Door County’s charms (and crowds) are no secret to families seeking a nearby summer getaway, but if you think this popular Wisconsin destination shuts down for winter, think again. True, some of the quaint shops and restaurants along this peninsula close their doors during colder months. But what opens in their place is a magical winter wonderland—just a five-hour drive from Chicago—filled with outdoor adventures for anyone willing to brave the cold.
Though it’s tough to tell what Mother Nature will dish out, this is one trip where you should wish for snow. Get enough of it, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a reason to stay inside.
Bundle up, grab your sled and hit Hill 17 on the 17th hole of the Peninsula State Park Golf Course (9890 Shore Rd, Ephraim). A favorite among locals and tourists alike, the hill gets crowded on snowy days for a reason—it’s long, fast and thrilling. But if the snow is starting to melt or it’s a bit drizzly, park officials will shut it down, leaving you with a car filled with wet sleds and sad faces. If that happens, go rogue like the locals: Head to “Incinerator Hill” in Sturgeon Bay. Located next to the Door County Waste & Recycling plant (1509 Division Rd, Sturgeon Bay), this unmarked hill delivers a second drop-off just just when the first slope comes to an end. We went at dusk and stayed for a nighttime ride made possible by a friendly local who lit up the hill with his floodlights, and then we spent the rest of the week telling the kids they didn’t need to sled every day.
Keep your snow boots on and head to Cave Point County Park (5360 Schauer Rd, Sturgeon Bay) for a picturesque winter view of the limestone sea caves formed by Lake Michigan endlessly smashing against the bluffs. Be sure to bring your camera. The breathtaking icy images from this spot and nearby Whitefish Dunes State Park will convince your friends you vacationed at the North Pole.
With or without snow, a visit to Kurtz Corral (5712 Howard Ln, Sturgeon Bay; 800-444-0469, kurtzcorral.com) is a must. Open year-round by appointment, the stable offers scenic hour-long horseback rides for any level of rider, followed by hot cider and conversation around the fireplace. Weather permitting, there’s also a charming candlelight ride and dinner on New Year’s Eve.
When it’s time to fuel up, head to Shipwrecked (7791 Egg Harbor Rd, Egg Harbor; 888-868-2767, weekends only during winter). Mom and dad will love the housemade microbrews and Wisconsin cheese curds, while the kids feast on their own menu of favorites for just $6.
If the weather turns south, spend an afternoon at the Hands On Art Studio (3655 Peninsula Players Rd, Fish Creek; 888-868-9311, handsonartstudio.com, weekends only during winter). This four-building art compound is a crafter’s paradise unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Paint wood or ceramic; create jewelry with precious metals; design and weld a sculpture with help from mom or dad; or create a mosaic out of glass pieces.
In between all the outdoor play, you’ll want to reserve a little indoor time to warm up around a fireplace or take a dip in the pool. The family-friendly Landmark Resort condominiums (7643 Hillside Rd, Egg Harbor; 920-868-3205, thelandmarkresort.com) offer both—plus pizza delivery service for exhausted sledders who prefer to order in, kick up their feet and enjoy a family movie night.