Great Biking Parks, Trails, and Tours for Family Vacations in the USA
A vacation that includes cycling can be a feel-good thrill for kids and teens and can be throwback fun for parents and grandparents. Pedaling together on easy terrain brings a host of benefits that make for lasting family memories: fresh air, exercise, immersion into a destination, and, most of all, connectedness. From resort-based stays with excellent, car-free bike paths to guided tours that remove the burden of planning, these places for biking vacations are some of the most family-friendly in the United States.
Pictured above: Mackinac Island, Michigan
Gabled and gingerbread trimmed-houses make Mackinac Island look and feel like a Victorian-era set. The streets are free from automobiles (the most current form of transportation you’ll have to navigate is horse-drawn carriages), which makes this location ideal for cycling families with young kids. Most visitors reach this island in Lake Huron on foot by ferry and bicycles are the most common way they get around. For an overview of Mackinac, cycle the island perimeter on 8.2 mile-long Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185), the only U.S. highway that has banned cars. But you can safely ride anywhere, including past the state governor’s summer mansion, Fort Mackinac, which dates back centuries. Fuel your rides with some Mackinac Island fudge, a signature treat since the island’s turn-of-the-last-century heyday. Mackinac has several bicycle rental shops, so arranging wheels is easy. Lodging ranges from storied hotels such as the instantly identifiable Grand Hotel, the 18-acre waterfront resort Mission Point, and smaller properties and rentals.
On Escape Adventures’ family biking trip at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, all you have to do is pedal. The tour group's guides plan the itinerary, arrange the meals, and deal with flat tires, worn-out kids, and other contingencies. Cycling is a perfect way to experience the forested North Rim, which is much less visited than the hotter South Rim. Cycling’s at your own pace, and the relative lack of crowds enhances your connection to the extraordinary vistas of pinnacles and canyons that change color with the light. Along the Rainbow Rim Trail (18 miles), roll past five points of land that overhang the canyon, each one stirring you with a new, incredible view. Escape Adventures runs five-night camping or lodge-based vacations and a four-night camping trip geared to families with older kids, but it also offers a variety of other biking and multisport trips, too—primarily in the western U.S.
The sea breezes taste of salt on Bald Head Island, a 12,000-acre barrier island of sand-dune bordered beaches, oak and pine maritime forests, and marshes cut by creeks. Cycling is sweet here, especially for families with young kids, because the island, which is reached by ferry from Southport, bans cars, reserving its 15 miles of road for golf carts and bikes. Created as a resort with vacation homes, the community protects more than 80% of the island from development. Take the popular Stede Bonnet Wynd route, which winds through the forest, past the golf course, to a lagoon outlook where you might spot turtles. When you get off your bikes, you can paddle the island creeks by kayak, looking for egrets, herons, and even alligators. Bald Head has three good beaches for swimming and sunning, and if you’re there from June to the first week in August, you can also help monitor the island’s sea turtle nests on nightly beach walks. Bald Head Island has a wide range of vacation rental homes.
Even the biggest beach bum needs some off-the-sand fun. Bike past salt marshes, pine forests, and dunes on the 25.5-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail that extends from South Yarmouth to South Wellfleet. Unless you and your teens seek an endurance test, don’t plan a round-trip ride. Instead, bike a smaller section by parking (lots fill early) at trailhead lots in South Yarmouth, South Dennis Harwich, or Brewster. With younger kids, consider starting at the scenic kettle ponds (park near Hinckleys Pond, mile 5) and pausing at Nickerson State Park (around mile 10) for the pool, a picnic, and bathrooms. With older grade-schoolers, push on to the Cape Cod National Seashore (around mile 16) for ocean walks. Several bike shops near the trail offer rentals, and some will drop off bikes for multiday rentals. The Cape has a variety of lodging and camping options.
A multi-sport trip on Backroads works for families who like cycling—just not for five straight days. The company’s six-day/five-night Big Island Family Multi-Adventure Tour mixes biking with hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking. In Volcanoes National Park, bike past steaming sulfur banks and a volcanic crater’s crusted lava lake. You also kayak below sea cliffs, snorkel among schools of rainbow-colored fish, and tramp through rainforests and coffee fields. Backroads solves compatibility issues on and off the road by dividing departures into three age groups: families with adult children, ones with teens 17 and older, and parents bringing kids aged 5 to 16. Grade-schoolers aged 7 and older can ride their own bikes while kids who are 5 or 6 pedal a tandem bike with an adult, and hotels are provided. Backroads runs biking, hiking, and multi-sport trips in the U.S, Europe, and worldwide.
The historic train is just the bonus of a bike ride along the 20-mile, tree-lined Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where cyclers roam a 33,000-acre green space between Cleveland and Akron. In the nineteenth century, mules trod the route, pulling barges and boats along the Cuyahoga River on part of the Ohio and Erie Canal system, but now the towpaths carry bikes. If little feet—or big ones—get too tired to pedal back to the trailhead, avoid meltdowns by boarding the nearby Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (it allows bikes). Century Cycles in nearby Peninsula rents wheels, helmets, child trailers, and tagalongs (which are kiddie bikes that attach to adult ones). Take time to see the beaver marsh and 60-foot-high Brandywine Falls. Most visitors stay in Akron or Cleveland, which have plenty of lodging choices.
At Northstar Bike Park in Truckee (in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe), a combined count of 33 lift-accessed trails weave down two sides of Northstar California Ski Resort’s mountain. Narrower than ski runs, the cycle trails weave through trees and many of the rocky chutes test your dexterity. The route called Easy Rider, with its not-too-demanding berms, is a good warm-up for beginners. On Mineshaft, intermediates gain experience on jumps, while the challenging technical trail called Gypsy rewards expert mountain bikers with a series of leaps and wooden features. Non-bikers can stroll down the mountain on four foot-only trails. The resort also has an 18-hole golf course, and the pleasures of Lake Tahoe are a half-hour drive south. The Village at Northstar rents condos and homes.
Create your own budget-friendly, multi-activity vacation at Ray Roberts Lake State Park, near the city of Denton and about 55 miles north of Dallas–Fort Worth. Most of the park hugs the nearly 30,000-acre Ray Roberts Lake, a man-made reservoir. The 4.5-mile Jordan Park Trail, in the park's Isle Du Bois section, winds through forests, prairies, and along the water, while the 2.8-mile-long Dogwood Canyon Trail, in its Johnson Branch Unit, traces the lake’s northern shore. A stay here is casual and can be tailored to suit your tastes: Kayak with your kids, fish from the pier (no license required), have a picnic by the grill, or take a swim to cool off from the Texas heat. You can camp in the park, stay on the edge of the lake at the Lone Star Lodge & Marina outside of Pilot Point, or base yourself in nearby towns.