The Full-County Driving Tour:
How to Visit the
Entire Peninsula & Its Islands

If the doldrums of winter have you dreaming of packing a bag, hitting the open road, and chasing big-time adventure, Door County should be on your road-trip bucket list.

The Door Peninsula has 19 established communities as well as other small villages, unincorporated towns, and even a few small but visitable islands, all interconnected by the simple (and scenic) Door County Coastal Byway system. Each destination has its own distinct community, culture, and style with its own charms and natural and scenic offerings, but each one is all-but-guaranteed to stoke your interest and inspire your wanderlust.

While Door County’s relative remoteness and scenic wonder are some of its biggest draws, they also mean you’ll need a car, motorcycle, RV, or similar vehicle while you’re up here. Many towns and destinations can be explored by bike, foot, or kayak and others, like the island communities, will require bringing, renting, or chartering a boat.

You’re encouraged to choose your own adventure and explore the county any way that works for your travel style, interests, and timetable. A full-county tour could take you a long weekend or an entire summer—it’s all up to you, and we like to think this ability to mix-and-match-and-remix your trip as you go is a major part of the fun and mystique of Door County.

 

Interactive Map

Use the interactive map below and the driving resources at the end of this guide to begin dreaming up your road-trip getaway. If the map is too zoomed out, try refreshing your browser window or using the +/- tool in the bottom-left corner of the map.

 

Door County Destinations

Southern Door
As the only land-based entryway into the county, Southern Door and its seven towns serve as the welcome wagon for just about every and any visitor who comes up here. Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll find yourself heading up the peninsula on either Highway 42 (runs through Forestville on the east side) or Highway 57 (runs through Brussels on the west side).

  • Brussels: The largest Belgian settlement in the entire country with country roads and farmhouses for scenic drives, Belgian chapels, a Belgian heritage center, traditional food, parks, snowmobiling and ATVing, and plenty of pastoral charm. 

  • Forestville: Run, hike, or bike the Ahnapee State Trail, enjoy open roads and farm-lined highways, golfing, and tons of shoreline for photo ops.

 

Mid-Peninsula
Sturgeon Bay is the next major stop on your list; it’s the largest city on the peninsula and where you’ll find the visitor center, a rich maritime culture, theatre and nightlife, and major stores and services. The area around Sturgeon Bay, including Carlsville, has no shortage of things to do and see and is the physical, cultural, and spiritual gateway to the rest of Door County.

  • Sturgeon Bay: Small city on a canal with a maritime history and strong shipbuilding culture boasting two state parks (Potawatomi & Whitefish Dunes), lighthouses, a famous steel bridge, a bright red lighthouse, diverse dining options, and three separate shopping districts.
  • Carlsville: Tiny community that has an outsized number of locally made artisan goods such as coffee, candles, wine, and spirits for sale in its shops, plus plenty of outdoor space for biking, hiking, and scenic drives.

 

The Lake Side (East/Lake Michigan)
If you take highway 57 out of Sturgeon Bay, stops might include small beach communities, an iconic county park, a quiet and lesser-known state park, two even lesser-known inland lakes, and a trip on Lake Michigan via a boat rental or guided paddling experience. The quieter side of Door County gives you all the water views and the outdoor activities you can handle, minus the bay side’s crowds.

  • Jacksonport: Uncrowded white-sand beaches, small shops and restaurants, jagged limestone cliffs and shoreline, Cave Point County Park, paddling options, a springtime festival, and a traditional New Year’s Day swim in Lake Michigan. 

  • Baileys Harbor: A sanctuary for beer and food lovers as well as nature enthusiasts, kayakers, hikers, birders, anglers, and boaters. Find The Ridges Sanctuary, Moonlight Bay Bedrock Beach, Toft Point, Mud Lake State Wildlife Area, Kangaroo Lake Preserve, and more.
  • Cana Island: An island semi-connected to the land via a sandy causeway accessed by foot or hayride. Find a scenic lighthouse, hiking trail, lake and shoreline views, and a serene setting. Bring water shoes if you plan to walk in.

 

Northern Door
Northern Door is in many ways where Door County’s real wilderness and outdoor adventure begin. In addition to secluded lakeside communities to explore, here’s where travelers can find multiple islands accessible only by boat or ferry, shoreline-hugging hiking trails, coves and bluffs and rocky outcroppings to explore, snorkeling and shipwreck-diving opportunities, and two of Wisconsin’s most remote and physically stunning state parks.

  • Rowleys Bay: Unspoiled natural beauty and wilderness adventure at the Mink River Estuary and the southern shores of Newport State Park. Birding and wildlife viewing, paddling, fishing, and zip lining as well as traditional fish boils at the resort.

  • Plum Island: Charter a boat or take your own to this publicly accessible island just north of the peninsula’s tip. Bring diving gear or a kayak to view historic shipwrecks through crystal-clear water, hike miles of unbelievably beautiful shoreline, enjoy a secluded picnic, search for birds in the wildlife refuge, and relax in the island vibes of this hidden-away paradise.
  • Washington Island: Take a ferry from the mainland to this 100-square mile island—cars, bikes, and kayaks are all welcome aboard. Once there, drive or bike to an extremely rare stone beach, lavender farms, casual island dining, a bitters bar, a magical replica Norwegian stave church in the forest, tree-lined backroads and wide-open highways, and a lookout tower.

  • Rock Island: A taste of the island life, an awe-inspiring Icelandic-style boathouse, primitive camping, hiking trails, secluded beaches, historic buildings, and Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse.

  • Ellison Bay: The Clearing Folk School, towering limestone bluffs along the shoreline, the overlook at Ellison Bluff County Park, Newport State Park, and an old-fashioned candy store.
  • Gills Rock: A quaint and quirky lakeside fishing village serving as a jumping-off point for island adventures. Featuring Jens Jensen’s famously windy road, a maritime museum, views of bluffs and jagged shoreline, sunsets, shipwreck diving, lake-inspired food, and views of Death’s Door.

 

The Bay Side (West/Green Bay)
The west side of the peninsula is considered the livelier, more social side of Door County. Here’s where you’ll find vibrant food and drink scenes, larger downtown areas, live music and performing arts, vacation resorts and communities, ample parks and greenspaces, and plenty of family-friendly attractions. Most of these towns are highly walkable and offer a quintessential Door County experience.

  • Egg Harbor: A favorite town on the peninsula for dining, drinking, nightlight, and culture of all sorts, a beautiful new public marina and beach, a trendy and ever-evolving downtown, local artisan goods, clothing and gear shops, craft beer, golfing, and beloved festivals.

  • Juddville: A charming, tiny town near it all. Stop here for farm markets and farm stands, an art gallery, peace and quiet for relaxation and recharging, art opportunities, and gorgeous countryside for biking or driving through.

  • Ephraim: Historic charm and a quiet respite from the social hubs surrounding it. Come here for motorcycling and biking, fine arts, the very photogenic Hardy Gallery, fish boils, and historical sites.
  • Fish Creek: Many people consider Fish Creek to be the hub of social life in the county. Find Peninsula State Park, outdoor theater, performing arts, silent sports, music and nightlife, one-of-a-kind shopping, hiking and biking, loads of art galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes, and even more.

  • Sister Bay: A foodie must-stop. A huge array of cuisines, styles, and price points are available, and al fresco dining is the rule, not the exception, in summer and late fall. The downtown area offers dozens of local shops, food and coffee stops, and a public waterfront with a marina, beach, and plenty of sunset-watching spots.

  • Chambers Island: Getting to this island seven miles offshore will require some advanced research and planning and a zest for adventure. Visit a historic lighthouse, hike or bike one of several trails, relax on the beach with rare views of the mainland, and kayak-accessible inland lake with two of its own islands.

  • Horseshoe Island: This tiny island situated a mile offshore of Peninsula State Park offers a serene and unique setting. Ambitious visitors will find the 1-mile Engelmar Trail that circles the island, ruins of 19th century houses, birding and wildlife-viewing opportunities, a public boat dock, and top-notch trout fishing.

    Some highly experienced kayakers will reach the island by paddling from the mainland, but most people rent or charter a motor boat.

 

More Road Trip Resources

 


If you’re headed to Door County for a wintertime adventure, please read up on the latest Travel Updates and Dining Information and keep this guide to visiting in 2021 handy as you plan your trip.