Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek.

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek. Photo © Jim Bauer, licensed Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives.

Map of Wisconsin's Door County

Door County

This graceful community offers visitors the anticipated coffee-table pictorials. It may be the soul of the county, but it’s also just another Door County village, with a population of 200. The most picturesque view in the county is along Highway 42 as it winds into the village from a casual bluff. The official village history describes the town’s situation succinctly—“with its back to a rock and its face to the sea.” A treasured stretch of road with a few hairpin turns, a roller-coaster drop, and suddenly you’re in a trim and tidy Victorian hamlet that could have come from a Currier and Ives print. Fish Creek boasts the most thoroughly maintained pre-20th-century architecture on the peninsula, with about 40 historic structures.

In 1844, trader Increase Claflin, the first nonnative permanent settler in Door County, left Sturgeon Bay after a few less-than-propitious incidents with the Potawatomi people and wound up here. About the same time, an Eastern cooper afflicted with terminal wanderlust, Asa Thorp, made his way to Door County, searching for his fortune. With his two brothers, Thorp constructed a loading pier and began a cordwood cutting business to supply the steamships plying the coast. Later, Fish Creek transformed itself into the hub of commercial fishing on the Door Peninsula. Fortuitously, growing tourism took up the slack when the steamship supply business petered out. By the late 1890s locals were already putting out “Tourist Home” signs. Within a decade, even the home of Asa Thorp had been transformed into the Thorp Hotel.

Sights and Activities in Fish Creek

Most visitors to Fish Creek simply stroll around to see the 19th-century architecture. The harbor area has remnants of the earliest cabins, and the remains of an 1855 cabin built by the founding Thorp brothers stands on the grounds of the modern Founders Square mélange of shops and restaurants in the village center; after a fire, they were rebuilt as closely as possible to the original designs. Another landmark structure is the notoriously haunted 1875 Greek Revival Noble House (Hwy. 42 and Main St., 920/868-2091, noon-5pm Fri.-Sat. mid-May-mid-June, noon-5pm Tues.-Sun. mid-June-Labor Day, $3). The Gibraltar Historical Association (920/868-2091) provides historic walking tours.

The country’s oldest summer theater, the Peninsula Players (in Peninsula State Park, Peninsula Players Rd., off Hwy. 42 north of Fish Creek, 920/868-3287) perform a Broadway plays and musicals in a gorgeous garden setting with bayside trails late June-mid-October, a tradition in its seventh decade. Reservations are advised. Relatively recent renovations to the theater include heated floors.

Less than half as old but with boatloads of attitude, the tongue-in-cheek American Folklore Theatre (920/839-2329) is an acclaimed theater-and-song troupe, as likely to perform their own rollicking originals (Cheeseheads: The Musical and Guys on Ice, a paean to ice fishing) or a ghost story series as they are the works of the Bard. Performances (May-mid-Oct.) are also held in Peninsula State Park and now include an autumn Town Hall Series, performed at venues around the county. Mixed with the zaniness is an admirable amount of history.

During August, professional musicians from across the country assemble in Fish Creek for the annual Peninsula Music Festival (920/854-4060), which offers Renaissance, Reformation, baroque, and chamber ensembles, along with an array of thematic material. Nationally known folk musicians and touring troupes appear at the Door County Auditorium (3926 Hwy. 42, 920/868-2787); theater and dance performances are also held regularly.

At the north end of town, the Skyway Drive In (3475 Hwy. 42, 920/854-9938) is a throwback movie experience—it’s charming to catch a flick under the stars with a wafting Green Bay breeze.

Perhaps the most accessible winery in Door County, and one that focuses on the county, Orchard Country (Hwy. 42 S, 866/946-3263, 9am-5:30pm Sun.-Thurs., 9am-6pm Fri.-Sat., $3 tours) is a fave. The winery has award-winning county fruit wines, pick-your-own fruits, sleigh rides, and more. The winery is a pickup point for the tours run by Sturgeon Bay’s Door County Trolley (920/868-1100).

Without chartering a boat or flying your own plane, the easiest way to take in, but not actually step onto, Chambers Island, across the Strawberry Channel, is via Fish Creek Scenic Boat Tours (Clark Park, 920/421-4442, $35), which offers a variety of tours. You can take a quieter tour of Fish Creek twice daily with sailboat rides by Friendly Charters (920/256-9042, from $40 pp), which also has several tour options.

The Fish Creek Information Center (4097 Hwy. 42, 920/868-2316 or 800/577-1880) is fully equipped to deal with your travel queries or last-minute needs.

Recreation Rentals

Boat and bicycle rentals are available in town at Nor Door Sport and Cyclery (4007 Hwy. 42, 920/868-2275) near the entrance to Peninsula State Park. It is the place to get a hybrid bike, a mountain bike, or a single-speed cruiser ($25 per day). Plenty of other equipment is also for rent. In winter, you can rent cross-country skis and even snowshoes and ice skates. At Edge of Park Bikes and Mopeds (Park Entrance Rd., 920/868-3344), moped rental includes a state park access sticker.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Wisconsin’s Door County.