Escape to the Island
Tying the Knot on Washington Island
Not only does Door County offer 300-plus miles of shoreline, but the peninsula is also surrounded by islands that range from tiny, uninhabited plots of forest to larger, seasonally inhabited islands with inland lakes and plenty of beach to enjoy in the summer. For event-planning purposes, however, most of these islands are not suited for anything beyond small, intimate events because they are rustic and accessible only by personal watercraft. There’s just one island that is home to a true year-round community, and that’s Washington Island.
This 35-square-mile island is the largest and offers an unmatched sense of tranquility. You’ll find fields of lavender, historic chapels, plenty of green space and one of the most beautiful beaches in the county. Although transportation over the waters of Death’s Door — the once-treacherous stretch of Lake Michigan between the island and Gills Rock — adds a logistical hurdle, many couples have chosen Washington Island as their wedding destination.
To access the island, cars and foot passengers may take a daily ferry from (and back to) Gills Rock, a small village at the very northern tip of the peninsula. Although the Washington Island community is indeed year-round, its amenities are inherently and understandably limited. The community has one grocer, a few lodging options and several beloved dining mainstays offering coffee, good food, fish boils and shots of bitters.
Three Pieces of Advice from Island Bride Jennelle (Swan) Mleziva
When Jennelle and her husband John held their wedding ceremony in a beautiful field on the island in 2013, it was a full-on community effort: Family, friends and islanders all pitched in. With her mother cooking all the food, her father building custom decor, her uncle providing special vintage transportation and islanders helping with hair styling, flowers, pies and corralling guests, the community came together to help her vision become a reality. Having a deep family connection to the island, she knows what a special place it is and has some great advice for those who are considering it as a wedding venue
Get to Know the Community
The island is a small, tight-knit community that is eager to lend a helping hand, meaning that you’re likely to find most of your planning information simply by talking to residents. “My biggest piece of advice is to spend time getting to know the people,” Jennelle said. “It sounds kind of strange, but that’s how you get to know the little insights and secrets of the island. Get a cup of coffee at the Red Cup or fish boil at K.K. Fiske and introduce yourself to the locals.” There’s often an on-island option for event services that you’ll learn about during these conversations, which reduces the need to transport things from the “mainland.”
Consider the Transportation Logistics
Getting there involves a ferry ride — an added expense for guests — and it means ensuring the ferry schedule aligns with getting everyone on and off the island at the right times. In addition, cell-phone reception and GPS are often unreliable, requiring a good plan for signal-less emergency situations. Planning thoroughly for the ferry and the island’s communication challenges — and articulating these plans to attendees — is a necessary layer of logistics.
Know the Lodging Limitations
Similar to the rest of Door County, finding lodging for larger groups is a challenge that requires planning well in advance, especially during the busy summer season. Jennelle recommends considering the island’s campground for a low-cost option (rustic cabins are available) and finding resort-style options that have shared common areas. “Cedar Lodge and Gibson’s give you more of that family-reunion feel, with the different little cabins and shared areas,” she said. A comprehensive listing of all island rentals, resorts, cottages and hotels is at WashingtonIsland.com/Accommodations.
Washington Island has endless natural beauty on tap, but you don’t want to overlook these unique experiences:
• Take a shot of angostura to join the Bitters Club at Nelsen’s Hall and Bitters Pub.
• Hop aboard the Cherry Train for an open-air tour of the island’s present and past.
• Swim or skip stones at School House Beach, one of the most stunning beaches in the county.
• Enjoy the Scandinavian architecture of the Stavkirke, a stunning gem of a chapel.
• Stroll through fields of lavender at the two local farms, Island Lavender and Fragrant Isle.
• Climb the 186 steps to the top of the Mountain Park Lookout Tower for fantastic island views.