The 10 Best Bike Paths In America

Car-free trails for your two wheels.

April 1, 2015
George S. Michelson Trail, South Dakota
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George S. Mickelson Trail, South Dakota

Fat tires were created for adventures like this 109-mile rail trail in South Dakota's Black Hills, known by the Lakota natives as Paha Sapa and "the heart of everything that is." It's a movable feast for the eyes as you pass ponderosa pine forests, prairie lands, rugged mountain terrain, grazing cattle, swimmable creeks, and rocky canyons, feeling with every pedal stroke that you're traveling on sacred ground. Though the route peaks at 6,100 feet of elevation, it rarely exceeds a four percent grade.

 

At the start of this three-day journey, you'll climb 1,600 feet over 14 miles, originating in old mining town of Deadwood, where famous outlaw Wild Bill was shot at a saloon during a poker game in 1876. Biking south along the "Big Mick," which has well-marked trailheads, water fountains, and shelters with bathrooms and picnic tables, you'll find half a dozen reasons to stray from the path, including Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Lewie's bacon cheeseburger in Lead. By the time you hit the end of the road in Edgemont, you'll have cruised through four tunnels and over 100 converted railroad bridges.

 

More Info: traillink.com

Banks Vernonia Trail, Oregon
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Banks Vernonia Trail, Oregon

Early in the morning, when the soft pink light cascades through the towering Douglas firs and cedar trees, the forest will be all yours. Forty-five minutes west of Portland, the flat, well-paved BVT is Oregon's first rail-to-trail and follows a 21-mile line that dates back to the 1920s. Today, the only links to the past are 13 beautiful old bridges and the wooden railroad trestles, including two that are 700 feet long and 80 feet high. After mile seven, as you move into L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park, the verdant trail reveals a new wild fragrance and another layer of quiet.

 

Whether you're pitching a tent in one of the hike-in campgrounds or heading home once you reach Vernonia, have a rewarding bite to eat at nearby Blue House Café, a bike-friendly Mediterranean espresso bar and brewery with indoor bike parking, self-serve water containers, and tasty food and microbrews. If you want a bigger workout or would rather not drive, put your bike on the MAX light rail in downtown Portland and set out for Hillsboro. From there, pedal six miles west along a wide shoulder on Highway 8 to Forest Grove, then take Highway 47 seven miles towards the many BVT signs in Banks.

 

More Info: oregonstateparks.org

Carriage Trails, Acadia National Park, Maine
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Carriage Trails, Acadia National Park, Maine

If you only have a day to spend biking in Maine, this is where you want to be. On Mount Desert Island, 47,000-acre Acadia National Park offers 45 miles of car-free carriage roads, crafted by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. between 1913 and 1940. Though you'll likely pass horses and hikers, these 16-foot-wide hard-packed gravel roads are a gift to cyclists. Among the many picturesque route options, the 8.5-mile Giant Slide introduces you to Somes Sound, North America's only fjord, and the Jordan-Bubble Ponds and Eagle Lake Loops make you feel like you're standing inside a postcard. Though the waterfalls, stone bridges and views of the granite coast are satisfying enough, the pièce de résistance will come in the form of a buttery, strawberry jam-slathered popover fresh out of the oven at the Jordan Pond House. You'll sit on the lawn in an Adirondack chair, trying to eat slowly as you look out over a vista of trees and mountains known as The Bubbles. To get back to the Village Green in Bar Harbor, you'll exit the way you came, on board the free express shuttle that runs mid-June through October 1.

 

More Info: nps.gov

American River Bike Trail, California
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American River Bike Trail, California

"If only my commute looked like this," you'll say as you pass suited cyclists along the tranquil 32-mile trail that runs from Discovery Park in Old Sacramento to a Folsom city lake. While you might suppose the best riding lies southwest along the coast, for car-free pedaling, these roads are unrivaled—and a great reason to plan a trip to the state capital. With the American River at your side, you'll pedal much of the way under a canopy of trees, past California poppies, wild turkeys, lush vegetation, and over Guy West Bridge (a mini replica of the Golden Gate Bridge). The smooth paved route is simply spellbinding. Cap off the ride back in Sacramento at beloved, bike-friendly Hot Italian for a rewarding slice of pie.

 

More Info: americanriverbiketrail.com

Katy Trail, Missouri
5/10
Katy Trail, Missouri

Spanning 225 miles across the state of Missouri, from Clinton to St. Charles, the Katy Trail is one of the longest rail-trails in the country and a great escape for thousands of bikers who ride here every year. For those seeking a taste of the trail, Amtrak charges $10 per bike (reserve in advance with ticket purchase) and will drop two-wheelers near some of the 25 trailheads on the MKT (Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad); there are also numerous inn-to-inn tours available. If you have five days, cross the Katy Trail off your American Bike Adventures Bucket List and join the annual Katy Trail Ride in the summer, or plan a self-guided fall trip. Along the flat and winding way, you'll want to linger in the middle of restored stretches of native prairie, beside limestone bluffs, under dreamy tree tunnels, through wine country, on a stretch of the overlapping Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and at the many restaurants, lodges, and campsites that made it possible to refuel for the road ahead. At the end of the line in St. Charles, take some time to sip a Missouri Brown Dark Ale on the Trailhead Brewing Company's outdoor patio.

 

More Info: bikekatytrail.com

Island Line Rail Trail, Vermont
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Island Line Rail Trail, Vermont

It's the closest thing to walking on water. Cruising up a narrow gravel path, you see the lapping Lake Champlain right there on either side of your feet, topped with big blue sky and views of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks. Though the celebrated mountain bike trails of the Northeast Kingdom are just a few hours from here in Burlington, this is as pure a Vermont moment as one can get (remember to keep a packet of Ted King's UnTapped energy gel made with the state's maple syrup in your jersey pocket). The 14-mile Island Line Rail Trail is a great introductory ride to the area that connects the Burlington Bike Path, Colchester Causeway Trail, and the Allen Point Access Area in South Hero—where the seasonal weekend Local Motion ferry delivers cyclists from an island in the middle of Lake Champlain.

 

More Info: traillink.com

Paseo del Bosque Trail, New Mexico
7/10
Paseo del Bosque Trail, New Mexico

There are many thrilling rides to take in Albuquerque, like the Sandia Peak Tramway ride up to High Finance restaurant, the hot-air balloon ride at the annual fall Balloon Fiesta, and the bike ride on "the Bosque." This 16-mile recreational trail west of downtown connects with many other multi-use trails and runs along the Rio Grande. With its large twisted cottonwood trees, coyote willow, red rocks, lizards, and mountains rising up on the horizon, it's a hauntingly beautiful place to explore. You'll delight in the dry desert environment that may conjure images of Breaking Bad, and though there's no sign of Walter White on two wheels, you will pass the 20-acre Rio Grande Botanical Garden, Conservation Center, and Albuquerque BioPark and Zoo.

 

More Info: traillink.com

Great Allegheny Passage Trail and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath, Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC
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Great Allegheny Passage Trail and Chesapeake + Ohio Canal Towpath, Pittsburgh, PA To Washington, D.C.

Travel 335 uninterrupted miles, from Pittsburgh to the nation's capital along the GAP and C&O trails. You'll roll over the roaring Youghiogheny River into Ohiopyle State Park, atop the Salisbury Viaduct, beside the active Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, through small, friendly towns and the Laurel Highlands. The ride is an accessible adventure for families (the total westbound climb of the GAP portion is just shy of 1,800 vertical feet, with a 1.4 percent average grade) and will motivate the next generation of cyclists to further the car-free movement.

 

More Info: atatrail.org (GAP) and bikewashington.org/canal (C&O)

Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail State Park, Utah
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Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail State Park, Utah

Winter in Park City may offer skiing and the Sundance Film Festival, but this city's off-season is when the real fun begins for mountain bikers. After a breakfast burrito and chipotle bacon at No Worries Café & Grill, hit the 28-mile Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail, which begins downtown and follows Interstate 80 through Wanship and Coalville to Echo Reservoir. Starting at 6,800 feet, this is a great recovery ride for those who've conquered the Wasatch Crest Mid-Mountain Loop. While experienced cyclists may not be able to fight the urge to break out onto several hundred miles of connecting technical single-track paths, the mostly gravel rail trail itself is a leisurely joy ride with a gentle grade, wildlife sightings, and stretches into farm country, wetlands, and a volcanic canyon.

 

More Info: traillink.com

Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, Idaho
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Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, Idaho

Perhaps better known for potatoes than pedaling, Idaho harbors a 72-mile-long secret that anyone with a helmet and a hankering for the great outdoors should experience. Accessible via 20 trailheads, the paved Coeur d'Alenes crosses the Panhandle of North Idaho and combines everything an urban cyclist could hope to see in the best kind of middle of nowhere. The flat black ribbon of asphalt winds through the glistening Chain Lakes region, into the old silver mining expanse of Silver Valley, by forested mountains and into 19th-century boom towns, where places like the Mission Inn in Cataldo and the Hill Street Depot Brew Pub in Kellogg welcome hungry two-wheelers. There are several bike shops along the road from Plummer to Mullan, though carrying a bike-repair kit is always recommended.

 

More Info: traillink.com

 

The slideshow originally appeared in Bicycling.

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