Washington Island lies northeast of the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin just beyond the infamous Death’s Door strait connecting Lake Michigan and Green Bay. It’s only accessible by ferry or plane and any planes need to be ready to land on one of the island’s two small grass runways. We’ve always wanted to visit the island and were excited to take the 30 minute ferry ride over and explore this secluded haven.
The island was settled in the 1850’s by Scandinavian settlers and still celebrates its northern European roots.
This large steel coffee pot decorated with Norwegian rosemaling has greeted island visitors since 1941.
On the north side of the island lies Schoolhouse Beach, named for a log schoolhouse built there in 1850. The beautiful beach in Washington Harbor doesn’t have sand, but instead is covered with white, polished rocks.
The rocks were being carted away by tourists and entrepreneurs in such quantities that the island, desperate not to lose its beautiful beach, imposed a $250 fine for taking a rock.
Once we arrived, we rode the Cherry Train tour around the island to get the lay of the land. The two hour trip stops at the Double KW Ostrich Farm where you meet ostrich, porcupines, and a bear. We bought a sample of ostrich jerky for a dollar and learned a little more about the animals.
As the tour rolled past the KK Fiske Restaurant (Fiske is fish in Danish) we saw the sign for “Fresh Lawyers” advertised in the window. These fish turn rubbery when frozen so they aren’t a marketable fish for fishermen, they are also called burbot. Those caught locally are prepared here daily. Why are they called lawyers? Well, the tour guide explained that they are bottom feeders with small hearts found in their rear end, and that’s where the nickname comes from. (Sorry Ken! – it’s just what the locals say.)
At another stop we were guided into the woods which opened up to reveal this beautiful replica of a Stave Church found in Borgund, Norway. It was completed in 1995 on the island by a handful of local volunteers who worked over 2,000 hours.
Not a stop on the tour, but something we doubled-back for is Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Pub & Restaurant. It is home to the Washington Island Bitters Club, of which we are now proud members. A fellow named Tom Nelsen came from Denmark and liked to drink Angostura Bitters everyday for good health. He lived to be 90 and now at this pub if you drink a shot and sign the member book you receive a membership card.
We chased our bitters with a mug of Island Wheat beer from Capital Brewery, which is made with wheat grown on about 500 acres of Washington Island.
We had a great adventure and know that we’d love to come back and press on to Rock Island State Park which is another ferry ride beyond Washington Island. We did this adventure by car and left the RV behind. It made us realize even more that we might just want a tow vehicle on the RV to let us be more agile as we explore America.