Wisconsin’s Washington Island Makes City Life A Distant Memory

05.09.19 4 months ago

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“Did you know Harry Houdini is from Appleton, Wisconsin?” This is a sentence I’ve said, conservatively, seven hundred times.

He is, for the record. Though I can spout endless Wisconsin factoids like this, back when I was studying at Harry Houdini Elementary, I would have told you that the entire state was lame. By high school, I couldn’t wait to get out. This is the curse of teenage-hood — an inability to see or appreciate the beauty in your own surroundings, lest you lose the courage to strike out on your own.

I left for college and haven’t lived in the state since. But absence and time have made my heart grow fonder. I often think back on days spent laying on an inner tube, floating down the Wolf River with my friends, the sun warming our backs. Or heading into the woods up north, windows down on someone’s Dad’s car and a terribly cool mix CD blasting. Most of all, I think of driving through Door County — an almost too picturesque peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan, where the fall foliage and quaint galleries and restaurants can rival any New England town — and taking the ferry to a friend’s cabin on Washington Island, laughing as the wind blows my untameable curls into my face.

Washington Island, open and accessible year round (a remarkable statement if you know anything about winters in Wisconsin), is an almost ethereal wonder — with clear teal water, thick green forest, jagged cliffs, and endless paths to ride bikes or wander. It’s only about three and a half hours from Milwaukee to reach Northport Pier, where you catch the ferry to the island, but as you cross the aptly named Death’s Door strait you feel like you’re crossing out of this world and being ferried into another plane of existence entirely. A realm where the leaves are greener, the time moves slower, and there’s nowhere to be and nothing to do except to savor the moment.

If you want to truly disconnect from city life, head to where the highway literally ends and then go further. Take the ferry past the ends of the earth to this five-by-six-mile island off the coast of mainland Wisconsin.

To Get There:

From Milwaukee, take I-43 to Greenbay. Once there, you’ll take WI-57 N to WI-42 until it ends at Northport Pier in Ellison Bay. On the way, stop for breakfast at Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay (or, if you get a late start, have lunch and try the Swedish meatballs). After eating, be sure to check out the restaurant’s main attraction — a mountain goat graze on the real grass roof. Once at the pier, you can either take your car to the island or ditch it. I recommend ditching it and taking a bike, which is a much cooler way to see the island (it’s truly set up for biking, they boast 100 miles of paved road). An adult ticket on the ferry is $13.50 with an extra $4 per bicycle.

Don’t want to lug your bike on the ferry? You can rent one when you arrive at Island Rides Bicycle Rentals for $25 a day. They’ll meet you at the ferry with your bikes for no additional charge.

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