The Most Beautiful Bike Trails in the U.S.

People riding bikes across a wooden bridge
Photo: Jason Pratt/Flickr

Some of America's most scenic bicycle trails are best suited for skilled mountain bikers, but other attractive bike paths are accessible to anyone with a basic level of fitness and the ability to keep their two-wheeler upright for a few miles on well-maintained asphalt.

Cycling allows you to experience the outdoors, whether urban or rural, in a way that is not possible with a car or other motorized vehicle. For many cycling enthusiasts, it is as much about connecting with their surroundings as it is about exercise or cheap, green transportation.

These 10 paths are among the best in the U.S. for enjoying scenery and nature while pedaling.

1
of 10

Banks Vernonia Trail, Oregon

Photo: Tomas Quinones/Flickr

The Banks Vernonia Trail stretches for 21 miles through rural Oregon. It was built on an old rail line. The trail's creators made use of a dozen train bridges and level grading to create a continuous and easy-to-navigate bike thoroughfare. The Banks Vernonia has six different access points, including its two namesake trailheads.

This is the kind of path that casual riders will enjoy. They can pedal through scenic stretches of Oregon forest and past meadows and streams. The trail runs through L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, which has campgrounds for those who would like to spend more than an afternoon exploring the trail and its surroundings.

2
of 10

Flume Trail, Nevada

Photo: Jeff Moser/Flickr

The Flume Trail is as scenic as the Banks Vernonia, but it is quite a bit more challenging. Attractive to avid and experienced mountain bikers, this dirt pathway rises above Lake Tahoe. Riders who tackle this trail are greeted with a 1,000 foot rise in elevation over the first few miles of the 14-mile, one-way trip.

The Flume is tough to pedal but easy to reach. Shuttle buses connect the trailheads with Tahoe's population centers and resorts. The real reason to take this trip, which is also part of the longer (40-mile) Tahoe Rim Trail, is the view. There are no barriers between riders and one of the most scenic mountain lakes in the world. For those with a reasonable level of fitness and no fear of heights, the Flume Trail can be one of the most rewarding bike journeys in the West.

3
of 10

American River Bike Trail, California

Photo: torbakhopper/Flickr

Running between Sacramento's Discovery Park and the town of Folsom, the American River Bike Trail, also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, is a popular pedaling path for local cyclists. However, this trip is often overlooked by tourists who favor the Central Coast, urban Bay Area routes or expeditions to the nearby wine country.

That said, the American River Trail certainly deserves mention. Sections of the flat, 32-mile car-free path are lined with trees, while other parts pass wildflower fields and cross scenic bridges along the river. One such span is a Golden Gate replica called the Guy West Bridge.

4
of 10

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Photo: Katie/Flickr

The Cape Cod Rail Trail in Massachusetts is 22 miles long, running between the towns of South Dennis and Wellfleet. Though it does not pass directly along the coast, the water is always nearby, as is the protected Cape Cod National Seashore. Coast Guard Beach and its dunes are a popular stopping-off point for riders pedaling the entire length of this trail.

This is one of the more accessible trails on our list. Not only is the route paved and relatively flat, but bicycles are for rent from various vendors along the way. Part of the experience for many cyclists includes stopping in the towns beside the trail to rest at bike-friendly businesses or picnic spots.

5
of 10

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Photo: David B. Gleason/Flickr

Most of the trails on this list are defined by nature, but this one runs right through one of America's biggest cities. The Chicago Lakefront Trail does have nature on one side in the form of Lake Michigan. On the other side, however, the views are decidedly more urban, but arguably still very beautiful.

The path runs along the lakeshore for 18 miles from the north side of the city to the south side. In addition to the skyline, riders will pass beaches, marinas and famous sites like Soldier Field and the Museum of Science and Industry. Though the Lakefront Trail is open to all forms of non-motorized traffic, there is a dedicated bike lane.

6
of 10

Maah Daah Hey Trail, North Dakota

Photo: Roderick Eime/Flickr

If urban riding is not for you, the Maah Daah Hey Trail could be the perfect destination. This 97-mile path cuts through the Little Missouri National Grassland in rural North Dakota. It is joined with other trails to create a system that stretches for well over 100 miles.

The Maah Daah Hey is defined by grasslands and meadows, but some sections also include badlands-style buttes, jagged terrain, hills, riverbeds and wooded areas. These diverse landscapes make a journey along larger sections of this trail worthwhile. Overnight camping is available along the trail for those who really want to soak in the landscape.

If you're curious where the trail gets its name, Maah Daah Hey means grandfather in the Mandan Indian language, and the trail symbol of a turtle comes from the Lakota Indian’s symbolic meaning of long life and patience, according to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department.

7
of 10

San Juan Islands

Photo: Josh Townsley/Flickr

The San Juan Islands in Washington state — San Juan Island, Lopez Island and Orcas Island — are great places for a bike adventure. Despite the general consensus that this is one of the better destinations in the Pacific Northwest for a two-wheel trip, there are no dedicated bike trails on the islands. Vehicle traffic is minimal however, and bike culture rules the tourism scene.

Lopez Island has gentle elevation changes and great views, making it ideal for casual cyclists. The steep winding roads of Orcas Island are challenging even for experienced pedalers, and San Juan Island brings a mix of terrain and some of the best scenery in the area.

8
of 10

Captain Ahab Trail, Utah

Photo: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

Captain Ahab is a very short mountain bike trail (a little over 4 miles) in Moab, Utah. What it lacks in length it makes up for with unusual scenery and challenging terrain. Ahab is connected with other area trails, so it is possible to link a longer ride together. The unique red rock formations that are only found in this part of Utah are the biggest highlight. Ahab is an example of a trail that offers great scenery but requires a certain level of experience.

9
of 10

Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath

Photo: Trains & Trails/Flickr

The Great Allegheny Passage starts in Pittsburgh. The trail, much of which is made from old railway beds, stretches for 150 miles to Cumberland, Maryland. There, it connects with another rideable pathway, the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath. This trail runs alongside its namesake canal from Cumberland all the way to Washington, D.C. (That's an additional 184 miles for those keeping track.)

So bikers can travel more than 300 miles on car-free trails from Pittsburgh to the nation's capital. Some cyclists stop at inns along the way so they don't need to camp. At a leisurely pace, it can take five or six days to complete this beautiful journey.

10
of 10

Big Sur, California

Photo: Michael/Flickr

Big Sur features some of America's most dramatic coastline. The Central Coast of California has high cliffs, secluded beaches and crashing ocean waves. The scenery makes up for the fact that riders must sometimes pedal on Highway 1 instead of on bike-specific trails.

Some trails are cut into the coastal slopes, and a decent level of fitness is required. The trip, which can last for a few miles or a hundred miles, can be made as part of a private or public tour. Attractions like the Hearst Castle can be a part of this trip, as can stops at local vineyards or the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.