Boating Beautiful Green Bay and Door County, Wisconsin
By: Richard Crowder
The City of Green Bay, Wisconsin, located 200 miles north of Chicago, sits at the very bottom of the body of water also known as Green Bay. Some 120 miles long and an average of 15 to 20 miles wide, it sits on the northwest corner of Lake Michigan and is to that lake what Georgian Bay is to Lake Huron.
The Bruce Peninsula, an extension of the Niagara Escarpment some 70 miles long into Lake Huron creates Georgian Bay to its east. Except for many island outcroppings, the escarpment somewhat disappears under water and re-emerges as the 75 mile Door Peninsula in Lake Michigan creating Green Bay on its west side.
The Bruce Peninsula and the Door Peninsula are very much the same in geology and geography, and to a certain extent weather, but any similarities pretty well end there. The Bruce Peninsula is relatively undeveloped whereas the Door Peninsula, comprising Door County, is a going concern of fruit orchards, vineyards, wineries, and many towns and villages catering to boating. Door County is often referred to as “The Cape Cod of the Midwest” and the quaint communities, homes, and enterprises reflect that image. When you dock at one of the many towns and marinas along the shoreline and experience the hospitality and small town flavour, you will agree.
Boating on Green Bay is somewhat similar to Georgian Bay boating in that there are islands and shoals, although not a fraction as many as found on Georgian Bay. Nonetheless, ensure you have an updated chart and GPS navigation screen constantly at the ready. The charts you will want are NOAA 14910. You can bring your own boat by water or by land, and you can find launch ramps, marinas, boat rentals, and outfitters every few miles along both shorelines.
The city of Green Bay, population just under 110,000, is located on the Fox River at the head (at the bottom when looking at it on a chart) of Green Bay and is internationally known as home to the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers. This is the only NFL team owned by its fans and the smallest city to host an NFL team. The city is also known for its National Railroad Museum and as the Toilet Paper Capital of the World! The paper industry has been a major employer for decades and its Northern Paper Company offered the first splinter-free toilet paper in the early 1930’s.
The Fox River virtually splits the city in half, and is wide and navigable. It also hosts an international commercial shipping port. There are 14 port businesses located along three miles of the Fox River. These businesses move more than two million tons of cargo on more than 200 ships each year. Downtown Green Bay has a bustling waterfront featuring docking, restaurants, bistros, theatre, shopping, and entertainment all within easy walking distance.
This is perhaps a bit off topic, but if you have the time and inclination, you can follow the Fox River south for the thirty-nine miles through seventeen hand-operated locks which will raise you up 150 feet and into Lake Winnebago. This relatively shallow lake is great for fishing and every possible type of boating, is about thirty miles long and host to many towns, accommodating waterfronts, and tourism establishments dedicated to boating. It is famous for the city of Oshkosh midway along its western shore which is home to Oshkosh B’Gosh, manufacturer of clothing since 1895, and also to AirVenture Oshkosh, the world’s largest air show. Fond du Lac at the bottom of Lake Winnebago is the global headquarters of Mercury Marine, one of the largest employers in Wisconsin.
But back to the City of Green Bay let’s explore the eastern shore of Green Bay, which is the western shoreline of Door County. Unless you are familiar with the bottom end of the bay, stay within the commercial shipping channel for at least the first five of its ten mile length north out of Green Bay as there are shoals and shallow spots, not all well marked. Then head to starboard and take in the quaint but rocky and rugged shoreline of the county while keeping a sharp eye on your navigation chart.
Along the way you will find many a welcoming town or settlement and almost half way up the peninsula, the sheltering anchorages of Little Sturgeon Bay and Sand Bay followed by the inlet to the hospitable boating town of Sturgeon Bay, with its ship canal leading across the peninsula to Lake Michigan. Sturgeon Bay, population just under 10,000, is the Door County seat, has a large marina and yacht club, and is the embodiment of the fun and entertainment available to boaters exploring the area.
Further north along the coast you will come upon Egg Harbor, Fish Creek Harbor, Peninsula State Park, Eagle Harbor, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay, and just beyond Deathdoor Bluff is Hedgehog Harbor and finally Northport at the tip of the peninsula. All of these bays and harbors offer various forms of boating amenities and a range of dining choices. Off Northport is Porte des Morts (Death’s Door) Passage, beyond which are the islands of Plum and Detroit and the large Washington Island with its sheltered harbour. Far beyond this of course is the north end of Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.
Before you leave Door County you must partake in a fish boil. Fish boiling was brought to the peninsula in the late 1800’s by Scandinavian immigrants as an economical way of feeding large groups of workers. Now it has become synonymous with Door County and has become one of the most alluring tourist attractions for over seventy years. Locally caught whitefish is brought to the boil in a large metal kettle outdoors over an open fire, but a specific regimen must be followed.
To salted boiling water potatoes and onions are added. Once cooked, fresh whitefish is added and when just about ready, kerosene is thrown on the fire causing a towering inferno. Once settled down, the “boil” is served with fresh local bread, melted butter, lemon wedges, coleslaw or salad, and finished off with a slice of fresh Door County cherry pie. Restaurants throughout the county and local community groups ensure this is a memorable Door County one-of-a-kind experience.
Starting back again at the city of Green Bay, the western shore of the bay is more commercially developed, starting with Pensaukee Harbor and followed by the city of Oconto with its protected harbour and the home of Cruisers Yachts for many decades. A few miles north is Peshtigo Harbor State Wildlife Area, Forest, and River Delta Marshes State Natural Area. Be cautious of water levels as about four miles offshore is Peshtigo Reef with its lighthouse.
Next are the twin cities of Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee, Michigan, collectively with a population of almost 20,000 and separated by the Menominee River. The protected harbour hosts marinas, yacht club, restaurants, accommodation, shopping, theatre, and entertainment to delight every taste.
Explore the beautiful shoreline as far north as you like, although when you reach the community of Cedar River opposite Washington Island off the northern tip of Door County, you have pretty much come to the end of what is recognized as Green Bay and are now in northern Lake Michigan. Of course you can also explore the eastern side of Door County and Lake Michigan shoreline all the way south to Chicago.
There is just so much to see and to enjoy in Green Bay you can spend an entire boating season trying to take it in. No matter what your boating priorities and choices, they can be fulfilled in the beautiful and varied environs of Green Bay. Just remember to rigorously observe your navigation charts and keep a sharp eye as weather on the bay can be very rough with strong north-south winds. The same applies of course to Lake Michigan and to an even greater degree. Whether you are from the Midwest or a Canadian adventure boater, a trip to Packer country is definitely worth the drive.
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