cattail Marsh in the World

Northeast Wisconsin also is partial host of the world’s largest cattail marsh. Although closer to Southern Wisconsin, Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the world! Serving as one of the largest wetlands in the United States and critical home to Redhead Ducks.

Horicon Marsh
Horicon Marsh

Largest Lake in the State and the World

Lake Winnebago is located exclusively in Northeast Wisconsin, and is the largest lake in Wisconsin. Even more impressive to learn Wisconsin has lakes throughout the state, and that Winnebago is the 27th largest lake in the United States. Also interestingly enough, according to the University of Wisconsin, Lake Michigan and Huron are technically two halves of one lake. This makes Michigan-Huron the largest freshwater lake in the world. Although not exclusive to Northeast Wisconsin, the Door Peninsula, Bay of Green Bay, Rock Island, and Washington Island are very unique area and access points to the largest freshwater lake in the world, and that is pretty cool.

First House Powered by Hydroelectric Energy

Owned originally by a paper company entrepreneur, the first house to run off of a hydroelectric powered plant using the Edison System. Now called the Hearthstone House Museum in Appleton, WI. The Fox River and paper industry put Appleton in a position for success in the late 1800’s.

 

Self-Proclaimed Firsts

First Commercially Successful Electric Street Car Company

A list of street car companies lists Wisconsin Traction Light Heat & Power as beginning operation in 1886 in Appleton Wisconsin. We found claim that this company was the first commercially successful electric street car company in America.

First Enclosed Mall in America

Appleton used to be home to the Valley Fair Shopping Center. Built in 1954 and enclosed sometime after that. The center laid claim to have been the first enclosed shopping mall in America. Although this claim has been disputed.

First State to Recycle Paper in 1860s

Another broad claim that we could not back up with our resources, but would be interesting, and falls in line with Northeast Wisconsin’s impressive paper history.

First Hamburger

Seymour Wisconsin claims to be the official “Home of the Hamburger.” Even owning the domain homeofthehamburger.org, and backed up by legislation by the state of Wisconsin. This is also claimed by White Castle and New Haven, Connecticut among others. Here is a list of others that claim to have invented the hamburger.

 

Welcome to Seymour sign
Seymour, WI

Northeast Wisconsin has one of the world’s most unique sports franchises, many unique natural occurrences, rich history, and strong local traditions. In a region with less than two million people, we also are home to a handful of world renowned companies like Kohler, including Fortune 500 companies Kimberly-Clark and Oshkosh Corp, and a handful of Fortune 1000 companies like Plexus, Bemis, and Manitowoc. Northeast Wisconsin citizens no doubt take pride in their region!

At Venture Wisconsin, we categorizes Northeast Wisconsin from Sheboygan to Waupon to Ripon to Waupaca to Green Bay to the tip of the Door Peninsula and back to Sheboygan. If you liked this post, share it and tag a friend that would enjoy it. Thanks for reading and if we missed any Northeast Wisconsin bests, let us know in the comments.