Last year certainly came with its challenges to local economies as-well-as our travel plans. We hope 2021 is different. And if it is, we know just place to recoup once things get back to normal.
Washington Island in Door County is the perfect destination.
Getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life is exactly what Washington Island in Wisconsin provides. Whether you want to avoid the crowded campgrounds of Door County’s mainland or just experience a Washington Island Ferry ride, this island is the perfect destination. Located just off the point of Wisconsin’s thumb, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful Lake Michigan.
Washington Island was the first place we visited in Door County and we truly recommend experiencing it for yourself!
This Vacation Victory guide highlights everything you need to know and places you have to see this year on the largest of Door County’s 35 islands.
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Planning Your Trip to Washington Island
The Best Time to Visit
Summer is a great time to visit Washington Island! Particularly, aim for the third week in July to get the best odds of seeing the lavender fields in bloom.
While the island is fairly quiet year-around, if you really need to get away from people, fall is also a great option.
Check out our events list at the end of this guide to get information on Fall Fun Fest and the Lavender Festival.
How Long to Stay?
Some people will only recommend Wisconsin’s Washington Island as a day trip. However, from our experience, a weekend trip to the island provides the optimal amount of time for both fun and relaxation.
Getting to the Island by Ferry
Taking your car on the Washington Island ferry is really the best option. Make sure to get there ahead of your ferry’s scheduled departure to not only allow time for loading but also to make sure you make the cut. Tickets are first-come-first-serve and there can be lines of cars waiting for the next boat. You won’t want to get left behind. The ferry departs from Northport Pier. To get there, just follow the iconic winding Highway 42 until you reach its end. Next, you’ll board the ship and enjoy a beautiful five-mile, 30-minute ride to the other side. Back in the day, this stretch of water was named Death’s Door and gave Door County its name. For the avid scuba divers, old wrecked ships can be found below the surface.
Do I Need to Bring My Car on the Ferry?
It is certainly possible to leave the car behind and parking is available on the mainland at Northport Pier. However, the island is larger than you might think. We recommend renting bicycles, a UTV or even mopeds on the island if you do plan to walk onto the ferry.
Washington Island Ferry Schedule and Cost
Prices are reasonable but checking the Washington Island Ferry schedule ahead of time is absolutely necessary.
First and foremost, the rates are per person and extra fees are charged for cars, bikes, motorcycles. Children receive a discounted rate and pets are free! However, if you plan to bring a boat or RV keep in mind the additional charges for oversized vehicles.
Because the schedule and prices vary, we are going to point you to the Washington Island Ferry Schedule for the most current information.
Are there two ferries to the Island?
Yes, but one is a passenger-only option that departs from Gills Rock and does not take vehicles. We recommend the Washington Island Ferry Line mentioned above.
Getting Around Washington Island
Certainly, bringing your car to the island is a smart option. With 100 miles of paved roads and on-island gas stations, you definitely won’t regret paying the extra ferry free for loading up the old automobile. This will cost you extra on the Washington Island Ferry Line but we think it’s worth it.
By Bike or Moped
If you want to save a little money and get one heck of an experience, bring your bicycle or moped to the island! Don’t have one? Don’t worry! You can rent on-island mopeds at Annie’s and bikes at Island Rides. If you are bringing your own, the Washington Island Ferry Line will still charge a fee but its less than the vehicle charge.
By Guided Tour
Admittedly, the tour option will limit your island experience. But, for those planning day trips on foot, it’s the perfect option. To start, the adventurous type should try the Half-Day Segway Tour including ferry passage and lunch. Otherwise, the Cherry Train Tour provides a two-hour ride with three stops around the island. Just don’t be surprised when its a truck pulling your cart and not an actual train.
A Map of Washington Island
Because of the spotty cell service, we recommend bringing a map. While you can always download an offline map on your phone, we like to travel with a physical map. Check out this National Geographic Door Peninsula Map on Amazon.
What is the Typical Washington Island Weather?
- Summer weather averages highs around 70 °F and lows around 50 °F
- Fall and Spring weather averages highs around 50 °F and lows around 35 °F
- Winter weather averages highs around 30 °F and lows around 16 °F
- The island weather averages about 8 days of rain each month.
Things to Do on Washington Island
Wondering what to do on Death’s Door island? The attractions listed below are a great way to enjoy your time.
Join the Bitters Club
The first thing to do on Washington Island is head to Nelsen’s Hall Pub and get a shot of Angostura bitters. Okay, maybe this doesn’t have to be the first thing to do, but it should certainly be on the list! Start by telling the bartender that you’d like to join the bitters club and they’ll explain the rest.
Washington Island Lavender Farms
This one is for the flower lovers or those who enjoy anything lavender. Depending on the year, the Washington Island lavender season is between mid-June and the end of August. There are two farms on the island are only a half-mile apart. We recommend Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm which hosts the annual All Things Lavender Festival and is open May through October. Right down the road are Island Lavender and the Historic Island Dairy, a popular island wedding venue.
When does the Lavender Bloom on Washington Island?
- The season begins around mid-June.
- The season typically ends sometime in August.
Completed in 1995, the Stavkirke church is inspired by 12th-century Norwegian architecture. This popular attraction is home to island weddings and baptisms but is also open to the public. After you admire the architecture, take a short journey along the church’s prayer path.
Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island
No sand in your pants at schoolhouse beach! Over the course of time, polished stones have washed up and now line this island shoreline. We biked here and enjoyed a long relaxing break with a view. Just behind the beach are picnic tables scattered through the woods. Undoubtedly, visiting Schoolhouse is a unique beach experience.
Eat a Lawyer at the KK Fiske Fish Boil
Don’t worry, they aren’t serving up the local attorney. The lawyer, also-known-as burbot, is the name of a fish that when cooked correctly, tastes a little like lobster. We recommend calling KK Fiske to reserve a spot and make sure they have enough fish. This will be one of the first places you’ll see after exiting the Washington Island ferry.
Rent a Moped
According to Google Maps, it would take an hour and a half to walk from the ferry to Schoolhouse Beach. Unlike Fish Creek, Door County’s island is not a walkable destination. With most of the sites spread out, mopeds from Annie’s are a great way to traverse the island. Therefore, if the feeling is right, get a moped like Macklemore and head downtown.
Take a Half-Day Segway Tour
As we mentioned above, if you don’t want to take a car on the Washington Island ferry, a segway tour is a great alternative. Head over to Segway the Door Tours to find out more. This tour actually meets on the mainland at Northport Pier before you get to Washington Island. Take a half-day tour of the island and be back to the mainland before supper.
Outdoor Adventures on Washington Island, WI
Like we mentioned before, this island was our first Door County destination. Naturally, we spent it at a Washington Island campground. It’s actually a funny story where we just barely missed out on the last tent-site at Peninsula State Park. But it was all for the better. That’s because Washington Island campgrounds provide a secluded and quiet location for those wanting to stay in the great outdoors. The place we stayed was called Washington Island Campground and it was a good one. But don’t take our word for it, see for yourself with their useful virtual tour.
Take a Bike
If you have a bicycle or are willing to rent one, it can be a good way to get around the island. Keep in mind that it still takes about an hour to 45-minutes to get from one end of the island to the other. This is our favorite mode of transportation and because our truck becomes our tent, we like to use our bikes to explore the places we visit. Washington Island is very bike-friendly because the traffic is slim. However, the roads are narrow, so you need to be diligent and use proper bike-safety. Alli actually road on a repaired flat tire for the entire route after being patched by an extremely friendly islander and fellow biker. This goes to show how friendly the locals are and is another reason this island is so great!
Mountain Park Lookout Tower
While getting to Mountain Park Lookout Tower is quick, the steep 186 steps are not. However, these breathtaking sky-high views are well worth the trip to Washington Island, WI. According to the Peninsula Pulse, the township’s public works department keeps good care of the structure.
Hike Rock Island State Park
While Rock Island State Park is technically a completely different island, we felt it appropriate to include here as its only accessible by a second ferry ride. Camping on Rock Island is absolutely on our bucket list and we hear the hiking is great.
Take a Kayaking Adventure
If kayaking is your sport and you’re too cool for a ferry ride, then you’ve got to check out Ken Braband’s adventure from the mainland, around the big island, to Rock Island and back again. One day I’d love to attempt this scenic journey. But if that seems a little extreme, and we wouldn’t blame you, then check out Island Adventure Company’s kayak tours for a guided experience.
We finally broke down and bought inflatable stand-up paddleboards (iSUPs) to take with us on our outdoor excursions. We love them! If you already have your own then definitely bring it along! Otherwise, the Island Adventure Company mentioned in the kayaking section above will rent one to you. They even deliver! So pick your favorite beach, grab a board, and enjoy a day on the water.
Washington Island Restaurants
Including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, here are our top picks for Washington Island restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Make sure to check the websites as some locations have seasonal hours.
Where to Eat?
Dinner at Hotel Washington
Looking for a quality Washington Island restaurant with local ingredients? Look no further than Hotel Washington. The restaurant offers a rotating menu and is open five days a week. This location is also on our list of Washington Island hotels below.
Restaurant Location: Southern End
Sailor’s Pub for Sunset
Sailor’s Pub is a perfect Washington Island restaurant for romantic sunset dinners. Notably, the patio offers a unique dining experience. However, keep in mind that they are open seasonally and its best to call ahead to check availability.
Restaurant Location: Southern Washington Island
Breakfast at Findlay’s
Don’t be mistaken, Findlay’s Holiday Inn Restaurant on Washington Island is not part of the large hotel chain. However, this may be a good thing because their hearty breakfast is unbeatable!
Restaurant Location: Southern End
Breakfast at Island Cafe & Bread Co.
Just off the Main Road, Island Cafe & Bread Company is another great Washington Island restaurant for breakfast. The cafe is a newer establishment with a clean and cozy environment.
Restaurant Location: Main Road, Central Island
Lunch at Jackson Harbor Soup
We can attest that the soups and sandwiches at Jackson Harbor Soup are a great option for lunch. In particular, if you’re planning to head to Rock Island, this Washington Island restaurant is a great option to send you off before your ferry. Sit on the deck and enjoy the view!
Restaurant Location: Northern End
Burgers at the Albatross Drive-In Diner
Check the Washington Island ferry schedule and make sure you allow time for Albatross Drive-In Diner before your departure. This burger joint is not open year-round so check their website for the most current information. In 2002 the original building actually burned down in a fire and was reconstructed due to its popularity. The fresh new look makes for a great summertime burger atmosphere.
Restaurant Location: Southern End, Near the Ferry Dock
Last but certainly not least, the Fiddler’s Green provides a great cuisine that any foodie would enjoy. Take time to enjoy the unique interior including a canoe-shaped bar!
Restaurant Location: Northern End, Near Schoolhouse Beach
Where to Get Drinks?
Coffee at Red Cup Coffeehouse
Milwaukee locals will recognize the Anodyne Coffee name and the Red Cup Coffeehouse serves their roasts. Stop in for coffee and a bagel.
Location: Southern End
Join the Bitters Club at Nelsen’s Hall Pub
Nelsen’s Hall offers a wide range of drinks and food, but your trip to Washington Island wouldn’t be complete without becoming an official member of the bitters club. To get initiated you have to shoot a single shot of Angostura bitters. Just tell the bartender you’d like to join the Bitters Club, they’ll know what you mean.
Location: Main Road, Central
The Ship’s Wheel
To get a tiki island feel, head over to the Ship’s Wheel for a drink. Located right on Detroit Harbor, this bar and restaurant is a great place to sit back, relax, and watch some boats.
Location: Northern End
Hotels in Washington Island, Wisconsin
You might think that finding hotels in Washington Island might be difficult. Yet you would be surprised by the many great options for island lodging. To start, we noticed some highly rated Airbnbs on Washington Island and most had Superhosts. However, if that’s not for you then check out our list of Door County’s Washington Island hotels.
We’ve already mentioned Hotel Washington in the Washington Island Restaurants section but as you may have guessed, they’re a hotel as well. With eight rooms available, you should definitely consider a stay at this Washington Island lodging option.
Hotel Location: Southern End
Jackson Harbor Inn
In 2006 new owners purchased Jackson Harbor Inn and began some extraordinary renovations. The accommodations are walking distance from the Rock Island ferry dock which makes a day hike on the island extremely convenient.
Hotel Location: Northern End
Sunset Resort is certainly not a bad option when it comes to Washington Island hotels. The grounds have been in the family for six generations so you can bet they take good care of their hotel. To top it off, this resort is set on a beachside property!
Hotel Location: Southern End
Washington Island Ferry Webcams
Whether you’re camping, hiking, or just want to check your island weather for the ferry ride, take a look at these Washington Island Webcams! The Washington Island Ferry Line provides three useful webcams of the two docks on either side of its voyage. Check out the live feeds here.
Washington Island Events
Washington Island Lavender Festival – July
Location: Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm
Website: All Things Lavender Festival
Washington Island Music Festival – July/August
Location: Trueblood Performing Arts Center
Website: Washington Island Music Festival
Death’s Door BBQ – August
Location: Washington Island Airport
Website: Death’s Door BBQ
Fall Fun Fest and Cider Pressing Party – October
Location: Washington Island Farm Museum