Tips for First-Time Visitors to Door County

Is this your first time visiting Door County? Take some advice from a local and follow these tips for the best trip ever!

Is this your first time visiting Door County? Do you have a list of recommendations from friends, family, and the Internet, but you’re not sure where to start? There’s always so much to do, see, and experience in Door County, and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out all the must-dos and must-tries. Take some advice from a local and follow these tips to ensure that your first trip to Door County is a smashing success!

A popular time to visit Door County is during the summer, where you can enjoy beauty and adventure on both land and water.

Summer is one of the most popular times of the year to visit Door County, and for good reason. Surrounded by water with the bay of Green Bay on one side of the peninsula and Lake Michigan on the other, boasting over 300 miles of shoreline, Door County’s natural beauty and stunning sunsets draw visitors from all over the country. Naturally, this is also when the county is at its busiest, and the small towns and villages are full to bursting! How can you ensure that you find a place to rest at night that has great access to the rest of the peninsula?

It’s important to make your reservations far in advance, as soon as you know when and where you’d like to visit. Weekends are especially packed, so if you want to experience Door County at a slower pace with less people, try a midweek stay instead! Nevertheless, there are several comfortable and accommodating properties where you can spend a weekend in Door County. The largest resort with the most amenities, the Landmark Resort, features nearly 300 suites with one, two, or three bedrooms, woodside or water views, and a central location on the peninsula in Egg Harbor. It’s also one of the most family-friendly, with an indoor pool, heated outdoor pools overlooking the bluff, and pickleball, tennis, shuffleboard, and a playground to play on! Find the perfect suite for you and your family that will start your stay on the right foot at the Landmark Resort.

Feel at home in Door County in one of the Landmark Resort’s many comfortable suites.

Resorts and hotels won’t be the only places that are full. Door County has five state parks that can be explored on foot, by bike, or even by water in a kayak or boat tour. Parking might be difficult to come by, especially just before and after lunch, which are typically the most popular times to visit the parks. Visit the parks in the morning or evening if you can, such as just after breakfast or before dinner. This will help you secure a parking spot that’s closer to some of the trails or even at Peninsula State Park’s Eagle Tower. However, if those times don’t work for you, you can always park outside the parks on the streets and walk inside.

Tip: When visiting Peninsula State Park, one of my favorite activities is parking on the street and renting a bike from Edge of Park Bicycle Rentals. Sunset Trail will take you from the edge of the park all the way to Eagle Tower, with some of the most stunning views of the trees and water.

Peninsula State Park offers some of the most stunning views of the water from the top of Eagle Tower.

Along with hotels and parks, the restaurants will be quite busy as well! There are several quick eats around the peninsula where you can simply grab and go a meal, such as Prince of Pierogi in Ephraim or food trucks like Wally’s Weenie Wagon or Mauricio’s. However, there will more than likely be quite long lines for these given their popularity, and most don’t take food orders in advance. Your safest way to guarantee a timely meal is to make reservations for restaurants about a day or two in advance, sometimes more if you really want to secure a seat! Before you take the trip up to Door County, make sure to spend some time researching restaurants near where you’re staying to see which spots you’d like to visit. There’s no shortage of food to try in Door County, from Polish and Swedish dishes to wood-fire pizza to the famed whitefish!

Tip: If you book a stay at the Landmark Resort, make dining easy on yourself with dinner reservations at the on-site restaurant Carrington! With a full bar, family-friendly dinner menu, and some of the best views on the bluff, experience the best of Door County all in one place.

Visit the Carrington for a delicious dinner and a front row seat to a Door County sunset.

Speaking of whitefish, there are some Door County staples that you absolutely MUST try for your first trip! You may have heard of the fish boil, where freshly caught Lake Michigan whitefish are cooked over an open fire. When the fish is finally done, the Master Boiler will toss a handful of kerosene onto the fire, which will shoot a burst of flames into the sky! There are several restaurants throughout the peninsula that offer fish boils in the summer, such as White Gull Inn, Pelletier’s Restaurant, and the Old Post Office. Always make reservations for these well in advance, because seats fill up quickly!

The Door County fish boil is an iconic experience that you don’t want to miss on your first trip!

Another popular activity in Door County that will help you acclimate to the area is a Door County Trolley tour. There are a wide variety of tours to choose from, such as family-friendly tours, lighthouse tours, or even drinking tours, but a great introduction to Door County is the Narrated Scenic Tour. The trolley will take you through the stunning landscapes and charming villages of the peninsula, and the guides provide great tips on where to try the local fruit wine, which activities to try, and where to eat! The trolley ride is only an hour and a half long with tickets starting at just under thirty dollars, so this is a great affordable way to get to know Door County!

Get to know Door County quickly and efficiently on a Door County Trolley tour!

When it comes to touring Door County like a local, there are several spots you should visit for the authentic experience. Just outside of Sturgeon Bay, if you turn off the highway and drive up some winding roads, you’ll find Cave Point County Park. This isn’t a state park that requires a sticker, and it’s free and open to the public! Here, you’ll find some of the most stunning views of Lake Michigan from atop of the bluff, with waves crashing into the limestone cliffs. A hiking trail will take you to Whitefish Dunes State Park, where you can walk down to the beach to slow down and relax, feel the sand between your toes, and hear the water lapping on the sand.

Tip: If you park your car at Cave Point County Park, you can walk over to Whitefish Dunes State Park without needing to purchase a state park sticker!

Slow down and relax at the beach in Whitefish Dunes State Park.

Further up north, stop by Door County Coffee in Carlsville for a hot cup of deliciously flavored coffee and fresh baked pastries. Across the street is the Door Peninsula Winery and Door County Distillery, where you can take a tour of their magnificent facility and sample locally made wine and spirits! As you drive up the peninsula, don’t be afraid to take some side roads off the highway. The highways often get congested with visitors making their way north, and sometimes those side roads prove to be a bit faster, and definitely more scenic.

To avoid the crowds, visit one of the quieter towns on the peninsula, Baileys Harbor, though it’s just as beautiful with just as many activities as the other villages. It’s the only town on the lakeside of the peninsula that offers fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and boat tours, so it’s a great place to spend some time on Lake Michigan! For quiet kayaking and hiking, check out one of Door County’s inland lakes, such as Kangaroo Lake. Since it’s such a small lake, no boats with motors are allowed, so you can enjoy the peace and serenity of nature undisturbed. Back on land, visit the Ridges Sanctuary and discover Wisconsin’s first land trust, which protects the most biologically diverse ecosystem in the state. There is no shortage of delicious restaurants in Baileys Harbor either, from fine dining at Harbor Fish Market & Grille to the casual brewpub Door County Brewing Co to the popular tourist destination Blue Ox Bar.

Baileys Harbor is on the quieter side of the peninsula, but there is just as much to see and do as the rest of Door County!

There’s something for everyone to love in Door County! Make the most of your first visit by conducting thorough research beforehand and figuring out what activities and destinations lie best with your interests. Each town and village have a unique personality that may match yours, and each offers fun events, appetizing food, and beautiful Door County scenery for you to explore. There’s no wrong way to experience Door County, so don’t worry if you can’t fit it all into one weekend. We’ll be here waiting for you when you come back!

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