Credit: Mike Tittel

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

-Henry David Thoreau

The woods, and nature in general, have always been a mystery and not something that I often consider in a “go-to” relaxing vacation, unless you are looking for a hiking type of adventure. The Great Outdoors, in both the fall and winter have been equally intriguing because of the transformation nature goes through between summer and autumn and then autumn to winter. In my poetic mind, I pictured the snow adoring the trees and fields, as it kisses them lightly, then covers them with a thick white blanket guiding them to sleep until the spring rises once again.
The magic of nature authored by Door County. Credit: Mike Tittel
I had never been to the Midwest in the fall and all its beauty. When I felt that urge to connect with nature, my research took me to a landmark story that appeared in a March 1969 issue of National Geographic that metamorphosed the was offered the chance to experience Door County into the Cape Cod of the Midwest. By the time I finished the article called “A Kingdom So Delicious”, I was ready to experience all that Mother Nature has to give.

As an immigrant who settled in Los Angeles in the 1990s, I often ponder how life would have been if my destiny landed me in a different part of the States. What inspires a person to leave one state to the other? There is no one answer to this question but one thing I know for sure is that you want to establish roots that are familiar in nature to your homeland. A place to call a new home, a place that connects you to the land and people that you fall in love with.

This is exactly what I found on my recent discovery trip into the Midwest. Fueled by my curiosity to explore, I discovered a place that I never imagined. It changed my entire perspective about Wisconsin, and particularly Door County, a place where a simpler way of life thrives along its idyllic shores. Sprinkled with apple and cherry orchards, wineries, beaches, supper clubs, Nordic villages, and lighthouses, northeastern Wisconsin offers a bountiful visual feast sandwiched between 300 miles of shoreline.

Highway 42’s breathtaking display of golds and oranges.

Highway 42’s breathtaking display of golds and oranges. Credit: Michael Lloyd

Sugar maples along Highway 42 display breathtaking golds and oranges across the landscape, with some providing their classic bright reds. Lots of candy-apple reds dominate the landscape, especially in low-lying areas near the Cana Island Lighthouse. The typically modest birch trees show off their flashy yellows while other maples dazzle with their golden and purplish hues.

Ah, the local color is breathtaking and sublime all at once and there is no better nature day than taking in Peninsula State Park. Rain, shine, or snow—it was raining the day I went—the picturesque 3,776-acre treasure is guaranteed to live up to its hype with either biking or hiking.

Opt for the 10-mile Sunset Trail and you’ll find yourself biking through Weborg Marsh with its cedar and maple trees and cliff communities. Or stroll the Sentinel Trail where an easy forest ecology hike awaits. Either way, you have the chance to experience the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, nestled 76 feet high on a bluff above the glimmering waters of Green Bay, which has proudly helped navigate the tight and perfidious channels since 1868.

Established in 1909, Peninsula State Park has rocky bluffs that climb to heights exceeding 150 feet. For those who love the outdoors, the recreation opportunities are extensive. Besides biking and hiking, there’s boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, golf, swimming, picnicking, full production shows at the Northern Sky Theater (summer and fall only) and even camping. In the winter, you can pick from cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, sledding, and tubing…as I mentioned, extensive.

Whatever you choose the must-see event centers on the newly rebuilt Eagle Tower. Closed in 2019 due to safety concerns, the iconic view station gives sightseers a complete view from Eagle Bluff, more than 250 feet above the bay. Climb the 100 steps to ascend to the top of the tower, or relish the 850-foot, fully accessible canopy walk that winds above the tree line to reach the top. The canopy walk was my choice with plenty of picture stations to soak in the wonderment of the heavenly nature that surrounds you.

The 850-foot Canopy walk to Eagle Tower. Credit: Michael Lloyd 

While it might be easy for the average visitor to take the beauty for granted, protecting the habitat is impressive and a priority for the Door County locals. Helping the locals is The Nature Conservancy, which has worked tirelessly to protect both nature and wildlife on the Door Peninsula since 1962. It was then that the conservancy granted a loan to The Ridges Sanctuary to help them acquire 10 acres of land and add it to their protected area.

The Sanctuary—a wonderful visit at its modest five-dollar trail fee—features a series of 30 swales and ridges formed by Lake Michigan’s movement over the past thousand or so years. Here, over 60 species of breeding birds (including a dozen endangered or threatened) live amongst approximately 500 different plant species of plants and native orchids, in an eclectic variety of environmental conditions, from open beaches to heavily shaded conifer forests.

Because of this partnership, Wisconsin’s oldest not-for-profit nature preserve has continued to evolve naturally and looks strikingly similar to when its first trails and paths were first cleared by their founding members in 1938.

The Ridges Sanctuary remains virtually unchanged over the last 60 years because of The Nature Conservancy partnership
The Ridges Sanctuary remains virtually unchanged over the last 60 years because of The Nature Conservancy partnership.
Credit: Michael Lloyd

Lake Michigan sailors had to be particularly sensitive to the whims of the weather because they navigated a body of water just large enough to develop dangerous heavy seas, yet, confined enough to allow little in the way of room to run before the storm. Together with the heavy volume of commerce on the lake and the scarcity of safe harbors, made the risk of mishap on Lake Michigan very great.

– Theodore J. Karamanski from the “Schooner Passage:
Sailing Ships and the Lake Michigan Frontier”.

Another area of preservation is the collection of 11 historic lighthouses of the county. By far the busiest is the one that has been standing tall on the 8.7-acre Cana Island since its completion in December 1869. With the ability to cast a beam of light 18 miles into Lake Michigan, the lighthouse is home to over 50,000 people each summer. It remains the county’s second-most-patronized spot after Peninsula State Park.
Door County’s most iconic lighthouse celebrating more than 150 years of standing watch over Lake Michigan’s shores.
Credit: Mike Tittel
On the day I visited the lighthouse, I was able to walk the causeway that splits Lake Michigan and connects the mainland to Cana Island. (On the way back, I took the hay wagon pulled by a tractor, which is used when the waves overtake the causeway.) Walking though, added to the adventure making it feel like I had earned my visit as I traversed the path covered in wobbly lake rocks.

The 89-foot-tall Cana lighthouse is particularly exceptional due to the rare fact that it is one of the few that sits all alone on an island. It has been home, almost unremittingly, by keepers and their families since it first lit the way in 1870.

The highlight of the Cana Island visit was the 97 steps of the lighthouse’s spiral staircase that lands you at the gallery deck. There you get an all-encompassing 360-degree panoramic view of Lake Michigan and the peninsula. I imagined the fortitude it took for the keeper to haul huge metal drums filled with kerosene in the freezing winter temperatures all the way to the lantern room to fuel the Fresnel lens. My walk was much simpler compared to what the keeper went through. At the top, from a small glass window just inside from the observation deck, you can capture one of the most memorable photos you will ever have with a rare view of the lake.

The Cana Island causeway splits Lake Michigan on your way to the lighthouse.

The Cana Island causeway splits Lake Michigan on your way to the lighthouse. Credit: Michael Lloyd

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

– Pablo Picasso

You might ask me what Door County is and why I should visit it. Well, it is quite modest. If you want to embrace the road and embark on something completely off the beaten path and embark on something different, Door County is the promised land.
Even the buildings teem with nature (pictured Woodwalk Gallery)

Even the buildings teem with nature (pictured: Woodwalk Gallery). Credit: Michael Lloyd

My promised land has always been the exploration of art. Every country, state, and city I visit is assured my visit to their museums, galleries, and art installations. On my itinerary, there were plans to visit a few of the many galleries that offer a variety of local artists from the county.

One enchanted stop was at the Woodwalk Gallery. But it was magical before I even arrived, the drive there was fairy-tale. I noticed immediately the charm, the romantic pathway, and I envisioned in my head that perfect wedding spot, a place for bonding, a sanctuary of retreat, a portrait captured in time that would carve your special day into your heart forever. Sure enough, my vision materialized as I walked toward the gallery.

Dreams can come true at the Woodwalk Gallery.

Dreams can come true at the Woodwalk Gallery. Credit: Jon Jarosh

The wind was a symphony, and the trees were like brides competing for the best queen of the forest, dancing with the winds and extending their arms like a classic melody. You want to just take it all in and only then you will understand why such a place could take your breath away.

Upon entering the gallery, home to nearly 100 budding and recognized artists (the art is amazing, to say the least), I was greeted by owner and operator Joslyn Villalpando with hot apple cider and immense hospitality. You could smell culture as she poured the drink with the modernized barn invigorating a new era of arts and reflection.

I must have felt the aura of love’s spell somehow because Joslyn shared her story of how she chose this exact spot to say yes to Matt, an original Door County resident and the love of her life. She was a Chicago resident whose life was touched forever by the serenity and beauty of the surroundings around Highway 42. She wound up getting married at the Woodwalk Gallery, this former dairy barn built in 1908 and then renovated into the art gallery it is today. So taken by its majesty, Joslyn and Matt convinced the owner to sell them the gallery. To me, this is something you only see in movies or read in books, or like me, might even dream of. A place that gets your heart pumping as you breathe the pristine air.

I was most impressed with the owner who knew from her wedding day that this place one day would be hers. You can see her passion, written all over her face as she re-told how her dreams were realized in Door County.

After my immersion into this special spot in Wisconsin, it was all too evident that the charm of Door County is where dreams come true.


Al Johnsons
Handmade Swedish Pancakes with fresh berries—who says no?
Credit: Michael Lloyd

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant
10698 N. Bay Shore Drive
Sister Bay
(920) 854-2626, Website

Ever seen a goat on a restaurant roof? Neither had I until a visit to Al Johnson’s where local goats are brought in to graze on the freshly sodded rooftop. Here though, the food rules the door with Swedish pancakes served with lingonberries, strawberries, or cherries. The menu is vast, but trying the Swedish meatballs, pickled herring, and pytt i panna is an excellent start.

The White Gull Inn Fish Boil. Credit: Michael Lloyd

White Gull Inn
4225 Main Street
Fish Creek
(920) 868-3517, Website

I was told there are quite a few places to experience Door County’s renowned fish boil, but this dining experience was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Part fish market, part Broadway play, and all fresh Lake Michigan whitefish with potatoes cooked in a huge cauldron over a stacked wood fire outside while locals and tourists give a wry smile to the nourishing Midwest humor being dished by the master boiler. The meal is ready when the cook pours kerosene on the bonfire shooting flames 10 feet into the air.
Door County Coffee features over one hundred different coffees, each one roasted, packed and shipped from their cafe and roasting facility.
Door County Coffee features over one hundred different coffees, each one roasted, packed and shipped from their cafe and roasting facility.
Credit: Michael Lloyd
Door County Coffee
5773 Hwy 42
Sturgeon Bay
(920) 743-8930, Website
Go for the coffee and homemade breakfast, then stay for the Coffee 101 tour and learn everything you’d ever need to know about sustainable class 1 Arabica beans sourced from the best spots on Earth. And the gift shop is loaded with artisan gifts, many hand-crafted by locals.


The beautiful, brand new, Dorr Hotel gives homage to the Nordic history of the county.<br />
The beautiful, brand new, Dorr Hotel gives homage to the Nordic history of the county. Credit: Mark Ballogg
Dorr Hotel
2329 Mill Road
Sister Bay
(844) 944.0354, Website
The website promises “A Modern, Nordic Experience” and it lives up to the bill with a design centered around the county’s Scandinavian history. Forty-seven spacious suites and rooms with balconies and tokens redeemable for drinks at the “hygge” (pronounced HOO-guh, Danish for expressing the feeling of cozy contentment) lobby bar. The suite I had featured a fireplace and a very nice bathroom. Complimentary breakfast comes with the room with a nice selection: fresh muffins, protein bars, yogurt, granola with cold-pressed juice, and coffee.