The Door County Experience – Cottage or Resort?

Door County Sunset

You’ll often hear Door County called “the Cape Cod of the Midwest.” But in my opinion – Cape Cod should be called the Door County of the East Coast!

It may sound like an exaggeration, but there’s nowhere else in the world quite like that little peninsula.

If you’ve never experienced Door County for yourself – it’s about time. But what’s the best way to make your vacation memorable?

(Already have your own Wisconsin getaway but it needs a facelift? Check out this article on Wisconsin lake home remodeling ideas!)

I’ve spent a lot of time in Door County. There hasn’t been a summer in my life that I didn’t head up there for at least a few days.  Over the years – I’ve stayed at cottages, resorts, a few different campgrounds as well as a bed and breakfast.  I’ve found nothing compares to the peaceful pleasure you get at a cottage or a cabin.

Why You Should Consider Renting a Cottage in Door County

In order to understand what a Door County vacation can be, you have to stay there for more than just a couple of days. You want to make it feel like you live in Door County.

You want to forget about the reality of your other life – the one you’re trying to escape – and just soak up the beauty of the Door Peninsula. You want to get to that point where you have to think twice in order to remember what day of the week it is.

A stay at a cottage will do that for you.

I’ve been very fortunate to enjoy Door County this way time and time again. That’s because my dad’s side of the family always rented a cottage there. When I was a kid, we’d spend time at a little red cottage on Moonlight Bay – just north of Bailey’s Harbor on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula.

Today I have an aunt and uncle who own a cottage on the lake between Jacksonport and Bailey’s Harbor.

There are many benefits to spending your vacation at a Door County cottage. The biggest benefit is that it’s by far your most private option, which is especially nice if the place where you stay is on the water.

You can visit parks with public beaches – and it will still be beautiful. But nothing compares to the peacefulness of relaxing next to the waves with no one else around – except the occasional friendly neighbor strolling by on the beach for a walk.

How Do You Choose a Cottage to Rent in Door County?

Washington Island Cottage

Cottage on Washington Island, Door County

Cottage and cabin rentals in Door County aren’t always easy to come by. You’d be wise to reserve a spot well in advance.

Because they’re in such high demand – the cost of renting a cottage won’t seem cheap either – but it’s actually quite comparable to your other options.

Do a little research online and you’ll see that most rentals will cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 a week during the peak summer tourist season. It all depends on the place you pick.

The advice I’d give you is not to look for the perfectly remodeled brand new mansion. That’s not really a cottage anyway. Look for something quaint, charming and most importantly – close to the water.

One great example of the perfect place can be found at The site features a delightful-looking cottage by the lake on Washington Island (pictured above). Here’s how the cottage is described…

“Come follow the breeze off the northern tip of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula to a special island retreat… to a snug cottage high above a white stone beach where spindly-legged gulls skitter along, and the view at any time of day or night takes your breath away.”

Sounds pretty incredible, right? Plus, this particular cottage is facing west, which means you’ll get to appreciate some amazing sunsets.

You could call Washington Island the crown jewel of Door County. You’ll have to take a ferry to get there. But when you arrive you’ll experience the ultimate escape. There’s also a small airport on the island if you really want to make an entrance.

Door County isn’t nearly as touristy as somewhere like Wisconsin Dells. You won’t find a single chain restaurant or big box store north of Sturgeon Bay. However, it does get a bit crowded in places like Fish Creek, Ephraim and Sister Bay during the summer. Washington Island takes you away from the hustle and bustle while still giving you plenty to do and explore. You can always visit the other communities on the peninsula during a day-trip.

View of Lake Michigan

A view of the beachfront along Lake Michigan from a Cottage in Door County

A  Look at Your Other Options

You can still enjoy Door County when you choose other types of lodging. Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons.

Door County Resorts

Some people would rather have more of a hotel type experience on their vacation – and that’s fine. Someone will make up your bed. You can go out to eat for every meal. There will likely be a pool for those who think swimming in the lakes is cold and yucky.

Here are several of the resorts to check out in Door County:

If you’re worried about how much you’ll spend – most resorts are just as pricey and many times even more expensive than renting a cottage. During peak season – rates can be more than $300 per night – and there’s usually a two or three night minimum.

Compare that to rates at the Washington Island cottage we mentioned earlier. A week-long stay in summer is just under $1500. Two nights at this particular cottage, when it’s not peak season, would cost less than $400. Since you’ll most likely end up cooking at least some of your own meals at a cottage – you’ll save a nice chunk of cash.

Door County Camping

There are some amazing places to go camping in Door County including the state parks.

There’s also Whitefish Dunes State Park, but camping is not allowed there. In addition, you’ll find many private campgrounds that are ideal for visiting Door County if you own an RV or camper.

Camping is an extremely affordable way to visit Door County. You can get a healthy dose of the beautiful outdoors, enjoy all the fun and excitement outside the campgrounds during the day, and come back to a cozy campfire under the stars at night.

The biggest drawback to camping can be the occasional lack of privacy when campgrounds fill up, and the fact that you’ll be sharing whatever beachfront there may be with other campers. Oh – and the mosquitoes can be tough to escape. Only if you’re lucky, will you get a site near the water.

Door County Bed and Breakfasts

Door County is the kind of place that was made for the bed and breakfast. The nice thing about this kind of lodging is you get all the amenities and conveniences of a resort along with the charm of a cottage or cabin.

My wife and I stayed at The Blacksmith Inn to celebrate our anniversary one year and we had a very pleasant trip. Each room was uniquely decorated. There was always a snack like popcorn, cider and cookies in the cozy commons area. We could take kayaks out on the water and ride bikes for free.  During the winter, sleds and snowshoes are even up for grabs.

Several other Door County Bed and Breakfasts to try out are:

Keep in mind that not all bed and breakfasts are on the water like The Blacksmith Inn. Depending on the season – the cost of staying at a bed and breakfast in Door County ranges from $150 to $300 per night with a two or three night minimum. So once again – a cottage rental could be in the same price range. Plus, you’ll have more space and more privacy.

Why So Stuck on Summer?

If you want to spend a little less, or can’t find a place to rent during summer vacation season – think about visiting Door County during the off season. Rates take a significant dip. And while some of the shops and restaurants close when all the tourists leave, there are plenty of unique places that do stay open all year long.

The truth is – Door County is an amazingly beautiful place any time of year. At Christmastime it’s extremely underrated, and if you’ve never seen the fall colors in Door County, you’re definitely missing out.

What’s your favorite thing about Door County? Where do you like to stay?

Leave a comment below and tell us about it! Help us show everyone all there is to discover!


  1. Jan Olsen Thom says

    Door County is the best! My dad’s birthplace. Our summer home for many years. Fond memories. It’s Home for me!

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