Life slows down in Door County, Wisconsin, in the wintertime. The area is a popular summer destination, but the winter is Door County’s quiet season. Still, you’ll find an abundance of winter outdoor activities like hiking and ice fishing. If you prefer to stay warm, Door County’s got something for you, too: You can shop, dine, and explore the charming cities along the peninsula.
Here are some of the best things to do in charming Door County in the winter.
Celebrate The Season With A Winter Festival
Fish Creek’s 33rd annual Winterfest will take place from January 31 to February 2 this year. Participants can enjoy delicious food, contests, fireworks, a chili cook-off, live music, ice sculptures, and games at this festival overlooking the frozen waters of Green Bay.
Catch the ferry to Washington Island for its weeklong Celebrating Winter festivities starting February 8. Enjoy food, entertainment, and adventure -- you can even participate in the Fishing Derby!
On February 15, Sturgeon Bay will host the Fire and Ice Festival, where visitors can watch as carvers transform blocks of snow and ice into works of art. Explore Sturgeon Bay on the free trolley and be sure to pick up a brochure listing the ice and snow block locations at the Destination Sturgeon Bay Welcome Center.
Try Your Hand At Ice Fishing
Ice fishing in Door County was once a necessity, but now it’s a favorite winter pastime. The deep freeze brings anglers seeking whitefish, trophy walleye, northern pike, and trout. Once the ice is thick enough, anglers move their shanties to the fishing holes, creating dozens of tiny shanty towns along the ice-covered bays and inland lakes.
Hire a fishing guide and you’ll be set up with bait, gear, a shanty, the latest fishing technology, plus the guide’s years of experience fishing through frozen water.
Hike And Play In A Winter Wonderland
Winter is the perfect season for getting outdoors and exploring Door County. Join a naturalist-guided snowshoe hike to roam the frozen tundra of Wisconsin’s oldest nonprofit nature preserve, The Ridges Sanctuary. The 1,600-acre natural preserve is a designated State Natural Area and home to 5 miles of rustic trails.
You can also explore the 3,776 acres of Peninsula State Park. Rent snowshoes, cross-country skis, or fat-tire bikes from Nor Door Sport & Cyclery to discover more than 16 miles of groomed, double-tracked ski trails and 4 miles of snowshoe and hiking trails.
Snowshoe tours are available at Whitefish Dunes State Park, which is home to eight Native American villages dating from 100 B.C. to the late 1800s as well as the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin.
At Ellison Bay Bluff County Park, you’ll find some of the most breathtaking views in Door County. Visitors can take a wooded walkway to the edge of a 100-foot limestone bluff.
On a snowy day, do as the locals do and head to the Peninsula State Park Golf Course, a popular spot for slipping and sliding down Hill 17 on a snow tube.
Shop For Wisconsin Specialties
Wisconsin -- and Door County in particular -- is known for local specialties like cheese, lavender, and cherries. You can find all three in cities along the peninsula.
Stop by Door County’s oldest cheese store, Renard’s Cheese. Owner Howard Renard began making cheese at the age of 14. Since 1961, this family-owned business has provided locally made cheese to Door County residents and visitors. You’ll find two cheese stores as well as Renard’s Rosewood Dairy, where the cheese is produced.
At Wisconsin Cheese Masters, you’ll find an unbelievable cheese selection. Master cheesemakers practicing artisan and farmstead cheesemaking are the secret to the company’s winning cheese. They are selective in the cheese they deem worthy, but there’s still quite a variety -- more than 600 kinds of cheese to choose from, in fact! There’s something here for every palate.
It may not be cherry season in the winter, but you’ll still find an abundance of cherry-related products at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market. Its Door County Montmorency cherries are freshly picked and packaged during the summer harvest, then bottled into fruity wine, baked into pies, pressed into jugs of tart cherry juice, or dried and packaged to purchase and take home.
The lavender sold at Island Lavender in Ephraim is sustainably grown on Washington Island without chemicals or pesticides. You can pick up bath salts, lotion, or aromatherapy products to soothe your winter ailments or indulge in culinary delights like lavender syrup, jellies, and spices.
Warm Up With A Hot Drink
At Door County Coffee & Tea Company, you can warm up with some delicious coffee roasted in small batches. Try the unique flavors like cherry creme, raspberry butter crunch, and caramel pecan scone.
If tea is more your pleasure, choose from more than 60 varieties of loose tea at Tea Thyme in Sister Bay. Local favorites include the Door County Cherry, Winter White Earl Grey, and Jasmine Green.
Discover Handmade Arts
For unique arts and crafts, check out the hand-blown glass at Popelka Trenchard Glass in Sturgeon Bay, take in the handcrafted porcelain and stoneware at Plum Bottom Gallery in Egg Harbor, or head to Turtle Ridge Gallery in Ellison Bay to view leather handbags and accessories, wearable art, and unique home decor, all produced in the studio.
Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor was recently selected as one of the top 10 galleries in Wisconsin. You’ll find a variety of artwork in the historic barn, including pieces by more than 70 artists. Peruse the paintings, metalwork, woodwork, glass, jewelry, furniture, and more.
Ignite Your Inner Fire With Locally Distilled Spirits
Door Peninsula Winery and Door County Distillery are located under one roof in Door County’s historic Carlsville schoolhouse. The winery is known for fruit and sweet/semisweet wines, and the distillery produces vodka, gin, and fruit-infused vodka distilled with the clean, limestone-infused waters of the Door Peninsula.
The family-owned Door County Brewing Company in Baileys Harbor was established in 2012 and sources as many ingredients as possible from Door County and Wisconsin to produce beers that reflect local influences and heritage. Sample the Polka King Porter, the Little Sister Witbier, and the Farm House Ale.
Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay is open during the winter with limited hours, so check in before planning your visit. Sample award-winning wines, stroll the 10-acre vineyard, or tour the winery with the Door County landscape in the background.
Enjoy A Winter Fish Boil
Fish boils are a cooking tradition in Door County, and the tradition carries on during the winter months.
The fish boil originated as an economical way to feed large groups of lumberjacks and fishermen. It started with churches providing local fish, potatoes, and Door County cherry pies for fundraisers, but eventually the area restaurants created their own tasty events. Each restaurant has its own process for boiling the fish, and, no matter the season, it’s an experience that’s not to be missed.
Sister Bay Bowl, a third-generation family-owned supper club, is a favorite dining destination. In addition to the fish boil, try the local cheese curds and one of the classic cocktails. The White Gull Inn, established in 1896, offers a fish boil using freshly caught Lake Michigan whitefish cooked over an open fire.
Sample Homestyle Cooking That’ll Warm Your Heart
Winter comfort foods abound in Door County.
Stop by the family-owned Scaturo’s Baking Company and Cafe in Sturgeon Bay for home-cooked foods like specialty breads, cookies, pecan rolls, and pies. Lunch favorites include the Friday fish-fry plate, the ultimate Door County burger featuring Renard's two-year-aged white Cheddar, and the mac and cheese with Marchant's bacon.
At Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, an authentic Swedish family-owned restaurant located in Sister Bay, be sure to order the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries and a side of meatballs.
Or dine at one of Fish Creek’s best restaurants, Barringers Restaurant, where you’ll find a Wisconsin supper club and steakhouse experience. Dinners include specially selected steaks, fresh seafood, and generous sides. Whether you dine in the historic dining room or choose the indoor/outdoor bar, you’ll enjoy locally sourced ingredients, craft cocktails, and wine selected by an in-house certified sommelier.