Winter in Door County – Here’s All You Need to Know!
Door County is packed in the summer with folks from all over the world enjoying the warmer temps. But those who are REAL outdoor enthusiasts know that Winter in Door County is truly for the adventurists. Brave the cold, embrace the snow and enjoy the ice. Door County’s rich supply of water is by far its most valuable natural resource and its wooded parks provide an endless supply or outdoor adventures.
Nothing compares to a solitary moment in the woods where you can hear your own breathing. Stroll the beaches to experience the zenith of Lake Michigan’s forcesive winds and water. Soar down one of Wisconsin’s largest hills and watch your children squeal in delight. Channel your Tara Lipinski moves on a local ice rink. Sample Door County’s locally made hot cider, luscious wines, or brewed hops.
Here is the shortlist of the most Iconic things to do in Door County in the Winter:
Walk the Beaches
Visit Cave Point
Hop on a Trolley
Cuddle Up on a Sleigh Ride
See the Country Side on a Horse
Get Crafty at a DIY Craft Studio
Go Crosscountry Skiing
Visit a Winery
Soar Down a Hill — Go Sledding
Zip Around on a Snowmobile
Enjoy a Progressive Dinner
Hang Out at a Winter Festival
There are plenty of other sights to admire in the winter in Door County such as twinkling holiday lights, our frozen waters, and cozy fires. Whatever you’d like to set your eyes upon, Winter in Door County will change your mind about Wisconsin winters!
Ice Skating in Door County
Teresa K. Hilander Outdoor Ice Rink, Sister Bay
In the heart of the Sister Bay Sports Complex is the Teresa K. Hilander Ice Rink. Don’t miss the fun and your chance to breathe in the fresh Door County winter air while showing off your Choctaws and Camel Spins. The outdoor ice rink offers rental skates and concessions. The rink is open mid-December through February, weather permitting. Check their facebook page for updates and rink hours.
Teresa K Hilander Ice Rink also hosts Broomball every Wednesday. Come out and join the fun!
Sturgeon Bay Ice Rink
The Sturgeon Bay ice rink offers a large assortment of ice skates in all sizes (toddler to adult) that can be borrowed for FREE! Located outdoors near downtown across from the local high school, the skating rink is a favorite of locals and visitors. It is open in the late afternoon to evening on weekdays and all day on weekends. Concessions are also available.
Pond Hockey Tournament on Kangaroo Lake
Are you a fan of hockey? Check out the annual Pond Hockey Tournament in February. There is room for players, fans, foodies and even an open skate area too!
Walk the Beaches
Get outside! There are 25o miles of shoreline in Door County and the winter beaches of Door County continue to astound; what they lack in subtle tropical features, they make up for with sheer extremity.
All the Door County State Parks are adjacent to the shoreline with most providing some access to the water. There are also beaches in nearly every community.
The Green Bay side boasts intimidating ice shoves which you will be tempted to climb for a closer look. Green Bay completely freezes over with ice and the thickness routinely approaches 3 feet. Caution: Before venturing onto the ice whether on foot, seek local advice to avoid patches of thin ice. The bay tends to freeze over in January, all the way from the city of Green Bay to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, approximately 130 miles.
The ice is continuously expanding and can force large pieces of frozen ice up and onto the shore. Some years the combination of expanding ice and wind has seen shoves more than 10 feet high!
Gigantic rock formations and the perpetual beating of strong winds make Cave Point a remarkably powerful place where Lake Michigan is in full force. The lake can, at times, be such a rich blue you’ll wonder if you are in Iceland. Water sprays freeze around the trees and branches making everything look like its covered in glass.
Carefully explore the area, but please, do not go alone and do not go after sundown. Remember, it’s great to impress your friends with the “money shot” but don’t risk your life. The cliffs are extremely icy and dangerous. Keep little ones close.
That being said, Cave Point County Park provides spectacular sites in the winter, and I would not miss it.
Hop on a Door County Trolley
Clang, clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings
From the moment I hopped on I swelled
Door County Trolley offers three Winter Trolley Tours which provide a full day of fun.
- Premier Wine Tour This tour is only offered through the month of November and begins again in March.
- Wine, Spirits & Brew Tour
- Winter Wine Tour & Sleigh Ride
We took the Winter Wine Tour which included the sleigh ride. From the moment we hopped on the trolley we never stopped laughing and having fun. Our tour operator was a gas — singing songs, telling jokes, playing music to get us in the spirit. The wineries were welcoming, the wines were tasty, and we spent a bit of money at each stop! You’ll want to buy the samples! It was nice to enjoy libations while we were chauffeured around. The sleigh ride was the cherry on the cake (see below). Our lunch at the English Inn was filling and delicious. We had so much fun that we vowed to do it again the following year. Door County Trolley tours are truly one of the best experiences in Door County.
And yes, that’s me in the photo. 🙂
Sleigh Rides – A Perfect Compliment to Winter in Door County
Door County sleigh rides are imbued with a delicious touch. You’ll be tucked into cozy blankets and carted off into the winter fields as horses pull the sleigh near still forests and open orchards. Adorn your winter gear and cozy up to your kiddos as you experience a horse-drawn wagon and feel the cool crisp Door County air.
Upon return, you’ll be greeted with apple cider and wines, all made on site.
Door County Sleigh rides are at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and are affordable! Adults are $8 and kids under 2 are free. You can also enjoy the sleigh all to yourselves with a private ride for $65. Call ahead for private bookings. The winter hours are Monday, Wednesday & Friday from 11am to 2pm, Saturday 11-4 and Sunday 11-2. No ride on holidays. Please call Mayberry’s Carriages to confirm!
Door County horse-drawn sleigh rides are a vacation-defining moment with stories to share back home. Kids will always remember this fairytale-like experience. I would not miss this chance to enjoy in Door County Winter!
See the Countryside on a Horse
Winter horseback riding in Door County is unlike any other experience you’ll have thanks to Kurtz Corral’s 500 acres of prime Door County landscape. Kurtz Corral has access to some of the best horseback riding trails in Wisconsin where you’ll get a glimpse of Door County’s amazing sights — some winter scenes that are only seen from atop a horse.
A one-day advance reservation is requested in the winter months. Check Kurtz Corral for details.
Get Crafty! Visit a DIY Craft Studio
A bit too cold for you? Want to get your creative juices flowing? Check out a Door County DIY Art Studio.
We love Clink! located in Ephraim (on the north end of town, near Sister Bay). Be greeted with the friendly faces of Mike & Courtney as they help you chose just the right project: wood, leather, jewelry and home decor projects. There are plenty of ideas to choose from and they include all levels of activity and ages. The prices range from $15 up to $80. You will be able to take home a beautiful keepsake of your Door County Winter vacation.
Clink! is open on Saturdays & Sundays, although in December they are open only Saturdays (some exceptions). Check their website for hours, or call 920-854-3336
Hike the State Parks & the Nature Center
Newport, Whitefish Dunes, Peninsula
Door County State Parks offer endless ways to hike and explore. If the snow is not too deep, don your winter books, dress in layers and don’t forget the water! Adventure out at a slow pace through the woods, stopping to breathe in fresh air and take in the hush which settles over the trails in the winter. It’s magical. You’ll experience the forest in a new way, and winter won’t be that awful dreary season any longer. If you hike a state park, you’ll need a vehicle admission sticker.
The hikes are easy and short at the Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey’s Harbor. In addition, you’ll be able to venture across the boardwalk and enjoy Bailey’s Harbor Lights, an iconic image with the newly restored bright cherry red roof of the Uppper Range Light, the light keeper’s home. Note the trails are closed during Deer Hunting Season. Check The Ridges Sanctuary for details.
There are a number of candlelight hikes being offered in Door County. These are not to be missed! Who doesn’t like traipsing through the forest at night with only a warm glow lighting the path? It’s an intimate way to experience the woods, and the silence will calm your soul — unless of course, you’d rather hear the joyful glees of your kids as they tumble and adventure through the woods. Do not miss this opportunity if it’s offered during your visit. It will be a moment you’ll want to share once you’re back home.
Leave Giant Footprints – Snowshoe the Trails
Snowshoeing is one of the most popular winter activities in Door County which requires little to no experience to enjoy. First-timers, as well as professionals, will love the wooded trails. It’s the most fun to do after a heavy snowfall.
Guided Snowshoe Hikes
Many of the parks have snowshoeing trails including Crossroads at Big Creek and the Door County Land Trust. Ridges Sanctuary is also known to host guided snowshoe hikes during the winter, giving you the perfect opportunity to experience parts of the ecosystem you can only find in the sanctuary.
Where to Rent Snowshoes in Door County
Snowshoe rentals are available at Bay Shore Outfitters in Sister Bay and Sturgeon Bay, Ecology Sports in Sister Bay, The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor, Nor Door Sport and Cyclery in Fish Creek, the Door County YMCA in Sturgeon Bay and Fish Creek and on Sundays at Crossroads at Big Creek.
At Whitefish Dunes along the Lake Michigan shore, you’ll find a mile of sandy beach and the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin. Whitefish has about 15 miles of trails that meander through its 863 acres of forest and dunes. Peninsula State Park offers five miles of trails one of which takes you to the historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. On another trail, you can hike near the shore and look out over Green Bay and view the rocky bluffs.
Check the trail and snow conditions at the Door County Outdoor Snow Report.
Get Outside – Cross County Skiing
Cross Country Skiing is also a favorite Door County winter activity for many cold-season visitors, and cross-county ski trails accommodate novice or experienced skiers. State parks require a vehicle admission sticker to park at the property. State parks also require a state trail pass for all skiers age 16 and older.
To keep ski trails in the best condition possible, hiking, snowshoeing, pets, and other uses are not permitted on the ski trails. There are other trails are designated for these uses.
Peninsula State Park
Peninsula State Park has 16 miles of classic groomed and 6 miles of skate groomed trails in this park near Fish Creek in Door County. A warming shelter is available.
Potawatomi State Park
Potawatomi State Park has 9 miles of classic groomed and 8 miles of skate groomed trail in this park near Sturgeon Bay in Door County. A shelter is available.
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Whitefish Dunes State Park has 9 miles of classic groomed trails including a shelter.
The Ridges Sanctuary
Visit a Winery
There’s nothing better than heading to a tasting room to sample wines and cider. There’re plenty of wineries and vineyards for you to choose from. Decide which to visit on Door County Wine Trail. If you do not have a designated driver, hop on a Winter Wine Tour with Door County Trolley.
Are you a fan of French bubbly? Then you will love the sparkling libations over at Island Orchard Cider. However, Island Orchard is only open through the month of December and then closes until April the following season.
Sled Down the Largest Hill in the State!
Peninsula State Park Golf Course, Hill 17
Hill 17 is a mountain of fun! Picture a beautiful green fairway transformed into a favorite winter activity. When most people dread the high snowfalls, enthusiasts know it’s time to dress the kids and pack up the sleds and head to the 17th hole of the Peninsula State Park golf course. The course is bustling with happy squealing kids and their adult counterparts because everyone enjoys the thrill of sliding down a giant hill in the snow.
The DNR notes on its website, “The hill is steep,” is which understatement for anyone who has braved one of the largest sledding hills in the state.
Peninsula State Park is open from 6am to 11 pm every day.
Speed and Adventure on a Snow Mobile!
250 Miles of Well-Groomed Trails
When you’re ready to zip 250 miles of well-groomed, picturesque trails, Door County has it all set for you thanks to volunteers who go out every year to ask farmers’ permission for public snowmobilers to cross the farmers’ property. They then brush, mark and groom trails, which open immediately after deer hunting season ends and remain open through March.
“One of the neatest things about snowmobiling is that you can go places that you can’t go any other time of year,” said Steve Sohns, president of the Door County Trails Association. “Ninety percent of trails are on private property, and trails are also in places that aren’t accessible other times of the year, like swamps and lakes.”
Winter in Door County need not be spent indoors with state parks and other natural areas at our disposal. There is always something fun waiting for anybody interested in getting out and enjoying a revitalizing Wisconsin winter.
Machines must be registered on trails with a Wisconsin state trail pass.
Check the trail and snow conditions at the Door County Outdoor Snow Report.
Beautiful, historic Thorpe House Inn | Photo courtesy of Thorpe House Inn
Progressive Dinner Weekend
The Thorp House Inn and White Gull Inn host a beautiful moveable feast each winter in Door County. You can stay at either inn and enjoy Friday night appetizers and seasonal music. On Saturday, guests begin with appetizers at the Thorpe House, built in 1902 by Freeman Thorp, of the founding family of Fish Creek. Guests will then be transported on to the White Gull Inn by horse-drawn wagon viewing festively decorated homes along the way. The White Gull Inn is Door County’s oldest running inn (123 years) and has won accolades for its inn and its restaurant. Here you will enjoy a 5-course dinner. Both inns will feature live music, tours and a bit of history given by the owners.
This is a very special way to enjoy the holiday season, and I highly recommend both of the inns. The innkeepers are personable and super friendly, making you feel right at home!
The Progressive Dinner Weekends are hosted
December 6 & 7, 2019
December 13 & 14, 2019
December 20 & 21, 2019
January 3 & 4, 2020
Winter Festivals & Events
Bailey’s Harbor Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting Party
This is a full-day event on Saturday, December 7, 2019, featuring arts & crafts for the kids (and the adults), hot apple cider, music, and the holiday parade. Enjoy the special Christmas Tree Tour with over 50 trees (fun for kids, see if they can find all the trees!). Check out the Baileys Harbor website for more details.
Sturgeon Bay Fire & Ice Festival
Watch ice sculptors wield their carving tools as they turn blocks of ice into works of art. Afterward, there is a dinner, dance and live auction. For the evening festivities, reservations are required. Call 920.743.6246 for details.
Watch the Cherry Drop in Sister Bay on New Year’s Eve
Ice skating, bonfires, special dinners, fireworks, music, and fun. The street is filled and only the die-hard Wisconsin folks will last to the end — but it’s worth it!
Jacksonport Polar Bear Swim
After the Cherry Drop Celebration, head over to Jacksonport the following morning and watch as hundreds of brave humans do the inhuman thing and hop (half-dressed!) into the cold waters of Lake Michigan. I hear this is good for your health…
Fish Creek Winter Festival
If you are visiting Door County early next year, you’ll want to add the Door County Winter Festival to your “Reasons Why We Must Visit Door County in the Winter” list. Winter in Door County is not complete without participating in this notorious event featuring the infamous Fruit Loop Fun Run, a fiddle contest, live music, a firework display, romantic candlelight skiing, a chili cook-off, bonfires and more! Some years they’ve even had a human foosball game on the ice. What a sight! Most of the fun takes place under a heated tent overlooking the dazzling, frozen waters of Green Bay.