Door County, Wisconsin: Two Vacations in One -- Relaxing on Washington and Rock Islands
Some places urge you to just kick back and relax, then parade a host of activities and events to compete with that same inactivity. But Door County in upper Wisconsin offers visitors both -- a true kickback opportunity, separate from the charming towns filled with restaurants, galleries, and shopping on the Door County peninsula.
Start the do-nothing part of your vacation on Washington Island. It's not easy to get to Washington Island, and even more difficult to make the trek to Rock Island, but both of these destinations offer lots of nothing scheduled to do.
Washington IslandThe ferry service to Washington Island leaves from Northport on the tip of the peninsula and goes to Detroit Harbor. The ferry started in 1946 with two wooden ferries and slowly grew until today is carries over 200,000 passengers and 70,000 vehicles (and more and more motorcycles). This part of Wisconsin is heavily Scandinavian, particularly Icelandic, and their flags line Detroit Harbor.
The ride takes you through the infamous Porte des Morte Death's Door passage (which also gave Door County its name). The stories of perils crossing from the peninsula to what is now Washington County stretch back hundreds of years.
Washington Island was once a major agricultural center with potato farms prospering. But as ground transportation eclipsed water, commerce on Washington Island faded and the family farms withered. The moving ice and deep water, as well as the distance, made it prohibitively expensive to build a bridge. The result is an island with virtually no crime (hard to make a get-away on a ferry), no chain restaurants or motels. It's all home-grown lodging and local restaurants. This also helps make Washington Island a trip back to a quieter and simpler time. A place of empty roads through forested fringe of the island, and interior meadows.
Kick Back at Washington Hotel, Restaurant, and Culinary School
Leah Caplan is the Chef/Proprietor of The Washington Hotel, Restaurant & Culinary School, and the moving force behind their new direction -- family farm friendly, and organic when possible. My passion has always been food, and that farmland stays farmland, and food stays pure so people can eat and enjoy it. says Caplan.
She and partner Brian set out to revive agriculture of the island and use the hotel as an impetus. They started with flour, and bread, -- encouraging a local farmer to plant 30 acres of organic wheat. Then, with more wheat than they needed, they contacted a craft brewery in Wisconsin. In a moment of pure serendipity, the brewery was in the process of creating a wheat ale and loved the idea of using the local wheat from Washington Island. Now there are 900 acres of wheat in cultivation with one field strictly organic. We'll buy wheat at above market prices and find value added markets for their products, says Caplan.
A visit to The Washington Hotel is about enjoying the food and the sense of place. Sit on the deck and look out of the water. Have a flatbread pizza (my favorite was the unlikely combination of bratwurst, sauerkraut, and sweet mustard) and their special shandy made with wheat ale, ginger, and lime while you watch the sun set. There's also a full dining menu, and a lovely dining room.
Trains, Bikes, Boats, and Horses
School House Beach
It is a beautifully crafted building, reached by short Prayer Path wandering through a woodland. Evening services are held on Wednesdays at 7:30 PM in July and August. The stavkirke is a project of the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Washington Island.
Visitors can also enjoy a performance at Trueblood Performing Arts Center. This is the home of the Island Players community theater, now in it's 23rd year, and the Washington Island Music Festival, currently in it's 17th year.
Want a vacation with nothing to do? Both islands offer lots of it.