July 20, 2014

Ask me a question about Door County, Wisconsin

andersondock

That's a dangerous invitation, isn't it? To encourage questions about a place for which I'm not an expert, and where I've simply vacationed. I don't live in Door County. But I've visited many times since the age of nine, and I'm happy to report it has not lost its charm and is still one of my favorite summertime destinations.

If you ask me a factual question, I'll answer with what I know (or I'll find the answer if I don't). If you ask about my impressions, I'll be happy to share those, too. 

About a month ago, the fishman and I vacationed in Door County. We decided to stay in Ephraim, because of its quaint presence and its central location in the Door Peninsula. Anderson's Dock and pier (above), which houses non-profit The Hardy Gallery and is on the National Register of Historic Places, is a must-see for anyone who visits. Norwegian immigrant Aslag Anderson started the pier and was an influential early Ephraim settler.

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Door County has been called the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," and if you visit both places, you'll understand why. A simple blog post can't cover it all. But here are some of the highlights:

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The sunrises over Lake Michigan and the sunsets over Green Bay (shown here) are spectacular. If you're in the right place at the right time, even a camera phone can adequately capture the beauty. This sunset greeted us on our first evening in Door County, at Peninsula State Park.

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Ephraim sits at the edge of Eagle Harbor. There are historical sites throughout Ephraim, as well as shops, galleries, restaurants, and plentiful water and outdoor activities. Anywhere you walk or rest along the bay, you'll see sights like this.

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The beaches are clean, accessible, and lovely.

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But Ephraim is just one of several great destinations in Door County. Another place you have to see--most recommend the breakfast pancakes--is Al Johnson's restaurant in Sister Bay. Yes, those are goats on the roof! You can read more about them, and see the "goat cam" at this link.

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Ephraim and Sister Bay are on the bay side of Door County. Bailey's Harbor--another favorite, with a slightly different personality--has more restaurants, shops, great views, activities ... and, of course, seagulls. (At one point, there were seagulls on every post of this pier.)

Those are just a few of the great towns along the peninsula, and I have to say I love them all. Others will be featured in future posts. You can see a map of Door County destinations here.

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But back to Ephraim, because that's where we stayed during this particular vacation. Wilson's Restaurant has some of the best ice cream in Door County, and they're generous with the scoops!

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We were fortunate during this vacation to witness the 50th anniversary of Ephraim's Fyr Bal Festival. I'm told the Norwegian "fyr bal" roughly translates to fire (bal) beacon (fyr), or bonfire. (I didn't realize until later that this photo was taken at the corner of Cherry and Water Streets--two of the things Door County is famous for.)

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For the annual Fyr Bal Festival in early summer, bonfires are lit at dusk to signify the burning of the "winter witch" and the welcoming of summer. You don't have to be of Norwegian heritage (I'm not) to attend--it's a fun event for people of all backgrounds and ages.

This series shows the progression of the flames, ending with a view of numerous bonfires along the coast of Eagle Harbor:

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It was truly a magical event--viewing all the people and numerous bonfires, close and in the distance, around the edges of Eagle Harbor.

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Another exceptional experience was our hike from Cave Point County Park, and then through the woods along the Lake Michigan shoreline, ending at Whitefish Dunes State Park. The photo above shows where we started, and yes--it's common practice to walk on the flat rocks out into the lake around that large limestone ledge. (Water shoes or waterproof hiking gear recommended.) It's not as scary as it looks, and the views around the corner are spectacular.

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The rock formations, including the ridges and kettles, are fascinating to study. This is part of the Niagara Escarpment, which stretches from New York State, up and over Lakes Huron and Michigan, through Door County and eastern Wisconsin.

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I'm always amazed at how plants, like this Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), cling to crevices and find a way to survive.

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With forest on one side, Lake Michigan on the other, and rock formations down the middle, the views are stunning.

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Some of the freshwater next to the limestone: I think it's blue/green because the water is so clean and clear that the color is vibrant as it reflects the sun.

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Speaking of sun, it was in and out of the mist and fog, the day we took this hike. As we left Cave Point County Park, we meandered to and fro as we walked toward our destination. We ventured out toward the lake along the way.

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And back into the forest to see blooming plants like this Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis).

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More stunning views of the land ... meeting the water ... meeting the sky.

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This particular view took my breath away. You can see the cave formations under the limestone bluffs.

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And our destination: Whitefish Dunes State Park--one of my all-time favorite places in Door County! On a warm summer day, this three-mile-long natural sand shoreline is covered with people. But on this particular unseasonably cool June day, we had the beach to ourselves!

The entire vacation was a great getaway. And now, after reliving it through photos, I can't wait to get back!

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38 comments:

  1. A wonderful place! Very beautiful nature. Speechless... Thanks for sharing the beauty.

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    1. Yes, it's stunning. But very cold in winter. Great place to spend the summer, though. :)

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  2. I had never heard of this part of Wisconsin before and we vacationed in Wisconsin when I lived in Indiana...I can see why it is called the Cape Cod of the midwest. Spectacular views, fascinating history and culture makes me want to visit...and I see our States are connected by those beautiful rocks. I look forward to more posts Beth....my question is where the name Door County came from?

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    1. Donna, you would love it! It's a little cold (for me, anyway) until July and August. But the cooler weather was actually great for hiking (not swimming). Yes, the Niagara Escarpment stretches from your state to mine. ;-)

      Early French settlers called the passage between the peninsula's tip and Washington Island "Port des Morts" or "Door to Death." Later, "death" was dropped when the county was named. :)

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  3. Beautiful and enchanting place. I've wanted to visit for years and it does look a lot like a combination of Cape Cod and the New England Coastline.

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    1. Definitely worth the trip, Shirley. You'd probably like it in July-September (like I do)--unless you prefer cool and cold weather for vacations. ;-) All the little towns are so close that you can get anywhere in the county pretty quickly. And it has such a diverse landscape and some pretty fascinating plants!

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  4. What an interesting area and beautiful photographs. Love the rocky shore. Was surprised to see the bee balm in the last photo.

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    1. Thank you. The landscape is enchanting, that's for sure. I believe it was my first vacation in Wisconsin, so it holds some sentimental meaning, personally. Actually the last photo is Columbine, and I was amazed at how it was growing in rock ledges and hanging out over the water!

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  5. You do surprise me by not mentioning the botanically most significant place in Door Co.: The Ridges preserve. Fantastic diversity from sand ridges to bogs within a few meters. Was the Pedicularis palustris or a purply canadensis? Was it actually in a woodland or a more open area? And a more precise location would be helpful. Professional curiosity. Thanks. Friends have a cabin up the hill behind Wilson's and we've visited many times.

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    1. Dang, I had the wrong Latin name! Of course, you are correct that the Wood Betony is Pedicularis (changed per your comment--thanks!). And I do believe it was P. canadensis, as shown at this link: http://bit.ly/1yRx5yL. It was definitely in deep shade in the woods. Along the path between Cave Point County Park and Whitefish Dunes State Park--about halfway between. I've seen them in Southern Wisconsin, too--at Kettle Moraine State Forest. I just can't remember the Latin name. ;-) Now I will try to be better with this one!

      Regarding The Ridges: Ah, but that was one of the highlights of the trip and deserves its own post! Stay tuned!

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  6. Those pictures from your hike are really wonderful. But is the ice cream from Wilson's better than Bascom Hall?

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    1. Thanks, and good question, Jason! The short answer is "no." Both places have great ice cream--just slightly different, and the ambience is different, too. (How's that for a politically sensitive response?) Of course, I enjoy just about any kind of ice cream. ;-)

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  7. Magnificent pictures over and on lake Michigan, Door County must be a lovely area to visit. Too far away from here, haha, but I enjoyed this blogpost very much.
    Last picture of the Aquilegia is just gorgeous. I cannot remember the cultivar´s name by head, but it is not an easy one to grow. Specialist nurseries sell sometimes this plant and I had it once but it disappeared after some years.

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    1. Yes, great place to visit. Too cold in winter, unless you like cold winter with lots of snow--some people do. Regarding the last photo: I believe it's our native Aquilegia canadensis, a native wildflower. I had to chuckle when I read that in your area it's not an easy one to grow. I've seen it all over the state this summer, and it's growing in sand, clay, garden soil, and rock (as in this post). But maybe the climate here in the northern U.S. is more suited to it?

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  8. It looks like a very interesting place. I live on the Niagara Escarpment (but the Canadian part). It was interesting to see pictures of the American section - they look very much alike.

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    1. That's my impression, too, Alain, that the Niagar Escarpment rock formations are pretty similar across the expanse. One of these days I want to get over to Niagara Falls--I've never been there, and it's really not all that far away. I've been through much of southern Ontario and loved it!

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  9. Looks beautiful and unspoiled.

    The bonfires seem like a magical tradition.

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    1. Yes, it's hard to capture the feeling of the bonfires. It was really nifty to see them lining the harbor and knowing that so many souls were gathering together to celebrate and welcome the summer. :)

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  10. What a magnificent country we live in. Is Ephraim a biblical name? It sounds as though it is, but it could be Norwegian as well. Anyway, that's my question--where does the name come from? The bonfires are such a magical and primitive side of human nature aren't they?

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    1. Good question, Susie! Yes, Ephraim is a biblical term meaning "fruitful." The early settlers of Ephraim were Norwegian Moravian Christians. And, yes, the bonfires around the harbor made me feel like a small part of a much larger human history. A very nice celebration.

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  11. I have not yet been to this part of Wisconisin, but last year we went out to Lake Geneva for a wedding. WOW, I had no idea how splendid the shores of Wisconsin could be, and we didn't even have enough time to really explore. I LOVE the midwest and all it has to offer in turf and surf! And those crystal blue/green waters are mesmerizing as well as the farms, THE GOATS on the roof (that is hilarious) and all the tradition.

    I hope you are having a great summer! Our Twin Cities summer has been mild and fabulous. Thank you for coming by to visit! Anita

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    1. Yes, Lake Geneva is fabulous, too! Maybe a little more upscale, although Door County has spots to appeal to just about anyone. I love the Midwest, too--except in the winter time. ;-) I hope you have a great rest of the summer, too! It's a wonderful one!

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  12. It really does remind me of New England. It almost does not look like a lake but the ocean. I would love vacationing there too, such a wonderful place. WI has some beautiful scenery and you captured it beautifully with your camera.

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    1. Yeah, Lake Michigan is wonderful that way--a lake with the ambience of an ocean. Love it! Thanks for your kind comments, Donna. So much to see and do here before the cold weather sets in. ;-)

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  13. Love your photos, Beth, especially that spectacular sunset and those from your walk -- the empty beach being another favorite. It's been too long since I visited Door County!

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    1. Thanks, Heather! It had been too long for me, too. I've been there too many times to count, but believe it or not, it had been more than a decade since the last time. I'd call it paradise except it has a very brutal winter season, as you know. ;-)

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  14. Oh my goodness, each photo is more beautiful then the last...it's gorgeous there, maybe it should go on my must visit list..oh yes it must go on it.

    Do all states have Counties? We don't do that here in Canada.

    Jen

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    1. Thanks, Jen. Yes, I do believe it should go on your visit list. You won't be disappointed, because there's something there for everyone. Oh, and I don't know if you like wine, but there are lots of wineries, too. And Cherry trees and foods and beverages with Cherries are everywhere. Yes, most states are divided up into counties--except Louisiana, which uses parishes.

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  15. Ok, you have convinced me--I want to go to Door County! Actually, I've been there once, but it's been years ago, and I know we didn't take the time to see everything. Looks like the perfect getaway!

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    1. It's not too far for you, Rose. And of course you would enjoy it, too. I'd recommend July or August, to get away from high summer heat. Or May, June, September, or October, if you like cooler weather. Send me an email if you'd like lodging and activity recommendations.

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  16. What a varied landscape, water, boats, cliffs, sand, all my favourite things, plus quirky architecture. I can see why you keep going back. The bonfire looked rather wonderful too.

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    1. Oh yeah, definitely many of the things you like about Wales. The Fyr Bal was great--much more moving and interesting than I thought it would be. A little chilly--but this summer has been cooler than normal. But it was great fun.

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  17. It's gorgeous! I feel like I want to go now too. I've never heard of the tradition of burning the winter witch but I like it!!!! Maybe we could adopt it in our neighborhood. Seems like a good send off to winter. Great pics.

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    1. You'll have to come visit our state! I love Colorado too for similar reasons. And, yes, the Fyr Bal festival was fascinating and fun!

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  18. What can I say . . .
    Stunning photos . . .
    Thank you for the photo treat of one of my favorite places . . .
    Door County, WISCONSIN . . .

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    1. Thanks, Lynne. :) I know Wisconsin holds a lot of memories for you, too. Door County is wonderful in the summertime!

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  19. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful place. The images of the rock formations meeting the water and the foggy sky are breathtaking, and I love the photo of the duck family!

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    1. Thanks, Deb. The hike from Cave Point to Whitefish Dunes State Park really is quite special! I'd forgotten just how scenic it is. Need to get back there before too long.

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