10 of the Most Beautiful Bike Trails in the U.S.

A woman mountain biking along a rocky trail above Lake Tahoe

Andrew Peacock / Getty Images

With millions of miles of bike paths in the United States, there are routes to explore for cyclists of all abilities. Some of the most scenic bike trails in the country are rocky wilderness routes best suited to skilled mountain bikers. Others are paved pathways in urban centers that are easily accessible and family friendly. Still others, like those in the Rails to Trails network, split the difference. These trails wind through forests and farmland on smooth gravel trails, offering cyclists a safe way to enjoy the scenery.

From downtown Chicago to the Sierra Nevada mountains, explore 10 bike trails that highlight beautiful landscapes across the United States.

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Banks-Vernonia Trail (Oregon)

A touring bicycle on a paved bike path in a forest

Ferrous Büller / Getty Images / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Banks-Vernonia Trail stretches for 21 miles along an old rail line in northwestern Oregon. With flat grading and a smooth riding surface, this is a path that casual riders will enjoy. It passes over a dozen old train bridges, 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. The trail has six different access points, including its two namesake trailheads in the towns of Banks and Vernonia.

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Flume Trail (Nevada)

A mountain bike rider turns a corner on a narrow trail above a blue lake.

Jeff Moser / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The Flume Trail is a challenging mountain biking trail that will appeal to experienced cyclists. 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 reward for this trail, which is also part of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail, is the commanding view of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountain peaks. For cyclists with the skills to negotiate the narrow trail, the scenery is well worth the effort.

Despite the wilderness feel, the Flume Trail is easy to access. Shuttle buses connect the trailhead with Tahoe's population centers and ski resorts.

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American River Bike Trail (California)

A paved bike path through woodlands in California

Cravenmonket / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The American River Bike Trail, also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, runs for 32 miles between Sacramento's Discovery Park and the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. This paved pathway hugs the banks of the American River, making for a relatively flat ride with views of whitewater rapids, fields of wildflowers, and bald eagles. In Sacramento, the trail passes over the Guy West Bridge, a suspension bridge designed to be reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge. For cyclists looking for a shorter ride, the trail can be accessed from various points along its length.

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Cape Cod Rail Trail (Massachusetts)

A paved bike path through a green woodland

Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Cape Cod Rail Trail in Massachusetts is a paved, 25-mile trail that travels through six Cape Cod towns. A converted railroad bed, the trail is relatively flat and features several tunnels. Though it does not pass directly along the coast, the Cape Cod National Seashore is only a short distance away. Nauset Light Beach is a popular destination, and only a two-mile side trip from the bike trail, accessible at the Brackett Road intersection. Bicycles are available to rent from various vendors along the way.

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Chicago Lakefront Trail (Illinois)

Photo: David B. Gleason/Flickr

The Chicago Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile path that follows the Lake Michigan shoreline on Chicago's east side. Views along the pathway are dominated by the city skyline, but there is more to see. Riders will pass beaches, marinas, and famous sites like Soldier Field and the Museum of Science and Industry. The Lakefront Trail is open to all forms of non-motorized traffic, but there is a dedicated bike lane to separate cyclists and other users.

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Maah Daah Hey Trail (North Dakota)

Two bike riders navigate a trail through forested bluffs

Roderick Eime / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The Maah Daah Hey Trail is a 96-mile trail that cuts through the Little Missouri National Grassland in rural North Dakota. It connects to other trails in the area to form a networks of paths that spans hundreds of miles. The trail is defined by grasslands and meadows, but some sections also include badlands-style buttes, jagged terrain, hills, riverbeds and wooded areas. Overnight camping is available along the trail for those who want to complete the entire trail.

The trail's name comes from the Mandan Indian language, meaning "grandfather" or "long lasting." It references the ancient canyons and cliffs found in the badlands.

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Captain Ahab Trail (Utah)

Two mountain bikers round a sharp corner on a trail in the Utah desert

Bureau of Land Management / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Captain Ahab trail is a 4.3-mile mountain bike trail near Moab in the Utah desert. What it lacks in length it makes up for with challenging, rocky terrain. It's best suited experienced riders, and it's only ridden downhill to reduce the risk of collisions around sharp corners and narrow passages. To make a round-trip loop, riders pedal up the nearby Hymasa or Amasa Back trails. Along with the technical riding, the otherworldly red rock formations unique to this region of Utah are a major highlight of this route.

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Great Allegheny Passage (Pennsylvania)

A bike sits on an old rail bridge with ivy climbing the trestles

Trains & Trails /Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The Great Allegheny Passage is a long-distance rail trail that stretches 150 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. It's not a paved trail, but the fine gravel surface is smooth enough for most bike tires and riders of all abilities. Along the trail, cyclists will cross the Eastern Continental Divide, pedal over the Laurel Highlands, and pass through Ohiopyle State Park.

At its southern terminus in Cumberland, the trail connects with the C&O Canal Towpath. This 184-mile path follows its namesake canal all the way to Washington, D.C. The entire journey from Pittsburgh can take up to a week to complete.

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Virginia Creeper Trail

A man rides a bike across a wooden bridge in a forest

Eli Christman / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Virginia Creeper Trail winds through the forests and farmland of southern Virginia for 34 miles. Along the way, cyclists will cross 46 trestle bridges as the trail repeatedly crosses over Laurel Creek. Many riders elect to complete only half on the trail, from the eastern trailhead and highpoint at Whitetop to the town of Damascus. Done this way, riders can enjoy this easy, mostly downhill section and skip the remainder of the trail, which rises gradually until its endpoint in Abingdon. Shuttles and rental bikes are available in both Damascus and Abingdon.

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Route of the Hiawatha (Idaho)

Two people ride their bikes across a high bridge in a pine forest

A Guy and a Jeep / Flickr / Public Domain

The Route of the Hiawatha packs a lot of scenery into its 15-mile length through the Bitterroot mountains in northern Idaho. It begins near the Idaho-Montana border with a journey through the 1.6-mile St. Paul Pass Tunnel. From there, riders will navigate nine more tunnels and seven trestle bridges before reaching the endpoint at the Pearson trailhead near Avery, Idaho. It's usually done as a shuttle ride, allowing riders to enjoy a mostly downhill ride rather than retracing the route.