Unique Festivals and Paddling in Northern Door County

Fyr Bal bonfire

Fyr Bal bonfire

On a June Saturday during our first summer in Door County, my husband and I found parking at the public beach in bustling Ephraim. Parking places were scant as it was the weekend of Fyr Bal, a celebration of the longest day of the year. This festival, inspired by Ephraim’s Scandinavian roots, features plenty of live music, an arts and crafts fair, crazy eating contests, and the lighting of some of the biggest bonfires I’ve seen. As we arrived, most of the attendees parking around us were walking toward the festival center, near the village hall. Instead of following the crowd, we set to work unstrapping our sea kayaks from the roof of our Malibu. In a matter of minutes we were ready to launch from the beach, just as a hint of dusk crept in.

The evening was a calm one, the water like glass with a few ripples. We slowly paddled out a few hundred feet and gradually traveled north along the west shore of Eagle Harbor. From our watery perspective, we could see the whole of the Fyr Bal crowd. Some folks were in private waterfront backyards, and a large crowd congregated around the village hall. Party music pumped from a large tent on shore. Kids were dancing. People claimed places with blankets and lawn chairs, spreading out picnics and snacks. We could also spy a giant teepee of split logs towering over the crowd. Smaller, similar teepees dotted the entire shoreline, about fifty yards apart.

We enjoyed people-watching from our boats, turning south as we reached the Ephraim Yacht Club. Late in the evening, as the sun finally began to sink below the horizon, a power boat chugged into the harbor kicking up some gentle wake to bob our kayaks. Once in the harbor, the robed Fyr Bal “chieftain” disembarked and made his way to the waiting cone of logs. The chieftain, I later learned, is a male or female member of the Ephraim community. He or she has the honor of lighting the first and largest Fyr Bal bonfire. From our view on the water, we could just see the teepee light up, and one by one, like a string row of twinkling Christmas lights, the other fires were ignited. Festival-goers crowded around each fire, perhaps feeling connected to their Scandinavian ancestors who may have celebrated this way in their homelands. As it was very nearly the longest day of the year, darkness never fully fell on our kayaks while we were in the water, but the fireworks display began sometime after nine. From our boats the fiery designs seemed to surround us. Over the water the thunder of their reports was particularly loud, but it only enhanced our experience. It was one of the best fireworks displays I have seen.

From a boat or on land, Ephraim’s Fyr Bal festival is a uniquely Door County experience.

Distance from Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 12 minutes (8.6 miles)

Pre-registration required: No

Cost: Free to attend

If kayaking piques your interest but you’re not sure how to get started, the village of Sister Bay has you covered in late June. Paddlefest, an annual celebration of paddle craft, is a chance for people of all ages and experience levels to try out different types of kayaks or paddle boards. The all-day event starts at 8 o’clock in the morning. Around 9, representatives  from Bay Shore Outfitters will lead a stand-up paddle board yoga class. Throughout the day, connect with kayak and paddleboard pros to try out different boats and boards. Watch demonstrations to learn more about what is possible with your craft.

For those who prefer athletic pursuits on dry land, volleyball continues throughout the day. Or, snag a spot on beautiful Sister Bay beach and enjoy people-watching.

Distance from Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in 12 minutes (8.9 miles)

Pre-registration required: Yes, if you want to attend 9 a.m. SUP yoga (call Bay Shore Outfitters 920-854-7598)

Cost: Free to attend, SUP yoga may have a fee

Plan your weekend around one of Northern Door County’s unique early summer festivals. Check the Blacksmith Inn’s availability to reserve a place to rest your sandy toes.