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Come and Visit Delightful Door County, Wisconsin

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By Doug Hansen

Cherry pie, cherry pancakes and cherry pastries galore. Lavender fields with 30,000 plants. Twenty-four county and state parks with endless miles of hiking trails, 53 swimming beaches with pristine water, 11 golf courses and nine wineries.

Welcome to Door County, Wisconsin, one of the state's most popular tourist destinations. With a year-round population of nearly 30,000, the county attracts more than 2 million visitors yearly. My wife, Sharen, and I set out to discover why.

We flew into Green Bay before heading to Door County to begin our exploration of the peninsula, which extends 70 miles into Lake Michigan. The reason behind the unusual name of the area is that around the time of its founding in 1851, the early French explorers called the water passage at the northern tip, where the turbulent waters of Lake Michigan and Green Bay converge, Porte Des Mortes. That translates to Death's Door. Hundreds of shipwrecks testify to the danger they foresaw. Today visitors can explore them by diving, kayaking or observing them from a tour boat.

Most of the time, we drove through thick second-growth forests interspersed with cherry orchards or lush green farm fields. We noted that there were no national chain restaurants and no buildings taller than three stories among the 19 small villages scattered throughout the peninsula. Between mid-May and mid-July to mid-August, some 2,500 acres of cherry trees are in full blossom and cherries are ripe for picking.

For music lovers, Door County offers an abundance of options, generally in the communities of Fish Creek, Sturgeon Bay and Egg Harbor. What could be better than enjoying a traditional fish-boil dinner followed by fresh cherry pie and a knee-tapping live band?

 

Being avid hikers, we started off with a volunteer-led hike at Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor. It's the area's oldest nonprofit nature preserve, with 1,600 acres and 5 miles of trails, featuring mysterious ancient sand dune formations, a wood walkway meandering through the lush, watery terrain and two lighthouses built in 1869 to guide ships through treacherous waters off the nearby coast.

Our guide, Bill Wolff, a retired physical education teacher, was someone we won't forget. In his serious, almost gruff way, he used his boundless energy and enthusiasm to convey the importance of both the Ridges Sanctuary's ecosystem and that of the rest of the world. He told us he guides daily, and his tour is remarkable.

We particularly enjoyed hiking the 2-mile Eagle Trail loop in Peninsula State Park near Ephraim. Rated as a "difficult" hike, the root- and rock-covered trail posed an ankle-twisting challenge, but the scenery made it worthwhile. The trail led us down limestone cliffs until we reached the edge of the lake, at which point the trail wound near the shoreline through a conifer forest and past several impressive limestone caves and angular formations.

Dinner at Solago Restaurant and Tequila Bar in Sister Bay capped off our day. While we savored our high-end Mexican food and hand-crafted margaritas, a big-screen TV with a "sunset cam" allowed us to hurry out just in time to watch the red sun dip below the horizon.

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