On Your Plate: Ultimate Picknicking

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,

A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse —  and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness —

And Wilderness is Paradise now.

-from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

With miles of beaches and coastline, sixteen county parks, and five state parks, Door County may be the ultimate destination for picnicking. With plenty of prime spots available, and lots of great food-to-go, preparing the ultimate Door County picnic, simple or gourmet, is as easy as cherry pie.

First, there is the issue of food: what to bring and where to get it. What to bring is, of course, very much dependent on your own personal tastes (Omar Khayyam’s picnic fare might be a little Spartan for some). There are plenty of fine food shops in Door County that will outfit your picnic basket in style.

For the most authentic taste of Door County, your first stop has to be Teske’s Berry Best Foods and Fish. For three generations, the Teske family has been tending to the land and waters of the northern peninsula. Their shop north of Ellison Bay offers the finest tastes of the county, including their famous fresh and smoked fish and homemade breads and baked goods. Their goat cheese spread with sun-dried tomatoes and pesto is absolute heaven.

For truly gourmet picnic fare, your best bet in northern Door County is the Top Shelf Café and Gourmet in the Country Walk Shops of Sister Bay. In what until very recently was Manz?s Fine Foods, new owner Anne Alberts presents the hand-selected choices of a true epicure. Their deli has rich pates, cheeses from around the world and a fine selection of wine, beer and spirits.

For the more ambitious picnickers who want to do it themselves, the best source for groceries remains the Main Street Market in Egg Harbor. This full service grocery store has everything you need to outfit yourself with the finest in picnic fare, from fruits and vegetables to a fresh assortment of meats, fish, and baked goods.

For those who are looking for a simple and easy picnic, nothing can beat the deli service at the Fish Creek Market. A custom made sandwich, complete with chips, fruit and a cookie, is just a few moments away. For those with even less patience, they have fresh sandwiches pre-made and ready for the taking.

There are many other options for a quick and easy picnic meal. Julie?s Café, right at the entrance to Peninsula State Park in downtown Fish Creek, is always ready to pack a box lunch for you. Jacksonport Bakery and the Blue Horse Bistro in Fish Creek both have a wide variety of quick and easy fine foods available for your immediate picnic needs. Plus, they are both conveniently located near some prime picnic spots.

Now that you’ve picked out your foods of choice, the next question is where to take them? For starters, Door County has five of Wisconsin’s most unique state parks. Peninsula State Park, easily the most popular (and, hence, the most crowded) of the five, is only one of the many natural destinations for picnicking in the wilderness of Door County. In Peninsula State Park the picnic areas around Nicolet Bay often get jammed on summer weekends, but the surrounding scenery is worth fighting the crowds.

Newport State Park, northeast of Ellison Bay, is Wisconsin’s only “Wilderness Park.” Newport has 30 miles of hiking trails, 12 miles of off-road bicycle trails and 16 backpack campsites along the shore. Somewhere along the 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, including 3 miles of sand beaches, is your perfect beach blanket picnic spot.

Potawatomi State Park, south of Sturgeon Bay, offers gently rolling terrain bordered by steep slopes and limestone cliffs along the Green Bay shoreline. Potawatomi features a 75-foot observation tower with spectacular views of water and woods, along with boating, fishing, hiking and on- and off- road bicycling.

For the real adventurous picnickers, there’s always a trip to Rock Island State Park, at the very tip of the Door County peninsula. Adventurous and patient, that is, as a trip to Rock Island requires two ferry rides. The wait, as they say, though, is worth it. Rock Island offers visitors a beautiful walking tour through its 10 miles of hiking trails. Several picnic areas, a half-mile of sandy shoreline, the area’s first lighthouse (still in use) and several other historic buildings, are all part of the Rock Island experience.

A unique and less frequently visited spot, Ahnapee State Trail stretches between Sturgeon Bay, Algoma and Casco along a former railroad grade. The limestone path winds its way through farmland and cedar swamp. The 30-mile trail, with its crushed stone surface, is perfect for mountain biking and hiking. It runs through open spaces, woods and small communities and follows the Ahnapee River for about a third of its course. There are an abundance of picnicking opportunities anywhere along the trail.

Among the 16 county parks, several have picnic facilities available and make for great picnic destinations, perhaps a little quieter than the State parks. Baileys Harbor Ridge, near the Ridges Sanctuary, has 400 feet of sand beach and great swimming in Lake Michigan (make sure you wait an hour after you eat!).

Ellison Bluff Park offers perhaps the most breathtaking view in the county. A wooden observation deck leads to the edge of the sheer, 100-foot limestone bluffs. The shaded picnic area, coupled with the cool breezes from the water, makes this a beautiful picnic site.

Located within Whitefish Dunes State Park, Cave Point County Park features unusual rock formations and limestone caves. The 19-acre park also features a tranquil half-mile hiking trail and is a haven for a wide variety of birds. The picnic scene is beautiful, with age-old rock formations, pine trees, and the sound of the Lake Michigan waves.

The Fish Creek Beach, although small, is a wonderful picnic spot. You can people-watch as the shoppers stroll Highway 42 in search of the perfect souvenir, then turn around and face the glorious blue water of the bay, with dozens of sailboats bobbing at their moorings.

For something a little off the beaten track, try Frank E. Murphy Park, just south of Egg Harbor on County Highway B. There’s a 1,600 foot sand beach, boat launching facilities, volleyball court and a playground area for the kids.

For an evening that combines the joys of picnicking with the cultural stimulation of the Bard, consider Baileys Harbor’s own Door Shakespeare. This summer, the professional theater group is expanding its season, taking on two of Shakespeare’s best-known plays. The troupe will alternate between Romeo & Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing in their charming Bjorklunden garden setting. Picnickers are encouraged to bring their picnic right into the garden or you can picnic on the shore overlooking Lake Michigan.

Newport Beach.

Another cultural picnic destination is the gazebo at the Peninsula Art School in Fish Creek. Whether attending a class at the School or not, anyone is welcome to bring lunch into the beautifully maintained grounds of the school during the day. Make sure you save some time for wandering the landmark Guenzel Gallery, viewing the local, regional and national artists exhibiting their work.

We’ll end just as we began, with an essential part of a successful picnic, at least according to Khayyam: wine. 2,500 miles northeast of California’s Napa Valley, at the intersection of County Highways A and E, you’ll find Door County’s own Stone’s Throw Winery. Their tasting room is the perfect place to sample wines made from California and Door County grapes in the traditional one barrel at a time way. Their retail store also features a small selection of imported cheese. You can stay on the grounds for an impromptu picnic and play bocce ball on their courts, or buy your favorite bottle to go to complete your picnic basket.

Door County has plenty of ways and plenty of places to picnic in style. The beauty of the peninsula will provide all the wilderness you require. All you’ll need to supply is a loaf of bread and a book of verses.

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