EGG HARBOR, Wis. — Biking through a canopy of trees on White Cliff Road, I can see glimpses of the waters of Lake Michigan's Green Bay off to the left, flanked by cottages. I look to the right and see the road is aptly named: Peeking through the trees are white limestone bluffs.
A little farther down the asphalt, a pickup truck is stopped, its driver trying to decide whether the duck standing at the side of the road is going to waddle across or take flight. He flaps away.
At an intersection, bike route signs point me toward Cottage Row, another aptly named road that puts the exclamation point on the notion that this is a resort area. The trees are thick here on both sides of the road, and cottages and full-blown houses nestle among them, giving a real North Woods feel.
For years, Chicagoans and other Midwesterners looking for a nature fix have been flocking to Door County, the northern part of the peninsula that juts into the lake northeast of Green Bay (the city, as opposed to the bay itself).
Most drive here, of course, then drive around to enjoy the sights. But increasingly many of those cars are also carrying bikes, as visitors discover the joys of exploring Door County on two wheels. If you don't want to haul your own bikes up here, there are bike shops offering rentals ranging from cruisers to hybrids to road bikes.
This is a bike-friendly area, I discovered during four days of riding in mid-July. There's a wealth of lightly traveled paved roads that skirt the shorelines of both the bay (western) and lake (eastern) and also will take you through rolling woodland and farmland from one side to the other. Heck, even Wisconsin Highways 42 and 57, the most heavily traveled roads here, have substantial paved shoulders that make the occasional foray onto them nonthreatening, at least compared with what I sometimes encounter on the streets of Chicago.
And drivers here seem happy to coexist with cyclists.
I spent three nights in Egg Harbor and two nights in Sister Bay, both on the bay side of the peninsula — and the side, by the way, that's most hilly. But regardless of where you stay, it's easy to do day trips and tailor the length of rides. And, as long as you have decent maps, there are enough roads that it's simple to change your route on the spur of the moment. Just don't try to rely solely on your smartphone for navigation, particularly if you have AT&T. Service is spotty here.
Though most of the other bicyclists I encountered were singles or couples, on two days I crossed paths with various members of the Joliet Bicycle Club. The group of about 35 was staying at various villages on the peninsula and would divide up each day that week for rides tailored to different ability levels.
"We love the safe roads," one woman said.
Four day rides in Door County
Following are descriptions of my rides. I found the key to maneuvering around the Door Peninsula was to carry at least a couple of maps, because sometimes there are minor discrepancies. I used maps from area bike shops as well as the Door County Bicycle & Other Silent Sports Maps from Door County Tourism.
Loop from Egg Harbor south toward Sturgeon Bay
Length: 41.6 miles
Elevation gain: 754 feet
Route: Bay Shore Drive (County Road G, which becomes County Road B) south to Bluff Drive, then north to Whitefish Bay Road, east to Nelson Lane, north to Clark Lake Road, east through Whitefish Dunes State Park, north on Cave Point Drive, north on Wisconsin Highway 57 to Jacksonport, west on County Road V, north on County Road T to Egg Harbor.
Highlights: Early stages trace the bayside shoreline, though you're often as much as a quarter-mile from the water. The charming village of Little Harbor is at the 12-mile mark and gets you right next to the bay. Crossing the peninsula on Whitefish Bay Road, I passed cherry orchards — a Door County industry since the 1800s — and encountered the smell of new-mown hay as a farmer raked a field in preparation for baling. Whitefish Bay State Park, on the lakeside, provided solitude and shade.
Loop from Egg Harbor north toward Fish Creek
Length: 42 miles
Elevation gain: 1,229 feet