An Intro to Bike Camping

Written by Mike Larson
    Tuesday, 29 May 2018
An Intro to Bike Camping

I woke up in the morning to the sound of waves crashing against the shore on Rock Island, about 20 yards from my tent. I moved silently out of the tent so as not to disturb the sleep of my teenage son and stretched my muscles that were sore from yesterday’s bike ride. Enjoying the early morning quiet from my hammock, I reflected on the journey thus far... this was one of the most amazing camping trips I had ever taken, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the Urban Ecology Center.

For the past six years, I’ve been taking one-on-one camping trips in Wisconsin with each of my two sons every summer. We’ve been backpacking through the southern kettles, caving in the driftless region, rock climbing at Devil’s Lake, and canoeing down the Wisconsin River. When my oldest son, Sam, started high school last year I told him that we could start increasing the challenge of our usual one-night car camping trips and try some more adventurous outings. He immediately took an interest in bike camping, and I told him I would take him as soon as he was tall enough to ride a similar size bike as myself. If you’ve ever been biking with young children and their small-wheeled bikes, you’ll understand why I made that stipulation. Luckily for Sam, he’s starting to pass me up in height this year, so I agreed to plan the trip.

The only problem was that I had never been bike camping before, and didn’t know anything about it. Besides the bikes, I also didn’t have any of the gear we would need for the trip. Fortunately, I work at the Urban Ecology Center, so I talked to my fellow gear-aficionados for advice. Through the members-only equipment lending benefit, I was able to borrow a few panniers (bike bags), an ultralight nylon tent, ultralight sleeping bags that pack light-weight and compact, a comfortable two-person hammock, a small back-packing stove, and some dry bags for the gear in case it rained. It was a lot of gear for one trip, but the Urban Ecology Center was nice enough to let me use it all free of charge. I had some experience with minimalist packing from our backpacking trips, so we loaded everything into the panniers and strapped it onto the back of our bikes. We were set!

Bikes with camping gear

Packing up our gear before we left- we managed to fit everything we needed on just two bikes.

For our location, we chose to bike the back roads of Door County. Starting in Bailey’s Harbor, we biked up to the tip of the peninsula and took the ferry across to Washington Island. After a brief rain delay in a café, we finished the eight-mile trek across the island to take a second, much smaller ferry (no bikes allowed!) to Rock Island State Park. It was the most beautiful and remote state park I had ever been to. We chose to hike in a mile to our campsite (they provided us with a hand truck, which was very helpful) and had a nice isolated view of Lake Michigan amongst a stand of cedar trees near the shore.

We spent some time exploring the island and the beautiful stone boathouse and outbuildings, but most of our time was spent relaxing at our campsite and enjoying each other’s company. The next day we left the island on the morning ferry and picked up our bikes for a long trip down the Green Bay side of Door County to Peninsula State Park- another beautiful park with stunning views of the surrounding water. We finished our trip by completing the trek back to Bailey’s Harbor and our car- about 110 miles in total.


A panoramic view of the boathouse and other buildings on Rock Island State Park.

Finding a balance between challenging and enjoyable is not always easy. I was concerned that the route might be too far for Sam, but he handled it well. We took lots of break, and I also made sure to pack plenty of his favorite snacks and delicious dinners - the freeze dried sweet and sour chicken meal was surprisingly good after a long day’s trek!

Consulting a biking map of the county helped us to choose a route that was relatively free of traffic and easy to navigate. We spent a lot of the time chatting about his interests as we biked along back country roads through fields, forests and cherry orchards. Truly, I was impressed with his attitude throughout the trip, especially at the end when he turned to me and asked: “can we do something like this again next year?”

“Yes!” I answered. We certainly can.

Packing up our gear before we left- we managed to fit everything we needed on just two bikes.

Mike Larson

Mike Larson

Mike is a happily married man living with his family in Milwaukee. As a young child he spent days playing along the banks of the Rock River, fostering a love for nature which eventually led him to study biology and pursue a career with the Urban Ecology Center. He enjoys connecting people with nature through his role as the Community Programs Manager. He hopes that the work he does can help make it possible for his two sons and other kids in Milwaukee to grow up with similar experiences to those he had as a child.


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