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Midwestern Gem: The Door County Triathlon

Door County - the area is often referred to as “the Cape Cod of the Midwest.”

— by Kevin Mackinnon

While Door County might not be a well-known tourist spot for many Canadians, the area is often referred to as “the Cape Cod of the Midwest.” It’s easy to see why the area is one of Wisconsin’s most popular destinations. The long narrow peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan is about a 90-minute drive from Green Bay and offers a huge variety of quaint accommodations and activities that are sure to keep any triathlete’s family and friends busy while they’re out training and racing.

The Door County Triathlon. Photo: Clint Thayer

The racing comes in the form of the Door County Triathlon, celebrating its 15th year in 2019. The race, which takes place on July 13 and 14, features half-Iron and sprint races, along with a kids race. The half-distance race begins with a 1.9 km swim in the clear waters of Horseshoe Bay. After that, things get a bit tougher – both the bike and run courses take in some tough climbing up Door County Bluff, a 200-foot climb. The bike takes in many of Door County’s scenic back roads and includes a jaunt through the main retail area in Sturgeon Bay. The run course continues with the picturesque tour of Door County, heading through Egg Harbor and offering yet another jaunt up to the Bluffs (getting to the top of the 200 foot climb in a half mile) before the beautiful final miles past the stacked stone fences of Horseshoe Bay Golf Course and a downhill run to the finish.

It’s an ideal setting for a triathlon and offers athletes an opportunity to return to a bit of an old-school feeling. This is a well-run independent race filled with community support and spirit.

Two days in Door County

At the end of August, I got the chance to take in a whirlwind trip to Door County, flying into Green Bay late on the Sunday night after WTS Montreal and heading back out the following Wednesday morning. While some of the activities had to be curtailed due to rainstorms, there was no shortage of things to do in the region.

The Door County Triathlon. Photo: Clint Thayer

I stayed at the Eagle Harbor Inn in a quaint, fully-equipped suite that would be a perfect spot to stay for a training or racing holiday. Day one featured a hike
at Whitefish Dunes State Park (unfortunately, without the hike up “Old Baldy,” the highest sand dune in Wisconsin) that took in some of the historic native villages dating from 100 B.C. to the late 1800s that have been found in the park.

Lunch that day offered up the first of a number of excellent dining experiences, this one at the Harbor Fish Market and Grille that specializes in New England style seafood with beautiful views of Lake Michigan. The afternoon was spent at the Door County Adventure Center, first zip lining, then kayaking and open- water swimming. That was followed by more food – this time in the form of an authentic fish boil dinner at Rowley’s Bay Restaurant. The touring day ended with a view of the sunset from Fish Creek’s Sunset Beach Park.

The Door County Triathlon. Photo: Clint Thayer

Tuesday morning started off with another sea kayak excursion, out to Horseshoe Island. There’s also a one-mile hike on the island, but I chose to kayak back to the beach and get in another swim in the warm and calm waters in Horseshoe Bay. Lunch was at a classic Door County landmark, Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, in Ephraim, equipped with jukeboxes, old-fashioned soda fountains and lots of burger and ice cream specialties.

The afternoon featured another hike, this one at Wisconsin’s only formally designated wilderness park, Newport State Park. The hike took in some of the evergreen and hardwood forests, wetlands and, of course, more of the spectacular shoreline and beach. Our rafting and boating trips were, unfortunately, called off because of the rain, but that hardly meant we weren’t kept busy – the rest of the afternoon was filled with wine and cheese tasting. We rounded out our excellent dining experience at Fred and Fuzzy’s Waterfront Grill, which offers a spectacular lakefront view and outstanding casual cuisine (a big hit on the menu is the steak and blue cheese sandwich with their signature cherry margaritas).


Water is the dominant theme for any vacation to Door County. The almost 110-km long peninsula in Lake Michigan offers 500 km of shoreline with lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. There are five state parks, 11 historic lighthouses (the area has a rich ship- ping history, as boats used to round the top of the peninsula on their way to, or from, Green Bay) and more than 50 beaches. You name it, you’ll likely have a chance to do it: sailing, golfing, fishing, cycling, swimming, camping, hiking, horseback riding, parasailing, sea kayaking (the county has hosted the world sea kayaking championships numerous times) and diving (both snorkelling and scuba) are all popular activities.

The Door County Triathlon

For those not so athletically inclined, there are still more than a few things to do in the area. The county’s quaint villages are filled with stores that sell the wares of the many painters and potters who live in the area – there

are almost 100 galleries and museums. There are a number of spectacular cheese shops (and, yes, they could do their own version of a Monty Python skit with all the varieties) and wine-tasting at a few of the well-stocked wine stores is a popular stop. Craft beer fans will find lots of excellent pubs and breweries to check out, too. July is cherry-picking time in Door County, another popular activity around race time.

A must-do activity is the traditional Door County Fish Boil. It’s a Scandinavian tradition maintained from the days when the region was renowned for lumbering and fishing rather than tourism. The mix of locally caught whitefish, steaks, onions and potatoes are all cooked in a large kettle over an open wood fire. It all ends with a huge “boil over” that sends smoke and flames high above the spectators, letting everyone know that its time to eat.