When the air gets nippy and the trees burst into color, it's time for an escape to Door County. One of Wisconsin's most popular tourist destinations, "the Door" is a narrow, 70-mile peninsula known for its thriving arts scene, recreational offerings, food and natural beauty – especially come fall. Here are some ideas to jumpstart your trip-planning.
Begin your flavor exploration by signing on for a cooking class at the Savory Spoon Cooking School or Flour Pot. The Savory Spoon, tucked into a historic schoolhouse in Ellison Bay, offers classes on cooking with seasonal fall ingredients, the art of making apple pie and how to recreate a traditional Wisconsin fish fry. At the Flour Pot, the emphasis is on learning to create local ethnic desserts such as Belgian pies and kneecaps, a type of doughnut.
Next, grab a wine trail brochure at the Door County Visitor Bureau and explore the eight unique wineries lining the peninsula. Although the region is famous for fruit-based wines, especially cherry and apple, its vintners cultivate cold-hardy varietals, too.
If wine isn't your thing, enjoy a Belgian-inspired farmhouse ale, porter or IPA at Door County Brewing Co. in Baileys Harbor. Or sample French-style hard ciders at Island Orchard Cider in Ellison Bay, crafted from apples grown on Washington Island, which sits off the peninsula's tip. Door County Trolley also offers wine, beer and spirits tours.
And don't forget to eat! Many restaurants, such as Chives in Baileys Harbor and Wickman House in Ellison Bay, excel at creating fall-themed dishes based on locally harvested produce.
There are 11 historic lighthouses in Door County. See if you can visit or spot them all. The oldest is Rock Island's Pottawatomie Lighthouse, built in 1836.
After visiting Rock Island, you may wish to explore the other 33 named islands in the county. The largest and most well-known is Washington Island, accessed by a ferry ride across the "Death's Door" strait. Once you arrive, down a shot of bitters at Nelsen's Hall, a quirky tradition that helped make the bar the world's largest consumer of Angostura bitters. Or stop in at Field Wood Farm to ride an Icelandic horse, a breed known for its unusual fourth gait.
Experienced divers should check out some of the 240 known shipwrecks scattered around the peninsula. A handful can be seen while snorkeling, or even from the water's surface from the safety of a kayak, canoe or boat.
And hiking aficionados have miles of trails at their disposal, as Door County is home to five state parks. Potawatomie in Sturgeon Bay contains several miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, including the trail's eastern terminus.
For Art Lovers
More than 100 artists' galleries and studios dot the peninsula. Meet artists at work or take a class at Sievers School of Fiber Arts. Outside Fish Creek, Hands On Art Studio offers adult nights on select fall Fridays. Grab a bottle of wine to sip while creating your own masterpiece. Or catch a performance at Peninsula Players Theatre, America's oldest resident summer theater.
And remember, Mother Nature is the most talented artist of all. Drink in her brightly hued fall foliage by driving along the Door County Coastal Byway, which runs more than 66 miles up and down the peninsula. Make sure to stop at Whitefish Dunes State Park to climb Old Baldy, Wisconsin's tallest sand dune, for sweeping views of Lake Michigan and Clark Lake.
At night, tuck in at one of the county's many cozy B&Bs. All 15 guest rooms at the Blacksmith Inn on the Shore in Baileys Harbor contain a fireplace, in-room whirlpool and private balcony showcasing the harbor, while the all-suite Foxglove Inn in Sturgeon Bay offers luxe accommodations.
Just one word of caution: When it's time to return home, you may not want to leave.
Keep planning your Door County getaway with these fantastic fall color drives!