TRAVEL: Paddle boarding in Wisconsin?

With water lapping at my feet and stretching as far as the eye could see, I dug my toes into the sand and took a moment to just be…far away from my ever-growing to-do list, my terrible alter ego — last name Rage, first name Road — and my sweet husband’s insistence on hanging toilet paper under instead of over (the horror!).

Words by Nicole Price>>Photography by Jon Jarosh // Door County Visitors Bureau

The unexpected tranquility of a middle America beachfront — Door County, Wis., to be exact — was exactly what I didn’t know I needed.

Agreeing to write a travel feature about this offbeat locale situated along 300 miles of Lake Michigan coastline was a no-brainer. Though metro Atlanta’s proximity to some of the country’s prime travel destinations is unrivaled, I’m always up for something a little different and between adventure rafting, stand-up paddle boarding, zip lining and a few squeaky cheese curds, that’s exactly what I got.

WHAT TO DO>>What better way to begin my trip than on a high-speed raft (www.doorcountyadventurerafting.com) zipping along Wisconsin’s coastline to the tune of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train?” Cruising the shores of Peninsula State Park and weaving through the Strawberry Islands, our knowledgeable guide showed us everything from active lighthouses and the remnants of sunken ships – the irony was not missed – to the striking Eagle Cave, a haunting, millions-of-years old limestone structure that looks like it belongs in a “Game of Thrones” episode (seriously, this place should be on the producers’ list of places to film). With the water as a backdrop, history and wildlife collide to create an enjoyable experience for both nature lovers and city dwellers.

The next day, I visited Whitefish Dunes State Park (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/whitefish/), home to a picturesque beach and Old Baldy, the highest sand dune in Wisconsin at 93 feet above lake level. The park has 14.5 miles of walking trails, self-guided or led by a naturalist detailing the park’s unique flora and fauna.

After hiking, I made my way to Door County Adventure Center (www.dcadventurecenter.com) on Rowley’s Bay for more thrills, this time with a lot less between me and the water. As the saying goes, “When in Wisconsin, do as the Wisconsinites do and go stand-up paddle boarding,” or something like that. So after a zip lining warm up, I did just that. I resembled a foal’s first-time vertical aspirations, though not nearly as cute, but once I found balance, it was on. Stand-up paddle boarding is multitasking at its best. You exercise while you explore, then, if you’re like me, convince yourself you deserve dessert for all your hard work. 

WHERE TO EAT>>I happen to think Olive Garden’s salad and breadsticks are to die for, but there is something to be said for the authenticity, not to mention familiarity, that runneth over at local joints, and Door County is full of them.

One morning, I walked a short distance from my beautifully appointed cottage (more on that later) to Good Eggs (www.goodeggsdoorcounty.com), whose simple menu — a mash up of breakfast basics stuffed into a tortilla for a filling “omelet wrap” — makes ordering easy. Repurposed surf boards serve as tables and cement this “breakfast cabana’s” laidback vibe while providing the perfect perch to enjoy the view of Eagle Harbor. It was necessary fuel for the day’s hike to Old Baldy.

Later, I downed a couple (okay, four) slices at Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille (www.wildtomatopizza.com) in Fish Creek for replenishment. I’m pretty humdrum when it comes to pizza; slap a slice of pepperoni on my plate and I’m happy. But oh, how a little aioli, smoked pork or garlic cream cheese can elevate this non-American staple.

I ordered a slice of the D-Lux supreme pizza as backup, but also tried The Fun Guy (get it?), topped with five types of sautéed mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onions and the aforementioned garlic cream cheese; the Smoked Pork BBQ, laden with delicious chunks of smoked pork, green peppers, pineapple and cilantro on a barbecue sauce base; and the Donation Creation, which changes monthly but during my visit featured aioli, something I’d never dreamed of drizzling on pizza. My taste buds thanked me for walking on the wild side.

My trip down foodie lane wouldn’t have been complete without a little sweet treat or three. Normally, I wouldn’t pair the words good and granola, not even for the sake of alliteration, for which I have an unending (annoying, if you ask my editor) love.

But when you add Door County Montmorency cherries in a stroke of genius, as does Scaturo’s Baking Company and Café (www.scaturos.com), you indeed get a cherry granola cookie that is beyond good. I nibbled on these late at night, early in the morning, between meals, on the plane…you get the picture. They would’ve been a great “I brought you something back!” gift for my friends and family if I hadn’t eaten them all.

WHEN TO GO>>I think you’ll get the most recreational bang for your buck during the summer when Lake Michigan isn’t frozen, unless you’re into winter sports, which is another story for another day this Georgia girl (probably) won’t be writing. Find out more at www.doorcounty.com.

WHERE TO STAY>>Door County has a variety of lodging options, from motels and full-service resorts with waterfront suites to the classic bed and breakfast. I chose historic Eagle Harbor Inn (www.eagleharborinn.com), a collection of cottages with whirlpool suites anchored by a charming bed and breakfast at the property’s center. Operating almost a century, the site has undergone many transformations, resulting in the current cottage/bed and breakfast hybrid that delivers the best of both worlds. The gratifying solitude of my one-bedroom whirlpool suite with kitchen and fireplace was heaven-sent after long days of recreational activity.

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