Welcome to Rowleys Bay!

 

Take the Road Less Traveled

Yes, we’re off the beaten path. Our guests think that is one of the best things about our resort. Granted, we are not for everyone. If you are looking for an ultra-modern downtown hotel, that’s not us. We are proud to be a vintage resort with a direct bloodline to old-time Door County, a place where vacation memories linger from generation to generation.

Rowleys Bay Resort is situated on 100 secluded acres dominating a pristine and undeveloped bay with 700 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline, making it one of the most picturesque locations in Door County. Whether you prefer a traditional room, suite, cottage or spacious vacation home, you’ll find the atmosphere here to be casual, relaxed and friendly. Simply put, we offer Door County’s affordable waterfront vacation experience with an unmatched combination of activities and amenities.

Welcome to Rowleys Bay!

Emphasis on Outdoor Activities

To the northwest of Rowleys Bay Resort lies the Mink River, one of the few unspoiled estuaries in the Great Lakes system. Bordered by protected Nature Conservancy property, the river flows through coniferous swamps, a large marsh and empties into Lake Michigan at Rowleys Bay. On a boat, canoe or kayak trip, you’ll see blue-joint grass, willow, dogwood, alder shrubs, bulrush, wild rice, cattails, bur-reed, water lilies, osier, dwarf lake iris and dune thistle. The north side of Rowleys Bay is bordered by Newport State Park, with Sand Bay Park providing a southern border, accessible via the resort’s five miles of hiking trails.

Birders can enjoy four-season bird watching on the Mink River Estuary and the resort’s never-frozen bay. An estimated 200 species pass through annually, including bitterns, great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, sedge wrens, yellow rails, northern harriers, marsh hawks, blue-winged teal, loons, black ducks, red-breasted mergansers,swans, sandhill cranes and bald eagles. On any given day you will see a variety of birds using the bay as a landing strip.

Rowleys Bay Resort’s marina and DNR launch provide direct access to legendary Four Foot Shoal, one of the best places to catch trophy king salmon in Lake Michigan. Other fish found in the waters include steelhead, brown and rainbow trout, northern pike, perch, walleye and small-mouth bass. The launch area also is a quick getaway to Lake Michigan and the Mink River for aqua adventures such as kayaking, canoeing, sailing and windsurfing.

If you don’t want to travel with all your gear, or just want to try a new sport, a variety of rentals are available just outside the resort’s front door. DC Adventure Center offers kayak tours, a 500-foot Adventure zipline through our forest canopy, and stand up paddleboard (SUP) rentals and tours of the Mink River. Seaquist Segway will take you off-road on a tour of our expansive trail system, and fishermen can hook up with Captain Tim Guckenberg and his Reel Addictions Charters. For landlubbers there is volleyball, tennis and basketball.


Full Service Resort Amenities

As the largest waterfront resort in Door County, Rowleys Bay Resort accommodates and caters to the needs of a wide range of groups. With our banquet hall, meeting rooms, restaurant, bakery, pub, pool, whirlpool, fitness room, game room and other amenities all under one roof, families and groups feel safe and connected.

Though Rowleys Bay Restaurant offers a menu and bar, the eatery specializes in a variety of all-you-can eat options for breakfast and dinner. The restaurant features Door County’s longest buffet and salad bar, providing variety, flexibility and dining value. The restaurant’s famous Sunday Brunch buffet includes scrumptious treats from Grandma’s Swedish Bakery and chef-carved prime rib.

Another Rowleys Bay Restaurant exclusive is the all-you-can-eat fish boil on our Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night buffets. Guests are encouraged to gather around as their master storyteller spins the history of Rowleys Bay and this tasty Door County tradition, while the fish boiler tends to the flaming fire under the huge iron cauldron. Timing is critical, so have your camera ready to capture the dramatic boil-over. The freshly caught Lake Michigan white fish is cooked with onions and red skin potatoes, and served with as much melted butter as you prefer.

A great way to enjoy the beauty of Rowleys Bay is to linger over a cup of Door County Coffee and enjoy a sweet roll at Grandma’s Swedish Bakery. The bakery has tantalized the taste buds of Door County visitors and natives for 40 years with homemade pastries, decadent pecan rolls and other from-scratch bakery items. Family recipes have been handed down from generation to generation, ensuring visitors will receive the same authentic Swedish delights originally baked by Grandma.

Rowley’s Pub is our new cozy waterfront pub. Sip our signature Rowleys Bay Lemonade or pick from a wide selection of beer, wine and mixed drinks to enjoy at our waterfront windows. The décor theme is 50’s and 60’s water sports, reminiscent of vacations past. The outdoor veranda is perfect for those long summer nights.  

Peter & Alice Rowley


Historic Rowleys Bay

The Rowleys Bay area was inhabited by the Potawatomi when Jesuit priest Father Andre erected a wooden cross for his worshippers on the bay in 1680. Remains of the cross and stone steps leading to it were still visible in 1900.  

The northernmost cove on Door County’s Lake Michigan side is named after Peter Rowley, a curmudgeon of a man who searched for solitude on a scale hard to imagine in today’s world. If another settler pitched camp a few miles away, it was enough to send Rowley packing and searching for a new homestead. Making his way up the Door Peninsula in the late 1830’s, his last stop was Rowleys Bay. Nestled between swamps to the north and south and lake to the east, he thought this spot was the antidote to white man’s civilization.

The reclusive and cantankerous Rowley did have two female companions at the time, his wife Alice and another woman thought to be a sister or mother-in-law. Rowley and his women lived on Rowleys Bay until 1842 when they departed again for more solitary grounds. Over the next 30 years, the area housed a collection of lumber camps that pumped out mass quantities of telegraph poles, railroad ties and cord wood. In the 1860’s, Osborne-Cogswell, a Racine, Wisconsin-based logging business built the first dock to speed the shipping of lumber to market.

In 1876 New Yorker S.A. Rogers purchased the dock and about 4,000 acres, much of it swampland, from Osborne-Cogswell. He acquired additional lands from Door County for unpaid taxes, built a large sawmill, a more spacious dock, a trading post, school and other buildings to accommodate the needs of his growing enterprise.

About the only thing Rogers could not make money on was the copious amount of cedars that were too small even for fence posts. That hurdle was overcome when he teamed with Milwaukeean J.H. Mathews who was an expert at extracting cedar oil.

In 1892 Rogers traded a couple hundred acres of his Rowleys Bay empire for a farm in Missouri, and after a subsequent trade, the land fell into the hands of one Ditlef C. Hanson from Tacoma, Washington. With the timber stripped bare and land too wet for farming, Hanson planned to build a townsite as he reasoned Chicago was built on a marsh.

Although a spade of dirt was never turned, elaborate aerial lithographs of Hanson’s Tacoma Shores were produced showing a bustling town with citizens active on the elegant boulevards. The artist rendering showed a park, post office, library and other stately buildings, and the lazy Mink River was seen as a flowing stream emptying into Lake Michigan over a stunning waterfall. Not surprisingly, some were hoodwinked into purchasing lots sight unseen. When the new owners realized they had literally purchased swampland, they abandoned the lots, stopped paying taxes and the land reverted to county ownership.

Rogersí son Jay sold off much of the familyís land holdings in the early 1900s, with the final 367 acres purchased by grandson Clinton in 1947. Clinton had dreams of building a resort on the property, but personal tragedy interrupted his plans and the land was sold to Lou Casagrande in 1948 and Rowleys Bay Resort was founded.

After Casagrande and several other interim owners, the property was purchased in 1970 by Leonard and Alice Peterson who renamed it Wagon Trail Resort. Alice, who passed away in 1988, was the namesake of the resortís popular Grandmaís Swedish Bakery. The Petersonís daughter Jewel, along with husband Bob Ouradnik and Bob Czerniakowski, CPA, took over ownership in 2003 on Leonardís retirement. In May of 2010 the resort reverted back to its original name, Rowleys Bay Resort.

History of Rowleys Bay  
By Susie Watson
Old Peninsula Days
Book Excerpt
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