Several years ago Jarrett and I read an article about a place nicknamed the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” To locals it’s just called Door County, Wis., a 70-mile long peninsula along Lake Michigan that is dotted with resort communities and pastoral farm land. But every year, more than 2 million visitors flock to the region, which boasts five state parks, 11 historic lighthouses, and more than 50 beaches and parks.
Intrigued by what we read and the pictures we saw, we had tucked the travel idea away for the future. Then finally our grand tour of Michigan this past summer provided the perfect opportunity to explore this slice of Wisconsin a bit, which we did from the comfort of Wagon Trail Campground in Ellison Bay.
Because Door County is composed of small resort communities, the first thing we noticed about the peninsula is that everything was pricey. (It is nicknamed the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” after all. 🙂 ) The good news is that even if you are on a budget (like us!) there are plenty of ways to enjoy the rich historical, cultural, and natural world of Door County. (And stay tuned because I am working on my family fun guide to Door County, which will highlight many affordable stops.)
Before we dive into our campground review, here is a video overview of all the fun we had while visiting the Door County region:
We chose Wagon Trail because of its high reviews and also because it offered the promise of “a feeling of seclusion and privacy that is difficult to find at campgrounds these days.” Although the nightly rate was more than what we would pay at a state park, we felt the campground lived up to its promise, with well-spaced sites divided by thick hedges to offer that sense of seclusion.
Wagon Trail has organized its sites by using the following numbering system:
- The 100s are tent sites with the exception of 101, 118, and 119, which are big rig pull-through sites.
- The 200s are nice sites but all are for smaller campers such as pop-ups or those campers that are less than 25 feet long. Sites 213, 214, and 215 are the exception as big rig pull-through sites.
- The 300s (with the exception of 313-317) are all permanent campers. Site 317 is a very nice pull through and our site 316 was very private (but the late afternoon sun shone down right on our picnic table area and led us to hang up a shade).
- The 400s are where the few full hook-up sites are located, but many of these sites are tighter to get in and out of.
- The 500s are a bit down the hill and several were VERY nice. I would highly recommend the even numbered sites from 502-516 and 515: They are great sites, carefully positioned to look off into the woods with ample privacy.
- The 600s and 700s sites are all permanent seasonal sites.
The campground also offers rustic cabins, yurts, travel trailer rental sites, and a honey dipper pump out service.
Here’s a video Jarrett created of this beautiful campground spot:
And here are some more pictures of the campground:
The campground had recently remodeled the shower house that is located at the office building. Although the other shower house had not yet been remodeled, both bathrooms were immaculately maintained. In addition to the daily cleaning hour, we noticed campground staff popping into the bathrooms throughout the day to do quick touch ups.
The campground offered a lot of creature comforts to make the stay enjoyable. In addition to laundry facilities (immaculate once again), a fish cleaning station, and a camp store, there was a game room as well as an adults-only lounge furnished with comfy furniture and a lending library. Wi-Fi was available in the adults lounge, game room, and in the area immediately outside the campground office. Elsewhere in the campground was a centrally located playground, volleyball net, and green space.
The Door County region is replete with a variety of touring opportunities. In many ways it reminded us of the diverse experiences we encountered while visiting the Outer Banks. From the food (fish boils are the thing to do) and the art scene, to the historical and outdoor recreational fun, there is something for everyone to do here.
We will have more details in our upcoming Door County family fun guide, but here is just a sampling of what we did:
This spot was once dubbed the “best small museum in the Midwest” and we found it completely charming. It offers a variety of hands-on areas for the kiddos and beautifully designed displays, including a wildlife diorama and an old-fashioned Door County street scene.
We visited several of Door County’s lighthouses, including Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal North Pierhead Light, where you can walk past the Coast Guard Station and out onto the lighthouse pier. For a completely different experience, we sloshed through a causeway to reach Cana Island Lighthouse and then paid to climb 97 steps to the top to take in the view.
A rain storm provided the perfect excuse to seek shelter and a sweet treat. 🙂 So while it poured outside, we savored some ice cream and took the self-guided milking parlor tour. Then once the rain had passed, the kids enjoyed the outdoor play yard and seeing the pens of baby farm animals.
Door County is one of the top cherry producing regions in the country, and cherry trees were just coming into season during the time of our visit. So when we passed Seaquist Orchards we stopped on a whim. While I sampled cherry jellies, Jarrett and the kids had a blast tackling the giant rope maze.
This beautiful spot includes an engaging nature center and the opportunity to hike through the site’s distinctive topography, which features a series of 30 ridges and swales formed by the movement of Lake Michigan over hundreds of years. It’s also home to 25 native orchids and the endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly.
We went on a guided hike, which included a visit to one of the Baileys Harbor Range Lights. Then later we explored the (free!) Family Discovery Trail, which is designed to engage kids with nature in fun and imaginative ways. From stations where kids can build shelters and bridges, or spots where bug nets and discovery backpacks are ready and waiting, it’s just an amazing opportunity for children to explore the natural world.
This county park is adjacent to one of the state parks, but whereas the state parks charge an entrance fee, the county park is free. Visitors are drawn to Cave Point’s underwater caves and wave-worn limestone cliffs, where some brave souls plunge off and into the water.
And for another fun experience, we took the kids to Renard’s Cheese where you can sample a Door County specialty: cheese curds that squeak in your teeth.
Cost: $52 per night (2 adults & 2 kids) + $1 per additional kid per night
Dates of stay: 7/5-9/17