A 100-Mile Tour: Door County’s Century Bike Rides

Sunset over Door County field

Sunset over Door County field

What is the best way to see Door County? Some would argue it’s on foot, hiking through state parks and strolling on beaches. Others contend it’s from the water, from the deck of a boat or the top of a paddleboard. Door County’s cyclists know their way is superior and no one knows the county better than they do. What’s so special about the view from the saddle of a road bike? Let’s count the ways.

The Roads Themselves

Door County’s roads are heavily traveled throughout the year, and they are frequently re-surfaced and well-maintained. Bikers take note of newly-paved roads and add them to their riding routes. There are plenty to choose from! The tradition of cycling in Door County has become so strong that even though the country roads don’t have a bike lane, motorists are well-aware of cyclists and share the road generously.

The Vistas

Primarily rural farmland, northern Door County’s topography is hardly tedious. Cyclists get to immerse themselves in charming rows of fruit orchards. They’re shaded in deciduous forests of maple, basswood, birch and beech and perfumed by coniferous trees, like cedar, arborvitae, pine and tamarack. Riders pedal through vast meadows where the sky seems to arch above. Farms with horses, cattle, goats, chickens and even llamas are abundant. Wildlife, including deer, porcupines, foxes and snakes, are easier to spot from the quiet of a bicycle. When riding near the big water, slivers of Lake Michigan and Green Bay are glimpsable through the trees. The scenery from a road bike is anything but repetitive.

The Challenge

While many of the roads in the middle of the peninsula are long, straight and flat, those seeking a tougher ride will not be disappointed. Northern Door County, the bay side in particular, boasts plenty of steep hills and long slow inclines that make for challenging climbing. Depending on the type of workout you’re looking for, a sweaty, exhilarating finish can definitely be had.

Registering to take part in a timed ride is an optimal way to experience Door County, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the territory. In September, Northern Door offers two opportunities to cycle part or most of the peninsula.

Rachel, an avid cyclist from Fish Creek, has this to say about the rides:

I have participated in both the Door County Century and Fall Challenge 100-mile rides. Both are great rides with very similar scenic course routes for the 100-mile route. I enjoy the ride out of Sister Bay as it travels a bit farther north and offers some additional hills and challenging terrain while still including much of the central peninsula. No matter which one you choose remember to bring many clothing options! September can vary from 90 degrees to 50 degrees on the Door peninsula and while it is definitely one of the best times of year to be up here on a bike, it is always that much better when you are dressed right!

The Door County Century Ride takes place the Sunday of Labor Day weekend annually. This race begins and ends in Sturgeon Bay. Choose your distance based on your experience and training: 100-mile, 70-mile, 50-mile and 30-mile distances are offered. The race takes care of riders with six waterfront rest areas where riders can use the bathroom and grab some food. The popular ride drew nearly 3,000 cyclists in 2017.

Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Start at the Door County Fairgrounds in Sturgeon Bay, Driveable in about 30 minutes (20.9 miles)

Pre-registration required: Recommended

Cost: $70 and up, depending on when you register

For a ride that begins and ends in Sister Bay, try the Peninsula Century Fall Challenge, which takes place on a Saturday in mid-September. This slightly smaller “boutique cycling event” caps at 1,200 riders. It offers 100-mile, 62-mile, 50-mile and 25-mile courses. The 25-mile course is flattest, while the 100-mile route challenges riders to 3,354 feet of elevation gain. This ride offers the additional King of the Hills Challenge to anyone riding the 100-mile route.

Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Start in Waterfront Park in Sister Bay, Driveable in about 12 minutes (8.9 miles)

Pre-registration required: Recommended

Cost: $50 and up, depending on when you register

Don’t forget to reserve a comfy spot to relax after a day of cycling. Check the Blacksmith Inn’s availability for your biking challenge weekend.