Originally I had envisioned this road trip being a "day trip" up and back but as I started adding things to my itinerary, it was clear that an overnight would make the trip more enjoyable. I am really glad that I made that decision and was able to find a hotel at a decent rate in the height of their fall season.
The center of the Door County Peninsula is about 180 miles from Milwaukee and estimated to be about three and a half hours drive time, with no stops. I of course, have to stop whenever something catches my eye (like the beautiful barn quilt facing Hwy 57 a few miles south of Renard's Cheese). I have written about it here in this journal, but the Sturgeon Bay USCG Station and the adjacent ship canal was a totally impromptu stop of over an hour!
Right now (the first week of October) the fall colors are just coming to peak. The weather was glorious . . . sunny with temperatures in the mid to high 60's. Just about perfect, crisp fall air and skies. So perfect in fact, that for the night I stayed in Door County, there was solar activity enough for the aurora borealis to be seen (and photographed).
During my drive to, through and back from Door County I enjoyed stopping for many photo ops of the fall colors. I was also able to add to my collection of barn quilt photographs and lighthouses. The lighthouses I visited as part of a tour or extended stay, I've written separate reviews or stories on. One lighthouse, however bears mentioning as it was out in the distance and only available for a photo from afar.
The Old Baileys Harbor lighthouse was built in 1852 and decommissioned when it was replaced in 1869. What makes it so rare is the fact that it is just one of three "bird cage" lantern lights left standing in all of the United States. While in great disrepair today, it is still in good enough shape to take a photo depicting the bird cage feature. I had seen photos in historical accounts of the lighthouses on Door County, but never seemed to know where to find this one.
Fortunately the owner at the Beachfront Inn knew exactly where it was and told me how to get there. Since it is on private property a photo from a distant gravel parking lot was as good as it would get from land. To get to where you can see the lighthouse, turn east on Ridges Road from Hwy 57. Go all the way down to the end of the road. It will dead end into a parking lot where you can get out and take a look around but remember, the lighthouse is on private property.
After my two days on Door County's peninsula, it was time to make my way back home to Milwaukee. I had a short shopping list of things I wanted to pick up at a couple of the orchard markets. Being the fall harvest season, there were a lot of roadside markets. Pumpkins and other gourds as well as corn stalks and hay bales were available to those looking to decorate their front yards.
My primary shopping list item was apples as they have been in season for several weeks. In addition to a number of different varieties of apples, Wood Orchard Farm Market of Egg Harbor had a nice selection of apple products including apple butter and caramel apples. Like most other markets in Door County, they have a wide assortment of products made with famous Door County cherries.
I also made the obligatory stop at the Orchard Country Market in Fish Creek to pick up a cherry strudel to take home. I also wanted to buy a bottle of their seasonal "lighthouse" wine but unfortunately they were already sold out. The $20 bottle of wine is really $10 of wine and $10 for the unique lighthouse shaped glass bottle. This was their sixth year of issuing a fall lighthouse bottle. I guess I'll have to do better next year.
For anyone living in or visiting Milwaukee, it is totally possible to make Door County a day trip destination. Expect to drive around 400 miles and eight hours minimum however. While not necessarily the most relaxing way to do it, like I said, it can be done as a day trip.
Reasonably, one could take in a couple of tours one on land and another by boat, plus a nice meal. In order to do much more than that however, you will want to stay overnight. My plans got extended because I wanted to do two lighthouse tours AND two boat tours. I could have done everything in a single day, but I figured I would have had to leave Milwaukee by 6:00am and would not have arrived home until close to 9:00pm . . . and that would not have allowed for time to enjoy a nice Door County fish boil dinner. I've done plenty of 18 hour days by car but I also realize they aren't for everyone.