A Bucket List for Bikers
The 25 Best Road Cycling Routes in America
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Champlain Islands, Vermont
Why Go: Just north of the crunchy northern Vermont mecca of Burlington, the bucolic Champlain Islands bob in the center of Lake Champlain, where they’re shielded by the Adirondack Mountains to the west and the Green Mountains to the east. Farm stands and creemee (that’s Vermont for “soft-serve”) shacks sprout along quiet, pancake-flat roads here, and dramatic views of mountains tumbling down to the lakeshore are almost nonstop.
Road Notes: From downtown Burlington, it’s an easy ride north along 10 miles of the Island Line Trail — including three incredible miles on the narrow Colchester Causeway — before you reach “The Cut.” A dedicated bike ferry will deliver you across the 200-foot-wide break in the causeway, delivering you to the southern end of the islands.
Distance: 82.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,503 feet
Starts From: Burlington, VT
Around Acadia, Maine
Why Go: Because it’s home to Acadia National Park, Mt. Desert Island is the best place to explore Maine’s ruggedly beautiful granite coast. Between the miles of traffic-free carriage roads, well marked trails down to seaside tide pools and the panoramic view atop Cadillac Mountain (the highest point on the Atlantic Coast), this is a cyclist’s coastal dream trip. Of course, the profusion of postcard-perfect fishing villages with fresh-catch lobster pounds make it worthwhile off the bike.
Road Notes: We put Cadillac Mountain’s summit just six miles into the route, so early birds can catch the sunrise up top. But also so you can bail on it, shaving eight miles and 1,100 feet of climbing from the ride, if you’re not feeling it. We’ve also included 14 miles of crushed stone carriage roads. Bypassing them in favor of Rte. 3 would be a shame, but it spares your legs eight miles and 250 feet of hills.
Distance: 80.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,245 feet
Starts From: Bar Harbor, ME
The Katy Trail, Missouri
Why Go: The Katy Trail runs 237 miles across the Missouri countryside along the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad right-of-way, making it the nation’s longest Rails-to-Trails project. More than two-thirds of it hugs the banks of the muddy Missouri River, cruising on flat terrain beneath towering river bluffs and past farmland and vineyards. And despite its intrepid, middle-of-nowhere feel, dozens of would-be Mayberrys dot its length every few miles, offering rest and refuel options.
Road Notes: The smooth crushed-limestone trail passes through no fewer than 15 towns between Rocheport and McKittrick, so finding lunch and refilling water bottles shouldn’t be a problem.
Distance: 77.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 677 feet
Starts From: Rocheport, MO
Road to Hana, Hawaii
Why Go: In less than 50 miles, the Hana Highway wiggles its way around 600 hairpin turns and over 50 bridges as it traces Maui’s wild northern coast from the hub of Kahului to the little seaside village of Hana. Passing through lush tropical rainforest and studded with waterfalls and spectacular seascapes, it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime ride.
Road Notes: This is Hawaii’s most famous stretch of road, and sometimes attracts the bumper-to-bumper traffic you’d expect. As you’ll be navigating hundreds of sharp turns and nearly 50 one-lane bridges with all of those cars, it’s critical that you’re very comfortable riding with traffic. Also, factor in much more time than you think you need for food stops (Halfway to Hana and Braddah Hutts BBQ are favorites), refreshing waterfall dips and the wildly undulating topography.
Distance: 44.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,654 feet
Starts From: Paia, HI
The Pinky Traverse, Michigan
Why Go: With its rolling vineyards and cherry orchards, historic lighthouses, sandy beaches and charming ports, Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula comprises one of the most scenic stretches of the Great Lakes’ so-called “Third Coast”. Take in Lake Michigan’s pristine shoreline on a flat pedal from the vacationland of Traverse City to the oversized sandbox of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore.
Road Notes: This relatively flat route traces the “pinky” of the Lower Peninsula’s “mitten”, following 26 miles of dedicated bike trail and quiet byways with sweeping shoreline views. Time it right and you can watch sunset over Lake Michigan from Sleeping Bear’s 450-foot-high Lake Michigan Overlook. From there, it’s an easy pedal into Empire.
Distance: 70.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,968 feet
Starts From: Traverse City, MI
Delmarva Dawdle, Maryland
Why Go: The Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) is a bucolic, 170-mile-long peninsula that separates Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic. A crazy quilt of fields, small towns, coves and sinuous tributary rivers, it’s the perfect place for a laid-back, low-speed ramble along the Eastern Shore’s low-country back roads.
Road Notes: If you start from historic 17th-century Easton, you can be in St. Michaels, seated on the waterfront patio at The Crab Claw in time for lunch — steamed blue crabs with Old Bay and a side of pickles and cheese — with a view. Then it’s on to Bellevue, where a ferry ride delivers you across the Tred Avon River to Oxford. From there, it’s am easy 13-mile pedal to Easton past cornfields and horse farms.
Distance: 31.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 639 feet
Starts From: Easton, MD
Covered Bridge Metric Century, Pennsylvania
Why Go: Covered bridges and horse-drawn buggies are the hallmarks of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country surrounding Lancaster, where the Amish and Mennonites have been farming the rolling countryside for centuries. These are the same low-traffic rural roads where a young Floyd Landis — himself raised Mennonite — cut his teeth before becoming internationally infamous.
Road Notes: This ride, which traverses six covered bridges and countless rollers, isn’t technically challenging, but it will wear you down. Luckily, there are plenty of local shops — our favorite is Udder Choice in Ephrata — selling rich, creamery-fresh ice cream to power you along the way. This ride closely follows the route of the Lancaster Bike Club’s popular annual Covered Bridge Metric Century.
Distance: 64 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,455 feet
Starts From: Lancaster, PA
A Good Ride Near the Badlands, South Dakota
Why Go: The ruggedly beautiful topography of South Dakota’s Black Hills presented highway engineers with some unique challenges. They responded by constructing two “impossible” roads — the Needles Highway (Rte. 87) and Iron Mountain Road (Rte. 16A) — that thread their way through the mountains using steep grades, one-lane rock-walled tunnels, hairpin curves and photogenic spiral “pigtail” bridges. This ride, which traverses both (and swings by Mount Rushmore), is as beautiful as it is challenging, crossing wide-open meadows and deep canyons that are home to abundant wildlife including elk, bison, antelope, coyotes, mountain lions and bighorns.
Road Notes: Beyond the aggressive topography, all of those switchbacks and one-lane tunnels do present risks for cyclists. Dress brightly and beware blind curves. Plus, there are so many scenic overlooks that it’s hard to get into a rhythm.
Distance: 68.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 7,329 feet
Starts From: Custer, SD
Little Switzerland, Texas
Why Go: With its rolling karst topography, award-winning vineyards and dazzling springtime wildflower blooms, Texas Hill Country features some of the state’s best rural cycling. These hills, while not Swiss Alps caliber, were one of Lance Armstrong’s primary training grounds.
Road Notes: This ride is a Hill Country classic that leaves from the cycling capital of Fredericksburg, a quaint village founded in the 1840s by German immigrants. It’s likely a combination of that continental heritage and a Texas-sized imagination that led to locals naming this route “Little Switzerland” — there are hills with names like Mt. Crabapple, Swiss Miss and Grinder, but none are taller than 300 feet.
Distance: 41 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,233 feet
Starts From: Fredericksburg, TX
Grand Rounds Loop, Minnesota
Why Go: Though it’s only recently become recognized as a cycling paradise, Minneapolis’ best bike route — the over-50-mile Grand Rounds Loop, which traces natural features including lakes, creeks, riverbanks and wetlands in a massive circle around downtown — has been around since the 1930s.
Road Notes: While the full trip includes complete laps around each and every lake, this ride comprises a practical, 31-mile route around the Grand Rounds from the University of Minnesota campus and knocks most of the climbing out of the way in the first dozen miles.