You don’t have to be a motorcyclist to enjoy a ride from Milwaukee to Door County (the so-called thumb of Wisconsin), but it’s not at all a bad way to roll. During this 175-mile journey, you’ll glide through pristine farmland and skim along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. And, whether you ride or not, don’t miss Milwaukee’s famous motorcycling sights.
The Valhalla of the V-Twin
In 1903, two young tinkerers—William Harley and Arthur Davidson—were hard at work in a 10×15-foot shed trying to develop a vehicle that would take the work out of bicycling. Were they successful?
Well, what began at this very corner of Milwaukee is now the most famous motorcycle corporation on the planet. For the full history of this iconic (and rideable) brand, do not miss the wonderful downtown Harley-Davidson Museum.
Art Takes Wing
Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s design adds wings to the building housing the Milwaukee Art Museum, which looks like a sailing ship moored on the shores of Lake Michigan.
In addition to permanent exhibits, there are temporary showings of such things as Parisian art posters, movie-animation cells, and folk-art face jugs. Still, the most impressive work of art might be the museum itself.
About 30 minutes north of Milwaukee, en route to the lakefront town of Port Washington, the urban landscape gives way to the countryside.
Port Washington’s gift shops, independent restaurants, and picturesque marina make it a pleasant and relaxing place. Continuing on, just to the north of town, the road takes you back into the countryside for many more miles of farm-fresh riding.
Water You’re Waiting For
One of the most alluring areas in Door County is Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek. When you roll into the 3,776-acre park, you’ll be throttling along winding roads and past hiking trails, campgrounds, a golf course, an outdoor folklore theatre, and the 1868 Eagle Bluff lighthouse. You’ll also pass the 75-foot tall Eagle observation tower, which provides a great view of the park, bay, and neighboring villages.
For even better views, scale the steep ascents that take you to overlooks that truly reveal the widespread beauty of Green Bay.
You Scream, I Scream…
Food, glorious food plays a major role in Door County. Sampling the area’s cornucopia of apples, cherries, and other farm-fresh produce; its fish boils; and its ice cream and custard can fill up days—or even weeks—of your vacation.
Nearly every two-lane road takes you crisscrossing through farmland and by roadside stands with edible offerings you can readily stow in your saddlebags. In Sister Bay, Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill is a popular place for al fresco dining beside the bay. For frozen treats, many people head to Not Licked Yet in Fish Creek.
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
Like a scene from a 1950s postcard, a quiet beach in the village of Ephraim is the perfect place for sun worshippers to relax with a good read on the shores of Green Bay.
Throughout Door County, from the waterfront and its lighthouses to the farms to the villages, the scenery is perfectly designed for a two-wheeled photo tour.
A One Horse Town Hall
In Ephraim, you might want to swap your 80-horsepower bike for a one-horsepower carriage. Here, the pace is the polar is opposite that of Daytona.
The feeling of entering a slower, more nostalgic time is part of the appeal in villages like Ephraim or Egg Harbor, Sister Bay, Jacksonport, Bailey’s Harbor, and Rowley’s Bay.
Adjust your speed (and your attitude) accordingly, and you’ll find that motorcycling and Door County go together like a horse and carriage.
There Goes the Sun
One of the most impressive light shows in the world takes place each evening over the waters of Eagle Harbor. Families, seniors, couples, artists, and photographers gather along the waterfront to take in the fiery spectacle of the sunset.
In Door County, one of the most popular epicurean events is a traditional fish boil, where onions, red potatoes, and whitefish are all cooked together in a blackened cauldron.
At Rowley’s Bay Resort, an actor portraying Peter Rowley shares the impressive history of the area as attendants prepare the evening meal.
Take Highway 42 to the northern tip of Door County, and you’ll eventually reach what locals call “The S’s”—a snapping, springing road that’s a sheer delight for riders.
A few miles north of this point, a ferry can take you to sparsely populated Washington Island. Whether you head to the island or not, the S’s is a great stretch along which to end this tranquil, picturesque, and classic American ride.
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth piece in our eight-part series on motorcycle travel by Gary McKechnie, author of Great American Motorcycle Tours, which has just been released in its fifth edition. For more tips and itineraries, see the other articles in this series in Motorcycle Road Trips.