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Cherry Orchards, Light Houses and Shoreline

by Cherie DeLory

“Hold on tight,” shouts master lighthouse keeper, Hal Wilson from the wheel of his tractor’s seat. “This is going to be a lot of fun.” No, we’re not going for a hay wagon ride through the fragrant cherry orchards of Door County, Wisconsin. We’re braving the stormy waters of Lake Michigan over the causeway en route to the Cana Island Lighthouse. Depending on the weather, sometimes the causeway is free of water and visitors can walk to the island, but today we’re experiencing Hurricane Dorian’s wind and rain from across the Atlantic, making our voyage all the more atmospheric and strangely similar to the seafaring conditions that required the assistance of lighthouse structures to prevent sailors from catastrophic shipwrecks.

One of 11 heritage lighthouses on the Door County Lighthouse Tour, the Cana Island Lighthouse is 150 years old with an instagram-worthy wrought iron spiral staircase to be conquered if you want to reach the wondrous panoramic views at the finish line. I climbed the 102 winding steps trepidatiously, not wanting any vertigo to get in the way of experiencing the tower’s architecture, the enlightening view from the landing at the top of the tower, and its crowning glory: the giant Fresnel lens. Nothing captures the imagination of the sea better than an image of a lighthouse with crashing waves and the direct glow of light from the Fresnel lens casting its glare onto the water’s landscape for the safety of travelling ships and boats.

Hygge and Hammocks

Door County is a Swedish settlement, hence nods to Norwegian culture abound. It’s no wonder the Scandinavian concept of hygge seems to be the natural order of things here. With a population of around 27,000, it’s known for abundant shoreline, beaches and historic lighthouses that guard the peninsula off of Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Its five state parks offering everything from kayaking, hiking, camping and birdwatching make It a beacon for nature and outdoor enthusiasts year round.

Its string of village main streets lined with artisan shops, craft breweries and bakeries serving up treats like the local specialty, cherry pie, make it easy to feel like this is a home away from home. That’s how I felt at Blacksmith Inn on the Shore, my bed and breakfast in quiet Baileys Harbor. This historic inn (circa 1907) was once the local blacksmith shop. The owners have since built a replica inn opposite the original, which is where I stayed. I was instantly won over by the lush flower garden surrounding the entrance and the intimacy and decor of the foyer, where treats are available 24/7. Popcorn, organic juices and homemade cherry oatmeal cookies. And it didn’t take long to test drive the hammock on my room’s balcony, which overlooks the greenery and bullrushes with the lake and dock beyond. I fell asleep to the sound of water lapping on the shore and the soft hue of the electric fireplace casting its glow across the room. I’d awake to glorious morning sunrises and the cheery calls of Red Winged Blackbirds.

Ridges Sanctuary and a Sunset Cruise

The quaint village of Baileys Harbor has a lot to offer, and the best part is that everything is within walking distance, with bikes available at the Inn. Next door is The Ridges, a diverse nature sanctuary covering 1,600 acres in and around the shoreline, with vast trails, wetlands, boreal forest, wildlife and wildflowers to explore. Don’t leave out a visit to the Nature Center and Baileys Harbor Range Lights, a pair of lighthouses situated at opposite ends of the boardwalk. I didn’t eat in town, but I stopped in for a latte at Bearded Heart Cafe and sampled a craft beer flight at Door County Brewing Company, the town’s saloon-style gathering spot with live music and a porch for watching the world go by.

Watch the day slip away into night on the Sunset Live Music Cruise with Sister Bay Scenic Boat Tours debarking from the town of Sister Bay. This was a wonderful opportunity to witness my first mesmerizing Door County sunset, capture panoramic views of the coastline with its soaring limestone bluffs and underwater sea caves surrounding Cave Point County Park, looming lighthouses, and the table umbrellas dotting the patio of an atmospheric waterside restaurant. Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill is located at Little Sister Resort, a cottage and camping ground in Sister Bay. Imagine my delight when a couple of days on I was able to enjoy their fish tacos and a cherry juice margarita sitting at the water’s edge, listening to live music, and taking in another glorious sunset.

Lipstick Trees and Root Beer Floats

Everyone loves cheese, but did you know that the orange colour can come from a lipstick tree? A lunch stop and cheese curd tasting at family-owned Renards Cheese in Sturgeon Bay was a tasty and educational experience.

Other restaurants worth a reservation are Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille in Sister Bay for their delicious wood-fired pizzas, Coyote Roadhouse in Baileys Harbor serves up cowboy portions in a proper western saloon ambiance. I recommend the baked beans and steak. Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim is the spot for old fashioned home-brewed root beer ice cream sodas. Try Scaturo’s Baking Company and Cafe in Sturgeon Bay for brunch. My fried egg, sausages and french toast topped with warm cherries and whipped cream gets my vote for best brunch ever.

Earth, Wind and Fire

Cycling is my recreation of choice so to have the opportunity to explore Peninsula State Park on two wheels was exciting. Our bicycles were from Edge of Park Rentals, near the Fish Creek entrance of the bike trail. Sunset Trail is a 10-mile easy terrain that takes you through the woods and along the water’s edge. You’ll discover Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Nicolet Bay Beach, and the Northern Sky Theatre Amphitheatre, a 650-seat outdoor theatre in the woods to enjoy live musicals during the summer.

Want something a little different for dinner? Gather around the fire for a fish boil. The taste may not be for everyone, but it’s all about experiencing the local Scandinavian tradition. Rowleys Bay Resort in Ellison Bay is one of several resorts serving up the excitement. It’s raining, so inside the Master story teller regales us with entertaining stories about Rowelys Bay and its original settlers, the Potawatomi Indians, who enjoyed preparing their fish in this way. Outside, a large kettle is filled with Lake Michigan whitefish, caught daily, salt, red potatoes, and sweet onions. Listen for the school-bell. That’s when kerosene is thrown on the fire and the pot boils over resulting in raging flames. My timing was a little off so by the time I ran outside into the rain to snap a photo the flames had calmed down. Back inside the dining room I tasted the fish, and left plenty of room for Door County cherry pie.