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Riding in National Parks - What To See, Where To Go.

Nothing compares to the experience of riding your bike in one of America's many beautiful national parks. From the Rocky Mountains to the Haleakala National Park, the national park system in the United States offers some of the most unforgettable cycling experiences in the world. Whether you are planning a multi-day bike packing trip or looking for a single-day loop, a cycling adventure in a national park will leave you with stories for years. With so many parks to choose from, here are just a few to add to the bucket list.

 

Safety note:

 

An unforgettable cycling adventure must first start with proper preparation. It is important to know that although beautiful, national parks can still be dangerous if you do not take the time to prepare. It’s important to plan out your ride, stock plenty of resources, and plan for the worst. Make sure you let a friend or family member know when and where you are riding before you go out and always try to ride with at least one other rider. Spend some time talking to locals about your ride and pay attention to all the signs. Pack the essentials like proper cycling outerwear (i.e. cycling jacket, cycling gloves, sun sleeves, etc.), plenty of water and some form of water purification system, spare parts (bike tube, chain links, patches, etc.), and more than enough snacks. Always remember to respect the parks and leave no trace.

 

In no particular order: 

Crater Lake National Park

Best times to visit: April-October

Best for: Road Cycling

State: Oregon

Primal Jersey: https://www.primalwear.com/collections/destinations/products/ltd-crater-lake-mens-sport-cut-jersey

 

Highest Point: 8,156ft

Parking? Yes

Camping? Yes

Bike Lanes? - No

MTB Trails? – Yes

Entrance Fee: $5 for bikes

 

Formed from a volcanic event over 700 years ago, Crater Lake hosts one of the most scenic bike rides North America. Near Klamath Falls, Oregon, Crater Lake is famous for its Rim Drive loop. Rim Drive loop is a high alpine cycling adventure sure to keep you speechless for all 33 miles regardless of your skill level. Even though 33 miles does not seem like a far distance, the high altitude and steep climbs pose plenty of challenges for even the most experienced riders. High above any other point in the Cascade Mountain Range, Crater Lake lacks any bad views of Oregon and its surrounding terrain while providing smooth and twisty road for miles. For those looking for a bit more adventure, there is the option to take an 8-mile unpaved road called Grayback which is a classic out and back route.

 

What to see:

 

Other than miles of endless alpine riding and views the Cascade Mountain Range, Crater Lake national park is covered with many must-see destinations on your 33-mile ride. While on your ride, have a stop at Rim Village: a small stop with lodges, gift shops, and a visitor center, which is a great place to catch your breath and have a snack on your ride. Rim Village can be found on the southern bend of the Rim Drive Loop. Accessible to riders who are not intimated by a climb is the Cloud Cap overlook – the highest point in the park. Here you can literally have your breath taken away as it feels like you are standing above the clouds. From the overlook, you should be able to see the famous Phantom Ship sitting a cool 170 feet above Crater Lake. From there you can travel to the westernmost point of the lake: Watchman Overlook, which oversees the best views of Wizard Island. On your way out, make sure to grab a pie and a beer from the legendary Beckie's Café only about 12 minutes away from the main entrance. 

 

Haleakalā National Park

State: Hawaii

Best times to visit: Year-Round

Best for: Road Cycling

Primal Jersey: https://www.primalwear.com/collections/destinations/products/haleakala-national-park-mens-jersey

 

Highest Point: 10,023ft

Parking? Yes

Camping? No

Bike Lanes? - No

MTB Trails? - No

Entrance Fee: $5

 

Ancient and robust in its stature and culture, Haleakalā is an unforgettable ride with more than its fair share of climbing. Tagged the ‘longest, steepest paved road on the planet” Haleakalā is not for the faint of heart – literally. Built on one of Hawaii’s largest volcanic mountains, Haleakalā is 10,023ft of pure vertical gain. To many riders, a 10k peak doesn’t sound very challenging, but the difference in this climb is that you start at sea level. That’s right, from 0 ft to over 10,000 feet in gain within the span of almost 36 miles. This ride requires plenty of planning, training, and a high lactic threshold.

 

What to see:

 

This out and back climb is a milestone for many riders looking to push their limits. While on the climb, the road twists and winds its way past the clouds making timing important on this scenic ride. On the lower parts of the ride, keep an eye out for some of the rarest birds on the planet like the yellow ālauahio and the spotted ākohekohe. During mid-day, it is common for the clouds to cross paths with the mountain at about 7,000 feet, so if you get caught in a cloud, be prepared to leave it very soggy. At the summit, if the skyline is clear enough, you should be able to see the Pacific Ocean and other volcanic islands. This ride provides many views of Hawaii, from the dense forestry of west Maui to the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean. Covered in perfectly preserved natural habitats, this ride will completely immerse you in a tropical wonderland.  

 

 

Yellowstone National Park

Best times to visit: April - October

Best for: Road Cycling + Mountain biking

State: Wyoming, Idaho, Montana

Primal Jersey: https://www.primalwear.com/collections/destinations/products/yellowstone-national-park-mens-sport-cut-jersey

 

Highest Point: 9,203ft

Parking? Yes

Camping? Yes

Bike Lanes? - Yes

MTB Trails? – Yes

Entrance Fee: $35

 

America's first national park and easily one of the more recognizable, Yellowstone offers some of the best cycling in the Rocky Mountains. Sitting unassumingly on one of the world's most active super-volcanos, Yellowstone's serine landscape is covered with astounding hydrothermal and prehistoric features. Yellowstone is one of the largest wildlife refuges in the world with one of the most well-preserved ecosystems in the contiguous United States from bears and wolves to deer and elk. With plenty of campsites around the park, it is best to plan several rides while you visit. With over 2.2 million square acres of park and open year-round, Yellowstone is a destination that will provide plenty of adventure for any cyclists on road or dirt.

 

What to see:

 

When visiting Yellowstone, we recommend that you spend more than one day at the park. This allows you to go and see the more common areas like the legendary Old Faithful geyser and the colorful Grand Mosaic Spring ponds along with having enough opportunity to venture to the less common areas of the park.

 

The park is split into 5 main areas, the Mammoth Hot Springs area, the Old Faithful area, the Lake Village area, Canyon and Tower areas, and West Yellowstone. The main Yellowstone Grand Loop Road will take you through roughly 45 miles of paved road. The Grand loop is a more traditional ride giving you access to almost all the visitor centers and central campsites of the park. This ride is the perfect introduction to Yellowstone while still providing plenty of adventure. This loop consists of the only roads in the park that have a shoulder for cyclists which makes it one of the safer routes – we still recommend that you take this ride on a weekday to avoid all the weekend traffic.

 

 The rides to keep an eye on if you are on a mountain bike are a little less accessible from the main roads, but very much worth their effort. Starting with the Lonestar Geyser, this bike trail takes you on a unique and windy 3.5 mile out and back to a geyser that is not visible from the main roads - there is a fair chance that on this ride you will run into some elk or buffalo. For Mountain bikers looking for more of a challenge, they can look out for the Bunsen Peak loop in the Mammoth Hot Springs area in the northwest corner of the park that is a 10-mile loop around Bunsen Peak. On this ride, you should encounter your fair share of climbs and descents with views of Osprey falls and the beautiful Glen Creek. It is recommended that you take a spare tube and some tools with you for this ride because, although mountain bikes are allowed on the trail, there is plenty of exposure and sharp rocks on this ride. And lastly, for a more hidden route, the Natural bridge short trail is a switchback-filled 3.5 mile out and back that takes you up and down a natural bridge hidden in the mountains. Keep an eye out for waterfalls, geysers, and the occasional bald eagle as you explore this mystical park - make sure to take plenty of pictures.

 

Arches National Park

Best times to visit: October-April

Best for: Road Cycling

State: Utah

Primal Jersey: https://www.primalwear.com/collections/destinations/products/arches-mountain-national-park-mens-sport-cut-jersey

 

Highest Point: 5,653ft

Parking? Yes

Camping? Not Really

Bike Lanes? - No

MTB Trails? - No

Entrance Fee: $5 for bikes

 

Arches National Park near Moab, Utah offers the perfect mix of an extraterrestrial landscape mixed with the wild west. With colossal towers of sandstone and arches carved into the landscape, this national park offers jaw-dropping views around every bend. Carved from millions of years of erosion and filled with massive natural works of art as if Michelangelo had carved them himself, Arches is one of the most unique adventures you can have on a bike.  Although this park has no bike-specific roads, the main roads are smooth and windy with enough space to ride in single-filed lines. The longest loop in the park is about 46.4 miles the follows the main Arches Road out and back.

 

What to see:

 

The ride itself winds through miles of desert with the La Sal Mountain range cascading in the background. If you ride during the spring, there is a fair chance that these mountains might still be capped with snow making the juxtaposition of the desert heat and white peaks a sight to remember. A few things to notice while on your ride are smaller arches called "Tafoni." These mini arches are not formed in the same way the mega-arches are but rather the result of small bubbles of gases being trapped in the stone millions of years ago. Additionally, on the main Arches road, you should be able to see plenty of the foliage native to the high desert: some of these plants are descendants of some of the oldest, most resilient shrubs in the world. Half of the time on your ride you can imagine what it would be like to ride in the prehistoric era with dinosaurs roaming in the background and the other half you can imagine what it would be like to ride on Mars.

 

 

Glacier National Park

State: Montana

Best times to visit: May-September

Best for: Road Cycling + Mountain biking

 

Primal Jersey: https://www.primalwear.com/collections/destinations/products/glacier-national-park-mens-sport-cut-jersey

 

 

Highest Point: 10,466ft

Parking? Yes

Camping? Yes

Bike Lanes? - No

MTB Trails? – Yes – sort of.

Entrance Fee: $25

 

Referred to as the Crown of the Content, Glacier National Park hosts one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. From rocky peaks and thunderous waterfalls to massive glaciers and shimmering alpine lakes, there is not a bad view from any angle in the park. Additionally, In the spring and summer, Glacier is painted in a variety of natural wildflowers making the National Park feel like a little slice of heaven on earth. Ripped straight from a Bob Ross painting, Glacier hugs the U.S./Canadian border and offers over 700 miles of trail. Glacier is a paradise for cyclists and we recommend you plan on spending multiple days in the saddle at this park.

 

What to see:

 

The main must-see ride is known as Going-to-the-Sun Road. This ride is a 50-mile loop with challenging climbs, exhilarating descents, and plenty of views to take your breath away. Going-to-the-Sun is easily the most famous ride at Glacier and is certainly not one to miss, but also scattered through the park are still plenty of other unforgettable rides. Throughout your ride, be on the lookout for mountain goats, marmots, and the occasional grizzly bear. – yes, there are Grizzley bears…

 

For mountain bikers, bikes are permitted anywhere there is a trail in the park. Although this sounds great, most of the non-paved trails in the park are made for hikers. This means that trails can be loose, rocky, and over-exposed in some areas and often cross streams. It is recommended that better mountain biking is be found in the surrounding Flathead National Forest and the Flathead Valley. If you are in the park and must get your fill of adventuring on your bike, a few places to stop by and gawk at are Lake McDonald, St. Mary, and Two Medicine which are relatively flat rides but are still flowy and fun if you pick the right lines. The main perk of mountain biking Glacier is certainly the views and not the quality of ride.

 

 

End note:

 

The national park system in the United States of America offers some of the most awe-inspiring experiences you can have on two wheels. With many parks allowing their main roads to be accessible to cyclists, many of the best views in the world are accessible through pure pedal power; visiting a national park should be on the bucket list for every rider. With landscapes that take your breath away and offer the perfect amount of challenge, it feels like the national parks in the U.S. have spent the last few million years preparing just to give you the ultimate ride. – what are you waiting for?

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