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If you’re headed to Door County this winter or thinking about it for next year, planning your trip around one of our winter festivals is a great way to maximize your time here.
The first step to planning a festival-centric getaway is to pick a festival, any festival!
The largest winter fests are the Fish Creek Winter Festival (3 days), Celebrating Winter (9 days), and the Fire & Ice Festival (1 day), but there are additional events throughout local communities all season, such as New Year’s Eve/Day events, the Polar Bear Swim, a Pond Hockey Tournament, an Ice Fishing Tournament, and more.
Although there will be plenty of things to do and eat at whichever festival or event you choose, you’ll still need to fill in time around the organized festivities. Keep in mind some local businesses are closed in the off-season, so it’s a good idea to double-check individual businesses’ hours.
Here are a few ideas for rounding out your trip, organized by time of day. You can also click through the Winter Guide to find information on which specific businesses and activities are open in winter.
Get some energy at a coffee shop or a café. It’s a great way to get acquainted with the energy of a community as well as a feel for local tastes. Expect simplicity and comfort in both menu offerings and décor. Late-risers can find a good number of brunch spots as well.
If you’re group is extra-ambitious, consider preceding breakfast with a pre-dawn wakeup and trek to take in an epic winter sunrise. No sunrise is guaranteed to be spectacular, so you may have wake up early and try more than once. But, trust us, if you can catch some of our famous winter light, it will be well worth your time.
Follow up breakfast with a morning hike at one of our state parks, and, if you’re seeking solitude, don’t be afraid to check out some of our lesser-known nature preserves and state trails. Be sure to check each park or trail’s official DNR site for up-to-date trail and road closures—and don’t forget your layers, waterproof hiking shoes, and trail etiquette.
Even if there’s no snow on the ground, expect some mud, cold, and wetness to add to the fun. Remember to pack for literally any kind of weather. You could run into a snowstorm, freezing rain shower, sleet or a “wintry mix,” below-zero windchill, unseasonable warmth, high winds, low winds...you get the idea! Check the weather reports and pack a variety of layers and footwear. If there’s more than a few inches of snow, you’ll likely want to look into renting snowshoes or packing some crampons.
If staying outdoors is your goal, you might attempt to see all nine of Door County’s natural wonders, weather permitting, compiled here. As always, bring your warm clothes and nature manners and be sure stay on marked trails. If you want to be outdoors but exert less energy, take a ride on the Door County Trolley, which offers three different winter tours.
But, if you’re looking to keep warm, check out some local stores and shops that are open in winter and stock up on clothes, jewelry, art and/or crafts, home goods, souvenirs, and more. Similarly, take a dip into an art gallery featuring the work of one or more local artists. Some pieces will be for sale while others are simply to be admired. Some establishments have hands-on or make-your-own art offerings as well.
Pair it with an afternoon warm up at a local brewery, winery, or coffee shop or a relaxing afternoon spent getting a massage, haircut, or skin treatment at a salon or spa. There’s also bowling, ice skating, sledding hills, and other daytime attractions open in winter that are family- and group-friendly.
For those with kids in tow or who seek some edification in between festing, try a museum or cultural site. You can also cherry-pick seasonally appropriate activities from our classic Family Fun Itinerary.
If the festival you’re attending doesn’t have nighttime activities, you’ll want to have some evening ideas at the ready. Think live entertainment, fantastic food, and cocktails, wine, or beer.
You can find live music nearly any night in Door County, even in the wintertime. You’ll find a variety of genres represented, but many performances will lean toward acoustic guitar music, folk and country, indie rock, and classic rock. If you’re looking for a more immersive arts experience, check out the Door Community Auditorium, which hosts plays, musical performances, school concerts, and other live entertainment.
Wisconsin is known for its many (many) pubs and taverns, as well as breweries, so hitting a few bars in Door County and getting a taste of local culture is a must. Go before or after dinner at a classic Wisconsin supper club, local pub, fine dining restaurant, or casual spot. Adapt to local culture and get a locally brewed beer or try an Old-Fashioned. Feel free to get this unofficial state cocktail with brandy or whiskey—whichever suits your tastes.
Finally, just as catching a famous Door County winter sunrise is a refreshing way to start the day, seeing a sunset can be just as revitalizing. Find a sunset spot near where you’ll be in the late afternoon, and prepare to be wowed.
If you’re supremely lucky, you may even be able to catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights, especially if you’re staying in the darkest, most northern parts of Door County.
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