If you're a history buff who likes to plan your trips around learning about historic people, places, and events, then you'll want to check out this 72-hour Door County historical tour. You won't get all the sites, but you'll see some of the best on the peninsula if you follow this guide.
Your first stop is in Sturgeon Bay, where you can get in town in the evening and take a stroll to the end of 3rd Avenue to see the giant gantry crane and massive lakers docked at Bay Shipbuilding. The shipyards of Sturgeon Bay have been the county’s largest employers for decades.
Head back up Historic 3rd Avenue to check out the shops and local taverns, some in buildings dating to the 1800s, for dinner.
Choose from a number of historic bed and breakfasts in downtown Sturgeon Bay to rest up for a big day of discovery Friday.
If you’re a photo buff, you’ll want to get up early to catch the sunrise at the Ship Canal North Pierhead Light, at the end of the shipping canal that changed Sturgeon Bay forever when it was dredged in the 1870s.
Grab breakfast back in the city, then head to the Door County Historical Museum on 4th Ave., where you’ll find pioneer fire trucks, shipbuilding displays, video histories, photographs and many other artifacts of early Door County.
Grab lunch at any of the local watering holes and cafes in downtown Sturgeon Bay, then get back to discovery.
If you love museums, walk across the historic Michigan Street Bridge (known as the Steel Bridge to locals) and visit the Door County Maritime Museum, which ranks among the best small town museums in America. Learn how Sturgeon Bay cranked out five naval ships a day for the World War II effort and how local inventors changed international shipping with their inventors.
For more history in the Sturgeon Bay area, you can head to the Heritage Village at Big Creek, or drive south to Namur to visit Belgian chapels or the Belgian Heritage Center. This center can be viewed by appointment only, so call in advance. It pays homage to the largest Belgian Settlement in America.
Take the scenic route north along Bay Shore Drive, where you’ll drive along the water and pass George Pinney Park, site of early quarrying that was once a major industry on the peninsula. Further north you’ll pass the beautiful barns of Horseshoe Bay Farms, which were once home to a groundbreaking dairy farm that was the largest in Wisconsin.
Option 1: Rock Island Adventure
If you want a real adventure, a trip to Rock Island might be up your alley. It’s an all-day trip that starts with a morning drive up to the ferry dock (where you can snap a photo of the famed winding road) then a trip across Death’s Door on the Washington Island Ferry.
Here you’ll see lighthouses as you cross, then disembark for a journey across the island to the Karfi Ferry, which will take you to Rock Island State Park and a visit to the Thordarson Boathouse, an awe-inspiring 1920s building. Once there, you can hike to the Pottawatomi Lighthouse, the oldest in Wisconsin.
If you choose the Rock Island adventure, plan on being gone most of the day, and returning to the mainland in the early evening (or stay on Washington Island for the night).
Option 2: Historic Small-town Charm
If you choose to keep it on the mainland, there’s plenty to see.
Start in Egg Harbor, where you can take in a self-guided walking tour of historic buildings in the village like the beautiful stone-work of Stella Maris Church.
Now take a drive north to Fish Creek, where we’ll detour down Cottage Row, home to some of the most impressive homes in Door County, and a spot former Packers coach Curly Lambeau once called home. The homes on this wooded road are even more impressive from the water, but you’ll get a good idea of their grandeur nonetheless.
Once in Fish Creek, head to the Alexander Noble House, built in 1875 as an authentic Greek revival farmhouse. Enjoy a tour of the 10-room home and experience a portrayal of domestic life in Door County at the turn of the century.
Grab lunch in downtown Fish Creek, which is full of historic buildings to see.
Head to Ephraim, perhaps the most historic of all Door County villages. The Ephraim Historical Foundation will be your base for self-guided or guided walking tours of historic buildings, churches, and homes. Make sure you get a photo of the famous graffiti-covered barn on Anderson Dock, now home to the Hardy Gallery.
No historical-themed tour of Door County would be complete without taking in a traditional Door County fish boil. There are several options to take in a fish boil nightly in season in Fish Creek, Ephraim, and Ellison Bay.
It may be time to hit the road, but why not do it in historic fashion?
Drive into Peninsula State Park and stop at the new and fully accessible Eagle Tower. This majestic overlook of Ephraim Harbor from atop Eagle Bluff was built by the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935.
Further along you’ll see Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, and a host of stunning views on Skyline Road and Shore Road as you wind through one of Wisconsin’s first state parks.
Even with this packed weekend itinerary, you will have left dozens of historic sites on the floor, like one of America’s last drive-in movie theaters, historic cemeteries, roadside chapels, and odes to farming’s past. But don’t worry—you’ll be back.