If you’re looking for a bucket-list ride, chances are it might be closer to home than you think. These eight picturesque routes through national parks offer stunning scenery, challenging climbs and cycling adventures you won’t soon forget.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
If you’ve got a mountain bike, the 45-mile network of carriage roads that are closed to traffic are a must ride. For road cyclists, coastline routes along Park Loop Road offer scenic views of the whole park — but be aware that most roads are narrow, and the climb up to Cadillac Mountain is steep and requires good fitness.
Route: 45 miles of carriage trails, 27-mile scenic Park Loop.
Best time to go: The summer months offer the best weather, but are also a popular time for tourists so there may be more traffic. If you can deal with slightly colder temps, try early fall.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
The ride through Arches is dramatic, beginning with a tough climb on switchbacks before moving toward mostly rolling terrain. Sandstorm and rock formations provide plenty of amazing landscapes along the way, with a panorama of La Sal Mountains at the top of the first climb — one of the many highlights along the route.
Route: Try the 46.4-mile out and back route from the National Park Visitor Center to Courthouse Towers, Balanced Rock, Skyline Arch and Devils Garden.
Best time to go: Spring and fall. Avoid the busy summer months and freezing temps in the winter. Note: there is ongoing work on the roads this summer, so there might be some unpaved sections.
READ MORE > 10 TIPS FOR RIDING GRAVEL ON A ROAD BIKE
For an extreme wilderness getaway, riding through a national park in Alaska is the way to go. With very little traffic and mountain views you can only expect in this part of the country, this route is paved up until Mile 15. Smooth, graded gravel that’s suitable for road tires 28cc and above takes you the rest of the way. No vehicles are allowed past Mile 15, which means you’ll likely have most of the views to yourself.
Route: 92 miles along Park Road
Best time to go: Late spring/early summer. If you go just before May 20th, which is when park tours begin, you won’t have to deal with tour buses.
This national park offers scenic diversity like few others. You’ll pedal past volcanoes, through deserts and rainforests, and even see a few craters along the way. Popular rides include an 11-mile loop around Crater Rim Trail, an 18-mile round-trip ride on Hilina Pali Road, a 40-mile Summit to Sea Ride or the climbing intensive 27-mile up and down trip on Mauna Loa Road.
Route: 11-mile Crater Rim Trail, 27-mile ride on Mauna Loa Road
Best time to go: While the weather is generally nice year-round, rain showers are always a possibility. Traffic on the island can be heavy, so steer clear of summer months when tourist activity is at its height.
READ MORE > TAKE YOUR NEXT CYCLING VACATION IN EUROPE
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
With a smooth road and little traffic, the forested climb to Hurricane Ridge might be one of the best in the country. Along the way up the 18.6-mile climb, you’ll be able to soak in gorgeous scenery and epic views of Mt. Olympus and the Puget Sound. The gradient averages a steady 4.9% which should be doable for most with a decent level of fitness, and there are several places to stop and catch your breath if you need to.
Route: 18.6 miles from East First Street and South Race Street to the Visitor’s Center at top of the climb and back.
Best time to go: Summer and early fall.
REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK
Whether you prefer road cycling or trail riding, you won’t find a more unique spot to ride your bike than Redwood National Park. Head through the redwood forest on Lost Man Creek Trail, over to the coastline on the Coastal Trail or go off road on one of the many rehabilitated logging roads where bicycles are permitted. Other trails cyclists have access to include the Little Bald Hills Trail, Davison Trail and Ossagon Trail Loop.
Route: 20.1 miles (one way) on Bald Hills Road and Highway 101 with some steep gradients.
Best time to go: Late spring and early summer.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
This ride has plenty of challenging climbing on the menu, with 60 miles of paved road through Rocky Mountain Park and long sections of 5–7% grade. If you’re into gravel riding, try Old Fall River Road in early spring or late fall when the road closes to vehicle traffic. Check with the information office to see which roads are closed to cyclists.
Route: 48 miles on Trail Ridge Road with lots of climbing
Best time to go: Go in late spring after the rangers plow the road for the first time, which is when the park opens the road exclusively to cyclists.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
Connecting the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 105-mile route on Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful in the entire U.S. If you decide to head over the Blue Ridge Mountains, you will have to conquer a few serious challenges, as the entire route has 18 categorized climbs and just over 15,000 feet of climbing. Fast, windy descents also require good bike handling skills and a well-maintained bike.
Route: 105 miles on Skyline Drive
Best time to go: The park is open from March to November. Lower vehicle traffic makes late spring and early fall an ideal time to ride.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE