Escape to Door County

Door County is the summer playground of choice for many Chicagoans. But there are almost as many reasons to visit in January as in July-without the glut of tourists competing for dinner reservations, clogging the roads and driving up prices.

The peninsula is 70 miles long and less than 10 miles wide, but it’s home to five state parks and more than a dozen county parks where locals and visitors alike can snowshoe, cross-country ski, go snow tubing, take a sleigh ride or cut into the ice to catch a fish.

The winter I visited as a guest of the Door County Visitor Bureau, we arrived as the temperatures plunged into the single digits and nearly a foot of snow fell overnight. We donned every piece of outerwear we packed-coats, snowpants, mittens, hats and scarves-and headed to Nor Door Sports& Cyclery to rent our snowshoes so we could be the first people to walk through Peninsula State Park. We spent more than hour blazing a trail through the serene scene, marveling at the way the sun glistened off the snow-covered tree limbs and the way the blanket of snow deadened nearly all sound-a rare treat for city dwellers.

All that exercise is sure to work up an appetite, which means it’s time to head to a classic Door County fish boil. Created years ago as a way to feed lots of people fast, a fish boil is made outside in pots over a wood fire. Watching the “boil over” is a critical part of the experience and a great way to stay warm on a frigid Wisconsin night. We dined at the picturesque White Gull Inn, the only Door County resort that offers a fish boil all year ’round. (A word of warning: The fish come with the bones intact, the only way to keep them from turning to mush during the boil. The wait staff at White Gull Inn helped debone the fish, but there still are plenty of small, sharp bones left over, which makes the going slow and a little scary, especially if you’re feeding the fish to kids.)

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a friend with a Door County cabin, you’ll need a place to stay. Few of the county’s charming bed and breakfasts are kid-friendly, so save them for a romantic getaway. When you’re visiting with kids, opt to stay at one of the larger resort properties like the Landmark Resort. It’s an all-condo property, which means it has the amenities families need most: separate bedrooms (with a door that locks for parental vacation privacy), more than one television, a full kitchen and a swimming pool. It has 294 rooms and off-season weekend rates start at $101 a night (vs. $169 during the high season), breakfast included.

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