Wisconsin’s Cape Cod of the Midwest

Even though I don’t have a  yellowed clipping to prove it, I must have read a newspaper article on Wisconsin’s Door County 30 years ago in the Dallas Morning News travel section. Or perhaps it was in the Chicago Tribune or another one of the beefy Sunday papers that came across my desk at work. That’s how we got our information in those days.

And I must have had itchy travel feet that day because  Door County made it to the bucket list 30 years ago. I really wanted to go there, but life made me wait until now.

Look at your right hand, palm facing you. The thumb is Door County, a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Wisconsin’s largest cherry producing region, Door County is also home to wineries, other agriculture production, artists and no chain hotels or restaurants.  The idea of cycling from farm to farm along Door County’s backroads sounded intriguing. Although we altered that plan, my husband and I still spent an enjoyable two days in this region called “the Cape Cod of the Midwest.”

Sunset in Peninsula State Park
Sunset in Peninsula State Park

We found the two main highways on the peninsula too congested for bicycling. And, the county roads were hilly, the 55 mph speed limits made us too uncomfortable and they or were too far away from all of the cherry stands, restaurants and farms that we wanted to visit. So, we kept our cycling to off-road paths and explored the quaint villages and shops by car.

We started with the Sunset Trail in Peninsula State Park, just north of Fish Creek village. We parked along the street at Fish Creek and rode to the trail. Bicyclists entering that way do not pay admission.  The 9.6-mile trail has some hills and loose gravel, but the serene forests, glimpses of the bay and lighthouse made the ride fun. We also explored Door County’s only rails-to-trails multi-use path, the Ahnapee State Trail, a 44-mile rural and mostly shady path in the southern part of the peninsula. It’s a bit isolated, as many rails to trails are. We didn’t encounter a single cyclist during our 90-minute ride.

Glad we had hybrid bikes for Ahnapee Trail
Glad we had hybrid bikes for Ahnapee Trail

We saw lots of bike rental shops and vacationers but not a lot of people riding during our visit to Door County. We did find a Door County bicyclist map from the tourist center and another one from the the local Nor-Door Sports and Cyclery Shop. There were some key differences in recommended routes between the two, so I would suggest checking out the routes yourself in the car before pedaling. The bike shop hosts group rides at various levels, which would be another option.

What to see in Door County:

  • Sunrises and Sunsets. Click here for recommended spots to watch.
  • Farm Stands are the thing here has Door County is Wisconsin’s leading producer of cherries. Our favorites were Seaquist Orchards north of Sister Bay, where we not only sampled cherry muffins and salsa but other regional products, and Schopf’s Hilltop Dairy at Carlsville — wonderful cashew caramel ice and education on dairy farming.
  • Outdoor Theaters. Productions go on under the stars nightly during peak tourist season, and there’s even a drive-in movie theater on the peninsula.
  • Fish Boils and Scandinavian Restaurants. Being from Louisiana, we are seafood snobs when it’s anything but shrimp or crawfish so we didn’t try those. We did like the Swedish pancakes (but not the Swedish meatballs!!) at Al Johnson’s, Scandinavian restaurant in Sister Bay. It was storming the day we were there so we didn’t see the other thing this place is famous for—–goats on the roof!

Swedish pancakes with cherries at Al Johnson's

August Greenery in Green Bay

I’m passing through Green Bay, Wisconsin in mid-August, and I’m struck by all of the greenery around Lambeau Field, and I’m not talking about the Packers uniforms.

It’s August, preseason has just begun and flowers are blooming all around the entrances to Lambeau Field. It looks like the South in May. Yellow black-eyed susans mixed with pink annuals and fountain grass fill planters all around the stadium. Flowers and landscaping have been stunning throughout Wisconsin and Lambeau Field is no exception.

This is not the Green Bay usually seen on Sundays in December — fans bundled in toboggans, parkas, mittens, their breath unfurling in long frigid streams.

Although one of America’s iconic football teams, Green Bay has never been one of my favorites. Nothing personal, but even as an eight-year-old, I enjoyed watching  Jim Brown rush for the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay’s chief rival during the mid-1960s.  When Cleveland lost to Green Bay in the 1965 NFC Championship game, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. A few years later, a neighbor’s grandson, Jack Gregory, became a star defensive end for the Browns. My loyalty was sealed.

But if you’re in Wisconsin and traveled this far north, you’ve got to pay a visit to the stadium. There are several levels of tours to take. We were pressed for time so we only walked around the stadium’s atrium and visited the gift shop.

You can build a whole wardrobe around the Packers green and yellow—vintage or current styles. Or pretty much outfit your kitchen or bedroom.

Wisconsians DO follow their team—I figured that out during my week in the state. In a small Door County town, we saw what must be the Wisconsin version of a ladies lunch. Several petite women appearing to be in their late 70s or early 80s were all wearing Packers jerseys as they ate their Big Macs at McDonald’s.

At least they were not wearing cheese on their heads.

 

 

Celebrating Farming at the Iowa & Wisconsin State Fairs

I’ve heard of the travel goal of visiting every state capital. That’s fine, but let me suggest another way to experience the 50 states—visit their state fairs.

Hot Roasted Corn  Corn at Iowa State Fair

After making it to  two of the Travel Channel’s Top 10 State Fairs (Iowa and Wisconsin) last week, I’d say I have a better feel of those states than treks to domed buildings in downtown Madison and Des Moines.

There’s nothing more Iowa than standing in the swine barn at the state fair looking at a kid in a  4-H shirt preparing his Berkshire pig for show.

Nothing Compares.

That’s the tag line for the Iowa State Fair, a crème de la crème celebration of agriculture (and politics in recent years). There’s more than 900 classes of food judging and 550 pounds of butter sculpted into a cow. And this year, the butter sculptures included Rich Uncle Pennybags and all of the Monopoly pieces. Just as impressive but less famous was a grocery bag and produce sculpted out of 50 tons of sand. This ultimate experience is why the Iowa State Fair is in the book, “1,000 Places to Go Before You Die” and was the inspiration for the novel and later musical, State Fair.

Butter Cow and Monopoly Man-blog

Sand Sculpture at Iowa State Fair-blog

As it turned out, we were there on record attendance for the fair, which included visits from Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton and other 2016 presidential hopefuls.

Strolling along the Iowa State Fairgrounds was, in its own way, as iconic a picture  as walking in Times Square.

Wisconsin’s State Fair in Milwaukee was almost as spectacular with its House of Moo, fried cheese curds and record-setting high-wire act by Nik Wallenda. Coming  from a dairy family, I had always wanted to visit the state nicknamed America’s Dairyland.

Gotta say the $11 admission to the Iowa State Fair and $12 to the Wisconsin fair were great values even when you figure in smoked pork chops on a stick, crème puffs and all of the other fair food staples.

Visits to those state fairs reminded me that every state has something to be proud of, and I returned learning more about their people and land. For example I’ve been reading the travel writing of native Iowan Bill Bryson, whose hilarious book on hiking the Appalachian Trail is soon to be released as a movie, A Walk in the Woods. I’m enjoying the  food blog, Iowa Girl Eats.

So if you really want a reason to visit every state, reroute from the capital and plan a stop at the state fair. Here are some side trips while we were in the Des Moines for the Iowa State Fair.

High Trestle Trail Bridge Trail: This 25-mile rails to trails conversion has a 13-story, half-mile bridge over the Des Moines River, one of the largest trail bridges in the world. It lights up at night, creating the effect of bicycling/walking through a mine shaft. You’ll want to make sure your bike has a headlight and good tail lights. And, you’ll want bug spray if you are visiting in summer and stopping to view the scenery during those twilight rides. www.inhf.org/trails/high-trestle.cfm

High Trestle Trail bridge

Madison County Bridges: if you’ve read the book, you’ll want to see them for yourself. There are six covered bridges, five of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Madison County is just southwest of Des Moines and also is the birthplace of John Wayne. www.madisoncounty.com/pages/world-famouscoveredbridges.com

And since Des Moines is the state capital, you can visit that too.