A summer road trip guide to Wisconsin’s Door County, the Cape Cod of the Midwest

Hear the squeak of fresh cheese curds and immerse yourself in the region’s Scandinavian roots at these 7 must-see stops

Bird’s eye view of Fish Creek in Door County. | Photo: Dan Eggert

Wisconsin’s idyllic lake communities are sometimes overlooked in favor of Milwaukee brew tours or a visit to Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. But venture outside the urban centers and you’ll discover charming road trip destinations that feel straight out of a summer camp postcard. 

Take Door County, for instance. Comparing this upper Wisconsin region to Cape Cod is a tale as old as time. The peninsula and its outlying islands dotted with hydrangea-festooned cottages are home to crystalline waters, balsam fir forests, and oodles of outdoor recreation opportunities for families. So what makes the region worth the effort of venturing into the heart of the Midwest? Its affordability compared to the Cape, unique Scandinavian roots, central location, and more.

From south to north, here’s a roundup of places you won’t want to miss on your road trip through Door County.

cheese curds, sausages and olives on a white background
Fresh cheese curds from Renard’s. | Photo courtesy of Renard’s Cheese.

1. Renard’s Cheese 

The journey begins with a sampling of Wisconsin’s most iconic food: cheese curds. At Renard’s Cheese in Sturgeon Bay, sink your teeth into curds made by Chris Renard, a certified Master Cheesemaker since 2014. Tradition runs deep at this third-generation family-owned shop, which serves up classic cheddar cheese curds alongside fun innovations like whip string cheese—long, thin strands of salty mozzarella. 

While families are welcome to stock up on cheese snacks and fudge for the campsite, they can also stop and stay awhile at Renard’s. Browse the shop, pick out some Door County souvenirs, and belly up to the bistro counter to order a hot grilled cheese made with squeaky curds (the squeakier the sound, the fresher the curd). Immersive factory tours are scheduled to resume in 2023. 

Related Eat cheese like a local at these 8 stops along the Wisconsin Cheese Trail

a grey barn with white trim with black lettering painted on the side that reads "est. 1917 horseshoe bay farms"
Horseshoe Bay Farms. | Photo: Leandra Beabout

2. Horseshoe Bay Farms

Horseshoe Bay Farms is no ordinary roadside stop. Part historic relic, part immersive agricultural showpiece, the 8.5-acre complex in Egg Harbor includes dahlia and vegetable gardens, along with several century-old farm structures that once represented the ultimate in modern technology of their day. 

After lying dormant for years, the heritage site was reestablished in 2017. Now, for a small donation, visitors can enjoy an intimate look at the rich history of Door County with tours led by executive director Drew Richmond. It’s a must-see stop for anyone interested in history or agriculture.

a wooden walkway overlooks a body of water
Peninsula State Park. | Photo: Jon Jarosh/Destination Door County

3. Peninsula State Park

While heading north through Door County, you’re bound to come across Peninsula State Park. The sprawling green space includes views of glittering Green Bay, thick green forest crisscrossed with hiking and biking trails, and an 850-foot, fully wheelchair-accessible canopy walk up to the top of Eagle Tower. 

If you’re lucky enough to snag a campsite in July or August, enjoy an evening at the park’s Northern Sky Theater, where professional actors entertain with family-friendly performances under a blanket of stars—but don’t forget to bring the bug spray.

Related From tobogganing to spelunking: Wild and weird experiences await at these state parks

a structure painted in bright colors sits next to the water with boats under a blue sky
The Hardy Gallery. | Photo: Leandra Beabout

Art galleries don’t have to be stuffy. Pull up to The Hardy, and you’ll see why. The graffiti-scribbled building next to the water in the town of Ephraim is an art piece itself, providing a plethora of angles for fun selfies.

Inside, you’ll find a gallery chockablock with colorful artwork from residents of Door County. It’s the perfect place to invest in community art or set up an easel and try “en plein air” painting. And if the gallery only whets your appetite for artsy treasures, keep shopping across the street at Anderson House Workbench, an eclectic collection of gifts and goods. 

a goat on a sod-covered roof under a bright blue sky
A goat on the roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant. | Photo courtesy of Destination Door County

5. Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay

No road trip through Door County is complete without a meal at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, where the region’s Scandinavian roots remain on full display. From Swedish pancakes with lingonberry sauce to Swedish meatballs, Al Johnson’s offers a true smorgasbord of Scandi fare. Even the servers dress up in red and white traditional Swedish dresses. Heritage aside, what attracts many first-time diners to Al Johnson’s are the goats on the roof. In fair weather, snag an outside table to watch the resident animals munch away at the lofty sod.

an elaborate stavkirke structure surrounded by greenery
Stavkirke on Washington Island. | Photo: John Nienhuis/Destination Door County

6. Washington Island Stavkirke 

Here’s where the journey through Door County gets even more fun. Take coastal byway Highway 42T to Northport Pier on the northeast tip of the Door County peninsula. Park your vehicle or drive it aboard the ferry (for a fee) and get ready for a soothing ride past Plum Island and onward to Washington Island.

Once you’ve got your land legs again, visit the Washington Island Stavkirke, a tranquil roadside stop built in the style of the 1150 ACE Church of Staves in Borgund, Norway. Breathe in the aroma of the carved wood interior, then stroll through the quiet, dense woods around it. Visiting this homage to Door County’s Scandinavian culture feels like stumbling into an old Viking village. 

a lavender farm with purple and white flowers and a white bench under a blue sky
Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm. | Photo courtesy of Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop

7. Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm and Shop

This last must-see stop on Washington Island will delight fans of aromatherapy. Fragrant Isle boasts a working lavender farm, restaurant, and gift shop. On a hot summer day, adults can relax with a lavender-infused wine slushy after roaming the picture-perfect purple fields. And the whole family will love the fragrance overload of experiencing the late-summer steam distillation process that’s open to the public.