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Paddling and Fish-Boiling in Wisconsin’s Door County

Hit the water—or enjoy some Midwestern hospitality—in this Lake Michigan vacationland.

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Eighty miles long and 25 miles wide, Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula offers a unique mix of history, food, culture and nature. Limestone bluffs, a remnant of the Niagara Escarpment, make up the backbone of Door County’s five state parks and 19 county parks. On the water, some 300 miles of cave- and cliff-dotted Lake Michigan shoreline awaits kayakers

Cave Point County Park by Kayak

Get a water-level view of Door County on this three-mile route. Drop in at Schauer Park just north of Cave Point Park and turn right, paddling under towering limestone bluffs lined with evergreens. Paddling on days with shallow wind offers the perfect opportunity to enter eerie, dark holes where the limestone meets the lake. The only noise you’ll hear echoing inside is water slapping the underbelly of the caverns.

Campers’ Paradise

In Door County, there’s a campsite for everyone. Hike in and stargaze at Newport State Park wilderness area, a designated International Dark Sky Park. Paddle to camp at Rock Island State Park, one of the peninsula’s 34 named islands. Car camp and listen to the waves crash along Lake Michigan’s limestone bluff shoreline at Peninsula or Whitefish Dunes state parks. Or set up camp at the trailhead of the 1,000-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail at Potawatomi State Park for an easy start to a backcountry trip.

Sunrise, Sunset

With eight full miles of shoreline, Peninsula State Park is arguably the best spot in the county to catch both sunrises and sunsets. Early risers can post up on the park’s eastern half at Eagle Terrace to welcome the sunrise above the century-old village of Ephriam. For night owls, hike the Sunset Trail along the park’s western edge to watch the sun fall over Wisconsin’s Green Bay.

Wisconsin Fish Boil

What’s a fish boil? Only the longest-standing tradition on Door County’s peninsula. The four-ingredient cookout of local Lake Michigan whitefish, potatoes, onions, and a heap of salt cooks in a cast-iron kettle over an open fire, just as the peninsula’s Scandinavian settlers did it 100 years ago. Enjoy the tradition at Rowley’s Bay Restaurant, and make sure to stick around for the “boil over” finale: At the tail end of the cookout, the “boil master” ignites the remaining coals with kerosene to complete the cooking process. Flames explode, bursting up to 15 feet high, and send water bubbling over the kettle’s rim to remove unwanted ash and oil, leaving a perfectly cooked feast.

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