Lake Michigan Adventures – Newport Beach and Beyond – Door County

August 2, 2021 (part 2) (Monday)

“I’m starving,” my stomach growling as we disembarked the ferry from Washington Island, WI.

“Me too,” my mom paused. “Let’s see if we can eat in Gills Harbor for lunch and plan the rest of the day’s itinerary.”

Unfortunately, the popular Shoreline restaurant was closed on Mondays and the other restaurant was serving a limited menu.  Once at the car, we grabbed a Kind bar and looked at the map. 

“Ellison Bay probably has some restaurants – we could grab a bite there then explore nearby Newport State Park?” my mom suggested.

Ellison Bay is a quaint small town, population 165, nestled against the Green Bay coast.  It is known for its laid-back arts vibe.  Key tourist attractions include the Clearing Folk School, Island Orchard Cider and a handful of art galleries and museums. 

Local restaurant haunts, Viking Grill and Mink River Basin were closed due to Monday hours, but we discovered a ‘soulful’ coffee bar called Kick Ash Coffee.  The coffee shop is housed in deconsecrated Lutheran church that has a modern open sanctuary architecture.  Guests are invited into a welcoming space with stain glass and communal seating and a gift shop (eclectic books, Newport Beach State Park gear, coffee mugs…)

I’m a coffee lover or ‘have coffee will travel in search for the perfect cup.’  Kick Ash did not disappoint.  I ordered the trinity – a blend of coffee, hot chocolate and cream that was decadently delicious.  My mom and I are gluten free (Celiac) so we were excited to try Kick Ash’s gluten free cherry granola muffins – a house specialty.  The granola and coffee filled us up so we could postpone a heavy lunch.

Ellison Bay is on a high bluff offering fantastic views of Green Bay, so we explored the sideroads and county parks before heading onto the next leg of our Door County adventure – Newport State Park.

“Door County has amazing state parks,” my mom and I discussed as we drove the seven-minute drive from Ellison Bay to the Newport State Park entrance, located on the northeastern tip of the Peninsula. 

“Newport State Park is unique because it is Wisconsin’s only wilderness designated park, with little development. The Park protects eleven miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, including Europe and Newport Bays.  There are over 30 miles of backcountry trails as well.”

“It’s unique location on the Peninsula makes Newport one of the darkest spots in Door County and it is listed as an International Dark Sky Park.”

Stargazing is something I enjoy, but unfortunately, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to search for the Milky Way this trip. 

As we parked the car, my mom and I were overwhelmed by the rough, flawless beauty of Newport State Park’s wild beaches. The water is so clear with waves gently crashing – almost like a dance of sea against the sandy shore.  I found a bench hidden by a small sand dune – a front row lake view.

For twenty minutes, I enjoyed the rhythm of the sound of the water crashing against the sand, letting my thoughts wander and living in the moment.  Meanwhile, my mom walked on a nearby path exploring the area.

What I loved about Newport Beach is you feel like you stepped into another world – it is quiet and not as crowded (in our experience) as other area beaches.  You really feel the heartbeat of nature here.

I will always remember the calm serenity of sitting watch the water against the sand – the moment is imprinted in my memory as a peaceful picture to remember when life gets tough.

After an enjoying hour at Newport State Park, my mom and I navigated the nearby backroads to find nearby Europe Lake.  This 297-acre clear water lake stuns with crystal blue waters and has a depth of 10-feet.  Access points included one boat launch, ideal for kayakers or small craft and a nice park near the hamlet of Liberty Grove that connects to the backcountry trails of Newport State Park.

“We’ve explored another continent,” I joked.  “With all this ‘international travel’ I’m getting hungry.”

“We can head to Sister’s Bay and maybe grab a bite there,” My mom looked at the map. “I want to go back to Peninsula State Park if we have time too.”

En route to Sister’s Bay, we saw the sign for Seaquist Orchards.

“We have to stop,” I turned into the parking lot. “This was featured on the Travel Door County show we watched online,” referred to a PBS special we’d found on the region. “They have amazing cherries!”

Cherries are one of my favorite sweet treats – extra cherry is always my choice with a Shirley Temple or cherry ice cream.  Door County produces some of the best cherries in the world (along with Michigan, Montana, and Washington state).  Seaquist Orchards produces award-winning cherry products from Cherry Chutney and salsa to sweetly addictive cherry jam.

Stepping into the large warehouse store I was in cherry heaven – I have never encountered more cherry products in my life: cherry juice, tart cherries, cherry trail mix, cherry jams, chocolate covered cherries – the list goes on. 

Seaquist also features fresh apple products (the peninsula’s other favorite fruit) as well as local coffees and wines. 

My mom and I whetted our appetite with cherry samples and a fresh cup of coffee.  We left the store with cherry cheese – yum, cherry juice, cherry mix and chutney.  Deliciousness!

The cherry taste testing filled us up for the time being, so we decided to press on and drive to Peninsula State Park.  We enjoyed our first visit and wanted to return to visit the park’s Eagle Bluff Lighthouse.

The Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Peninsula State Park was built in 1868 to provide a light to sailors suffering through a storm’s gale, deep darkness, and treacherous waters.  The light continues to be a beacon – a bridge between past and present, the constant light in life’s calm and stormy waters.

Eagle Bluff sits 76 feet above Green Bay’s on the Niagara Escarpment. It overlooks the area known as the Strawberry Channel and neighboring Strawberry Islands.  The lighthouse has been lovingly restored by the Door County Historical Society, who offers lighthouse tours.  The lighthouse is composed of cream-colored Milwaukee brick and includes a keeper’s quarters and a basement.

The interior of the lighthouse was closed upon arrival, but the historical society has installed wonderful outdoor exhibits.  I am a history buff and loved learning about the lives of the lighthouse keepers and the difficulties and triumphs they faced. It takes a certain soul to be a lighthouse keeper – to keep the light shining in the darkness. 

My mom and I enjoyed Peninsula State Park till the edge of sunset – when hunger pangs kicked in.

We initially decided to grab a bite to eat in neighboring Fish Creek, which is known for its variety of fantastic restaurants.  Unfortunately, at seven o’clock most of the restaurants were booked solid or closed on Monday.

We decided to try our luck in Egg Harbor, but there was absolutely no parking at all.  So, we turned around and tried Fish Creek again.  We really enjoyed The Loft restaurant – so got on the waiting list (40 minutes), but by this time I was getting ‘hangry’ so the hostess recommended we try the Bayside Tavern next door.

This hole in the wall Wisconsin bar was nothing fancy, but we enjoyed our meal – gluten free pineapple and bacon pizza and sweet potato fries.  It hit the spot!

Following our meal, we enjoyed a beachfront stroll in Fish Creek and browsed the main street.  We decided to splurge on ice cream, this time at ‘The Dip,’ another Wisconsin ice-cream institution.  I opted for the cherry ice cream and my mom order Moose Tracks.  Nothing like ice cream and a lake view to close out an amazing day.

My mom and I are night owls, so we decided to detour a bit en route to our hotel in Sturgeon Bay, by driving by Kangaroo Lake under the moonlight.  I would have liked to have seen this massive inland county lake during the day, but it was pretty to drive over the glistening moon beamed waters at night.

I’m sad to leave Door County tomorrow – it has forever changed our hearts and we look forward to visiting again…Yet so many more miles to explore and tomorrow another pilgrimage of adventure…stay tuned.

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