Door County, Wisconsin is a hidden gem. Few people out of state have ever heard of (let alone been to) this delightfully scenic peninsula, but it’s only 4 hours away. Chicago.
From Milwaukee to Door County, it’s an easy 2 hour trip. It is also just a 45 minute drive from Green Bay, the nearest major airport.
It’s close enough for a weekend getaway, but I can assure you that you’ll want to spend more time on this carefree peninsula made up of 15 quaint towns and villages.
Enjoy Door County with kids while hiking in a state park, cuddling with farm animals, or spending a day on a sandy beach. Here are the best things to do on a family vacation in Door County.
#1: Bike the Sunset Trail at Peninsula State Park
Set out on the 10-mile Sunset Trail, which takes cyclists on a wonderfully scenic route with stops at Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and Nicolet Beach.
In the summer, the Northern Sky Theater performs original musicals under starry skies in the park’s outdoor amphitheater.
#2: Beach Splash at Waterfront Park
In Sister Bay, kids will love wading through the water, building sand castles and paddling kayaks at Waterfront Park, Door County’s largest public waterfront.
Waterfront Park is among the best beaches in Door County thanks to a sandy beach, a small pier, and a swim platform for jumping into the water.
A large playground and a grassy area to play around a soccer ball keep the kids busy. For dinner, stop at a local pizzeria, wild tomatofor delicious wood-fired pizzas.
#3: Hike to “Old Baldy” at Whitefish Dunes State Park
Door County, Wisconsin is home to five state parks, including Whitefish Dunes State Park in Sturgeon Bay.
It’s an absolute must to hike the 2.7 mile Old Baldy Loop Trail to reach the top of “Old Baldy” (take the red trail to Old Baldy and then the yellow trail on the way back).
Old Baldy is Wisconsin’s tallest sand dune, rising 93 feet above lake level. The park also has a convenient nature center and a white-sand beach along Whitefish Bay.
When the conditions are right, it is possible to kayak on the crystal clear waters of Lake Michigan.
#4: Take a Farm Tour
In Sister Bay, make time for a two-hour farm tour at Door County Creamery. Farm tours take place from May to October.
All visits include an ice cream and cheese tasting (cheese curds, oh yes), lunch on the terrace and a privileged moment to get closer to mom, dad and kids.
Door County Creamery is also known for offering Goat Yoga in conjunction with Sister Bay’s Ironwood Yoga. Yoga mats are provided for this 40-minute session with kids.
#5: Go to a classic ice cream parlor
In Ephraim, it’s a must Wilson’s for a frosty cup of home-brewed root beer, a flame-grilled burger and fries, and an ice cream sundae.
Wilson’s has been a family landmark in Door County for over 100 years. In the summer there will be crowds, but don’t let that stop you.
Order a Cherry Berry Delight or a Clown Sundae to go and eat it across the street for a great view of the water. Wilson’s is one of Door County’s best restaurants for families.
#6: Watch a drive-in movie
Since there are so few drive-in theaters left in the United States (about 330, according to DriveInMovie.com), it’s a must to settle into a family movie.
AT Skyway Drive-In Theater in Fish Creek, place yourself at a speaker to listen to or tune your car radio to FM 100.5 or AM 530.
Plenty of snacks and treats are also available, like long hot dogs, pizza, nachos, and ice cream sandwiches. Watch from your car or from the lawn.
#7: Settle In For An Authentic Fish Boil
An authentic Fish Boil dinner is a true Door County tradition. You’ll find them all over the scenic peninsula. It’s also one of the most fun things to do in Door County with kids.
One of the best places to boil fish is Rowleys Bay Restaurant at Rowleys Bay Resort in Ellison Bay (open seasonally from late May).
Fish Boil dinners are held four nights a week and are much more than dinner. This is an event that starts at 4:30 p.m. with storytelling.
Then, a bubbling in a huge outdoor kettle takes place at 5 p.m. Prepare for black smoke and huge flames. The result is more than delicious.
#8: Eat All The Cherries At Seaquist Orchards
Door County, Wisconsin is well known for its tart Montmorency cherries, which go into pie fillings, jams, barbecue sauce and wines, even salsas.
Sea orchards is the largest cherry producer in the county and well worth a stop in Door County.
Take a 1-hour guided tractor farm tour through several acres of fruit trees, including cherry, apple, and apricot trees, from mid-May to late October.
Stop by the bakery for a slice of fresh cherry pie. Seaquist Orchards even hosts its own Cherry Festival in late July.
#9: Enjoy a Tranquil Sunset Cruise on Sister Bay
Enjoy a colorful sunset on a Door County sunset cruise with Sister Bay Scenic Boat Tours. This 90-minute music cruise departs daily at 7 p.m.
Guests are taken to the gentle waters of Green Bay for breathtaking views as the sun prepares to dip below the horizon.
Sister Bay Scenic Boat Tours books several other boat tours, including the popular Eagle Bluff & Horseshoe Island tour, which is only 75 minutes long.
This narrated cruise takes guests past Eagle Bluff to see the sea caves and rock formations of Peninsula State Park.
While in Sister Bay, stop at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf for mini golf. The 18-hole course was even voted the best in Door County by the Green Bay Press Gazette.
#10: Say hello to farm animals
In Sturgeon Bay, you won’t find just any farm. You will find THE Cultivate.
Most importantly, your kids will absolutely thank you when you stop by so they can cuddle up with friendly kittens, lambs, piglets and bunnies.
The Farm calls it “a living museum in rural America.” Goat milking takes place every hour on the hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Children are encouraged to help milk the goats. The little ones can also feed the kids and lambs with bottles in the barnyard.
#11: Ride a Hay Wagon to the Isle of Cana
The Isle of Cana in Door County is home to the 89-foot-tall Cana Island Lighthouse. Of 11 Door County lighthouses and range lights.
It is one of Door County’s most iconic lighthouses with its gleaming white tower. It is also one of the most photographed in the entire Great Lakes region.
Kids will love taking a tractor-drawn hay wagon over water-covered pavement for a bumpy ride to the island.
Climb the 97 steps of the tower’s spiral staircase to be richly rewarded with sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the Door County Peninsula.
#12: Kayaking Along Wisconsin’s Rugged Shoreline
There are a variety of outfitters across Door County that offer guided kayak tours along the rocky shoreline.
You will paddle in and out of coves and caves in the crystal clear water of the lake. One to try is one two-hour kayaking trip to Cave Point County Park for spectacular views.
Alternatively, check out a kayak at Peninsula State Park. Rent one at Nicolet Beach to kayak across Nicolet Bay to Horseshoe Island.
While on the island, take the time to hike the one-mile Engelmar Trail that winds its way around the 38-acre island.
Where to stay
Now that you know what to do in Door County, you might be wondering where to stay for a Door County vacation. Here are some of the best choices for families:
* Scandinavian lodge (Sister Bay): traditional condo-style suites well suited to families
* The Little Sister Hill Inn (Sister Bay): there is an outdoor swimming pool and a children’s play area
* Pine Grove Resort (Ephraim): enjoy a private sandy beach on the shores of Eagle Harbor
* The landing seaside resort (Egg Harbor): steps from Harbor View Park and Egg Harbor Beach
* Bay Coast Inn (Sturgeon Bay): Book a stay at this all-suite hostel and enjoy a colorful sunset over Sturgeon Bay
If you’ve visited this family-friendly destination, let me know in the comments some of your favorite things to do with kids in Door County, Wisconsin.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Door County Visitor’s Board. However, I have not been compensated and all opinions expressed here are my own.