Now that summer has officially passed and the kids are safely tucked away at school, you’ve perhaps managed to take a breath or two. (I know, I know, your to-do list never ends!!) But wait! Take a minute to look up. What do you see? If you’re anywhere in a temperate or polar climate, you’ll see the vibrant and drastic change in foliage. If you’re not in an area which shows a change of seasons and surrounded by deciduous plants, I bet you can still imagine abscission, the process in which the autumn sun manages to cause a plant’s bright green and thriving leaves to morph into the fall color palette we often wrap ourselves in: eggplant, rust, ochre, auburn, umber. If you think those colors bring thoughts of hot apple cider and warm toes by the crackling fire, you are right!
There are many reasons to visit Door County any time of the year, and there are countless things to see and do as a family. Door County is a popular summer destination, but did you know the most delightful time to visit is the fall?
There is no better time to pack up the car and head north than now, and truthfully, no place more special than Door County — Wisconsin’s Cape Cod — an area full of many fall activities and treats which will please a family of any size and age. Often you will find a three-day weekend open up in your schedule due to Parent/Teacher conferences or Teacher In-Service days in the fall, so here is your chance to take advantage. Below I’m sharing reasons Door County is a Fall destination you will want to take your family!
Door County is an amazing area to drive through in the fall. Several scenic roads and lookouts will astound you. Our favorite, do-not-miss drive is in Gills Rock. Head north toward the Northport Pier (Washington Island Ferry) on 42, and you’ll find yourself in a twisting, turning snake-like road. In the fall its brilliant interplay of northern hardwood, aspen and oak trees with a bit of pine mixed in creates a backdrop only a painter could imagine. In other areas like Door County Bluffs or Cave Point, you’ll find birch trees lining the road. Their white trunks amidst the lurid, vibrant golden leaves let the wind whisper through them. You’ll want to get out of your car just to listen.
There are quite a few parks, preserves and great places to hike in Door County. Here are our favorites:
Peninsula State Park
Newport State Park
Cave Point County Park
Ellison Bluff County Park & Door Bluff Headlands County Park
The Ridges Sanctuary
Park stickers are required for state parks, and the visit is well worth the fee. Our favorite hike is at Newport State Park called Europe Bay Trail. It’s a moderate hike, (don’t bring your stroller!) and it has a little something for everyone: water, rocks, tree roots, flowers, leaves, fallen trees, more leaves, and soft ground. Grab a walking stick and spend a couple of hours in the woods! Don’t forget your water bottle.
Eagle Trail in Peninsula State Park is a slightly challenging hike for those a who can hike up steep hills. Again, there’s something for everyone on this hike in Peninsula State Park: rocks, steep hills, swampy areas (no worries, they’ve built a boardwalk), cliffs, caves, water, leaves, tree roots and oh-the-scent of fresh wood!
If you want a short 1-hour stop that doesn’t require a permit, check out Cave Point County Park. The short trail is fun for kids, but be sure to keep little ones close! There is an area with a gorgeous cliff that is worth checking out, as long as you keep fearless kids at hand.
Ellison Bluff County Park and Door Bluff Headlands also do not require a permit. There are beautiful walks overlooking Green Bay alongside the bluff in the Headlands, and at Ellison Bluff there is a scenic overlook ( with a protective fence) that is worth the stop even if you don’t walk a trail. It’s stunning and something you don’t want to miss during the fall.
The Ridges Sanctuary has several small hikes great for little ones. Safe and fun. You can stop inside the newly built Fuller-Cook Nature Center to view exhibits and learn more about the area. There is a small fee for hiking their grounds.
No trip is complete without a stop at a maze! Our favorite is Seaquist Orchards in Sister Bay. You simply must try the outdoor tree rope maze. It remains unchanged from year to year (available all year round) and is nearly impossible to get into the center. Seaquist Orchards also hosts an indoor maze for kids who are small enough to fit in — only available in the fall. It’s an excellent stop for families as folks can shop apples, pies, fudge, and jams while kiddos climb their way through the bales of hay.
If you’d like to spend a few hours getting lost, try the corn maze at Schopf’s Hilltop Dairy. Typically there are three mazes at different skill levels (pick your adventure!). The smallest is great for the younger kids with activities for them once they find their marks. If you have teens in your group, this is a must stop. It’s quite the challenge! And tons of fun! Afterwards, you can enjoy their homemade ice cream, feed the farm animals and shop for pumpkins. When you go, plan to dress warm and put on your hiking or comfortable shoes. You’ll be there for a few hours. Plan to arrive early. Entrance to the mazes closes at 3 pm.
ORCHARDS & PIES
Did I mention fall harvest, the bounty produced from months of tending to the orchards? Door County is known for its cherry trees, but the apple orchards have been in full swing, and the varietals are astounding! I referenced Seaquist earlier, but there are plenty of others: Wood Orchard, Koepsels, Lautenbachs, and more.
You’ll find incredible pies at each of these places, but just in case you want to buy your pies from more than one place (highly recommended) visit Bea’s (right on that winding road in Gills Rock) and Sweetie Pies. I haven’t decided if I like Bea’s 4-Berry Pie best or Sweetie Pies’ Chocolate Chip Pie. Most years, I buy both. One thing to note about these last two places (and perhaps a few others) — you can buy the pies frozen. They will make a 3 to 5-hour drive home after which you can quickly place them into your home freezer and bake them at a later date. What a way to impress your guests in the coming holidays! Trust me on this one; you will not find pies like this in your local grocery stores.
It’s no wonder we celebrate gratitude in the fall. The change of seasons and the fruits of our labor are a metaphor for our own lives! We see the beauty and reflect upon how fortunate we are. Although the summer days are now a distant memory, the fall lets us cozy up and appreciate all that we have. Door County will let you do just that, enjoying the outdoors and embracing the new season.