Why I Call Gill’s Rock “Door County’s Hidden Gem”

Gills Rock is the last town on the tip of the Door County Peninsula; technically this unincorporated community is part of the Town of Liberty Grove. It is a quiet fishing village with Hedgehog Harbor serving as its “downtown.” The harbor is home to a few gift shops, Charlie’s Smoke House and the Island Clipper which brings passengers and bikers to Washington Island. The Shoreline Restaurant is at the top of the hill boasting fabulous views of the sunset for diners. Gill’s Rock Petragraphs is next door, an eclectic variety of junkyard valuables refined and refinished into a tasteful coffee shop and heterogeneous collection of American Indian history. (It’s not to be missed.) UPDATE: Gill’s Rock Petragraphs is now closed. You can still read about the Matt Velguth’s work here. He was the owner of this amazing shop.

Our cottage is on HWY 42 and is walking distance to Hedgehog Harbor where you can see spectacular sunsets.

Down the way is a park with a playground with a generous amount of open space to play and run free. The Maritime Museum is adjacent; a small but interesting side stop on your trip up.

Hop in the car or bike down 42 to visit two more significant Gills Rock gems. Bea’s Pies are genuinely the best in Door County. I never leave for the winter without a plentiful supply to bring back to Milwaukee. I recommend the 4-berry pie, but Bea’s has so many flavor combinations, you’ll be sure to find the one you love best. You can buy them fresh, but there are several freezers full of pies just waiting for you to take home and bake yourself. Holidays will never be the same again. Your family will start requesting them every year. The jams are great too by the way!

The second gem is just down the road from Bea’s, and that’s the winding road. It is the most photographed road in Door County, and it’s worth driving down just so you and the kiddos can have a little fun losing your tummy around those curves. If you bike, it’s just as spectacular. If you get a chance to come to Door County in the late fall, this road is stunning. At the end of the road, you’ll arrive at Northport Pier where the car ferry leaves for Washington Island.

Winding Road | State HWY 42, on the way to Northport Ferry

Northern Door County has a personality that is much different from all the other wonderful towns that precede it on the drive up. There is no hustle and bustle, no long lines, no backed up traffic, no fancy restaurants, no beaches filled with sun lovers sharing the waters with paddle boarders and swimmers. Those things are great fun, but Liberty Grove leaves that kind of entertainment south. Instead, there is a quiet cooperative with the land, sky, and water.

Liberty Grove has 45 miles of shoreline with many water access points, 1 beautiful state park, 2 county parks, an inland lake, a beautiful estuary, and 11 parks & picnic areas where people can swim or just relax and enjoy the view. There’s a silent partnership with the natural world, void of light pollution and obsessive noise.

Here are the highlights:

Newport State Park – Many trails, our favorite is Europe Bay Trail (the 2-mile version).

Europe Lake – A great place to kayak, paddleboard, or fish. You’ll find us here often.

Garret Bay – Kayak launch here, also there is a sunken ship just inches from the shoreline.

Door Bluff County Park – This is a stunning hike (keep little ones close as the bluff is quite high and dangerous).

Ellison Bay Bluff State Natural Area – This is a must-stop even if you don’t want to hike. The scenic overlook is gorgeous and not to be missed.

Mink River Estuary – Here you’ll find a quiet, serene sanctuary from the hubbub of the touristy towns. Find the pin on the map, park there and hike 1 mile to see the estuary. You can also paddle and kayak the estuary.

Sand Bay — Soft, sandy beach nestled far away from most tourists.

Ilse View Park – Another great beach, easy to find and frequented by locals.

Ellison Bay Beach – We love this quieter beach with clean bathrooms, a large playground and field and protected beach behind a grassy dune.

 

Check out this map which shows all the places I’ve mentioned and a few extras.

 

Ellison Bluff Scenic Overlook, not to be missed!

 

Door County Boy paddle boarding on the quiet waters of Europe Lake

If you are staying in Gills Rock, you’ll see the town of Ellison Bay is a 5-minute drive south. Here you can shop at the Pioneer Store, relax with a cup of coffee at Brew or enjoy a beer at Mink River Basin. The petrol station is old school; have your car filled by the owner who will also wipe your windshield without even asking. Sadly for us, Kenny won’t be there to do that anymore — he retired this spring. But, we have high hopes the new owners will fill up your tank and clean off your windshields just as Kenny has done the last 30 years. There are 11 galleries in Ellison Bay (11!!) and the infamous Island Orchard Cider, a big delicious treat in our neck of the woods. Also, not to be missed is Ellison Bay Beach located in the tucked-away Ellison Bay Women’s Club just as you head out of Ellison Bay going south. The beach is reasonably quiet and protected from giant waves by a breaker. This beach is another spot you will find us, often swimming after dinner to watch the sun go down. Do this once, and you will have a love affair with Door County for life.

For as small and quiet of an area as this is, there is much to do in Gills Rock and the surrounding area. Of course, if you miss all the live action, you can always head into Sister Bay which is only a 10-minute drive from Gills Rock.

If you’ve been to Gills Rock or any of the places I’ve mentioned above, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

3 Comments

  1. Mary Elyn Bahlert June 15, 2018 at 10:19 am - Reply

    I grew up in Milwaukee, but my father was from Sister Bay. So we spent a week in Door County every summer. We would fish off of Gills Rock then – throw a line in and come up with a perch. That was when the Washington Island Ferry left from Gills Rock. My memories go back to the 50’s and early 60’s.

    • Andrea Zehnder June 15, 2018 at 10:32 am

      That’s awesome! Gills Rock is actually where we live in the summer (most of the time). Home base is Milwaukee, but every weekend we are up, and pretty much every 4th, every Memorial and Labor Day weekends too. Our place is small and very simple, and I like having no distractions! Thanks for sharing!

    • Andrea Zehnder July 17, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      I never realized that the car ferry used to leave from Gills Rock! I love learning about the history!

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