Door County fall colors rival anything you will find on the East Coast. That’s right, I said it.
As a matter of fact, fall in Door County, Wisconsin surpasses much of what you will find anywhere in the United States, thanks to its brilliantly-colored changing trees, multitude of fall-themed festivals, assortment of homemade autumn goodies made from farm-fresh products, and tremendous local identity that enchants visitors generation after generation.
Door County is a 70-mile penninsula with Green Bay on its western side and Lake Michigan on its east. Just 30,000 people call this special place destination home, but 2.5 million people visit the region every year to enjoy blossoming cherry trees, picture-perfect villages, waterfront recreation, and some of the best fall foliage anywhere.
The charm of Door County includes fish boils, cheese curds, farm fresh produce, Nordic heritage, and wide open spaces filled with scenery that begs to be photographed. If your family loves all things autumn, place this magical little section of the Midwest at the top of your travel bucket list.
Door County Fall Foliage and More! Over 25 Ways to Enjoy to Fall in Door County
What is the Best Time to See Fall Colors in Door County?
The entire Door County Peninsula is 70 miles in length and fall arrives in the southern portion of the peninsula first. Color is usually at its peak in mid-October but does vary a bit season to season.
Door County has a great fall color tracker on their website which is updated thorughout the fall foliage season.
Take a Door County Trolley Fall Tour
One of the best ways to get an overview of some of the beautiful sections of Door County that are filled with fall colors is to book a narrated scenic tour with Door County Trolley. They know fall in Door County is a big deal so they have special Door County Fall Foliage tours during peak season.
Drivers will stop in select locations to give you a chance to hop out and enjoy the scenery. They will also share their extensive knowledge of the area and are great resources for inside info. Door County Trolley has a wide range of tours to choose from beyond fall foliage, including wine tasting, ghost tours, and special holiday rides.
Go For a Scenic Drive
Wisconsin 42 is the main north-south highway running through Door County. It provides lovely views of the shoreline and changing trees, passing through towns like Sturgeon Bay, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, and Ephraim.
Northport is the northern terminus of WIS 42 and as well as the location of the peninsula-side ferry dock of the Washington Island Ferry. It is also home to the famous winding stretch of Highway 42 which begs to be photogrpahed as it twists and curves while surrounded by changing foliage as it makes its way down to the dock.
Another scenic option is to take the Coastal Byway as it travels both coasts of Door County, combining Wisconsin 42 and 57. This allows you to visit quiet towns on the Lake Michigan side of the county like Baileys Harbor, as well as the quaint Green Bay towns like Egg Harbor and Sister Bay. In between, the road takes you into the forest to give you plenty of opportunities to enjoy autumn leaves.
Penninsula State Park
If you visit only one state park to enjoy Door County fall foliage, make it be Peninsula State Park. This 3,776-acre park overlooks Green Bay and has opportunities to enjoy scenic drives, hiking, biking, and even golfing!
If you are looking for a leisurely walk through a forest floor carpeted with leaves while surrounded by trees glowing with autumn colors, walk the Sentinel Trail. It is a 2.1-mile loop trail that is mostly flat and is sure to dazzle leaf-peepers of all ages.
If you are looking for more of a challenge, check out the Eagle Trail. There are some steep, rocky sections with large tree roots on this 2.5-mile trek that includes a decent along the park’s 150-foot limestone cliffs which are part of the Niagara Escarpment. Your efforts will be rewarded by access to the shoreline and lots of Door County fall scenery.
Bikers will want to ride the 10-mile Sunset Trail bike path. It passes through Weborg Marsh, sections lined with cedar and maple trees, and places to view Green Bay from atop cliffs. You can also take the Nicolet Bay Trail. Take time to stroll along the beach while surrounded by the vibrant hues of autumn.
Door County is home to 11 historic lighthouse, including the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse which is located inside of Penninsula State Park. It was constructed in 1868 and strategically placed on a bluff overlooking Eagle Harbor to guide ships navigating the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
Visitors can explore the lighthouse and learn about its history, the life of lighthouse keepers, and the importance of maritime navigation on the Great Lakes via guided and self-guided tours. It is open late May through late October.
One of the park’s highlights it the 60-foot Eagle Tower which happenes to be Wisconsin’s first accessible obervation tower. You can either climb the 95 stairs to the top or use the 850-foot ramp that climbs gently up above the trees of gold, garnet, and amber to afford views akin to what birds and squirrels get to experience.
Potawatomi State Park
Down in Sturgeon Bay, the largest town in Door County, you will find Potawatomi State Park. This park protects 1,200 acres of forest along the cliffs of Sturgeon Bay.
The Tower Trail Loop is a nice, 3.6-mile hike through the forest. It typically includes a detour at the Potawatomi observation tower to take in the views but it is current closed for repairds due to wood decay. Still, don’t let it deter you from enjoying the marvelous colors of the forest from below.
Potawatomi also happend to be the eastern terminus of the Ice Age Trail, a thousand-mile trail within the state of Wisconsin that highlights these landscape features impacted by the Ice Age as it travels through some of the state’s most scenic natural areas.
While in Sturgeon Bay…
Sturgeon Bay is the largest town in Door County with a population of just over 10,000. It has a cute little downtown area that has shops like Door County Candy, Dancing Bear Toys, The Gnoshery/Gnome Games, The Marketplace (multiple stores under one roof), as well as galleries and jewelry stores.
The town is also home to the Door County Maritime Museum which celebrates the region’s strong maritime history. It is housed in the 118-foot Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower, with multiple floors filled with exhibits. One of the museum’s highlights is the John Purves, a tug boat from 1919 that has been completely restored and is open to guided tours.
If you are hungry, be sure to stop by Scaturo’s Baking Company. They sell a large array of bakery items like Kringle (the official pastry of Wisconsin!) and cherry pie. They are popular for breakfast sandwiches, benedicts, and omelettes and their lunch sandwiches on fresh-baked bread are perfect to grab and take with you will exploring the area.
Monday through Thursday is Family Pizza Night where you can enjoy Jersey-style pizza in a variety of flavor combinations. They have gluten-free crusts available and I can tell you from experience that they are excellent. Make room for their Nori Wasabi Shrimp Salad as well! If you are visiting on Friday, they have a fish fry.
You will also want to make time to visit Door County Coffee and Tea, which is six miles north of Sturgeon Bay on Highway 42. It is an extremely popular coffee roaster, cafe, and gift shop. They have an extensive variety of small batch roasted coffee flavors with seaosnal fall flavor options like Harvest Blend (my favorite), pumpkin spice, caramel apple, and Door County maple.
They also have a great breakfast selection including baked goods, scratch-made baked egg breakfasts, and a full coffee and tea bar. At lunch they have a variety of sandwiches, wraps, salads and smoothies.
Door County Coffee and Tea offers one-hour tours of their roasting facility at 10am on Fridays for $20. This experience includes coffee, snacks, and a gift.
Explore a Portion of Ahnapee State Trail
Want more of the Ice Age Trail? Ahnapee State Trail begins in Door County and follows sections of the Ice Age Trail. It features level paths for horseback riding, dog walking, and mountain biking. It runs from Sturgeon Bay south to Kewaunee along the Ahnapee and Kewaunee Rivers.
The route follows the former railroad line of Ahnapee and Western which was a freight and passenger operator in and out of Door County from 1984-1968. It was used to haul dairy products, lumber and cherry crops. On a fall hike, you will see swamps, farm fields, deer, turkey and plenty of changing trees.
See a Different Side of Door County at the Ridges Sanctuary
The Ridges Sanctuary has been a nature preserve for nearly 90 years. It protects a portion of Door County that is filled with tremendous biodiversity. It has been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area and National Natural Landmark.
It is located in Baileys Harbor, known as the quieter side of Door County, and protects the southernmost boreal forest in the United States as well as wetlands, meadows, and the iconic ridges and swales that give the sanctuary its name. The sandy ridges and swales are formed by the shifting sands of Lake Michigan. They result in a variety of habitats that support a diverse array of plant and animal species.
The Ridges Sanctuary offers educational programs, guided hikes, and workshops about the local ecology, geology, and conservation efforts. It has a lovely Nature Center filled with information about the preserve’s natural history, exhibits on local flora and fauna, and hand-on activities for children.
The highlight of the Ridges Sanctuary is a boardwalk that allows visitors to explore the fragile and diverse ecosystems without causing damage to the sensitive vegetation. There are also several miles of trails which are nice for hiking and birdwatching. Otters, mink, fox, fishers, porcupines, call the preserve home. It also protects endangered orchids and dragonflies as well as the carnivorous purple pitcher plant.
Since the area is 10-15 degrees cooler than other portions of the peninsula and home to mostly evergreen forest, it doesn’t have the same fall foliage as most of the forests in Door County. It does, however, have the tamarack tree which is a deciduous conifer with golden needles.
If you choose to visit in the late spring, you will witness dwarf lake iris carpetting the forest floor and come summer you will encounter tiny orchids and lady slippers.
The best place to see more traditional fall foliage within the Ridges Sanctuary is next to the the historic Baileys Harbor Range Lights where majestic maple trees have been planted. The Range Lights are a pair of lighthouses that played a crucial role in guiding ships through Baileys Harbor. The rear light’s elevated location allowed mariners to align the lights when entering the harbor.
Canna Island Lighthouse
If you love lighthouses and great scenery, make time for the Cana Island Lighthouse. This historic lighthouse has been standing watch on the shore of Lake Michigan for more than 140 years. It is open from from May to October.
There is a short causeway between the island and the shore near Baileys Harbor. Sometimes the water is low enough that you can walk across it without getting your feet wet, while other times you will need to be shuttled via a tractor pulled wagon which drives in the shallow water.
Once across you will be able to explore the 8.7-acre island which is home to the 89-foot lighthouse as well as the original home of the lighthouse keeper and his family. The restored keeper’s quarters provides insight into the life of the lighthouse keepers during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
While inside, be sure to climb the 97 spiraling steps of the tower staircase to reach the outside deck which is a great place to enjoy sprawlings views of Lake Michigan and the Door County fall splendor.
If you get hungry while in Baileys Harbor check out PC Junction where your food is served to via a miniture train car! Sway is good place to grab bakery items and coffee in the morning or easy drinking beers in the afternoon.
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Located along the shores of Lake Michigan, Whitefish Dunes State Park is known for its pristine sand dunes and lovely beaches. In the summer, this is a Midwestern beachgoer’s paradise but come fall, I suggest heading a bit inland to enjoy the forest colors and views from atop “Old Baldy”, the highest sand dune in Wisconsin. This dune can be accessed via the 1.2-mile Red Trail that leads to a boardwalk which takes you to the top of the sand.
The park has a Nature Center that offers educational programs, exhibits, and information about the natural features of Whitefish Dunes. It’s a great place to learn about the park’s ecosystems and wildlife before heading out to explore.
Cave Point County Park
Known for its rugged limestone cliffs and sea caves hugging the waters of Lake Michigan, Cave Point County Park is a nice place to take photographs that show off the contrast of the changing leaves against the limestone cliffs and the blue waters.
The park is small, but the scenery is sure to “wow”. White Cliff Road runs along the edge of the limestone cliffs, offering breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the sea caves. There is also a trail that links this park with Whitefish Dunes State Park which surrounds Cave Point.
Fun Fact: Cave Point is the only county park to be located within a state park!
Ellison Bluff State Natual Area
Ellison Bluff State Natural Area is located in Ellison Bay near the northern reaches of the Door County Peninsula. It is known for its impressive limestone cliffs and panoramic views of Green Bay. The scenic overlook provides an excellent vantage point to witness the fall foliage below and across the bay.
There is a short, 0.6-mile hiking trail leading to the bluff’s overlook. The park itself is home to a variety of changing trees like maples, birch, and aspen which contrast nicely with the colors of the cliffs and water.
Newport State Park
Located on the northern tip of the Door County peninsula is Newport State Park, Wisconsin’s only wilderness state park. There are trails that wind through dense forests, open meadows, and along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The Europe Bay Trail is a popular hiking trail that takes you through a variety of environments, including forests, meadows, and the Lake Michigan shoreline. The trees along this trail provide a diverse palette of fall colors. Europe Lake is a nice place to walk along the shore and enjoy fall foliage reflecting on the water.
As beautiful as the colors are during the day, the park is even more magical at night. It is the first park in Wisconsin to be designated an International Dark Sky Park, one of just 48 parks in the world.
Located off the northern tip of the Door Peninsula, Washington Island is surrounded by the waters of Lake Michigan. Visiting this island does require a the 30-minute ferry ride across Death’s Door Strait, with views of changing trees and deep blue waters keeping you company along the way during a fall visit.
You can choose to drive your car onto the ferry, or go another popular way and bike your way around the small island. There are places to rent bikes on Washington Island but you can bring your own as well. There are only about 700 permanent residents and many of them trace their roots to Iceland.
You will want to be sure to visit Stavkirke, a gorgeous Norwegian church in the woods that pays homage to the region’s Scandinavian ancestry. The church is based on drawings of another built in Borgund, Norway in 1150.
Trekaroo Tip: Believe it or not, Washington Island is the the world’s single-largest consumer of Angostura Bitters. And if you take a shot of bitters at the local pub, Nelsen’s Hall, you will be given a card iniating you into the official Bitters Club and be deemed a “full-fledged Islander”.
Rock Island State Park
If you are visiting Door County in the first half of October, make the effort to get out to Rock Island State Park. Access to Rock Island is by ferry, departing from the nearby Washington Island. The ferry ride itself is a scenic experience, offering views of the water and surrounding islands.
While Rock Island does offer some primitive camping, most people visiting during the Door County fall foliage season do so as a day trip. There are no facilities on the island so be sure to bring along food and water to enjoy as you explore.
Rock Island has several trails, including paths leading to the historic Pottawatomie Lighthouse, Thordarson Estate, and scenic viewpoints. The trails traverse through forests, meadows, and along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Note: Rock Island State Park is open the Friday before Memorial Day to second Monday in October.
Attend One of Door County’s Fall Festivals
Door County loves its fall celebrations and there are several for you to enjoy during the gorgeous autumn season.
Sister Bay Fall Fest
Sister Bay hosts one of the most well-known fall festivals in Door County, Sister Bay Fall Fest. The event typically features a parade, arts and crafts vendors, live music, food booths, fish boil, and a classic car show.
The festival is known for its “ping pong ball drop” when ping pong balls are dropped from a helicopter to the crowd below. The balls have local business names on them and can be turned into those businesses for prizes. There is a separate ping pong ball drop for kids as well.
Save the date for Sister Bay Fall Fest 2024 which will take place October 18-20th.
Baileys Harbor AutumnFest
AutumnFest in Baileys Harbor typically includes a classic car show, arts and crafts vendors, live music, and family-friendly activities. Local businesses often join in the festivities, creating a lively and welcoming atmosphere. It typically takes place in late September.
Egg Harbor Pumpkin Patch Festival
The Egg Harbor Pumpkin Patch Festival is a family-friendly event that celebrates all things fall. Activities often include pumpkin carving, carnival rides, a classic car show, arts and crafts vendors, and live music. Local shops and restaurants also get into the spirit with fall-themed decorations. This event takes place in early October.
Sturgeon Bay Harvest Festival
Sturgeon Bay’s Harvest Festival celebrates the fall season with a street art auction, live music, and a variety of family-friendly activities. The street art auction features decorated street benches created by local artists. This event is typically held in mid-September.
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik
An essential part of any visit to Door County is a stop into Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik. This authentic Swedish family-owned restaurant is well known for having goats grazing on its sod roof when the weather is good. The restaurant has been a fixture of Sister Bay for nearly 60 years.
Trekaroo Tip: Al Johnson’s has a goat cam so you can watch these adorable critters grazing from home! It typically streams during restaurant hours from late May through mid October.
The Swedish atmosphere and cuisine is definitely worth experiencing. Breakfast is served all day so you can enjoy a traditional order of Swedish pancakes with lingonberries at any time.
You also will want to try the Swedish meatballs and their version of poutine which include fried cheese curds, gravy, onion rings, and Swedish meatballs. If you are brave, sample the pickled herring as well. Wash it down with a glass of lingonberry juice.
Al Johnson’s also has a large gift shop filled with Scandinavian items like traditional clothing, home decor, dala horses, clogs, lots of goat-themed merch, and a variety of Swedish food and candies.
Attend a Fish Boil at White Gull Inn
An essential part of the traditional Door County experience is to attend a fish boil. This culinary tradition originated in the late 1800s when Scandinavian immigrants wanted an economical way to feed large groups of workers so they put whitefish into a large kettle and boiled it over a bonfire.
The fish boil experience became an important tourist experience in the 1960s and the White Gull Inn has become one of the most popular destinations in the area for this experience. It is also one of the few spots in the are that is still open for fish boils late into the fall.
The atmosphere is jovial as guests watch the kettle boil over with a great fire-filled display. The fish boil I attended was hosted by a local fisherman who shared tales of his own childhood and life on the water of Lake Michigan before the meal is served.
It is a simple meal of white fish, potatoes, bread, and coleslaw but wow, is it good! I will be honest, going into it I didn’t think it sounded good at all, but I was unaware of one key element- the teapot filled with melted butter. Our meal was excellent. And if you are still hungry, second helpings are welcomed but make sure you leave room for cherry pie for dessert!
Trekaroo Tip: A baked chicken option is available for non-fish eaters.
The White Gull Inn is also well-known for their cherry stuffed French toast which was named the #1 breakfast in America by Good Morning America.
Visit a Supper Club Sister Bay Bowl and Supper Club
Another traditional experience in Door County is to eat at a Supper Club which a casual style of dining that originated in the Midwest. It is known for its traditional American meals, social atmosphere and nightly specials.
Sister Bay Bowl and Supper Club is a family-owned business that has operating since 1950. It is known for its Tuesday and Friday night fish fries which includes fried fish (walleye, whitefish, or shrimp), coleslaw, potatoes, and other sides. They also have corned beef Wednesdays, prime rib Saturdays, and even liver and onions Thursdays.
In addition to the nightly specials there is a large menu filled with chicken, steaks, fish, pork chops, salads, and sandwiches. Of course, you will want to order some Wisconsin cheese curds to enjoy before your meal. If you like trying regional cocktails, be sure to order Wisconsin version of an old-fashioned which is brandy served with Squirt or 7-Up.
Before or after your meal, bowl a few games at Sister Bay Bowl, a small-but-charming bowling alley attached to the restaurant.
Enjoy the Fall Evening by the Fire at One Barrel Brewing
I love a great family-friendly brewery and One Barrel Brewing in Egg Harbor fits that bill. They have an awesome outdoor patio area with large fire pits, great microwbrews and ciders, and fantastic pizza in the same building by Pizza Bros Door County.
There is plenty of room for the kids to run around on the lawn as you sip your drinks and enjoy your pizza. Plus, they have really good gluten-free pizza options for those of us who are gluten adverse.
Egg Harbor is a fun place to walk around. There are several nice galleries and shops filled with local goods and art.
Grab All Kinds of Fall Foods and More at Wood Orchard Market
Just north of Egg Harbor you will find Wood Orchard Market. It started out as a roadside fruit stand in 1996 but quickly grew into an expansive store fileld with local produce, specialty food products, fresh bakery, home decor, gifts, and so much more.
They grow all their own apples in lots of different varieties (with samples! Try the Cortlands!) and are well knowns for their cherry salsa, chopped cherry jam, and cherry jam. During the fall they make their famous apple cider donuts and there can often be a line out the door to grab them!
I especially love that they have a large playground to keep the kids happy and even have an apple-shaped peddle cart track! Plus- there are always free apple cider pops for the kiddos.
Drift Off into Cheese Heaven at Renards Cheese Store
We can’t talk about enjoying fall in Door County, Wisconsin without mentioning cheese. After all, cheese and autumn apples go hand in hand! Renard’s Cheese Store is definitely the best place to buy cheese in Door County. It is run by Master Cheese Maker Chris Renard who makes award-winning aged cheddars, whip string cheese, hoop cheddar, and fresh cheese curds.
They basically have everything your cheese-loving brain can think of, and even more than you never thought possible. And like Wood Orchard Market, they also have a great playground for the kids to play on while you shop.
Where to Stay in Door County in Fall
The Edgewater Resort is located just down the road from Peninsula State Park in Ephraim and is centrally located for exploring the Door County Peninsula.
Their waterfront suites are perfect for families. They feature full kitchens and living areas with fireplaces. They also have queen-sized sofa beds, king beds in the bedrooms and huge whirlpool tubs. Some even have large balcony porches with great views of the water. There is a pool but it will likely be too chilly to enjoy it in the fall.
Find More Fall Foliage Near You!
The author would like to thank Visit Door County for hosting journalists such as herself so that they could research Door County and bring the magic of this special place to their readers While she is grateul for the Midwest hospitality, all opinions are solely the authors.