Door County, Wisconsin, is a popular Midwest summer resort. But, with the right cold weather gear, it is also a winter wonderland. There are plenty of outdoor adventures in Door County in the winter, and you are almost guaranteed snow.
Door County endures – or enjoys – long stretches of extreme cold. But the hardy residents embrace the cold, with the spirit of Friluftsliv, aka open-air living. And they celebrate their Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish heritage with Scandinavian fish boils.
This Midwest destination attracts visitors from Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Detroit, but the easiest access for those further afield is the tiny airport in Green Bay. This makes the Door Peninsula worthy of a wintertime getaway.
Four state parks in Door County offer miles of trails for cross-country skiing. If speed is more your thing, you can get thrills from all the snowmobile trails or zip across a frozen lake. I was happy just to walk out on a frozen lake and belt out “Let It Go.”
Things to Do in Door County in the Winter
1. Cross Country Skiing
Peninsula State Park has 16 miles of groomed ski trails. They vary from easy to difficult. Crossroads at Big Creek, a nature preserve in Sturgeon Bay, has a ski-for-free program on weekends. There’s not even a charge for rentals! The 30-mile Ahnapee State Trail, from Sturgeon Bay to Kewaunee, also has cross-country skiing.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Carry a small water bottle with you. There is nowhere to get anything to drink while you are out on the trails.
Peninsula State Park has six miles of designated snowshoe and hiking trails in the winter. But one of the best things about snowshoeing is that you can do it almost anywhere. The Wisconsin cold virtually assures you enough snow in parks and on solidly frozen lakes. But don’t try a snowshoe hike on a groomed cross-country trail. That’s the one place it isn’t allowed.
SheBuysTravel Tip: You wear your own boots with snowshoes; make sure your boots will fit on snowshoes.
3. Kick Sledding
Like snowshoeing, this fun winter activity has almost no learning curve. And in fact, it may make it easier to be out in winter.
Door County Kick Sled in Sturgeon Bay imports these wooden sleds from Finland. You have to buy one to experience this fun winter activity, but you can bring your kick sled home.
Kick sledding is quite a workout, particularly if you carry a kid on the front seat. And kids can use them, too. You can glide across an iced-over lake, or follow groomed cross-country skiing trails.
I wonder if my Labrador Retriever would be willing to play Iditarod with me?
4. Ice Sculptures at Cave Point
Cave Point County Park has limestone sea caves with dramatic ice sculptures. It has great views of Lake Michigan and the eastern Door Peninsula. This is a great place to visit as the sun sets, when the light hits the ice.
The paths get very slippery, so step carefully. There are also large blowholes where water sprays up so watch your step.
5. The Ridges Sanctuary
You can take a walk or even snowshoe the boardwalk at The Ridges Sanctuary, a nature preserve in Baileys Harbor. We had planned to snowshoe, but no recent snowfall meant the boardwalk was bare. But no matter; the guided hike was so interesting. We learned about the topography of ridges and swales formed by the movement of Lake Michigan. The nature preserve attracts wildlife and you can walk on your own or rent snowshoes from the visitors center.
Door County has 11 historic lighthouses and The Ridges Sanctuary has the unique Baileys Harbor Range Lights. From the water, sailors had to line up red and white lights of two lighthouses to ensure safe passage.
6. Ice Fishing
You don’t have to bring power drills and build a shack to ice fish. JJ’s Guide Service takes you out on Lake Michigan to a heated ice house with predrilled fishing holes.
I decided against ice fishing because I value my fingers and toes too much. But also, it was my only time to check out Door County Distillery and its cherry-infused spirits.
7. Electric Fat Tire Bikes
Door County Kayak Tours offers guided electric bike tours year-round. You can use minimal pedal assist or rely on the bike’s power. You can also take the bikes out on your own.
This is an activity for older kids. You have to be at least 5’2″ to ride the bikes; you wouldn’t want small children riding a bicycle that can go 25 mph.
Whitefish Dunes State Park has the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin. There is an outdoor exhibit about the shipwrecks that happened off Whitefish Dunes.
There is relatively easy hiking here. You can also hike on snowshoe trails, but keep off groomed cross-country ski trails.
9. Lawrence University’s Björklunden
This Nordic “Birch Grove by the Lake,” now owned by Lawrence University, features a Norwegian stave church. The small wooden church, in Baileys Harbor is free to visit. You can hike the wooded trails or walk down to the water.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Mayberry’s Carriages at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country offers sleigh rides if there is enough snow. I didn’t have time to take one.
Where to rent snowshoes and cross-country skis
Nor Door Sport & Cycle, in Fish Creek and Sturgeon Bay, rents cross-country skis and snowshoes. The Fish Creek location is across the road from Peninsula State Park.
Where to Stay in Door County in the Winter
The Rushes offers two bedroom, two bath condominiums with large stone fireplaces, stocked with wood, in the living room. It was easy to warm up here and sleep well for the next day’s activities.
The check-in building houses a small exercise room, an indoor pool and a hot tub. Best of all, there are snowshoes and cross-country skis, available for free. There are a couple of miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, with snowshoeing on the the left of the trail; in summer, you can bike or hike here. In summer, The Rushes offers free bike rentals.
What to Pack for Door County in the Winter
Make sure to have proper winter attire and accessories. you will need the following:
- Two hats
- Hand warmers
- Insulated gloves/mittens
- Waterproof insulated boots with traction
- Another pair of waterproof insulated boots to fit on snowshoes (heavy L.L.Bean boots, for example, won’t work)
- A neck gaiter
- Base layer
- Snow pants
- Your warmest coat and sweaters
What to Eat
There is plenty of great food around Door County. Just be sure to check about reduced winter hours.