By Laurel Ciohon
Growing up as a child in northern Door County, there were two words that would make me (and every other kid) squirm with excitement: Thumb Fun. Thumb Fun Amusement Park was the only park of its kind in Door County at the time and parents were forever grateful for plethora of activities Thumb Fun had to keep the kids busy all day. Whether it was the heart-pounding excitement of whether or not you were brave enough to enter the terrifying Haunted House, counting how many times you went down the water slide, or seeing how many tickets you could win playing video games and skee-ball in the arcade, everyone who went to Thumb Fun left with memories that they would take with them for years to come.
The thrill of Thumb Fun Amusement Park is no longer; the Door County landmark closed its doors forever over 21 years ago when its owner, Doug Butchart, was ready to retire. Each season was increasingly successful from the beginning with its final year in 1998 being its best ever. Thumb Fun opened in 1961 as a driving range and mini-golf course and eventually expanded, adding rides like a Tilt-A-Whirl and Merry Go Round, the famous Haunted Mansion, go-karts, bumper boats, and even a water slide and pool. Butchart recently died on Tuesday, February 19 at Door County Medical Center. He was 88.
Thumb Fun was sold and developed into the present-day Northhaven Condominiums just north of Fish Creek. Although there have always been plenty of activities for adults in Door County, such as fishing, swimming, shopping, dining, biking and camping, there is always a need for the amusement of children. Having been raised by a family who owned a resort in Ephraim, guests would constantly ask us what there was for kids to do in Door County.
With the childhood memories of Thumb Fun that I’ll have forever, I began to explore the options kids have today in Door County. As Doug Bouchart always said, “it’s fun to see people have fun.” At each stop I made, the smiles, laughter and excitement on each child’s face was evident and brought back all those memories I had growing up in Door County.
Pirates Cove in Sister Bay fulfills the need for an exciting round of mini-golf with an awesome pirate theme. Johnson’s Park, located next door to Pirates Cove, offers mini-golf, go-carts, batting cages and an arcade. Harbour Village Resort in Carsville offers Door County’s largest waterpark, paired with mini-golf, a skate park, bike rentals, a catch and release pond, game room, camping, and much more. And if you want some good old fashioned, affordable mini-golf fun, look no further than the Red Putter in Ephraim. After you’re done with the 18-hole course, enjoy a picnic and Bobby’s Playground next door.
Crystal Mining Co. in Ephraim gives kids a chance to enjoy sluice box mining for colorful gems and minerals. Everyone is guaranteed a treasure to take home! Egg Harbor Fun Park, located just south of Egg Harbor on Hwy. 42, boasts the “Best Go Cart Experience in Wisconsin,” 18-hole mini golf, arcade, snack bar, water wars, paint ball, kiddie rides, basketball, batting cages, and bounce zone, along with zip lining, rock climbing, and gem mining.
The Farm and Plum Loco, both near Sturgeon Bay, engage kids of all ages with petting zoos, corn mazes, gifts and delicious treats. P.C. Junction, located between Baileys Harbor and Egg Harbor, is a fun, family-themed restaurant voted the #1 kids spot in Door County. Children have plenty of space outside to play while they wait for their meal served by a train!
The Creamery in Sister Bay offers lunch tours on Saturday’s at 10am. The tasting and walking adventure includes up-close and personal encounters with their goats. Enjoy goat milk gelato, cheese tasting and a special lunch at their reserved farmhouse table at Door County Creamery in downtown Sister Bay. Transportation between the Creamery and their farm is provided and you can purchase tickets online or call ahead.
Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay (and Gills Rock) allows kids to explore tales of ship captains, seaman, lighthouse keepers, shipbuilders and more in a fun, hands-on, educational experience for all ages. Open year round.
A favorite for kids and adults alike is undeniably the Skyway Drive-In Theater, located between Fish Creek and Ephraim on Hwy. 42. Opening its gate on July 26, 1950, the Skyway shows Hollywood’s latest movies, usually a kid-friendly option first, followed by a second movie. The first movie starts at dusk and there’s a playground in the front of theater for kids to enjoy before it starts, as well as a snack bar.
There’s also great shopping for kids in Door County! Beach People has two locations – Fish Creek and Ephraim – has items for kids and adults of all ages, including toys, stuffed animals, jewelry, DC-themed clothing, and more. Dancing Bear in Sturgeon Bay has been in business since 1994 and has puzzles, games, toys and books for kids, as well as little luxuries for adults. Door County Kids in Egg Harbor is proud to offer STEM toys, creative kits and the world’s largest puzzle (40,320 pieces!). Door County Baby Boutique in Egg Harbor has adorable and unique clothing for babies sizes premie–3T, snuggly blankets and booties, toys, books, and more.
With so many great options for kids in Door County, the memory of Thumb Fun may have faded for some. For those not old enough to remember the iconic amusement park and Door County landmark, it’s great to know there’s so many new and exciting activities for kids to make memories.