small town feel with lots to do
By Donna Marie Pocius
When you want to experience a small town feeling and enjoy easy access to Door County’s historical and natural attractions, plan a visit to Baileys Harbor.
Situated on the Lake Michigan side of the Door Peninsula, Baileys Harbor welcomes tourists at its downtown bed and breakfasts inns and hotels, restaurants and shops. Just a few miles away are the historical Cana Island Lighthouse and Boynton Chapel. And outdoor enthusiasts find Baileys Harbor the perfect place for a biking, hiking, windsurfing and charter fishing.
“Someone once compared us to a Norman Rockwell painting. This is a village people enjoy,” said Bryan Nelson, innkeeper, Blacksmith Inn, Baileys Harbor and member of the Baileys Harbor Community Association. “They get a small town feeling here they won’t get in a lot of places. It is a real strong community. A real working town. Everyone is pretty together in this little town.”
The public marina is an example of an attraction that pulls Baileys Harbor together. Opened in the spring of 2000, the marina offers four lighted ramps, full marina service, showers and other amenities. Located on Hwy. 57, it is considered the town’s focal point, especially on the Fourth of July when bands play there and thousands gather to pay tribute to America’s independence.
“Well, for one thing, it is part of the town square. It has an observation deck—it is the heart of town, and it feels like that,” Nelson said.
Just across from the marina is the town hall at 2392 Cty. Rd. F. The building houses Baileys Harbor’s Visitor Information Center, administrative offices and the Door County Library (Baileys Harbor branch). Staffed during the summer, the visitor center is a place to pick up maps, brochures and tips on what to do in and around Baileys Harbor.
“I advise them to leave their car here and walk to the Catholic Church (St Mary of the Lake); you can take a leisurely stroll and cover all the shops and everything here in the downtown,” said Ron Holden, information center staff.
And when tourists want to venture out of downtown Baileys Harbor, Holden recommends historical sites such as the 135-year-old Cana Island Lighthouse, Boynton Chapel and the Range Lights.
The most visited site in Baileys Harbor is the Cana Island Lighthouse, an active navigational aid, located only six miles out of town. The grounds are maintained by the Door County Maritime Museum and the Lighthouse Preservation Society under a lease with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Find the lighthouse by driving north on Hwy. 57 to Cty. Rd. Q. Turn right on Q, and proceed to Cana Island Dr. Turn right, park on the mainland and walk the 500 foot rock walkway to the island.
Cana Island’s light tower and keeper’s house were constructed of Cream City brick in 1869. After storms weathered the tower to the point of being irreparable, it was encased in steel plates in 1902 with the area between the old brick tower and the plates filled with concrete. Since then, regular whitewashing gives Cana Island Lighthouse its distinctive look, according to the Maritime Museum.
“There are very few working lighthouses on the Great Lakes,” said Brain Kelsey, executive director, Door County Maritime Museum. “People know about shopping and nature, but it also is good to get a historical perspective of Door County.”
Continue a historical whirlwind tour of Baileys Harbor by heading south on Hwy. 57 until you reach Boynton Lane. Take this gravel road east through the grounds of Bjorklunden.
Deep in the woods on this 405-acre estate, where Lawrence University, Appleton, offers educational programs, stands the 15th-century Norwegian style Boynton Chapel. Tours of the chapel, led by articulate university students, run regularly from 1 p.m. through 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays mid-June through end of August. Cost is $3.
You’ll hear the story of the late Winifred and Donald Boynton, who handcrafted the chapel from 1930 through 1947 on their estate. They adorned the intimate chapel, which seats about 20, with their art—41 frescoes and ornately carved furnishings and wood trim.
“The chapel is all about love, peace and faith,” said Marge Meyers Graham of Northfield, Ill. and the Boyntons’ granddaughter.
Visitors may also appreciate history during a visit to the Range Lights structures that stand at their original locations in the Ridges Sanctuary, 8288 Cty. Rd. Q, Baileys Harbor. Built in 1869, these lights guided ships safely into the shallow waters of Baileys Harbor.
Baileys Harbor: hike it, bike it, surf it
And while visiting the Range Lights, spend time hiking around the Ridges Sanctuary, a 1,300–acre nonprofit nature preserve offering five miles of trails.
Follow hiking trails that cross the crests of old sand dunes. Between the dunes are shallow wetlands called swales.
The Ridges Development Director Linda Shealey advises visitors to keep their eyes peeled for wildflowers, especially 25 native orchids blooming at various times of the spring and summer. Also growing here are more than a dozen plants listed on the Wisconsin Threatened and Endangered Species List.
Trails are open from sunrise to sunset year-round. A donation is requested.
Baileys Harbor lakeside location also makes it a destination for charter fishing and other water sports including windsurfing. “People enjoy swimming here, and we have a lot of windsurfing here. Windsurfers say it is one of the better areas,” said Jane Pluff, who helps visitors during the fall and winter at the Baileys Harbor Town Hall office.
Bikers also find Baileys Harbor’s location a convenient base for Peninsula rides.
Bikers ride north on Hwy. 57 to Cty. Rd. Q and proceed to Woodcrest and Old Stage Rd, networking with trails throughout the County.
“Or they take Cty. Rd. F (west) over to Fish Creek and go to Peninsula State Park for a day. We really appeal to nature lovers, and a lot see us as a biking destination. They say this is the place to base biking from in Door County,” Nelson said.
Always a party
And Baileys Harbor is also the place to chill at a festival. The town’s signature event is the July 4th Celebration. Most activities take place on the town hall lawn across the street from the marina on one day only. After the parade at 10 a.m., walk through the outdoor art show, eat brats or try Mexican food benefiting the Hispanic Resource Center.
At the art show, find Peninsula artists along with people throughout the country displaying furniture, paintings, pottery, fiber art, jewelry, soap and more. Also, shops along Hwy. 57 are open, selling antiques, clothing, furniture, ice cream and moccasins.
Baileys Harbor pays tribute to America’s independence with fireworks over Lake Michigan beginning at dusk.
“July fourth is the one day of the year when we are not so quiet,” Nelson said. “Autumn Fest (held the third Saturday of September) doesn’t have the press of people July fourth has.”
Autumn Fest includes an antique car show, more arts and crafts, entertainment and food. “Cars are brought in by owners from all over and parked by the Fire Station,” Holden said. “Fall is just beautiful here.”
Baileys Harbor in a day
But if you only have a day to spend in Baileys Harbor, include these activities on your itinerary:
- Head to the Visitor Information Center, 2392 Cty. Rd. F. Pick up some brochures, maps, and then walk the shops on and along Hwy. 57--the downtown area.
- Return to your car at the center and take a drive north out of town to the Ridges Sanctuary. Hike the area and see the Range Lights buildings
- Visit nearby Cana Island Lighthouse, located on an island actually accessible by foot--just six miles out of town.
- Return to downtown for dinner in one of Baileys Harbor many fine restaurants—many overlook the lake.
- Enjoy a performance of Door Shakespeare on the grounds of Bjorklunden and stroll by the Boynton Chapel during intermission.
To learn more
For more information, call the Baileys Harbor Business Association, 920/839-2366 or visit baileysharbor.com
Donna Marie Pocius is a full-time freelance writer and a frequent contributor to DoorCountyNavigator.com
Editor’s Note: When in Baileys Harbor, check out these great places to stay, dine and have fun!
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