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Photo: orcmid

From Denali to Miami, America offers up routes that can make for weeks- or even months-long bicycle getaways.
The Big Boys

1. TransAmerica Trail

It doesn’t get much bigger than this.

The TransAmerica was inaugurated during the 1976 “Bikecentennial,” a bicycle-based celebration of America’s 200th Independence Day. The route runs 4,262 miles from Virginia’s Atlantic coast, through the heartland of the USA, over the Rockies, and terminates at the Pacific in Oregon.

It was the success of the Bikecentennial that strengthened the popularity of cycle touring and led to the creation of many more American trails, some of which are profiled below.

Photo: billaday

2. Pacific Coast Route

Delivering what it promises, the Pacific Coast Route takes you from Washington’s border with Canada all the way down to San Diego, hugging the water practically the whole way.

Much of the 1,853-mile route is on shared roads, though there are some bicycle-dedicated stretches. Services — including top-notch campgrounds — are never far away.

For the super determined, the route can be extended beyond U.S. borders: north into British Columbia and south into Mexico…and beyond.

3. East Coast Greenway

Though currently only 23% complete, the East Coast Greenway will one day link Calais, Maine, and Key West, Florida, with a 3,000-mile, firm-surface, non-motorized trail system.

If you want to help the Greenway folks get this done just a little bit quicker, check out the details on their Close the Gaps Campaign.

The route is definitely ridable today, with the remaining 77% comprised of low-traffic roads.

4. Great Divide Trail

Challenge-seekers, this one’s for you. I’ll throw out some stats to get the blood pumping: 2,493 miles long. Mixes gravel, single-track, and converted railroad beds. Crosses the Continental Divide 50+ times. Gains more than 200,000 feet of elevation!

One of the founders of the Great Divide Trail has this to say:

People who’ve ridden this trail laugh when they hear others say the Tour de France is tough.

The record time for cycling the whole thing? 15 days.

5. Mississippi River Trail

Get to know America’s Big River by cycling its length. The Mississippi River Trail follows it for 2,000 miles from its source in Minnesota, down through steamboat country, to the delta in New Orleans.

The trail includes bike-friendly roads as well as off-road paths and winds through 10 states.

Historic Trails

6. Underground Railroad

The escape of Southern slaves to the freedom of the North is one of the most tragic and heroic stories in American history. With the newly unveiled Underground Railroad Trail, you can see firsthand the routes that were taken by these fugitives.

Only, picture yourself traveling at night. Pursued. Oh yeah, and on foot.

For more info on the 2,028-mile trail, check out the four-part documentary playing on Adventure Cycling Association’s YouTube channel.

Photo: Jason Pratt

7. Lewis & Clark Trail

These were the explorers charged with mapping the land acquired in Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, and this route traces their journey through the Great Plains and into the Pacific Northwest.

Of course, the original voyage was made largely by boat on the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, so the bike route follows the water whenever possible. It extends for 3,252 miles on a mix of paved roads and multi-use trails and gives easy access to many museums dedicated to the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Short(er) and Sweet

8. C&O Canal and Towpath + Great Allegheny Passage

Though created and maintained as two separate paths, these non-motorized trails link up to connect Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, PA, running a total of 330 miles. Cycling the two takes a few days and is popular in autumn, when the leaves turn.

The C&O Towpath is the same one that was used to drag boats along the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal until the waterway’s closure in 1924. Its route is now preserved as a park.

Photo: Ken_Mayer

In Cumberland, MD, the Great Allegheny Passage takes over. The rail trail has yet to be extended into Pittsburgh proper, but work is underway to complete this last phase of construction.

9. Green Mountains Loop

If you’re not up for driving the Green Mountain State, why not cycle it? The 376-mile Green Mountains Loop starts and ends in Burlington and threads through the small New England towns and forests that make VT so special.

Most of the route is on shoulder-less roads, though traffic is generally light. While you won’t actually be climbing any mountains, expect hills.

10. Denali Highway

The Denali Highway was once a supply route for miners during Alaska’s Gold Rush, and later the main road for visitors to Denali National Park. Those days are over, and now the highway is a prime destination for cyclers.

Though a fairly short ride at just 133 miles, there are plenty of opportunities for off-the-saddle exploration — you don’t have to look far to find a chance to hike, paddle, or camp.

The highway runs from Paxson to Cantwell and is mostly gravel.

More

A map showing several of these routes and many more is provided by the Adventure Cycling Association.

Community Connection

New to cycle touring? Make sure to check out these Matador resources:

How to Train and Prepare For Your First Multi-Day Ride

How to Choose a Touring Bicycle

Bicycle Touring: A Solid Setup

8 Steps for Successful Self-Supported Bicycle Tours

Sports + Adventure


 

About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • tom gates

    A great one! I just sent this to about 10 of my biking friends.

  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

    Thanks, Tom. Before researching this, I had no idea how many long-distance options American cyclists had!

  • http://meganahill.wordpress.com Megan Hill

    There are tons through the ACA! I’ve written a few in-depth pieces on the Underground Railroad route.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Megan, any way you can link to those? That might be the most intriguing trail on the list.

  • http://meganahill.wordpress.com Megan Hill

    Sure! Actually, the only one available online can be viewed here: http://meganahill.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/overthebackfence.pdf

    And yeah, it’s definitely the most intriguing in that it couples history with your bike ride. I think the ACA wants to do more of that sort of thing.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Nice writeup. Have you ridden any or all of the route? I’m really looking forward to having access to things like this once I get back to the U.S.

      • http://meganahill.wordpress.com Megan Hill

        Not yet…I don’t have a touring bike and didn’t do any cycling when I lived near the route. One day though (like everything.)

  • http://petritent.blogspot.com aya

    i’ve really been wanting to do the great allegheny passage ever since seeing an article about it in adventure magazine. the denali highway sounds pretty amazing, too.

  • Kathy

    Anyone riding that Great Divide Trail would have to be insane*, but the scenery would be fantastic!

    *Of course, I think the Tour-de-Francers–and, come to think of it, all distance bikers–are insane.

  • http://www.mytb.org/joncasssouthkorea Jon Wick

    Jackpot! As soon as I’m back in the states, it’s internet scouring time for a nice bike. Next summer… look out! Great article, Hal, I’ll keep this one close by!

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    Sweet list.

  • http://bctravelguide.ca Bctravelguide

    Very well written article Hal.
    definitely worth sharing!

  • http://www.greenway.org Eric

    Awesome list!

    Just for the record, the East Coast Greenway is a complete route that can be used today from Key West, FL to Calais, Maine. While the ultimate goal is a 100% traffic-separated route (on rail-trails, canal paths, etc), the route today is 23% off-road and 77% on carefully-selected roads. Check out the maps and cue sheets at greenway.org!

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Thanks for the clarification, Eric! I’ve amended the entry to make this more obvious for readers.

  • Mandy Hale

    I can personally attest to the beauty and adventure of riding the Denali Highway. Starting from the east end of it the first 20 miles are paved (Paxson to Tangle Lakes). After that the real adventure begins! There is spectacular fishing, the mosquitoes are fierce and you may just be surrounded by a herd of caribou. Much of the surrounding lands are closed to motorized vehicles, so my husband bought his first mountain bike and a BOB trailer specifically to explore the area. He says BOB really hates mud!! For most of the route there are virtually no amenities, including safe drinking water–a filtration system is advisable if you are going to be spending any time in the area. You can probably ride the entire route in two days, but why would you want to dash through it like that?

    Mandy,
    Palmer, Alaska

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Mandy. Sounds incredible!

  • http://www.BycycleTrips.blogspot.com Sara Schroedl

    I highly recommend the long distance touring company, America By Bicycle. They are flawless in handling all the logistics of their many long distance tours. I went with them on both my Northern tier cross country USA bike trips. Their website is:
    http://www.ABBike.com. Spectacular route!
    My next trip (Spring of 2010) will be the Southern Tier cross country.
    I have posted links to my long distance bike trip journals on my web blog. Long distance riding is the ultimate!

  • Kurt

    I rode a portion of the Continental Divide in Montana with Adventure Cycling Assoc. An absolutely beautiful ride. To do the whole thing would be difficult unsupported but it’s done thru ACA.

  • Rich Gallo

    While the Trans-Am is a great x-c tour …. the longest one is with the Bicycle Adventure Club (www.bicycleadventureclub.org) – they go over 5,000 miles, from the State of Washington to the State of Florida. Not only do they go west to east across the United States, but they also go north to south.

    As with the Trans-Am and many of the tours you cite, the BAC X-C tour has numerous highlights (July 4 at Mt. Rushmore just being one).

    Whatever tour you pick – do pick one ! No matter what tour you choose, have a great time!

  • http://www.facebook.com/KingandPrinceReservations Colleen

    The East Coast Greenway is by far my favorite. And I was surprised to see the photo of the cyclist with the mountains in the background-as that is practically in my childhood backyard in my hometown(Gardiner, NY). That is the Shawangunk Ridge in the photo and the photo was taken on Brunswick road. If you ever head up that way take a ride down Brunswick it has AMAZING views of the mountain.

  • brian

    My wife and I are thinking about riding the Great Divide route in September and October. We’re looking for resources / people’s experiences on weather in the high Rockies during the autumn. Is cycling the Great Divide route in September and October (from Canada to Mexico) doable?

    bz

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  • http://kaneinsurance.net/ Kane

    How about a list of road cycling routes? Preferably in the Southeast? ^.^

  • Zhiyong Du

    try one at least.

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