Think Green Bay and what comes to mind? The Packers? Cold, snow filled sunday afternoon football? Certainly not an idyllic body of water, cute towns and harbors, cherry pie and pastoral farmland. We were on the start of our tour of the Great Lakes. We had spent some time playing golf in Ohio and enjoying a slow drive through the eastern region of the corn belt through Kansas and into rural, southern Illinois. We headed north past Chicago and Milwaukee occasionally getting glimses of Lake Michigan to our east. Acquaintances in South Carolina had told us if we were headed into Wisconsin to be sure to see Door County. They were so enthusiastic about the place we made it one of our major stops and planned four or five days there.
The County is on the end of a peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. The lake is on its south shore and Green Bay is on its north. As we pass Milwaukee we start seeing farmland again. Dairy farms now, more cows and less corn. As we get closer to Green Bay we see Lake Michigan out to our right. We continue to hug the shore as we head up the peninsula to our campground in Baileys Harbor, a small town right on the lake. This is our first real look at Lake Michigan. We walk along the shore near the Cana Island Lighthouse and the lake stretches out to the horizon. It is like standing on the shore of the ocean, only there are no tides and no salt water.
That day there were no waves either. But we learn that the Great Lakes can be as rough and dangerous as any ocean when the weather turns foul. Much of the shoreline of the peninsula is rocky, giving rise to the need for lighthouses so sailors could safely navigate the waters of the lake and the bay. There are 11 lighthouses in Door County and we saw most of them. We also saw cherry farms, cherry stands and cherry products. Door County is famous for its cherries. Juice, jam, jellies, pie fillings, sauces, salsas and sausage were all available for our culinary pleasures.
The south side, along the lake is rural and quiet, with very small towns like Baileys Harbor and lots of farmland. At Cave Point State Park, you can see where storm-driven wave action has carved sea caves along the rugged shoreline. In Whitefish Dunes State Park there is a beautiful mile long beach.
The north side, along Green Bay, is more developed. Large homes have been built along the shore. Bigger, more tourist focused towns overlook scenic harbors and have lots of shops, galleries and restaurants.
At the end of the Peninsula is Northport, where a ferry to Washington Island departs. While there we saw a huge Iron ore transport freighter going by and are reminded of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior in the mid 70’s. We spent the ride home trying to remember the lyrics to Gordon lightfoot’s song about the ship’s sinking.
Having had our fill of cherry pie and way more aged Wisconsin cheddar than we needed we packed up ready to continue our tour of the lakes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Door County, now a pleasant memory, is one of those places we had never heard of but were very glad to have found.