January 11 2018
A runner shares a personal essay documenting her years as "the runner" in rural South Dakota.
Travelers are always searching for locations that have beautiful views, intriguing history and lots of opportunities to explore. It’s a bonus to find a town that isn’t overrun by tourists or densely populated, greater still if there are as many indoor as outdoor activities to try. For active travelers, Door County, Wisconsin is one such hidden gem that’s as beautifully unique as it is quirky and fun.
I had no idea what to expect when I was invited on a press trip to Door County, a land of roughly 27,000 people in northeastern Wisconsin. I’ve spent most of my life in California, and the images that came to mind when I thought of Wisconsin–a state I’d never visited before–were all gleaned from television (mostly episodes of That 70s Show) and my late grandfather, a proud Packers fan and Cheesehead for life. I expected to see cornfields and cows (check, check), but I certainly didn’t expect the terrain to be so green. Coming from Southern California, where our hillsides of browned vegetation are making local firefighters nervous about the likelihood of another scary fire season, Wisconsin’s lush vistas dotted with cherry orchards and healthy fields of corn (so much corn) had the same effect on my eyes as when a fluffy puppy walks my way: I was excited and couldn’t stop staring. The eastern and western edges of Door County give the eyes even more to soak in, since they border Lake Michigan and Green Bay, respectively. On this delicate peninsula of “America’s Dairyland,” one can walk along beaches, troop through forests, cruise past farmland along open highways and get a dose of small town life–all in one day.
At this point, you’re probably wondering: Where and what the heck is Door County, anyway? That was my first thought–so here’s a brief history lesson. Door County has been around since 1851, almost as long as Wisconsin itself. Nestled between Green Bay and Lake Michigan with its finger-like shape pointing toward southern Ontario, CAN, the county experiences postcard-worthy beach weather in the summer and freezing temperatures during the winter, with its surrounding bodies of water hiding beneath as much as two to three feet of ice as snow coats the land. For this reason, many of the local hotels and restaurants operate seasonally, their most profitable months landing between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Door County alone is home to five state parks and 19 county parks, many of which were once populated by Native American tribes like the Potawatomi. During the summer, visiting this slice of land is like winning the lottery for outdoor enthusiasts. There are plenty of trails on which to run, hike and bike, its calmer lakes provide plenty of space for kayakers, paddle boarders and fishing boats to splash around, and its eastern shore is an ideal docking location for the sailboats and high-speed units that cruise along Lake Michigan.
The three days I spent in Door County were among the best of my summer–there was great food, friendly people and more activities than I could possibly squish into my visit. For those interested in learning more about what there is to do and see in Door County, read on. Just remember that summer will be the best bet for an outdoorsy visit–at the end of August, there was low humidity and plenty of sunshine, but temperatures stayed in the mid-60s and 70s during the daytime, making the weather ideal for taking advantage of all the outdoor activities available to visitors.