“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” Such are the words of none other than the great Ernest Hemingway, a man of immense literary talent and boundless travelogue-writing expertise. If anything, his sentiments hold even more truth today, as our incessant time in the car has all but inured us to the outside world. And it’s a shame because the United States is a place with countless roads that are perfect for pedaling, though they’re often too dangerous due to the seemingly endless flow of automotive traffic.
However, if you know where to look and you manage to plan accordingly, there are some truly great routes to be ridden. From the sweeping Appalachians of the East to the awe-inspiring coastline of the West, the entire country is chockfull of opportunity. Below, we’ve put together a choice selection of some of the best cycling experiences around, giving you helpful tips and tricks to ensure that your trip goes off without a hitch. Needless to say, there are way more roads out there that are worth a ride. However, in an effort to get you going, let’s begin with 20 of the best cycling roads you can find here in America.
Big Sur Highway 1
Though you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong with any of California’s many incredible cycling escapes, Highway 1 through Big Sur is one road that you won’t want to miss. Snaking some 90-odd miles along the Pacific coastline, it offers a stunning oceanic panorama that’s made even more breathtaking by the sound of the waves crashing down below. Along the way, you’ll wind through beautiful Redwoods and pass by quaint beach towns, but you’ll be challenged by more than a few tough climbs. Luckily, with Carmel to the north and San Simeon to the south, you’ve got some great destinations to reward your efforts.
Length: 90 miles
Blue Ridge Parkway
With its expansive mountain ranges, diverse wildlife, and incredible foliage, the Blue Ridge Parkway is easily one of the scenic routes you’ll find east of the Mississippi. As such, the 469 miles of high country two-lane can be pretty trafficked during certain times of the year (especially peak leaf season). However, because of the slow speed limits and well-maintained road surfaces, it’s still plenty safe for cyclists. If you’re looking to tackle the Parkway’s hillier terrain, stick to the stretch around Asheville and Brevard. After you’re done, you can grab a beer at one of the region’s many breweries.
Length: 497 miles
Covered Bridges Scenic Highway
The Covered Bridges Scenic Highway is a serene 47-mile route that takes you around the foothills of the Appalachian mountains and through some of the most idyllic farmland in rural Ohio. As befitting of the name, it’s abounding with historic water crossings, taking you back in time to the days when horse-drawn wagons ruled the road. It’s worth noting that the highway comprises a mix of paved, gravel, and dirt roads, so you should make sure that your bike is equipped to handle the terrain.
Length: 47 miles
Crater Lake Rim Road
This epic ride encircles the outer rim of an ancient volcanic crater, taking you around the deepest lake in the United States. At some 33 miles from start to finish, it might not be as drawn-out as some of our other picks, but don’t let the lack of length fool you. Between the high altitude, the hairpin turns, and the hard ascents, this is one route that’ll have you heaving before you know it. While there’s no wrong way to ride Crater Lake, going counterclockwise will get the steeper sections over with earlier, allowing you to appreciate the more scenic views towards the end.
Length: 33 miles
Edge Of The Wilderness Scenic Byway
Way back even before Minnesota had statehood, French voyagers and loggers used this route as a line for establishing trade. Today, you can ride the 47-mile path through the Chippewa National Forest, pedaling gently rolling hills around bogs and past hundreds of lakes, rivers, and streams. What’s more, as you throw yourself deeper into the untamed wilderness, you’ll encounter a variety of historic sites, lumberjack towns, and campgrounds.
Length: 47 miles
It’s often the case that the most heinous climbs are rewarded with a spectacular view, and Montana’s Going-To-The-Sun Road is certainly no exception. Though you’ll be punishing your quads for some 3,300 feet of vertical, make it to the top and you’ll be met with glaciers, bighorn sheep, and even a bear if you’re lucky. You’ll want to start at the Apgar Visitor Center to Logan Pass, as you can always arrange for a shuttle rendezvous should you be too spent to make it the rest of the way on your own.
Length: 50 miles
Though most of the tourists will stop at Zion, the real riding lies just on the horizon. Because this one comes after the infamous national park, you’ll find that it’s actually a pretty quiet stretch of road, making it great for avoiding cars and stopping off to the side to appreciate the beautiful views of the plateau. Depending on your particular endurance and experience level, you can easily make this ride a century-plus. However, we’d recommend that most people start at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center and do a nice 50 out-and-back.
Length: 50 miles
It’s a little-known secret, but South Carolina offers some of the best cycling you can find below the Mason-Dixon. After all, retired Pro Tour rider George Hincapie calls the Greenville Watershed his home, even going so far as to establish the Hotel Domestique and holding a Grand Fondo there every year. With gently undulating hills, long stretches of road, and little car traffic, it’s a bonafide southern biker’s paradise. Just be sure to grab some barbecue after you’re done — it makes for the best kind of post-ride recovery.
Length: 30-60 miles
High Road To Taos Scenic Byway
Time travel back into colonial New Mexico with this stunning 72-mile route. Passing through ancient Spanish pueblos, brutalist badlands, and scrubby junipers, it’s highlighted by the constant sight of the Jemez Mountains rising up before you. As you follow the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo range, you can opt to finish off your trip with a stop in Ranchos de Taos. There, you’ll find the Saint Francis Plaza, with the beautiful San Francisco de Asis Church and its massive adobe walls.
Length: 72 miles
Million Dollar Highway
It’s not without good reason that Colorado’s U.S. 550 is known as the Million Dollar Highway; in addition to being a monumental feat of engineering, the road also takes you on a priceless trip through the San Juan Mountains. From the hairpin turns to the magnificent views to the flowing descents, this is one route that belongs on every cyclist’s bucket list. It should be noted that because of the steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and noticeable lack of guardrails, you should ride the Million Dollar Highway with caution.
Length: 25 miles
Mount Tam (as the locals call it) is a favorite amongst pro pedallers because of its heavy elevation gain and its iconic summit finish. Sure, the Bay Area has any number of different world-class climbs, but the flowing grades, open fields, and dense Redwoods make this one a true cut above the rest. Though there are several approaches for scaling this 2,571-foot peak, the best way to get your fix is by starting on East Ridgecrest Boulevard and looping around the Alpine Dam — it’ll get you 40 miles and nearly 4,700 feet of vert.
Length: 33 miles
The Trace is one of the oldest rail trails in the United States, stretching 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. A favorite amongst cyclists because of the incredibly smooth surfaces (it’s actually nicknamed the road of glass), it’s made only better by the fact that it goes uninterrupted by traffic lights and there are no forks to take a wrong turn. When pedaling this perfect stretch of southern pavement, you’ll have plenty of interesting places to stop, including historic farms, plantations, and even the odd Native American heritage site.
Length: 444 miles
Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
Cyclists from all over the world flock to South Dakota to ride this 70-mile stretch of road, and it’s easy to see why when you consider the scenery. Looking down above the Needles Highway, it snakes through the scenic Black Hills and past the reliefs of Mount Rushmore, with impressive rock-walled tunnels throughout. Of course, traffic can make the narrow two-lane a bit hairy at times, but there are some great rest areas for stopping and taking in the sights. And, if you happen to have the itch to do a bit of bikepacking, there are even multiple campgrounds located along the way.
Length: 70 miles
Red Rock Canyon
When you’re pedaling this one-way scenic drive, it’s easy to forget that you’re not even 20 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. As you make your way along its 13 miles, you’ll be brought face to face with the region’s geology, including sublime sand dunes, imposing cliffs, and other roadside beauties. That being said, don’t get too caught up in your surroundings; on or off the pavement, falling rocks are a real hazard, and loose debris often makes its way onto the road’s surface. Moreover, you’ll be pretty far removed from any repair facilities or rest stops.
Length: 13 miles
Old Seward Highway
While most of the roads on our list fall within the lower 48, that’s not to say that places like Alaska are without their own bike-able byways. On the contrary, as you’ll find with the 120 miles of the Seward Highway, the state has everything you could ask for in a view, with austere snowfields punctuated by patches of wildflowers. Don’t lose heart as you tackle the seven-mile climb over Turnagain Pass — the effort is totally worth the opportunity to see the Kenai Mountains and all of the diverse wildlife the area has to offer. In a single outing, you could witness everything from brown bears to bald eagles to beluga whales.
Length: 120 miles
At the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway lies a 105-mile length of rolling hills known as Skyline Drive. Stretching from Front Royal to Waynesboro, Virginia, it’s a route that’s best enjoyed during the autumn months because of the picturesque foliage filling the Shenandoah Valley. Since this is a road where you’ll very rarely find a section of flat, make sure to bring your climbing legs and be ready to put in an effort. Oh, and pack plenty of food and water as well; Skyline Drive’s available access points are also few and far between.
Length: 105 miles
Thanks to its small size and quiet rural roads, Vermont is one of the Northeast’s preeminent cycling destinations. In the case of the Smuggler’s Notch climb, you’re getting a twisting 13-mile track that steadily increases from three to ten percent as you get closer to the top. However, once you crest the peak and pass the resort, you’ll catch a breather, cruising down into Stowe to the sight of some truly sensational Green Mountain scenery. Because Route 108 is closed during the winter months, you’ll want to plan this ride for late spring through early fall.
Length: 13 miles
Storm King Mountain
Although Bear Mountain may be one of the more popular destinations in upstate New York, that’s cutting your trip short far too soon. The real climbs begin just beyond, so if you’re up for an 80-mile out-and-back, the route to Storm King makes for a far better ride. There, you’ll find that the amazing Hudson River vistas and the perilous rocky outcroppings make it feel almost as if you’re in the south of Spain. Top it off with a slice of delicious pizza and a stint on the train back to the city, and you’ve got a jam-packed day that can’t be beaten.
Length: 80 miles
The Flint Hills Trail
The Flint Hills of Kansas are known worldwide for the punishment they inflict on cyclists each year during the UNBOUND Gravel race. Between the wind, the heat, and the brutal tire-destroying terrain, this is one ride that’s sure to test your mettle. Nevertheless, going by gravel bike is hands down the best way to experience the low country beauty, as it puts the wildflowers, tall-grass prairie, and various fauna on full display. Don’t forget to pack plenty of spare tubes and tire plugs — it’ll make for a long walk otherwise.
Length: 97 miles
The Katy Trail
Running along the banks of the Missouri River is the Katy Trail, a 240-mile traverse that comes heaped with American history. Originally blazed by Lewis and Clark during the age of the Louisiana Purchase, it was later used as the corridor for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad line. As such, it’s a pretty easy ride with minimal climbing, rising up only a couple hundred feet along its length. You’re more than welcome to attempt it on a road bike, but having a set of fatter tires will make the experience markedly more enjoyable.
Length: 240 miles
12 Best Mountain Bike Trails In America
Though the United States has some of the best roads in the world for riding, we’d understand if you feel a bit put off by potential traffic. If that’s the case, head on over to our guide to the best mountain bike trails in America, where you’ll find nothing but blissful nature and twisting singletrack.
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