Great American Trails: 7 Scenic Cycling Routes in the US

Enjoy the great American outdoors on two wheels, including a trail through Colorado
Enjoy the great American outdoors on two wheels, including a trail through Colorado | © Ron Niebrugge / Alamy Stock Photo

Pedal power has to be the most rewarding way to enjoy the United States – your own efforts powering you on, the chance to stop anywhere you please, and watching the world go by with the wind in your hair and friends in your slipstream.

It has become very fashionable indeed to sit on a bike in your bedroom recently. Pedalling in full Lycra while looking at a little screen full of other computer bikers all “climbing a mountain” together. Nobody seems to know who invented the bike, but whoever it was surely didn’t have this in mind. Put the wheels on the floor. Get out the front door, explore, and have an IRL adventure like no other.

There are countless cycling paths and routes across America, every state offering a unique and exhilarating choice of places to savour upon a saddle. Here are seven spectacular routes to whet your appetite for an exciting and liberating journey on two wheels.

Natchez Trace Pathway – Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee

Three states, 444mi (715km) and infinite beauty. This historic travel corridor dates back 10,000 years. Yet across all those millennia, there has never been a better time to saddle up and cycle along it – and not just because of the relatively recent invention of asphalt. The scenery changes slowly as you make your way, offering up epic forests, peaceful waterways and astonishing waterfalls. And along the way are numerous reasons to stop – so leave yourself plenty of time. Cyclist-only campsites, sensational Southern cuisine, waterfall hikes, fabulous fishing – you may never leave this wonderful place. You’re better off attempting the full ride in spring or fall, as it can get pretty hot and humid in the summer months.

The John Coffee Memorial Bridge (left) and the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge (right) | Left: © Ilene MacDonald / Alamy Stock Photo | Right: © Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo

East Camino Cielo Road – Santa Barbara, California

This three-hour ride is perhaps the most staggering to make the list. And since it only takes up half the day you can still have an afternoon enjoying the delights of local wineries. Win-win. Travel along a single-lane road on the ridge of a mountain range (including Santa Barbara’s highest point, La Cumbre Peak) and enjoy great views of the city and the sea. It’s not the easiest ride on the list, but, with a nice mix of climbs and cruises, it’s perfectly doable for fit beginners.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail – Alaska

This is the only ride on the list during which you might see a beluga whale. There’s a distinct possibility you’ll see a bald eagle, too – and even a moose. All potentially rather distracting – so take it slow on this 11mi (18km) stretch of paved, car-free road that snakes along the Cook Inlet coast through towering forests. If the animals don’t show up, fear not, you will definitely see North America’s highest peak Mount Denali. You’re also guaranteed extraordinary views of downtown Anchorage, the Chugach Mountains, Mount Susitna and Fire Island. This easy route, named after a former Alaska governor, is one of four greenbelt trails in Anchorage so if you find yourself wanting more you’re in luck.

The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage, Alaska, is a hotbed of wildlife-spotting opportunities and one of four greenbelt trails in the city | © Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

Arkansas River Trail System, Little Rock – Arkansas

Arguably the best bike trail in the south, this 88mi (142km) loop connects 38 parks, across 5,000 acres (2,023ha) of parkland, and will see you ride past six museums, all worthy of a stop. Scenic breaks abound, thanks to the glorious Arkansas River. You’ll coast through Little Rock, North Little Rock, Maumelle and Conway, enjoying an array of habitats, landscapes and activities. If you’re a fan of Bill Clinton, you can pop into the Clinton Presidential Library; for those who prefer outdoor adventures stop in Two Rivers Park, swap your wheels for hooves for a while and enjoy the wooded wetlands on horseback. And, in Burns Park, you’ll find more reasons to lock up the bike for a while, thanks to a 36-hole golf course and a fishing pier.

Crested Butte– Colorado

This town, which sounds like the name of an exotic bird, is considered one of the homes of the founding fathers of mountain biking. And it is just about as wholesome and outdoorsy a place as you can get. The surrounding area is peppered with alpine trails, but the place to pop your two-wheel Colorado cherry has to be the 401 Loop. It’s 14mi (23km) of ups and downs that lead to the 11,339ft (3,456m) summit with 360-degree views of the Elk Mountains. Along the way you’ll enjoy alpine lakes, aspen groves and shoulder-high skunk cabbage. A climb to start you off is swiftly rewarded, as all climbs have flower-filled surrounds and a gentle downhill meander.

The undulating 401 Loop in Crested Butte, Colorado, is a favourite among action-seeking mountain bikers and lovers of staggering views | © Ilan Shacham / Getty Images

Root River State Trail, Fountain to Houston – Minnesota

If you’re a paranoid cyclist convinced something is going to go wrong with your wheels, there is no better place to bike than this 42mi (68km) paved rail-trail. In this relatively short distance there are six bike tune-up stations (complete with air pumps and bike maintenance tools galore) which were installed as part of the state’s Pedal Minnesota initiative. What this tells you is that they love cyclists in this part of the US. And you’re going to love them as much as they love you when you travel along this path with its limestone bluffs and cross dozens of bridges each more beautiful than the last. You’ll pass through the quaint communities of Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson and Rushford, and witness abundant wildlife such as wild turkey, deer, hawks and rattlesnakes. You’ll also find plentiful campsites, B&Bs, restaurants and museums.

Jekyll Island – Georgia

If you prefer your bike rides to be sweat-free with swimming, this 16mi (26km) loop, on a flat, paved path, is as good as it gets. You’ll see most of the island and have the chance to stop at spots such as the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where you can meet these stunning creatures and learn about the work done to protect them – and popular wedding location Driftwood Beach, famed for its extraordinary trees. If you’re travelling with kids or grandparents, this is the one ride on the list that you can all enjoy. Kick back a little and spend some time (ideally a night or two) at the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel to enjoy river- and beachfront dining, a round of golf or two and the Ocean Beach Club. Make sure to pack the Verizon Visa Card so that you can earn rewards on most of the things you buy, and then redeem those rewards on…more travel!

Flat, well-paved and just 16mi (26km) long, Jekyll Island, in Georgia, is perfect for an easy-going ride with plenty of beachfront restaurant stops to choose from | © Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg 16+ / Alamy Stock Photo

Make sure to pack the Verizon Visa Card so you can earn rewards wherever Visa credit cards are accepted. You can then redeem those rewards on even more travel. To learn more about the Verizon Visa Card and start earning rewards, visit verizon.com/verizonvisacard.

In partnership with Verizon, CT is offering a promo code of $35 to be used across Culture Trip for one year. Enter VERIZON35 at checkout to redeem.

The Verizon Visa® Card is issued by Synchrony Bank pursuant to a license from Visa USA Inc.

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