As I sat on the silky sand of an almost-empty beach under clear blue skies, with the temperature in the upper 70s, I might as well have been in the Caribbean. Except we only had to drive 5 hours north of our home in Chicago to get there. We just returned from an incredible week in Door County, WI–the peninsula or “thumb” of the state, where we spent our days playing in clear blue water, hiking, kayaking and of course, biking. The trip cost next to nothing, if you eliminate the food (we would’ve eaten in Chicago, right?), and throughout it all, my kids kept saying, “This is the best vacation ever!”
Here’s how we spent our days, and since you’re probably wondering what the heck we ate in the middle of Wisconsin, I’m including our menu at the bottom.
Set up camp: We camped at the Wagon Trail Campgrounds in the far north of the peninsula, known as the “quiet side.” This was hands down the best campgrounds we’ve found. It was clean, with nice facilities and few bugs, attracted a pleasant crowd of campers and featured wooded sites. For those wary of camping, the campground offers cabins and RV’s for rent as well. Read my post on camping to find out what we love about it.
Beach: Any particular spot in Door County is just minutes from the beach, but the one near our campsite was just magnificent. The “Sand Beach,” as it’s known, was just as it is called. The shallow water stretched out for more than 100 ft., and the sand felt like silk. My kids could play in the warm water, far away from the shore and still only be up to their knees in water. On top of that, it was nearly empty.
Evening: Though there are activities for entertainment at night in the peninsula, our kids are too young and tired by then. We spent all of our evenings grilling dinner and sitting by the fire.
We headed back to the beach, but this time we rode our bikes through the woods to get there. It was about a 10 minute bike ride, and on the way, we watched tourists zoom along the zip line course set up there. We spent the morning playing in the water and picnicking. In the afternoon we headed into town to buy produce from a local farmer and played in a park.
Biking: While biking with kids can mean a lot of whining and even crying, it is well worth it. There are few other activities where our kids, under supervision, are entirely responsible for themselves. When I have my own bike to lug up the hill or through the sand, each kid is on her own. She may cry the whole way up, but she knows that she’ll have to rely on herself.
With this in mind, we drove 10 minutes north to Newport State Park for off-road biking. With my husband in the lead, followed by my 8- and 6-yr.-old girls and then me, with my 4-yr.-old in the bike seat and the baby in the trailer–we were quite a sight. We biked 2 miles north on the Holz trail, over tree roots and rocks and amidst woods wedged between Europe Lake and Lake Michigan. We dropped our bikes to hike the last 50 yards of the trail in order to reach a tiny beach made entirely of shells. We climbed down the rocks to dip our toes in Lake Michigan and to feast on a snack before heading back. While my 6-yr.-old, who was riding off road on her own for the first time, whined for most of the ride, my 4-yr.-old was the first to say, “This is awesome! I’m having the best vacation ever.”
Once we returned to our car, we picnicked and swam at a nearly-empty and gorgeous beach there.
Hiking: We took a short hike (20 minutes, each way) to the Mink River. It was pretty uneventful, but still enjoyable.
Beach: We spent the afternoon at a beach in Sister Bay that features a pier for jumping into deep water and a live band every Wednesday at 3PM (coincidentally when we were there).
We headed south, along the peninsula to an incredible park, Cave Point County Park. We hiked along the limestone cliffs, overlooking Lake Michigan. The landscape features underwater caves and wave-worn cliffs, making this one of nature’s jungle gyms. After a 40-minute hike, we climbed down the cliffs to a swimming area, where those who are completely insane prefer to jump from the high cliffs into the turbulent waters.
We packed up and drove home, arriving at 3PM–just in time to cook for Shabbos.
Breakfast: Cereal and milk; coffee and pancakes, cooked on our propane stove
Lunch: Pizza and veggie burgers that I had made and brought frozen; grilled cheese and pasta with marinara, cooked on our propane stove
Dinner: Grilled everything!–hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, shish kabobs, corn, potatoes, zucchini, green peppers, etc. And of course, roasted marshmallows and loads of local cherries