Bike Touring Special: 7 of the Best Really Long Bike Trails

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You know what’s better than riding your bike for 10 miles without seeing a car? Riding it for 100 or miles without seeing a car. Or 200, or 300. The United States’s bike infrastructure is improving, with bike lanes and bike share programs in urban areas, and rails-to-trails projects and other bike paths in rural areas. These aren’t the only places in the U.S. where you can go for a really long ride, but they’re some of the longest, all but one more than 100 miles. From tough bike rides on hiking routes to limestone paths on old railroad beds, here are some of the best long off-street rides in the country.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route
The king of all long-distance mountain bike routes, the GDMBR (above) is not all trail—it’s actually about 85 percent dirt roads, 5 percent singletrack, and 10 percent paved roads. But it is the longest, wildest, stoutest mapped mountain bike tour in the United States (and the first couple hundred miles are in Canada). From Banff to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, the 2,745-mile route chugs up 200,000 feet of elevation gain, crossing the Continental Divide 30 times. The record, set during the annual Tour Divide race in 2012, is Jay Petervary’s time of 15 days, 16 hours, 14 minutes. Or about 175 miles a day. LINK

Colorado Trail
The Colorado Trail was finished in 1987, a 486-mile high-altitude route from Denver to Durango, mostly above 10,000 feet. Mountain bikers tackle the trail, with a handful of detours around wilderness areas, and get more than 300 miles of singletrack, some of which is best done hiking. Pack light, and pack a lunch—the total elevation gain is more than 68,000 feet. An unsupported, unstaffed, no-entry-fee, no-registration race starts at the Denver end every June and last year’s winner, Jefe Branham, finished in just under four days. LINK

Arizona Trail
The 800-plus mile Arizona Trail is the only National Scenic Trail that encourages mountain biking—it was actually built following IMBA specifications. The trail is a tour of Arizona’s diverse ecosystems, from desert canyons to high mountains, all the way from the Utah border to the Mexico border. There are a couple sections that detour bikers around wilderness, but there’s no detouring around the Grand Canyon. You have to strap your bike to your back and carry it 24 miles from rim to rim (no rolling allowed). And of course, there’s a race every April. LINK

Maah Daah Hey Trail
At 96 miles long, the Maah Daah Hey Trail is the longest continuous singletrack bike trail in the U.S. (it’s also open to hikers and horses), and connects the northern and southern districts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota’s Badlands, by way of the largest grassland in the United States—the Little Missouri National Grassland. Lest you think it’s a mellow walk in the park, note that there’s 8,600 feet of elevation gain over the course of the trail. LINK

Cowboy Trail, Nebraska
Okay, it’s not singletrack, and it’s not winding—it’s one of the longest rails-to-trails path in the the U.S., which means it’s a pretty mellow grade (two percent or less) on a crushed limestone surface. But if you’re looking for a relatively easy, safe bike tour, this is it: 195 miles, no cars, and a town every 10 to 15 miles, all the way from Norfolk, Nebraska, to Valentine, Nebraska. Highlight: crossing the Niobrara River via a 148-foot high railroad bridge. LINK

C&O Canal and Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage
These two paths weren’t planned to link together and become a route between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, but the 330 miles of bike trail start in Pittsburgh on the Great Allegheny Passage, 150 miles of mellow (less than one percent grade) crushed limestone, and just east of Cumberland, Maryland, begins its nearly 2,400-foot descent to sea level in Washington, D.C. along the C&O Towpath, where boats were dragged along the old C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal until 1924. LINK

Katy Trail, Missouri
One day, you’ll be able to bike from Kansas City to St. Louis, most of it along the Katy Trail, a 240-mile trail that now connects Machens, Missouri, to Clinton, Missouri, on the right-of-way of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad. The current path passes through a town every five to 20 miles, so you’re never far from a campground, restaurant, or hotel. Plans are underway to add on miles of trail to the west, to Kansas City, and to the east, to St. Louis. LINK


Photo courtesy TrailDivide.org.


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