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February 21, 2024

How to plan an epic Door County Family Vacation that will have you reminiscing for years


This post goes out to all the moms just trying to curate the best core memories for our kids’ childhood by planning family vacations – no pressure, right? I’ve planned some pretty epic vacations throughout the years so I thought I’d share my process in case it’s helpful for anyone else currently in the planning stages! I’ll sprinkle some Door County family vacation ideas throughout this post as well because one of my favorite things to do for our guests is to plan custom itineraries to help them personalize the best week in Door County for their specific group’s interests and preferences.

Steps to planning the best Door County family vacation

door county family vacation planning tips image of people gathered around a campfireStep 1: Start a Google Doc vacation planning outline

It may feel extra, but I swear these docs have saved my sanity over the years and as a side bonus, it never fails that a friend will ask for our itinerary once we get back and so it’s a super easy way to share everything we did with others. I’ll sometimes even add comments with our feedback after the fact. I’m STILL sharing our roadtrip around Lake Michigan doc with people almost 10 years later.

Step 2: Secure your lodging

Door County is known to book out a year in advance for popular dates so it’s important to know where you’re staying before you get any further in the planning process! My advice? The best way to make sure it’s a trip that’s about reconnecting is to find a distraction-free, out-of-your-normal environment, where you can easily unplug and focus on the people you’re with, being present and making memories.

To accomplish this, stay on the quiet side of Door County where you can have that up-north feeling away from the crowds (don’t worry, you’re still close to everything Door County has to offer, so this is the best of both worlds).

Best Door County lodging for families:

  • The Point on Clark Lake  // A private peninsula and 1200 ft of frontage on Clark Lake, this is the perfect spot for kids to explore, and jump in the lake (with an east and west-facing dock so you’ll enjoy sunrises and sunsets), fish, and tube with a pontoon docked and waiting for you (rent separately) – all with a standalone kids cabin called the “doghouse”, large farm table for dinners and game night al fresco, fireplace and firepit, kayaks, canoes, and more. Near local attractions like the infamous Farm (pet and feed baby animals), PC Junction (have your food delivered to you on a train!), Cave Point (the most photographed spot in all of Door County), and Whitefish Dunes State Park (hike up the sand dunes and along the shores of Lake Michigan). Sleeps 15 (best for 3-4 families)
  • The Bay on Clark Lake  // Just 10 doors down from The Point, at The Bay cabin you’ll find sandy shallow swimmable waters off the dock on Clark Lake, a pontoon rental for fishing and tubing, bunk beds, and a game room loft, making this the perfect cabin rental for families, sleeps 8 (best for 1-2 families) same local attractions as The Point above!
  • Rowleys A-frame // Relax by a fire on the beach, swim the warm waters of Rowleys Bay, kayak the sandy shore, and wake to the sounds of seagulls and waves. Your kids will love sleeping in the loft with 4 trundle beds + a smart tv for movie night, kayaks, sailboat, a fireplace, and stocked with family games. Just 5 miles from attractions your kids will love like pancakes at Al Johnsons, Peninsula State Park, and wood-fired pizza at Wild Tomato. Sleeps 8 adults + kids (best for 2-3 families)
  • Porte Haven // A cabin built on top of the original boat house – turned loft-like hangout space with darts, pool table, movie nook, and games with a view out onto Deaths Door – your kids will think this is the coolest place ever. Portholes in bathrooms, a steam shower, two fireplaces, a firepit, views of 4 islands, and right off of Jens Jensens windy road (most famous road in all of WI!), and next to Newport State Park which is a dark sky park (in other words the most incredible night sky), this place is truly a place you need to see to believe. Sleeps 6 adults + kids (best for 2-3 families).

Step 3: Craft your specific vacation bucket list

First, ask each person you’re traveling with to think of one big thing that would make this trip a success in their mind and create a vacation bucket list. I like to do some research and have a list of ideas ready to share with everyone before they pick the top thing they want to do. Don’t leave this step to luck and these don’t all have to be huge ideas! Items on our list in the past have been “spend an afternoon by the water reading in a hammock” and learning a new game (in our case cribbage!). These should be things that you can’t ordinarily do at home and sometimes that’s not location specific, but rather the time freedom to do whatever you want on vacation that makes something possible. The point is to do something out of the norm because shaking us up out of our routine is where the core memory-making happens.

Door County bucket list ideas

  • Spend a morning or sunset sailing with Sail Door County
  • Try a fish boil – a unique custom in the area you won’t find many other places!
  • Visit the goats on the roof and Swedish pancakes at Al Johnsons
  • Paint graffiti (it’s allowed!) on Anderson’s Dock
  • Feed the baby pigs (and goats!) at The Farm
  • Download a stargazing app and visit the Dark Sky Park at Newport State Park
  • Go to a drive-in movie at Skyway
  • Kayak under the caves at Cave Point

Step 4: Plan what you’re going to eat

Now that the big “rocks” are taken care of, it’s time to sprinkle in the details. I always start with food so that I can make sure we get any hard-to-get reservations and if we’re traveling with a big group, can start to plan who’s bringing or cooking what making it one less thing to think about when we get there.

Where to eat in Door County for Families

I like to plan mini excursions with our bucket list items that include dinner when we venture out from the cabin in Door County. For example, things that pair well together:

  • Dinner at Trixie’s, ice cream at Wilson’s, wine tasting at Pearl Wine Cottage, and paint graffiti across the street at Anderson’s Dock (also a great spot for a sunset!) – Ephraim
  • Brunch at Blue Bear, check out Jens Jensen’s windy road, take the ferry to Washington Island and see the lavender fields, hike Door Bluff at sunset – Gils Rock area
  • Hit the shops in Fish Creek (Sister Golden is our favorite!), have dinner at Barringers (outside by the fireplace preferably!), and climb Eagle Tower at Peninsula State Park at sunset.
  • Dinner at PC Junction (delivered on a train!), wine tasting at Stones Throw across the street, art at Hands on Art Studio or horseback riding at Kurts Coral – Jacksonport area
  • Board game at Door County Brewing, hike at the Ridges Sanctuary, dinner at Chives. – Baileys Harbor

All our favorite things and Door County recommendations can be found here to help fill out your list!

Step 5: Add a packing list

I don’t know about you, but once we get to the lake, I don’t want to leave. Including a running list of things on your Google doc that you think of that you want to bring to make this trip special will make sure you don’t forget anything last minute. And, it’s super helpful again when planning with a group because you can assign the shareable things to specific people to save room and redundant items.

Speaking of never leaving the cabin, from our shop, you can add a grocery delivery, pontoon rental, and even a farm-to-table private chef-made dinner at the cabin!

Door County packing tips:

  • Bring layers! You just never know what weather you’ll get there because of the proximity to Lake Michigan.
  • Bring your dogs! Door County is extremely dog-friendly and has many hikes, beaches, lodging, and patios where your fur babies are welcome.
  • Bring a book with a cabin as the setting, it’ll put you in the relax mode you’re aiming for:
    • 11 cabin-themed books to bring with you on your next getaway:

      Secluded Cabin, Sleeps Six
      The Guest List
      A Flicker in the Dark
      Every Summer After
      One True Loves
      Happy Place
      Meet Me at the Lake
      Big Summer
      The Paper Palace
      Where the Forest Meets the Stars
      The House Across the Lake
      Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club

Step 6: Document your vacation well

Whether you’re the appointed family photographer or you hire a professional to come to document a part of your vacation, don’t forget this step. Future you will be thankful when the memories start fading and you have something tangible to look back on. Make sure to capture the details so you remember the dirty feet, and the ear-to-ear smiles … get the pic, then put the camera down and be present.

The best Door County family photographer: Victoria Danielle

Door County photo spots

Here are some insta-worthy photo spots in Door County to check out:

  • Jens Jensens famous curvey road
  • Anderson dock
  • Cave Point
  • Cherry blossoms in spring
  • Lavender fields on Washington Island in summer
  • Sailboats in the Sister Bay marina
  • Sunset spots: in downtown Ephraim, top of Eagle Tower in Peninsula State Park or Door Bluff Headlands County Park
  • Nothing says Door County like a lighthouse: our favorite: Sturgeon Bay Lighthouse

Here’s a unique idea for you: the ultimate vacation photo scavenger hunt designed to help spread the burden of taking photos on your Door County family vacation to everyone in your group.

A final tip: Make sure you print your photos when you get home! One of my favorite things to do is to pick my favorite 10 or so images and print them on our Fuji Film Instax printer. It connects to your phone and you can print any image on a Polaroid.

Pick your 10 favorite photos for each person on the trip and send people you vacationed with an everyday print set from Artifact Uprising. This is such a beautiful way to have a tangible print and memory of your time spent. I think it’s so important to get your memories out of the digital space, off your phone, and someplace you can enjoy them. One of my favorites is an album by Artifact Uprising called The Stories We Tell.

Step 7: Have bonfire conversations at the ready

This doesn’t have to be overly formal, but simply having an idea of some conversation starters can make all the difference when you’re sitting around a campfire! Here’s some to get you started:

  • Pick someone in the group and have everyone share their favorite memory with them.
  • Tell a story together (kids included!) everyone sharing a couple of sentences building on what came before.
  • Have everyone share which accomplishment makes you the proudest.
  • Have everyone share the scariest story they know.
  • What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?
  • What has been the happiest day of your life?
  • What are you most excited about in your life right now?
  • If your house was on fire, what 3 things would you take with you?
  • If you were in a dance contest and could only perform one move, what would it be? Now perform it.
  • What is one saying or slang word that you’re too old to understand?
  • What’s the dumbest thing someone tricked you into believing?
  • Share one bucket list item you have accomplished. Now share one you have yet to accomplish.
  • What is one day in your life you wish you could relive, just one time?
  • Play would you rather – would you rather (insert something bad) OR (insert something else bad) – why?

Tip: Copy and paste this list and put it into your notes app so you can pull it up when you need it!

Step 8: Consider coming back year after year!

Cementing traditions in your children’s memories can mean returning to the same places where fond memories happened and enjoying them over and over again! A very large percentage of our cabin guests return year after year for a Door County family vacation, and we give them priority booking so there’s no need to worry about competing for the best places to stay. Once you’re in, you’re in. Not in yet? Don’t worry, we also give priority booking to our email subscriber list before dates are released publicly. You can have second dibs on dates by joining our waitlist right here.

And finally, remember, it can often be a little moment that becomes a core memory later. A look, a smell, a song. Simply setting aside the time to just be together, and actually connect with conversation around a bonfire or the dinner table is the first step to ensuring these vacations we are curating will stay with the people we love for years to come.

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