Door County, Wisconsin, is legendary for its quaint lack of commercialization. North of Sturgeon Bay, you will not find chains and gaudy billboards. You will, however, find plenty of free things to do. Here is the definitive list of Free Things to Do in Door County, Wisconsin.
Have you done any of these things? How did it go? Are there any great free attractions we are missing? Let us know in the comments section at the end of the post.
Relax at a Beach
Hitting the beach is one of the most popular free things to do in Door County. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Door County Beaches, the most comprehensive post on the internet on the topic, for a comprehensive list. However, here are three popular ones:
Nicolet Beach is located inside Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek. It is a sandy beach with a nearby store offering boat and bicycle rentals and concessions. While it normally costs money to get into a Wisconsin state park, there are ways to get into a state park for free.
Sister Bay Beach
Address: 2362 Mill Rd, Sister Bay, WI 54234
Egg Harbor Beach
Learn at a Door County Library
Go to the library on vacation? You bet. The libraries are some of the best free things to do in Door County, Wisconsin. You will be surprised at how much fun you will have at one, whether or not you are a book lover. The hours of the libraries can be unpredictable, so make sure that you check their websites or call ahead. Besides books, the libraries offer programming for both children and adults, and some of them have unique things to do, like taking in art at the Miller Art Museum in the Sturgeon Bay Library and making creations at the Maker Space in the Egg Harbor Library. The Door County Library system has many branches, but here are four you can’t miss:
Egg Harbor Library
Simply sitting in the Egg Harbor library is a joy given its location within the Kress Pavillion. In addition to the books and beautiful setting, a Maker Space is available to express your creative side.
Sturgeon Bay Library
The main branch of the Door County Library, the Sturgeon Bay Library is also worth visiting for the Miller Art Museum inside of it.
Baileys Harbor Library
The McArdle Library of Baileys Harbor is located in the Baileys Harbor Town Hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Parents-in-the-know rely upon the Forestville library for some of the best free things to do in Door County with children. The Forestville branch offers story-times, open craft tables, and other fun programs for kids. Call ahead to find out what’s being offered.
Little Free Library
Door County has dozens of Little Free Libraries. Check their map to find the one closest to you, grab a book, and enjoy hours of reading, completely for free.
Muse at a Museum
Door County has lots of museums to visit, and some of them are completely free.
Door County Historical Museum
The Door County Historical Museum has been named by the Chicago Tribune as one of the “Best Small Museums of the Midwest.” The museum’s vintage fire engines are crowd-pleasers. The museum charges no admission, though donations are appreciated.
Heritage Village at Big Creek
The Door County Historical Society maintains a collection of historical Door County buildings at the Big Creek Nature Preserve. A self-guided tour is available. The Heritage Village is free, though donations are appreciated.
Miller Art Museum
The Miller Art Museum is Door County’s only fine arts museum. It features revolving displays of 20th Century Wisconsin art. Located in the Sturgeon Bay Library, the Miller Art Museum is always free.
The Hardy Gallery
Located in the iconic warehouse at Anderson’s Dock, the Hardy Gallery offers displays of art with a local and regional emphasis. Admission is free, though donations are encouraged.
Stroll a Downtown
Door County’s cities and villages have walkable downtowns with an eclectic mix of restaurants and stores. Just stop in one and start walking to occupy a free hour or two.
Take a Self-Guided Historical Tour of Door County Downtowns
Those who want to go deeper in their downtown explorations can take a self-guided historical tour.
The Egg Harbor historical society has put together a nice self-guided historical tour. A flyer can be downloaded here [PDF].
The Gibraltar Historical Association offers a free audio walking tour, accessed through the phone. Wherever you see a blue tile number on a Fish Creek building, call 920 – 365 – 3711 to learn more about it. A map can be obtained at the Alexander Noble House or Fish Creek Visitor Center, or by clicking here [Word Doc].
Fest at a Festival
Door County has lots of festivals, many of them free. Here are a few:
Held every Memorial Day Weekend, the Jacksonport Maifest has lots of free activities, like a parade and art fair. Check out the Jacksonport website for more information.
Roofing of the Goats Parade and Goat Fest
One of the quirkiest festivals not just in Door County, but probably in the United States of America, Sister Bay’s Roofing of the Goats Parade and Goat Fest is sure to be a good time. Word had it that many of the goats present come in costume.
4th of July Celebrations
Large Independence Day Celebrations and festivals are held in Sturgeon Bay, Egg Harbor, and Baileys Harbor.
Baileys Harbor AutumnFest
Classic cars, live music, and arts and crafts: Baileys Harbor AutumnFest has something for everyone. AutumnFest is usually held in late September.
Gawk at a Gallery
Of course, galleries would love if you bought something, but browsing through their collections is completely free. Door County has dozens of galleries, but here are a couple you might try:
G&J is a working art glass studio featuring new creations and also offering repar and restoration services.
Ellison Bay Pottery Studios
Potters John Dietrich and Diane McNeil offer function stoneware and ceramic art. Painters Thomas and Margaret Dietrich also sell their work from this gallery.
Visit a Local Park or Preserve
Door County’s State Parks (usually) cost money to enter, but the various local parks and preserves are completely free! Here are a few favorites:
Cave Point County Park
Cave Point County Park is one of the most popular places to visit in all of Door County. This park offers a stunning view of Lake Michigan, limestone cliffs, hiking trails, a picnic area, and more.
Ellison Bluff State Natural Area
174 acres, including hiking trails, bluff shoreline, and a picnic area, Ellison Bluff State Natural Area is a more secluded alternative to Cave Point. Visitors will enjoy the viewing site, 100 feet above Green Bay.
Baileys Harbor Ridges County Park
Visit a Wisconsin State Park
Thriftsters can visit Wisconsin State Parks for free even though most visitors pay a vehicle admission fee. Walking or biking in will do the trick – no vehicle, no vehicle admission fee. In addition, in early June the Wisconsin DNR offers an annual “Free Fun Weekend,” when the vehicle admission fee is waived.
Hike a Trail
Hiking a trail is as free as it gets. Even some state park trails are easily accessible from free parking lots eliminating the vehicle access fees usually associated with Door County’s state parks. Here are three trails you can hike on for free:
Europe Bay Trail in Newport State Park
Wisconsin State Parks typically charge vehicle admission, but Europe Bay Trail is easily accessible from Hotz Memorial Park of the Town of Liberty Grove. Hotz Memorial Park has a free parking area. Simply walk about a quarter of a mile west from the Hotz parking area on Europe Bay Road in order to access Europe Bay Trail.
Whitefish Dunes State Park Trails
Much like Newport State Park, a local park offers free access to the trails of Whitefish Dunes State Park. Cave Point County Park offers free parking, and multiple trails are easily accessible from here.
Ahnapee State Trail
Located in Southern Door County, the Ahnapee State Trail follows an abandoned railway line. The Ahanapee State Trail has many free access points with parking and toilet facilities.
Reflect at a Cemetery
It used to be more common to spend time in cemeteries, not just to visit the graves of the beloved, but also to reflect on the nature of human life. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2 ESV). As long as you maintain a respectful demeanor, you will be welcome to visit Door County cemeteries, and you will be a better person for it. Door County’s most famous cemeteries, such as the Pioneer Cemetery, are located in State Parks and thus cost money to access. However, other cemeteries are free, including:
Located west of Sturgeon Bay, Bayside Cemetery is one of the larger cemeteries in Door County.
Address: 3890 Bayshore Drive, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235
Ephraim Moravian Cemetery
Ephraim was founded as a Moravian colony. This cemetery was dedicated to serving their congregants.
Address: Norway St S & Willow St, Fish Creek, WI 54212
St. Mary’s Cemetery
St. Mary’s is the cemetery at the center of Southern Door County’s Belgian community, in Brussels.
Address: 1229-1215 Pit Rd, Brussels, WI 54204
Catch a Fish
We know, we know. Fishermen are legendary for spending tons of money on their hobby. But, this doesn’t mean that fishing has to be expensive. Borrow some equipment, dig up some worms, hit a shore fishing location, and fishing can be quite budget-conscious. Here are three places to shore fish in Door County.
The Old Railroad Bridge in Sturgeon Bay
North of the steel bridge in Sturgeon Bay, and on the West waterfront, is a spur of land that juts out into the bay. This used to be part of a railroad bridge but is now a public park. You are permitted to fish from here. Parking is available but can be limited, because this is one of the most popular areas in Sturgeon Bay. Smallmouth bass and perch are often caught from this location.
Egg Harbor Marina
The Egg Harbor Marina is very welcoming to fishers, even those who do not have a boat docked. Check out their website, as they have requests of those who are shorefishing from the marina. Smallmouth bass and perch can be caught here.
Kangaroo Lake Causeway
Those who want to try inland fishing for species like largemouth bass and bluegill will enjoy fishing the Kangaroo Lake Causeway on which County Road E is built.
Catch a Concert
Door County has free music up and down the peninsula. Here are a few opportunities to catch some free tunes.
Sturgeon Bay hosts the free Harmony by the Bay Concert Series held at Martin Park every Wednesday at 7:00 PM from mid-June through mid-August. Check their Facebook page for updated information.
Egg Harbor has two free concert series: the Peg Egan Sunset Concert Series and Concerts in the Park.
The Peg Egan Sunset Concert Series is held on Sundays at 7:00 PM over the summer months at the Peg Egan Performing Art Center.
Concerts in the Park is held at on Thursdays at 5:00 PM over the summer months at the Harbor View Park.
The Village of Egg Harbor’s events page is the best place for information about these free concerts.
Ephraim offers a free concert series from mid-June through Mid-August on Monday evenings at 6:00 PM at Harborside Park. Click here for more information on the Evenings in Ephraim Concert Series.
Sister Bay’s stage at the Waterfront Park hosts the village’s summer concert series, held at 6:00 PM on Wednesdays from mid-June through mid-August.
Tour Door County by Bike
From rugged trails to smooth blacktop, Door County has lots of biking opportunities. Nor Door Sport and Cycling maintains a good list of bike route maps.
Thrill at Fireworks
Door County has fireworks displays throughout the Peninsula around Independence Day, but this isn’t the only time you can see pyrotechnics here. Sister Bay offers fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and Sturgeon Bay’s Fire and Ice Festival has a display in February.
Ship Watch in Door County Waters
Whether it’s the sleek yachts of wealthy vacationers or the massive steel hulks of freighters, ship watching is a fun and free Door County activity. Winter is primetime for ship watching in Door County as freighters make their way to Sturgeon Bay’s shipyards for maintenance. Cruise by the shipyard to check them out and keep an eye on Boatnerd so that you can catch them moving through the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal.
Sled, Snowshoe, or Cross-country Ski
Snow means lots of free fun. The best sledding hill in Door County is at hole 17 on the golf course at Peninsula State Park, though this requires a vehicle admission sticker. Big Hill Park in Sturgeon Bay is a free alternative. Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing can be done for free on the trails of the Door County Land Trust. Crossroads at Big Creek facilitates free snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, even offering free equipment to borrow on Sunday afternoons.
Hunt for Treasure
Channel your inner pirate and hunt for treasure through geocaching or letterboxing.
Geocaching involves using GPS to find hidden deposits. Geocaching.com has a good introduction to finding your first geocache. Door County has any geocaches to search for.
A somewhat older treasure-hunting hobby is letterboxing. Letterboxing involves navigating by identifying terrain and following prepared directions. It’s a little more low-tech, but enthusiasts love it. A good place to learn how to letterbox is letterboxing.org.
Watch a Christmas Tree Lighting
Most villages in Door County have a Christmas Tree Lighting event that often includes caroling, hot chocolate, and other festive holiday traditions.
Get Rustic at a Farm or Farmer’s Market
Agritourism is alive and well in Door County. Door County is famous for its cherry orchards, but that’s just the beginning. From a lavender farm to barn quilt tours, Door County can help you connect with where food comes from, and many of these activities are completely free!
Door County’s famous cherry orchards are a fun way to spend some time. While picking cherries will cost money, most orchard owners won’t mind if you simply want to walk the grounds. Additionally, the orchards provide a nice sight-seeing and photography opportunity when the blossoms are out. Hello Door County’s favorite orchard is Soren’s Valhalla Orchards, and we’ve written about it in our post of Best Things to Do with Teens in Door County and Best Things to Do with Kids in Door County.
Door County’s biggest art gallery stretches across the peninsula and is completely free to take in. Over 50 historic barns in the county have been adorned with “quilts” – decorative patterns reminiscent of quilt squares. You can print a guide to the quilts by clicking here.
You’ll probably buy some delicious produce or baked goods at a Door County farmer’s market, but it’s by no means necessary. You’ll have fun whether you stock up your pantry or not.
Destination Door County maintains a current list of Door County farmer’s markets.
Visit a Church
It’s completely lame that going to church has fallen out of fashion in American society. Do you think you’re too good for church? You’re not. And if you don’t think you’re good enough to go to church, you are exactly the person who needs to go to church. Where else can you gain adoptive grandmas who want nothing more than to feed you casseroles? Where else can you form a bond with people outside of your normal circles? Where else can you collectively sing together? Where else can the gates of heaven and eternal life be opened to you through the Lord Jesus Christ?
Church is fun, and church is free. Here are a few Door County churches that would love for you to visit:
Stella Maris Parish
Stella Maris Parish is the Roman Catholic parish in Northern Door County. They worship at several locations. Check their website for locations and worship times.
Ephraim Moravian Church
Moravianism has a fascinating history, and Ephraim Moravian Church has a special place in the history of Door County. Few places in the United States afford the opportunity to visit a Moravian church, so give them a try.
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Forestville
Forestville isn’t in the touristy part of Door County, but the drive to St. Peter’s is worth it and will bless you. It is one of the most beautiful churches in the county, and the preaching and theology in this church are excellent. There’s also a St. Peter’s Lutheran in Sturgeon Bay. It’s also a nice church, but don’t get them confused.
From shorebirds to pelicans to upland birds, Door County has excellent birding opportunities throughout the peninsula. Almost anywhere you go, you will find excellent bird habitats. While you need not go to a designated bird sanctuary to find birds, Washington Island offers the Domer-Neff Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary.
Besides birds, viewing other kinds of wildlife is one of the best free things to do in Door County. Deer are abundant and easy to see in the fields at dusk. With some luck, you can see a coyote or fox. Some even report seeing bears, wolves, and mountain lions from time to time.
One unique kind of wildlife that you can view in Door County is salmon. A good place to do this is at the Strawberry Creek Chinook Facility in Sturgeon Bay.
Streets, parks, and gymnasiums are transformed into art galleries at art fairs, and admission to many of them is free. One popular fair is the Door County Festival of Fine Arts, held each year in August at Sister Bay’s Waterside Park.
Fall Color Tour
Every Fall, Door County’s forests become a kaleidoscope of color, a beautiful experience to behold that is completely free. Check out our post on Door County’s Fall colors to learn about when they are out and the best drives and hikes for leaf-peeping.
The Villag of Ephraim hosts sing-a-longs on Sunday nights at 7:00 PM at the Village Hall. These fun events are completely free. Check the events page on the village website for details.
Walk a Breakwater
Walking a breakwater lets you experience the lake without having to own a boat. Most villages in Door County have a breakwater, but the most exciting breakwaters to walk are on either side of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. Extending far into Lake Michigan, these structures help give you a sense of just how big and powerful Lake Michigan is. Be careful walking these breakwaters, though. While it is legal to walk them, they are navigational aids and not intended primarily for pedestrians. Surfaces can be slippery, and trip hazards abound. Additionally, these can be dangerous when wind and wave conditions are high. Use your common sense, and don’t put your life in jeopardy.
To access the west breakwater, take County Road U south from Sturgeon Bay. Turn left on Lake Lane. When this makes a sharp bend to the right, you will find a parking lot in which you can park. A trail leads from the parking lot to a beach. Walk left along the beach to come to the breakwater.
To access the east breakwater, follow County Road TT to its bend at the U.S. Coast Guard Station. There is a gravel parking lot here that you can park in. Continue up Canal Road by foot, making sure to stay on the left side of the yellow line, as the signs instruct you to do. (You will be walking by the U.S. Coast Guard Station, which is why this instruction exists.) Canal Road will lead to the breakwater.
Both of these breakwaters are out of the way and take some effort to access, but the efforts will pay off with amazing views and great photography opportunities.
Coast Guard Station
When accessing the east breakwater, you will be in the vicinity of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Sturgeon Bay. While you cannot tour the grounds or buildings, you can get good views of the historic buildings and lighthouse.
Listen to Local Door County Radio
Several radio stations call Door County home, but the locals’ favorite is WDOR 93.9FM 910AM. WDOR has a quirky, fun, hometown feel, and you can catch obituaries, interviews of local leaders, news, fishing reports, and a music program that seems to have no theme other than the DJs’ preferences.
Read a Local Door County Newspaper
The Peninsula Pulse is a free newspaper widely available in print and online. It has a nice balance between stories oriented toward tourists and locals alike.
Free Family Events
Many organizations host free events for families to enjoy. One popular event is Sturgeon Bay’s annual Kickoff to Summer event, typically held in early June.
Door County has some of the darkest skies in the Lower 48, and the stars are always free to view. You can stargaze anywhere, but the Door County Astronomical Society sponsors monthly free viewing nights. Check their Facebook page for announcements regarding these viewing nights.
Historical Markers and Memorials
Door County has a huge number of historical markers and memorials. Make a morning or afternoon of traveling around the county to view these to get a better sense of Door County’s unique history. The Historical Marker Database is a good place to find and learn more about historical markers.
Paddling Door County waters is a pleasant and inexpensive way to spend some time, and you don’t even need to have your own boat. Borrow a friend’s canoe or kayak, and this activity is completely free. Only well-outfitted and experienced boaters should brave the waters of Lake Michigan, but Door County’s inland lakes, Kangaroo Lake and Europe Lake, offer generally placid waters suitable for paddlers of any experience level and skill.
Watch a Sunset or Sunrise
It’s the best show in town, and it’s completely free. Head to the Lake Michigan shore to catch a sunrise or the Green Bay shore to catch a sunset. They never get old.
Conclusion: Free Things To Do in Door County
There’s no need to spend a lot of money in Door County. Door County has plenty of free things to do that will entertain the whole family. This list is just the start! Let us know about some of your favorite free things in Door County in the comments below.