Accessible Travel in Wisconsin
Chicagoans consider Door County, Wisconsin their “Cape Cod”, an idyllic setting surrounded by water, with lighthouses, and quaint little towns, each with its own personality. Door County is about five to six hours north of Chicago, driving up the coast of Lake Michigan into the Wisconsin’s peninsula, surrounded by Lake Michigan on the east, and Green Bay on the west. It is a wonderful destination for couples, families, or retirees, a place where McDonald’s doesn’t exist; replaced with family owned dining and shops, incredible sunsets, and the world famous, fish boil. More than that, it's a beautiful place, that with a little planning, can be a wonderful accessible getaway.
My fiance, Todd, and I traveled with my daughter, Kelsey, who uses a wheelchair full-time, on our most recent excursion. While we really had no issues getting into establishments, we did have a few hiccups with curb cuts and more narrow sidewalks. Fortunately, we brought along her Freewheel, an attachment to her footplate that raises her casters off the ground, providing a sturdy third wheel upfront to handle uneven pavement, packed sand, and dirt.
We stayed at the Newport Resort, in popular Egg Harbor. The accessible two bedroom room had a small kitchen and living room, lovely patio, and a spacious bathroom that included a roll-in shower. The only issue we had was with the second bedroom, which of course, was going to be Kelsey’s room. The bedroom door was wide enough, but the bed was so close to the door, that she could barely get her wheelchair into the room. Never mind trying to close the drapes; we had to do that for her.
She could get into the master bedroom, but the attached bathroom was not accessible. We have since learned that there are other accessible options in Door County.
Our plan was to enjoy the various towns, do some fishing, and enjoy Door County’s beauty, and this trip did not disappoint.
We rented a pontoon boat in Sturgeon Bay, which is the gateway to Door County. Sturgeon Bay holds the last vestiges of fast food restaurants, so if you need a fix, here’s your last chance. We rented our boat for a half day, and it was wonderful. The hiccup here was that the boat rental dock was not accessible, however, the hotel marina across from the boat rental was. So, basically, you have to drop your wheelchair user off before you get the boat and have them wait for you. The good news is that hotel is very nice, and has great accessible restrooms.
Unfortunately, our hopes to catch a “big one” were dashed when time after time, we caught tiny little perch. Of well, it was still a wonderful day on the water. We retreated to the Potowatami State Park in Sturgeon Bay for a nice lunch at an accessible picnic area before heading back to Egg Harbor.
Egg Harbor is a lovely town, filled with charming restaurants and shops, and a brand new, accessible fishing pier and marina. The hill to get down to the dock is a bit steep, so you can drive down and park, or be adventurous and head down the switchback path from the main street to the pier. The top of the hill is the best place to watch sunsets, and it seems like the whole town comes out every day to say goodbye to the sun, as it tucks itself into the sparkling waters of Green Bay.
The next day, we headed up to Peninsula State Park, which is absolutely stunning. Set on Green Bay, its deep woods and calm beaches welcome everyone. There is accessible camping here, but you need to book your reservations a year in advance; this is one of the most popular parks in the state. We headed to the beach, a clean, but very popular place to escape the summer heat. Bathrooms were accessible, but there were no beach wheelchairs. We also headed to the accessible fishing piers and drove through the beautiful woods. Peninsula State Park covers 3,776 acres, but it is centrally located right in town, so you can easily grab a nice meal or hit to shops, if you need a bit of civilization.
After spending the day in the woods, we worked up an appetite and grabbed a meal in nearby Ephraim. However, save room for desert! Wilson’s ice cream shop sees crowds out the door, clamoring for its enormous ice cream cones made with fresh ingredients that are oh so yummy. Wilson’s is a restaurant, too, but most people come during sunset to enjoy their desert while watching a lovely sunset on the bay. Be forewarned that while there is accessible parking, both the crowds, and the small facilities make for difficult access. We found a great park bench across the street to watch the sunset, and had Kelsey wait there while we got the ice cream.
I would have to say that Kelsey’s most favorite place in Door County was Hands on Art in Fish Creek. This former farm, turned art settlement features all types of art media in each farm building. Paint pottery, glass, sculpt, build mosaics, or do metallurgy surrounded by chickens and other farm animals in a beautiful, and fairly accessible setting. Kelsey is an artist, so she parked herself here for the day, while we dabbled in some of the arts, and hung out with the animals, including one rooster that scared the heck out of us when it crowed as we were walking by.
After a day of art, it was time for Door County’s famous fsh boili! Kelsey and my fiancé, Todd, couldn’t wait for this experience. If you’ve never seen a fish boil, it is quite an experience. I’m not a fish lover, but even I was impressed! We headed to Pelletier's in Fish Creek, the most popular and famous fish boil establishment (we had made reservations first), where we were seated on the outdoor patio.
There was a large fire, where onions, potatoes, salt, and fish were loaded in a big, black kettle. Then, the piece de resistance… The attendant douses the kettle in kerosene, which sends up a 10 foot flame and black smoke in a flash! The flame quickly goes out, and the fish is done! The result is some of the most delicious fish that Todd and Kelsey have ever had. No, I did not have the fish; I had chicken, which was very good, too. Seatings were every 30 minutes, so you will get to see the fish boil process a couple times during your meal.
We spent the rest of our trip exploring the shops and restaurants in Sister Bay and Ephraim, as well as loading up on anything cherry; cherry butter, cherry pie, cherry salsa, cherry bread, all products made with cherries harvested in Door County. We also sampled Door County’s other popular export, wine!
Now, many of the wine companies in Door County make fruit-based sweet wines, but Stone’s Throw Winery, our favorite, had a variety of wines of the more traditional Merlot and Chardonnay varietals. They also had an amazing Port that we quickly purchased.
Door County is such a wonderful opportunity to go back in time and enjoy the simpler pleasures of life by the water, slow down, stop at places you wouldn’t normally go, and just enjoy the sunsets.