When I was a kid my mom took me to a place called Washington Island. You drive to the top of the Door County peninsula, get on a ferry and go to the island. My mom and I took our car there and spent no more than three hours enjoying the "island's amenities." We left highly disappointed because, (not only were there no amenities but) it was built up to be a much more happening place than what it was. Nonetheless, I gave it another shot 10 years later and I discovered how to take on Washington Island the right way.
Tip One: Take your bike, not a car.
Washington Island is five miles long by six miles wide and it's completely bike friendly; you can bike the entire thing in under five hours. We took our bikes, a backpack, and a bag lunch on the ferry and rode about 20 miles on the island's bike routes. Everything that the tourists are encouraged to see is on this bike path. It's a great workout with minimal hills and you get to enjoy the island's uninhabited space and witness the quiet atmosphere the entire trip.
Tip Two: Visit the two lavender farms on the island.
Even if you're not obsessed with lavender visiting these farms was something I could only do on this island. There are vast fields of purple lavender plants sprouting up for miles in each direction. Each shop sells lavender based goods including ice cream, lotions, perfume, tea and much more. The shops are definitely geared towards their feminine customers, but the beautiful lavender fields are designed for people of all ages and interests. Lines of plants with Norwegian style cabins and white benches are placed in the fields for people to go sit and enjoy the lovely aroma and view.
Tip Three: Get a slab of Island fudge at Mann's Mercantile Shop
Located on Townline road in the heart of the village sits a convenient store. When I walked in I was expecting a cute confectionary, but instead there was clothing and hardware materials with a little glass case by the register with fudge. As soon as the store clerk handed us a sample of peanut butter milk chocolate fudge, I was in awe. Door County fudge is not the same as Washington Island fudge- for whatever reason the island fudge is much more fresh, condensed and inexpensive. I suggest getting some from the store and the finding a place to sit in the grass and munch on it. Also I would say that a fourth piece is large enough to split with your travel buddy- it's unexpectedly filling.
Tip Four: Follow the Map
While getting on the ferry you are handed a map; it shows the coffee houses, restaurants, and tourist attractions. The island is so small that you want to hit everything on that map so you're not biking around without a destination all day long. There's not too many places to go so you still have enough time to bike around and see all of the land, but it will help guide your ride. The map will lead you along scenic, winding roads and to the most beautiful hiking trails. On the other hand, if you're up for a day of getting lost, so be it! It's easy to find your way back.
Tip Five: Don't expect a big town.
Washington Island has roughly 660 people living year round on the island; it's a small town and everybody knows everybody. Northern Door is highly touristy and crowded in the summertime while Washington island stays quiet. Everybody waves to one another and it's a very friendly environment. As I mentioned before, the island has tons of winding roads and vibrant vegetation; while riding through the streets you feel as though you're in a movie. The houses are modest and there's tons of mom and pop shops. It's a great escape from a bustling city life.
My experience on Washington Island was so fun, active, and beautiful! I had a great day spent with my best friend seeing an old place in a different light. We will definitely be heading back there for the lavender festival in late July; hopefully we'll have some people joining us!