Slow travel is a mindset that encourages travelers to immerse themselves in a travel destination and give these fresh, new environments due diligence. It’s about moving through a town or attraction slowly and mindfully with the intent of experiencing it in small, meaningful doses, rather than large, sweeping hits.
As slow travel has taken hold of the travel world in recent years, Door County has remained a place of slowness and serenity. Even on its busiest and most bustling summer weekends, the peninsula and its islands are still peaceful, laid-back places where you can slow down and take things easy. But, even here, it can be tempting to try to see and do everything on a single trip.
If you’re looking to avoid “fast travel” and truly get to know this wonderful, nuanced place on a deep level, try embracing these seven slow-travel tactics on your next trip to Door County.
1. Aim for Quality of Experience, Not Quantity
While the peninsula and islands may seem like a fairly small pocket of Wisconsin, the region is approximately 70 miles long and 2–18 miles wide, and it features about 300 miles of shoreline. That’s a lot of ground to try to cover in a weekend or even a week, so don’t feel pressured to explore every nook or cranny.
So, first and foremost, the best way to maximize your trip up here is...to not try to maximize it! Rather than jam-pack your itinerary with endless quick-stop attractions or trying to make Door County a single stop on a longer Midwestern getaway, consider spending your entire trip in a single community, getting to know a place on a deeper, more granular level.
The same goes for individual attractions and natural areas—try spending an entire day in a lesser-known spot or the whole week at the same campsite to really get a sense of place.
2. Stick Around for a Week...Or More
Although visitors are encouraged to embrace quality over quantity, quantity can be a good thing if you can swing a lengthier trip. It can be tough to find the time off from work and life, but spending a week, two weeks, an entire summer, or even longer up here will allow you to truly experience the county and immerse yourself in a new way of life.
It’s one thing to visit a new place and enjoy its offerings for a few days, but it’s another thing entirely to get to know a place on an intimate, day-to-day level—its people and their culture, its towns and its wilderness, its highways and backroads, its popular cuisine and hole-in-the-wall pubs, as well as its sights, sounds, and smells. A longer, slower trip means more time spent exploring and enjoying a new place in depth.
3. Travel in the Off-Season
Summer is peak travel season in Door County (and many other popular destinations), but spring, fall, and, yes, even winter are all excellent times to visit the area, each for its own reasons. Outside of summer, the crowds will be much, much thinner, but many of the wonderful natural areas, local businesses, and other attractions will remain open.
This means you can spend more time at coffee shops, restaurants, and bars without feeling rushed and that you’ll have more elbow room when perusing shops or taking in the views atop bluffs or lookout towers. The atmosphere will, in general, feel slower, quieter, and less crowded.
4. Practice Mindful Transportation
Many of Door County’s 19 small towns and communities are bikeable—including Washington Island’s 35 square miles—and many are even walkable.
If you’re visiting a single community or visiting a nearby community for the day, try to get around town by foot or bicycle rental as much as possible. Not only are these options more environmentally friendly but they offer a more up-close and in-depth experience of a town.
When you do drive a car to explore nearby communities or take a scenic drive up Highways 42 and 57, consider renting an electric or hybrid vehicle. Many local businesses offer car charging stations, giving you the opportunity to try out a more eco-friendly car if you’re renting.
5. Experience Nature Up Close
Many tourists flock to Door County for its famously beautiful and unusual natural spaces—its jagged limestone cliffs, remote parks and wilderness spaces, epic shorelines and wooded isles, cherry trees and colorful wildflowers, and even more.
But, many people take in the natural sights from the car window or the quick-access viewpoint. And while taking a scenic drive to see the cherry trees, fall colors, or woodsy Washington Island has its own rewards, there’s nothing like getting up close and personal with nature. Take the time to park the car, turn off the phone, and visit a park, nature preserve, beach, or shoreline.
6. Visit Less-Traveled Places...
Door County’s state parks, famous restaurants, and favorite attractions are major reasons travelers make the trek up here, but these hot spots can sometimes feel crowded at peak times in the summer. Avoid the rush by visiting during the off hours, researching alternatives to top attractions, or taking part in oddball traditions.
You might also make the effort to less-visited nature spaces. Door County’s state parks are, indeed, sights to behold, but spots like nature preserves, the Mink River Estuary, Ahnapee State Trail, or smaller county parks offer quieter and more intimate experiences. If you’re up for the challenge, try hike-in camping at Newport State Park, a remote and secluded area on the northeast side of the peninsula.
7. ...Or Go Off the Grid
If you love Door County’s wild places but aren’t such a fan of crowds, traffic, noise, or cell phone service—head north. Washington Island and Rock Island are two of the county's more remote places. They may not be completely “off the grid,” but there’s no way you won’t feel far, far away from your everyday life. Both places offer the chance to slow (way) down and take in the natural beauty of the region.
Washington Island only requires one ferry ride to access, and it contains only a handful of restaurants and lodging options. The island has some excellent hiking, biking, and paddling options, and if you bring your car on the ferry, there is no such thing as an un-scenic drive up here.
Rock Island is the definition of remote and secluded, and it’s wonderfully short on amenities and conveniences. In fact, inconvenience is kind of the point! You’ll need to board two different ferries on your way up. No cars, bikes, or wheeled vehicles are allowed. There are no resupply stores. Rustic, backcountry camping is your only lodging option. There is running water, but you’ll have to pump it yourself.
If you’re looking to abandon modern life for a few days or more, these islands are the way to do it.
These ideas for taking things slow are only the beginning. Whether you’re just starting to dream about your first trip to Door County or you’re planning a 50th annual summer vacation, remember it’s never a bad thing, even in this fast-paced world of ours, to take things slow and pay close attention to your surroundings. You’re sure to feel even more relaxed and renewed when you do.
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