The Best U.S. National Parks for Bicycling
Among the criteria for a memorable bike ride in a U.S. national park: good scenery (let's be honest—all the parks have that), terrain to suit your fitness level (are you up for peaks or prairies?), and sufficient bike lanes or, better yet, separate pathways to help you steer clear of car traffic.
These national parks easily meet those requirements. Whether you’re an expert cyclist with a closet full of Lycra or you haven’t been on a bike since you outgrew your 10-speed Schwinn, the can’t-miss routes we’ve collected will make you want to experience America’s outdoor beauty from behind handlebars.
Rentals are easy to find in each park’s gateway city; consult Frommer’s guidebooks and our online listings for recommended bike shops and outfitters. We’ve outlined single-day adventures here. For longer biking vacations, you can book multiday tours from companies such as Trek Travel and Backroads or plot your own journey with resources from the Adventure Cycling Association. While in the parks, follow all traffic rules, stay out of backcountry areas where tires can cause ecological damage, and keep a safe distance from hikers, other bikers, and wildlife.
Now tighten your helmet’s chinstrap and let’s ride!
Pictured above: Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming
A great option for casual cyclists and beginners is Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. From the park’s South Campground entrance near Springdale, the 2-mile Pa’rus Trail (pictured)—paved, nearly flat, and restricted to bikers and pedestrians only—winds along the Virgin River and past formidable rock formations in shades of red, blond, and brown. The path connects to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which bicyclists and hikers also don’t have to share with motorized vehicles except for shuttle buses (in operation from March through November). A gentle, 6-mile climb through a landscape of stony cliffs and river-fed greenery brings you to the trailhead for the popular hike to the Narrows. Park your bike to take the strenuous trek, requiring wading in the Virgin River, to reach the spot where the canyon becomes a skinny corridor between walls 1,000 feet high.
To plan your trip: Visit nps.gov/zion.
Bikes are allowed on Acadia’s Park Loop Road, a spectacular route that starts just south of the town of Bar Harbor and shows off Mount Desert Island’s coastal scenery and woodsy interior, with a detour leading to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and its sweeping views. But the Park Loop Road is often clogged with cars, especially in summer, so a better bet for bikers is Acadia’s 45-mile network of carriage roads. Kajillionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., paid for these crushed-rock byways and their picturesque, stone-faced bridges to be installed between 1913 and 1940 so that avid horseback riders like him could explore the park without the interference of motor vehicles. Today, those on two wheels, two feet, or four hooves can take the restored carriage roads, which are gravelly but smooth enough for bike tires to negotiate with minimal bumpiness. Pedal your way around Eagle Lake or pay a visit to the historic Jordan Pond House restaurant for tea and popovers at outdoor tables next to a mountain-ringed expanse of crystal-clear water.
To plan your trip: Visit nps.gov/acad.
Serious cyclists consider the Rim Drive around southern Oregon’s Crater Lake a must-do. The high demand stems from the road’s limited window of snow-free accessibility each year (typically June through October) and truly gobsmacking views. The 33-mile route encircles the country’s deepest lake (pictured above), created around 7,700 years ago by a volcano that erupted and then collapsed. But you’d never guess anything that explosive could happen here when you’re gazing on the pristine, cobalt-blue water surrounded by pine-covered hills. Because the road follows the contours of the landscape, bikers should prepare themselves for steep inclines, heady altitudes, and sharp curves. Fortunately, there are 30 overlooks where you can stop and catch your breath—and then have it taken away again by the vistas. Cars are allowed on the drive, too, except during bicycle-only Ride the Rim events (scheduled to resume in 2021) requiring advance registration. Lodging options in and around the park are limited due to its remote setting, so you'll also want to plan ahead to snag a hotel room or campsite.
To plan your trip: Visit nps.gov/crla.
Sandwiched between Cleveland and Akron in northeast Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park straddles the Cuyahoga River as it reaches toward Lake Erie. Bikers who take the nearly 21-mile Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail follow the former route of the historic canal used for shipping cargo through these parts in the 1800s, connecting Ohio’s farmers and merchants to the rest of the eastern United States. Pedaling along the same path where mules would drag barges through the water, you’ll get a feel for how rural Ohio was before the canal came along—full of marshes, beavers, woods, waterfalls, and the occasional 19th-century farmhouse—even though two of the state’s major cities are close by. Spring wildflowers and fall foliage provide colorful backdrops during those seasons. Though paused in 2020, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad typically sells a one-way pass that lets you ride the train in one direction and bike back to your starting point or vice versa; check to see if the railway is operating when you'll be there.
To plan your trip: Visit nps.gov/cuva.
At northern California’s Redwood National and State Parks, bikers ride through primeval scenery encompassing immense, misty forests as well as the rugged Pacific coastline. Base yourself at the Elk Meadow Day Use Area, located less than 5 miles north of Orick on the Redwood Highway. Elk Meadow is the starting point for several bike trails on repurposed logging roads. Though most backcountry paths are off-limits to bikes because tires cause soil erosion, the 11-mile Lost Man Creek Trail goes through a grove of old-growth redwoods and connects with Bald Hills Road and U.S. 101 (which is narrow and used by cars, so watch out) for a 20.5-mile loop with Pacific Ocean views. For a shorter alternative, the 10-mile Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway reserves its impressive redwoods for bikers and hikers only (no cars allowed) on the first Saturday of each month from October to April.
To plan your trip: Visit nps.gov/redw.
Though they go easy on cyclists’ thighs, flat places have a reputation for lacking the awe-inspiring scenery of mountainous locales. A strong argument for the unfairness of that belief is presented by Florida, the flattest state in the USA (betcha thought it was Kansas, huh?) and the home of several dramatic sights, starting with Everglades National Park. From the Shark Valley Visitor Center located a one-hour drive directly west of Miami, the paved Shark Valley Tram Road leads hikers, bikers, and tram tours on an easy, 15-mile loop through the wetlands, with near-guaranteed opportunities for spotting sunbathing alligators (keep your distance, obviously) as well as good chances for seeing deer, otters, herons, egrets, and other critters. An observation tower at the path’s halfway point offers a far-reaching look across the park’s vast “River of Grass.” Try not to go during the peak heat of Florida's humid summer.
To plan your trip: Visit nps.gov/ever.
The snow-capped peaks of western Wyoming’s Teton Range shoot straight up from a relatively flat valley floor, giving up-close mountain views to bikers without requiring them to pump their legs up and down rolling foothills. Those conditions likely account for the notable bike-friendliness of Grand Teton National Park and its gateway town, Jackson, where a network of paved, multiuse pathways invite two-wheeled explorations of the settlement's distinctive personality (cowboy culture meets upscale mountain resort). Inside the park, you can take the paved trail or Teton Park Road (cars allowed) to reach the 7-mile Jenny Lake Scenic Loop along the shores of a glacial lake set like a glittering jewel amid mountains, canyons, and alpine forests. Bears, bison, moose, and elk are among the wildlife you might see along the way. At Yellowstone National Park, adjoining Grand Teton to the north, a lot more natural wonders await.
To plan your trip: Visit nps.gov/grte.