Door County is a fascinating place with a rich history, vibrant (if quirky) culture, and stunning natural beauty. There is much to learn about Door County, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Here are some of the top fun facts about Door County.
We emphasized the fun in this list, so there will be lots of off-beat facts, and we won’t talk about some of the more commonly reported facts about this place. Here is the list!
25 Fun Facts About Door County
1. Man-faced pigs: Local lore records a curse in which a farmer had pigs with men’s faces.
So the story goes, an immigrant from Belgium in the Brussels area of Door County received a letter from the homeland. Being illiterate, he called the local priest to read the letter to him. It reported that he had been written out of his parent’s will.
Angry at the bearer of bad news, the man uttered a curse against the priest. Because the priest was a holy man, the curse bounced off of him and right back on the man. It gave his pigs men’s faces.
The curse remained until the man built a chapel. Once he built and dedicated the chapel, the curse was lifted. The chapel remains to this day.
2. Mushroom House: A strange home built into the land is now an artist retreat.
In the 1970s, the energy crisis led many people to build unconventional homes to save on utility costs. The Door County Mushroom House is one of those.
It goes by many names: Mushroom House, Dunes Dwelling, Hobbit Home.
It’s a strange sight to behold, and many people wandering around Whitefish Dunes State Park happen upon it by accident.
In 2016 it went up for sale and was purchased by the family of its original builder. In 2023, real estate website Redfin estimated the market value of the home to be over $400,000. Would you buy the Mushroom Home for that much?
These days, it operates as a retreat for artists.
3. Door of the Dead: Door County is named after the Porte des Morts nautical passage.
The nautical passage between the tip of the Door Peninsula and Washington Island is named Porte des Morts, French for Door of the Dead. This name seems to go back to the area’s original native inhabitants, who named it this after a deadly storm sank a war party in the passage, and the name got new life in the 1800s when this passage was one of the most treacherous ones in the United States, causing many shipwrecks.
4. Goats on the Roof: Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant grazes goats on its sod roof every summer.
It started as a prank on the owner but has become a tradition. Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant grazes goats on its sod roof every summer. This tradition is so popular that there is even a festival to celebrate the annual “Roofing of the Goats.”
5. No Chains: Strict zoning laws prevent most chain businesses in northern Door County.
When you are north of Sturgeon Bay, you might notice something a little different than the rest of the United States. There are no chain restaurants or hotels. This is due to strict zoning laws. These laws help to protect Door County’s quaint, nostalgic feel.
6. Salmon Fishing: Door County is a great place to catch salmon.
You don’t have to go out to the coast to catch salmon. You can catch them right in the Midwest! Bailey’s Harbor is a great port to charter a salmon excursion from, as is Sturgeon Bay. Other popular species of fish to pursue in Door County include perch, walleye, whitefish, and pike.
7. Big Foot: There has been one reported sighting of Big Foot in Door County.
According to the Big Foot Research Organization, there has been one sighting Sasquatch in Door County. A woman reports a frightening encounter with Big Foot in 2003 in the Forestville area.
Are you a believer?
8. Bears: The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates that there are about 12 bears in Door County at any given time.
Door County has a small population of black bears. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates that there are about 12 in the county at any given time.
Keep your property and campsites clean in Door County to discourage bears from depending on humans. But, don’t worry too much about encounters. The bears in Door County tend to be shy and don’t cause much of a nuisance.
9. Boiled Fish: Fish boils are a popular culinary experience.
I know that boiled fish might not sound that appetizing. But, fish boils are extremely popular culinary experiences in Door County.
A fish boil is not just about the food, even though the food is delicious. It’s also about togetherness and a rustic experience.
10. Shipwrecks: Door County is home to 240 known shipwrecks.
Door County is home to 240 known shipwrecks. There are so many shipwrecks here because the waters are so treacherous, with many rocks, shoals, and dangerous currents. Exploring shipwrecks has become a popular tourist experience in recent years.
11. Ship Yard: Sturgeon Bay in Door County has the largest shipyard in the Great Lakes.
Shipbuilding is big business in Door County. Sturgeon Bay is home to the largest shipward in the Great Lakes. The best time to see ships in Door County is in the winter, when they come in for the winter layup to get maintenance.
12. Packer Retreat: Door County is a favorite retreat for several players on the Green Bay Packers.
Packers running back A.J. Dillon has adopted Door County as a second home. His love of Door County was commemorated recently by being declared the “Mayor of Door County.” But, he’s not the only one. You can encounter other players for the Packers in Door County from time to time.
13. Curvy Road: Door County has a road with unnecessary curves in it, designed to help you connect with the natural landscape.
It was designed this way to help travelers slow down and observe the natural surroundings.
But, it itself draws quite a bit of attention. The curvy road is one of the most popular photography spots in the county.
14. Unique Ethnicities: Door County is home to large Belgian and Icelandic settlements.
Wisconsin is legendary for settlements with close ties to ethnic immigrants. Germans, Finns, Norwegians, Irish, and Hmong immigrants are all known for impacting the state’s culture.
But, Door County is home to two ethnic settlements you don’t usually hear about. Southern Door County is home to a large Belgian community, centered around the town of Brussels. Washington Island is home to the largest settlement of Icelanders in the United States.
15. Madcap Magnate: An eccentric inventor left his mark on Rock Island, but his grand vision never materialized.
Speaking of Icelanders, an electrical magnate named Chester Thordarson left his mark on Rock Island. Thordarson was an immigrant from Iceland and established a successful electrical business in Chicago. His wife, also an Icelander, had family on Washington Island. That’s how he found out about Rock Island.
He purchased nearly the whole island and build the magnificent boathouse that stands there to this day.
Thordarson had even bigger plans. As grand as the boathouse is, it was supposed to be one of the smallest buildings in a huge complex.
Those plans never came to fruition, but the boathouse is still a fascinating place to visit.
16. Curious Cave: Door County is home to Horseshoe Bay Cave, thought to be Wisconsin’s longest.
At about 3,000 feet long (over half a mile,) this is one long cave. But, seeing it can be challenging. The Door County Park Department offers limited tours. These are so popular that they have a long waiting list. And, the tour itself is a challenge since the cave is full of mud and water in many places. But, it’s well worth it if you are willing to put up with the wait and the rough conditions.
The entrance to the cave can be seen at Frank E. Murphy County Park.
17. Endangered Species: The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, once thought to be extinct, was “rediscovered” in Door County.
It’s a beautiful, green colored dragonfly that likes swampy areas on the east side of the Door Pensinsula. There are also populations in Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri. This species was only rediscovered in the late 1980s!
18. Big Water Sunrise and Sunset: You can see the sun rise and set over big water all in one day.
Door County, Wisconsin is one of the few places you can see a “big water” sunrise and sunset. “Big water” is defined as any body of water where you can’t see the other side.
On the Green Bay side of Door County, there are areas in the far northern part of the county where you can’t see the other side of Green Bay, making this big water just as much as the Lake Michigan side. See the sun rise up out of the water and sink down below the water all in one day!
19. Food Fight Namesake: Egg Harbor was named after a battle with eggs.
Traveler Elizabeth Baird documents an epic food fight with eggs in her diary. This occurred in June of 1825.
20. Carls’ Ville: Carlsville got its name because of the many residents named Karl.
No joke. Karl was a popular name among the German immigrants in the area around present-day Carlsville. When the time came to name the place, it was initially suggested that it be called “Karlsville,” but it was decided to Americanize it to Carlsville.
21. At the Center: The 45th parallel runs through Door County.
The 45h Parallel runs through Door County. That means that Door County is halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. There’s a small marker designating this fact at Door County’s Meridian County Park.
22. Mystery Park: Door County has a 6th, “mystery” state park – Grand Traverse State Park
Most people are familiar with Door County’s five state parks. But, did you know that Door County has a 6th “mystery” state park?
Consisting of several unconnected parcels on Detroit Island, not many visitors make it to this state park. There are no services or facilities here.
23. Light It Up: Door County has 11 historic lighthouses.
Door County has eleven historic lighthouses. That’s one of the highest concentrations of lighthouses in the United States of America. Four of them are open to the public for tours.
24. Midwest Place, East Coast Vibe: Door County is known as “The Cape Cod of the Midwest.”
Okay, I have to admit, I don’t like this one very much. Cape Cod should be known as the Door County of the East Coast, not the other way around. We should be confident in who we are and stop comparing ourselves to others!
Still, the similarities between Door County and Cape Cod are uncanny. Both are peninsulas. Both have canals running through them. Both have lots of lighthouses. Both have thriving tourist industries. Both have a rich maritime history.
25. The Bitter Truth: Door County drinks more bitters than anywhere else in the world.
Nelsen’s Hall on Washington Island sells more bitters than anywhere else in the world. In fact, they run something called “The Bitters Club.” You become a member by taking a shot of bitters.
The custom of drinking bitters here started during Prohibition as a way to skirt the laws against the sale of alcoholic beverages.
Learn More about Door County
Come experience some of these fun facts about Door County for yourself!
Door County is a fascinating place with a rich history. Check out our “About Door County” category to learn more about this wonderful place.