Door County and Washington Island, Wisconsin May 2023

Map of Wisconsin, our route from home to Door County, our route back home from Door County, a map of the Door County Peninsula, a map of Door County highlights, and a list reflecting those highlights.

Linda’s high school friend Des lives in Italy.  We visited Des last year in May 2022 while touring Italy. Des recently spent six weeks in Japan traveling from the south all the way to the north by train, to sightsee, and photograph among other attractions, the cherry blossoms.  With Des sharing her story we decided to spend a few days in Door County, Wisconsin to see and photograph their cherry blossoms.  Since arriving in the United States 37 years ago we have visited Door County a handful of times. Our visits usually included taking family and friends to see this beautiful and scenic part of our state.

It would be wrong of me to not state that we arrived in Door County too late to see the Cherry Blossoms, but that did not matter, we had a wonderful time anyway, as you will read below.

We traveled from home to Fish Creek on Monday, May 22, returning on Thursday, May 25, 2023. Traveling north we drove close to Lake Michigan, the scenic route. On the return journey, we drove inland, passing many industrial cities. Both journeys took approximately 3 1/2 hours.  The northern part of our state is heavily forested and the center of the pulp, paper, and packaging industry.

 

Door County is home to 29,130 residents with a median age of 60. The county seat is Sturgeon Bay. The county was created in 1851 and organized in 1861. It is named after the strait between the Door Peninsula and Washington Island to the north. This dangerous passage, known as Death’s Door Passage, is scattered with shipwrecks and was known to early French explorers and local Native Americans. Door County is famous for its picturesque coastal towns, specialty shops, fish boils, cherry and apple orchards, and scenic beauty.

 

Door County Coastal Byway provides the visitor with helpful brochures and online information. Everything to help plan your trip for a fun-filled adventure.

 

What is important to understand about these tourist hotspots, is that over the summer they are inundated with thousands of visitors from our state of Wisconsin, nearby Illinois, and other states within the U.S., and international travelers. The hotels, restaurants, and retail outlets require many helpers over this busy season. Students from across Europe apply for temporary visas to fill these positions and come in for several months to assist these businesses. We met several servers in the restaurant as I will detail later. To put the time frame in perspective, Monday, May 31 is Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer and the beginning of the busy tourist season. The school year has ended for most schools, allowing families to travel.  During our visit, we encountered several businesses training students to execute their duties over the summer.

 

While walking around Washington Island, I picked up a copy of a 60-page weekly community newspaper, Peninsula Pulse.  It is common for many American communities to have this type of free publication focused on the interest of their community. After reviewing it, I understood that this was distributed Door County-wide.  The content is unbelievably detailed.  Local news (10 pages), school news (4), community (10), events (10), arts and entertainment (10), art (8), classified and legal (8).  Naturally, this is well supported and financed through advertising.

 

Washington Island has its own publication “Experience Washington Island.”  This publication features detailed maps with supporting information:

  • maps of restaurants,
  • maps showing shops, groceries, gas, and real estate,
  • maps showing recreation, tours, taverns,
  • maps reflecting arts, associations, building and member services,
  • maps showing accommodations,
  • maps showing marinas and charters,
  • calendar of events,
  • Washington Island ferry schedules.

 

Washington Island caters to tourism.  The Island Adventure Company offers multiple ways to explore and enjoy the island.

 

Monday, May 22, 2023

 

We left home after 9:00 AM to avoid the busy commuter traffic driving into Milwaukee for work. The drive for the first 40 minutes was on busy roads where there was significant construction. These roads are in desperate need of repair. Our harsh winters are not kind to our roadways.  Thereafter, when outside the metropolitan area, our road to Door County was in magnificent condition with noticeably light traffic.

Getting close to our accommodation, we stopped for lunch and bought a treat for afternoon tea at Door County Coffee and Tea Company. We arrived at Homestead Suites in Fish Creek earlier than the check-in time.  However, our room was ready. We unpacked and made ourselves comfortable.  I highly recommend this inn.  The unwelcome news that the front desk shared with us; we are a week late to see the cherry trees in full bloom.

 

It has been many years since we last visited Door County and deliberately chose to come during the week, avoiding the busy weekend chaos. The weather was great, and it was beautiful to see the green vegetation on our drive.  It was interesting to see that most, if not all the visitors were retirees.  In fairness we did see two couples with noticeably young children, cradling babies.

 

As an aside, I purchased my Subaru Outback in late 2015 as a 2016 model.  It came fitted with GPS.  To upgrade the available GPS software would cost me $100, on an annual basis to keep current.  With the GPS function provided on our iPhone, I will not spend the money getting my car’s GPS updated.  However, I did find an interesting situation.  Door County consists of many towns and villages as you drive along the peninsula.  The speed limit is constantly changing from a maximum of 55 MPH to 45, to 35, to 25 as you approach each settlement, needing to go very slowly as you pass through the main roads, then increasing speed until you reach the next town. What I found fascinating, watching the GPS in my car, is that Door County has lowered all speed limits, compared to what was the regulated speed a few years ago.  Understand too, that as you go through the built-up areas, it is the right thing to stop for people wishing to cross the road, as many are elderly and require extra time.

We walked to nearby Peninsula State Park.  Looking for a place to hike for exercise. We learned that entering the park on foot was free.  Many people arrive on bicycles and vehicles. Golf carts and bicycles are available to rent from vendors inside the park.  We stopped in at a rental shop and spoke to a youngster serving us.  My question to him was “Where is home?” I was curious if anyone so young would live nearby to work at the park.  He lives outside the park in Door County.  I remained puzzled, and he said that he preferred living in smaller communities and staying with his parents.

 

I need to stress one point again.  Northern Wisconsin is heavily forested, as is this park. With my South African heritage, I was wondering if we would encounter lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippopotami, and other wild animals, including bears.  That was not to be.  The animals you will find in the Peninsula are foxes, coyotes, skunks, porcupines, opossums, grouse, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits. If you are fortunate, and we were not, you can watch bats fly from their daytime roost to hunt for mosquitoes.  We did not see any animals on our walk.

 

If I am allowed another aside, this week in our community of New Berlin, where we live, a bear was spotted on several door cameras, a situation that is indeed extremely rare.

 

Peninsula State Park is considered Wisconsin’s most complete park, offering over 460 campsites, three group camps, a summer theater, an 18-hole golf course, a sand beach, bike trails, a lighthouse, and eight miles (13 kilometers) of Door County shoreline. The rollicking waves that skip towards the Peninsula’s sky-high bluffs are part of the Niagara Escarpment.

 

Peninsula State Park provides visitors with convenient handout material, including a map of the park, hiking trails, and things to do. Additional information can be found online. 

 

We had dinner at Barringer’s in Fish Creek.  The restaurant was busy, so we elected to eat at the bar where Shaun was our server.  More than a server, he was an entertainer with several dad jokes.  What did the strawberry say to the other strawberry?  You got us into this jam!  The couple sitting alongside us found that the food was so plentiful that they took some home in a “doggie bag.”  Shaun told us that they rent two nearby houses for the summer, and that is where they house the European students who work for them over that period.

Later that evening we enjoyed our stroll along the Fish Creek lakeside area.

 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

 

After breakfast, we drove north to Washington Island, situated in Lake Michigan.  Washington Island is the largest of the group of islands that includes Plum, Detroit, Hog, Pilot, Fish, and Rock Islands.  These islands form the Town of Washington, within Door County.  Washington Island has a year-round population of 708 according to the 2010 census.  It has an area of 23.5 square miles (60.9 square kilometers).  The highest elevation is 705 feet (215 meters).  Washington Island is known for its parks, trails, and beaches and peaceful, secluded locations with stunning waterfront views.

 

We purchased tickets as walk-on ferry customers.  Most people arrive by car.  Payment is then for the vehicle and each passenger.  We had little choice but to sit inside the lounge area, as viewed from outside mosquitoes attacked us.

I was fascinated watching our ferry coming into the dock.  I saw a large dump truck coming off the ferry before multiple cars were allowed off.  I learned later that these trucks go to the island to collect trash and recycle materials.  On the ferry that we returned from Washington Island to the mainland, it carried a large luxury bus, plus many other vehicles.  I was impressed by the ferry’s ability to carry such a heavy vehicle load.  While I’m at it, the trip to Washington Island was on calm waters, but on the return trip, the waters were choppier.

 

On arrival, we stopped in at the Washington Island Ferry office. A youngster who attended to us grew up in West Allis, close to where we currently live. He told us that he traveled to various countries in Europe with his two brothers and father, because his mom was in the military, and she got posted all over. After his mom retired, the family moved to Door County, and finally to Washington Island.

We stopped in at Washington Island Stavkirke, a stave (wooden) church. It is owned and operated by Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church which is positioned a few hundred yards away.

After we started our walk along the Sunset Bike Route, a gentleman in a small truck stopped and offered us a ride to the shopping center.  Along the way, he pointed to several restaurants, including his favorite.  Thanking him for his generosity and kindness, we began our walk back to our ferry, stopping at his recommended restaurant.  KK Fiske Restaurant is where we enjoyed a fried fish basket with sweet potato chips.  As it turned out, the walk, some three miles (5 kilometers) was further than we planned, but the weather was great.  Everyone we encountered on foot or bike was very friendly, greeting us as if we were long-lost friends.

We walked a total of 4 miles, 14,000 steps.  We celebrated with ice cream at the renowned Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim. To understand the popularity of this business, we had to take a number, sit outside, and wait to be called. They have been in business since 1906. We visited this establishment on our previous trips.  We chose takeout and sat watching activities alongside the lake. 

 

The young student who helped us did something that I found a tiny bit alarming. I requested the African Dark Chocolate in a cone. She reached for a small cone and popped a small black licorice jellybean in the bottom of the cone. I stopped her and said that I would prefer the larger waffle cone.  She trashed the small cone, popped a jellybean in the waffle cone, and loaded up the dark chocolate. Later, I spoke to the manager very politely and suggested that rather than waste a cone, the server should first inquire about what type of cone.  The manager said that the young lady had only started to work with them the previous day and would pass on the recommendation.

 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

 

Immediately alongside Homestead Suites is a motel with a restaurant—Julie’s Park Café and Motel. This was our first encounter with being served by a student in training.  The student who served us was Mexican with a fascinating story.  He was born in Wisconsin. His family moved back to Mexico when he was eight.  Starting school in Mexico, he could not speak a word of Spanish. Several years ago, his family returned to Wisconsin, living in a small town.  He completed high school, but took a gap year, working odd jobs, before planning to attend university the next year.  The reason I asked him about his heritage, I was amazed that he spoke perfect English without an accent.

 

Our plan today was to walk around Fish Creek. Our first stop was Hat Head.  I found it amazing that a store can have such a variety of hat merchandise.  They cater to men, women, and kids, in all shapes, sizes, styles, and colors. I am sure that we did not add to their wealth since Linda only purchased a round scarf that can be worn to cover her ears from the wind and cold.

Later we went sightseeing in other small villages.  We stopped in Sister Bay to have lunch at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant.  If you look closely at the photograph taken inside the restaurant, you will see that the servers wear traditional Swedish dress.  The food was delicious.  Al Johnson’s is famous for their grass roof.  How do you trim the grass?  With goats of course.  We have seen the goats doing their diligence on prior visits but did not see them in action on this trip.

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant has a GOAT CAM on the roof, where you can view what is taking place 24 X 7.  https://aljohnsons.com/goat-cam/ (The YouTube video is worth watching).

 

 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

 

Our day began with packing our car and checking out of the room.  We went next door again for our second visit to Julie’s Park Café.  This time we were served by a student who hailed from Turkey.  As before, the food was great.  Our only surprise was to be shown to a lounge alongside where most patrons were eating.  I assumed this was used as an overflow lounge when the main restaurant became very busy. 

 

We planned to drive the inland route on the mainland.  Here we saw many businesses where I provided consulting during earlier years when I operated my business.  We bypassed Green Bay, a city that I visited many times, especially when Robyn was at St. Norbert College in De Peer, just outside of Green Bay.

 

When we left home, I elected to not fill my car with gas/petrol.  Shortly before arriving home, while in the vicinity of Slinger, my low fuel warning light came on in my car.  We stopped in at Kwik Trip to refuel.  On leaving we were forced to turn right, but I needed to go left.  I drove to the nearby traffic light with my plan to U-turn and get back onto the Interstate.  As we approached the traffic light, it turned yellow, so I stopped.  Much to my surprise, I saw a red sports vehicle approaching at a very high speed and flying through the red traffic light. And you wonder why there are so many accidents and fatal accidents on the road?  I can only imagine that these were young irresponsible kids.

 

The balance of our journey was uneventful.  We arrived home safely to relax and reflect on a wonderful time.


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