BLOG: Disovering a Winter Wonderland
in Door County

BLOG: Discovering a Winter Wonderland in Door County

Have you discovered Door County winters? There is a common misconception that Door County only exists May through October but we’re still here… and so should you be! I’m here to help you discover new ways to seek adventure during the “quiet season” in Door County.

One of the best kept secrets around, no matter what time of year, is Ellison Bluff County Park, just south of Ellison Bay. With a scenic overlook second to none, this little known park packs quite a punch. We decided to take advantage of a great sunny (well for the most part) day in early January to take our daughter here for the first time. We took the long driveway to get the parking area and were very pleasantly surprised to see we were the only ones in the area.

A monument set in the parking lot of the park tells the story of Ellison Bluff County Park. The following quote is on display for all to see. “The limestone headlands of Door County as they merge out of the blue waters of Green Bay, are geographically one of the most outstanding natural monuments in our country. They must be preserved.” – An excerpt taken from the Door County Park Board Report published in 1945. The park was originally 88 acres and had 66 acres added to preserve a whopping 6,750’ of the majestic Niagara Escarpment.

Ellison Bluff County Park is located off of Porcupine Bay Rd just south of Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church on the bay side. It sits atop towering limestone bluffs rising nearly one hundred feet above the shoreline below. The park itself remains primarily untouched with only a few loops of walking trails throughout the area. The most popular feature of this majestic forest is the lookout point that shoots off the side of the cliff perching you precariously on a bridge to nowhere. This is part of the reason why most families with small children shy away from this section of the park. Although it is fenced in, the steps are somewhat slippery in the wrong conditions. As daunting as the steps may seem, they are well worth the hassle of navigating. The view from this look out is absolutely one of a kind. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a bird, here’s your chance to feel it.

There was a northwest wind today so it was a little brisk walking down to the walkway. Andrea and I held hands as we walked down the stairs to the bluff’s edge. Don’t worry, there’s fencing to prevent you from falling over, just take your time. The wind was blowing straight across from Michigan and we could clearly see that shoreline despite being several miles away. After navigating the icy steps, we walked out onto the landing and looked over the edge down at towering cedar trees, giant boulders, ice shoves and some of the darkest blue waters I’ve ever seen. Whitecaps rolled in onto the rocky shores creating a thundering crash. The wind was ever present and in a few moments Andrea had enough. Luckily my husband was able to snap some shots of us before she lost interest completely.

After checking out the cliffs, we opted to take the trail that runs south parallel to the bluff that winds through the hardwood forest. A fresh coat of snow had fallen this morning so we were the first set of crisp tracks on the walking trail. There were tracks of all kinds crisscrossing the trails and Andrea quickly became distracted by each type. She developed a “fool proof” method for determining whether or not the track was fresh and what type of animal left it by dipping her gloved finger into the track and licking it. I learned a long time ago not to question the logic of a child so we didn’t bother stopping her. We identified coyote, rabbit, squirrel, raccoon, turkey, and some song birds.

As the trail winds deeper into the woods, the tracks got more frequent and it didn’t take too long before we encountered a small woodpecker hurriedly pecking at a small ironwood tree. For any of you that have spent any time with children and/or birds, you are frustratingly aware that they cannot coexist. Andy was snapping pictures of the bird, trying to get close, and Andrea was babbling away about how she was going to name the bird Lulu and she was going to catch it, hold it tight, and keep it forever. I reminded her that it was a wild animal and needed to stay in the wild. The bird quickly realized there was a small child very interested in it and took off for a tree a couple yards down the trail.

By the end of the trail, Andrea had created an entire story about how the coyotes were chasing the rabbits which were stealing acorns from the chipmunks, and the birds laughed at all of them. It was pretty entertaining to listen to as we marched through the silent woods.

Words cannot describe the peace you feel when you realize that you are completely alone with your family in a place that is usually a fairly busy park. This is the beauty of off season visits. Imagine your favorite Door County destination, imagine the lines, the traffic, and the amounts of people. Now imagine being the only people in an entire 88 acre park. It’s peaceful beyond words.

There are so many great winter wonderland scenes to be discovered in Door County. All it takes is a sense of adventure and a tolerance for colder weather. I’ve compiled a list of other must see spots if you find yourself up here in the off season. Want to know the best reasons for coming up this time of year? You’re looking at lodging prices that can be nearly 50% cheaper than peak season rates. You know that ninety minute wait for that fish fry you’ve been thinking about all year? It’s more likely that you will be one of the only tables in the restaurant than to find a wait list. Looking for a parking spot in the downtown corridors on a Saturday afternoon? Don’t worry, you’ll find one and it’ll probably be right in front of that business you’re wanting to visit.

Must See & Do Activities in Door County’s Off Season

  • Cana Island Lighthouse – This popular destination reverts back to a County Park from October to May providing a free afternoon of exploring and stepping back in history. The tower isn’t open so there’s no fee but nothing says relaxation quite like being on an island completely by yourself. Plus, with water levels rising, visiting in the summer usually means having to get your feet wet to get to the island. With the causeway frozen solid and a layer of snow accumulating, you can always get there.
  • Mink River Estuary located a couple miles up the shoreline at Rowley’s Bay. To get there, you take Cty ZZ from downtown Sister Bay and stay on it until just before Rowley’s Bay. On your left hand side, there is a small gravel road called Crescent Lane. Take this until you see a small parking area on your left, park there and keep walking until you see a grass area with a chain across it. This is your access to Mink River. When Door County is warm and sunny, this estuary is only accessible by boat because of the marshes, bogs, and channels but once the ground has frozen, it becomes a super highway for wildlife and a great place to snow shoe or cross country ski.
  • Newport State Park is the least known State Park in Door County and is the local’s secret favorite. Wintertime means snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and hiking through acres of undisturbed wilderness and finishing with a fire in the stone chalet.
  • Join the Chickadee Club at Peninsula State Park. Bring the family to take part of an event that happens every winter in the quietness of winter. Rumor has it there are hundreds of chickadees that are so used to human beings that they will land on you and eat right out of your hands.
  • Guided snow shoe hikes at The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor are always a popular activity. It’s a great time to explore some of the flora and fauna that are only found in this sanctuary at the north end of town.
  • If you’ve found yourself with nothing to do on a Wednesday night in the winter, head to Sister Bay for Broomball at Theresa K Hilander Skating Rink. Although they may not look like professional athletes, this is the biggest competition in the winter for us locals. You’re sure to laugh, cheer, and meet some great people.
  • Door County wouldn’t be the same without our festivals and events. Check out the Events Page for a full list of events happening this winter throughout Door County.