Live the Lake Life: Water Sports in Door County
Door County is a water sports wonderland, and there is no shortage of ways to take advantage of it, whether you’re looking for a leisurely paddle on a quiet waterway or a high-speed adventure on Lake Michigan that gets your heart and lungs pumping.
This variety means there’s a huge number of water sports to choose from, including both human-powered and machine-powered activities, which will provide you with two very different but equally satisfying experiences of our local waters.
Here is a list of just some of the water-based fun you can find in Door County this summer and how to start planning your lake outing.
Human-Powered Water Activities
Standup Paddle Boarding (SUP)
The beauty of SUPing is that you can have a fun and relaxing experience on the water and get in a workout for your arms, legs, and core muscles at the same time. Door County SUPers typically paddle along the Lake Michigan and Green Bay shorelines as well as on our calm and peaceful inland lakes.
Many Door County kayak/boat lenders and sports/gear shops offer SUP rentals ranging from 1 hour to multiple days, and some even offer delivery to your rental lodging. They may also offer guided tours, lessons, yoga, and other SUP-based activities that are great for people of all ages and experience levels.
Believe it or not, Door County is becoming a Midwest surfing haven. As a lesser-known surf destination with 150 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, the region is the perfect spot for a long weekend riding the waves and discovering new, tucked-away beaches, bays, harbors, and shorelines.
If you decide to give surfing in Door County a try, be sure to hit up the “lake side” (or the east side) of the peninsula. The Green Bay side, while great for other kinds of water activities, doesn’t get the same kind of wind and waves as the more exposed Lake Michigan side does.
Get the details on the board-sports scene and meet locals who embrace the waves in On the Water: Board Sports.
Windsurfing & Kiteboarding
Similar to traditional surfing, these are two out-of-the-box sports you may not associate with Door County, but they’re absolutely worth a try up here.
Kitesurfing involves riding on a board with a harness secured around one’s torso, to which a huge kite is also attached. The kite uses wind power to propel you forward and side to side. You can hold on to the harness/ropes for control, but you can also occasionally let go and have a more hands-free experience because the kite won’t fly away.
Windsurfing is akin to traditional surfing in that riders stand on a board several feet long, but differs in that there is a sail attached to the board as well. Windsurfers hold on to the sails, which helps provide control and stability. If you let go and lose balance, you fall off the board, meaning hands-free is not really an option.
Diving & Snorkeling
One of Door County’s coolest attractions is the hundreds of historic shipwrecks that lay beneath Lake Michigan, just off the peninsula and island shorelines.
Many wrecks and remnants are located relatively close to the shore and lay in only 60 feet of water or less. This means less-experienced divers with basic snorkeling equipment can view the wrecks (as can kayakers and boaters, from above the surface).
However, many more shipwrecks are located further offshore and in more than 100 feet of water, making them the perfect diving destinations for experienced divers with proper equipment.
Canoeing & Kayaking
If you’re looking for a water sport that is affordable and has a lower barrier to entry than board-based sports, don’t forget about the classics: canoeing and kayaking.
Boats and gear are rentable at numerous sports shops around the county, and getting started is as easy as hopping into a boat and learning a few paddle strokes. If you’re an inexperienced big-water paddler, plan to go out with a tour guide or group.
More on the kayaking experience in Door County here:
Machine-Powered Water Activities
Motorized Boats & Pontoons
Driving a boat across Lake Michigan or the Green Bay, island wind on your face, is an experience to be cherished, and boat rental companies can help you get there.
If leaving the driving to someone else is more your style, boat tours or sailboat rides are also great ways to see some stunning Great Lakes scenery and not worry about driving or navigating.
Get a taste of the boating life here:
Water Skiing & Wakeboarding
Although you will need a motorized boat to make these two sports work, they are also closely related to human-powered board sports. While the boat propels you, staying upright, surviving turns and curves, and maintaining intense leg control is up to you.
Many businesses lending boats also lend out gear for water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing as well—be sure to ask what kinds of specialized equipment is offered when reserving your boat rental. Some rental places even offer jet-skis, for those looking to increase the speed without being anchored to a boat.
Fishing & Fishing Charters
Fishing is a way of life up here, whether it’s seen in people casting a quick line at the marina on their lunch breaks or taking a full-day or longer voyage out into the depths of Lake Michigan in search of trout, salmon, and more.
Rent a boat and ask about borrowing fishing equipment too, if you don’t have your own. Some lenders will provide fishing poles, tackle boxes, and live bait (or direct you somewhere you can get it).
If you want a more immersive fishing experience, hop a fishing charter. Experienced boaters and fishermen will take you on large, professional-grade boat rides where you can learn the best places and methods for catching fish in the area.
Leave No Trace: Protecting Local Waterways
Any time you venture outdoors, it’s important to be highly aware of your surroundings and the effects that your actions can have on the environment.
Before heading out onto the water for the day:
- Ensure your boat, board, and other gear are clean from the last time you used them. Taking unclean gear out onto the water can spread invasive species and other harmful organisms.
- Take care not to harm or disturb plants, animals, geologic features, or fragile cave systems. You’re visiting their homes, so be respectful.
- Practice water safety at all times, even when the water seems calm or the environment appears safe.
- If you have any garbage or recyclables with you on the water, be certain you dispose of them properly once you are on shore. Do not leave garbage or anything else behind.
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