Grab Your Bicycle: 8 Great U.S. National Park Bike Trails
Cycling in National Parks and Refuges in the U.S. can offer easy family bike trails or high adventure, with plenty of scenery and wildlife along the way.
Vacations in U.S. national parks bring to mind scenic vistas, days of hiking and remote camping. But how about bicycle riding?
Our national parks, not to mention national wildlife refuges and national recreation areas, can be fantastic places to go cycling. You’ll find bike trails accessible to kids and casual bike riders, as well as paths to please advanced cyclists.
Packing for a cycling trip isn’t too different from any other outdoor vacation. The 30-liter Wayfinder backpack has discreet pockets and loops for items you want to keep handy—like sunglasses, helmet, and electronics. And it keeps your hands free for wheeling your bike. Then use the Pack-It Specter packing system inside of your bag to keep sweaty clothes and dirty trail shoes away from your clean items, pack more compactly, and keep everything organized.
Here are eight protected parks that offer fun and scenic opportunities for road and mountain biking.
Best Bike Trails for Casual Cyclists
1. Zion National Park, Utah
Zion is a great park with a wide range of hikes, but getting to all these trails requires riding a shuttle bus. Waits can be long at peak times.
Hopping on bicycles allows you to skip the shuttle, see the park at
your own pace, and stop places the buses don’t for unique
views you don’t
have to share with everyone else.
The road has a gradual incline on the way out, but even most kids can manage it.
You’re sharing the road with the shuttle buses, so if you get tired of pedaling, you can mount your bike on their rack and hop aboard.
Planning your bike trip: You can BYO, or rent bikes at outfitters just outside the park.
2. Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite’s traffic can rival L.A’s during peak summer travel months. One of the best ways to bypass all of that and get up close to the park’s natural wonders is on a bicycle.
The national park’s 12 miles of designated bike trails pass through the Yosemite Valley and are fairly flat, making them doable for both kids and casual cyclists.
The most popular loops pass through the park’s two villages, hiking trailheads, iconic scenic vistas, and picnic spots.
Planning your bike trip : You can rent
bikes at Yosemite
Valley Lodge and Half Dome Village right in the park.
3. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
This protected area off the east coast of Virginia offers several miles of mostly flat, paved trails that lead through woods and along beaches.
They range from a bit more than a mile to just over three miles, making them a good option for family-friendly bike trails.
The short Woodland Trail is your best bet for spotting the island’s famous wild ponies on bikes. On other trails you’re sure to spot wading birds, and you might spot deer, muskrats, or otters on early morning and evening rides.
Planning your bike trip: Chincoteague Town, on the island that sits between the refuge and the mainland, has a handful of outfitters offering bike rentals.
4. J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
The Darling Refuge, on Sanibel Island off the coast of Southwest Florida, is another family-friendly destination.
It’s flat four-mile loop offer stellar views of some 220 kinds of waterbirds and shorebirds, including flocks on flamingos.
Take a break from cycling to climb the bird observation tower, or try a few short hikes. Keep your eyes peeled for more than 50 types of reptiles and animals, including raccoons, alligators, marsh rabbits, otters, and bobcats.
Planning your bike trip: Several of the island’s hotels and resorts offer bikes for guests to borrow, and there are rental companies in town for adult bikes, kids bikes, and trailers.
Bike Trails Great for Serious Road Cyclists
5. Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier’s 50-mile Going-To-The-Sun Road crosses the Continental Divide and offers views of jagged peaks, green forests, clear blue lakes, and waterfalls.
When you pause to admire the scenery, look for grizzly bears or any of hundreds of other animals that wander the park. You’ll want to park your bike and spend some time hiking in Glacier, too.
It’s uphill most of the way, on a narrow, shoulder-free mountain road that you share with cars on most days. In June, cyclists flock to the park to enjoy a few weeks for car-free riding as plows clear away the winter snows.
Planning your bike trip : Another popular option for
car-free cycling is the park’s moonlight rides. Gail Godwin, who
owns a vacation
home inside the park
says, “Nothing beats the full-moon midnight ride down the mountain
from Logan Pass into West Glacier. It's so bright, you don't even
need a headlamp or bicycle light!”
6. Acadia National Park, Maine
James Kaiser, author of the book “Acadia: The Complete Guide”, says this coastal park is “one of the best national parks for biking” thanks to “45 miles of car-free carriage roads that pass by some of the park's most beautiful scenery, including lakes, ponds, and waterfalls.” The trails pass over “17 gorgeous stone bridges that make you feel like you’re stepping into a fairy tale.”
Planning your bike trip: Choose bikes that can handle the gravel roads along the trail. You can rent them in nearby Bar Harbor and take a free shuttle to the carriage road trailheads. Kaiser says to reserve ahead in busy summer months, or wait for fall when the crowds disappear and foliage is brilliant.
Bike Trails Great for Adventurers
7. The New River Gorge National River, West Virginia
This river gorge park is a mecca for mountain bikers, with roughly 75 miles of trails. The best bike trails range from easy 1-mile loops to rougher and steeper trails ideal for intermediate and advanced cyclists.
Planning your bike trip: You’ll find places to rent mountain bikes near the trailhead for the extensive Arrowhead Trail system, which was created by more than 1,000 Boy Scout volunteers in 2011.
8. Death Valley National Park, California
Shawna Newman, who writes the Active Weekender blog says, “It might not be on everyone's radar due to the desert climate, but Death Valley is an amazing place to go both road biking and mountain biking.”
Casual cyclists can find short easy rides like the Furnace Creek bike trail. Advanced riders can tackle the hills on the longer Artist's Drive route.
“I'm a big fan of the 20-Mule-Team Canyon Road, which takes you on a 3-mile dirt road loop,” says Newman. “You'll see a contrast of colors on the route. You might also recognize some of the scenery from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.”
Planning your bike trip: Rent bikes near the general store in Furnace Creek.
Biking offers a different way to explore both national parks that are familiar and those you’ve never visited before. So pack your bags , rack the bikes, and head out!
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By Eileen P. Gunn on August 6, 2019
Eileen P. Gunn is a veteran journalist, parent and traveler. She’s written for Fortune, The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News and World Report. She’s traveled on five continents (three with her daughter). And she founded the family travel website FamiliesGo! You can follow her on Pinterest.