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

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

You know what’s better than riding your bike for 10 miles without seeing a car? Riding it for 100 or



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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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Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
Showing 15 comments
  • Brind
    Brind'amour France
    Reply

    good !

  • Sirintr Khumwong
    Sirintr Khumwong
    Reply

    Great (Y)

  • Marc Frencken
    Reply

    Where are the trails outside the USA. ?
    These are just some really good ones in the states but definitely not THE best of the best

  • Rae the Adventurer
    Rae the Adventurer
    Reply

    nice list

  • Chris German
    Chris German
    Reply

    Why am I still at the office? Why do I work for a corporate company? I feel being inside is being in hell…. sad way to spend eight hours inside a data center…

  • TTM
    Reply

    Please don’t over look the Ozark Trail – Missouri.
    120+/- miles of backcountry point to point singletrack open today, and potentially another 100 miles with some luck and love from NPS/USFS/DNR/MDC.

    Rail trails are fun, but pure backcountry singletrack is AWESOME!

    http://www.ozarktrail.com

  • alex
    Reply

    I did #6 as part of my East-to-West cross country ride in ’99. I can’t give enough credit to whoever had the idea of rails-to-trails! It was a joy, and made for a great warm-up.

  • Jim Bartasavich
    Jim Bartasavich
    Reply

    Great list! We’ve done 2: Maah Daah Hey & Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal. Both are worth every effort (Maah Daah Hey is infinitely more challenging.) Guess since we live along the Colorado Trail it is next eh Kim?

    * I would add the San Juan Hut system to this list also:
    http://www.sanjuanhuts.com/mountain-bike-adventures/telluride-to-moab/

  • Chris Dillon
    Chris Dillon
    Reply

    SOON

  • Troy
    Reply

    The Grand Loop of the Colorado Plateau is worthy of inclusion. Comprised of the Kokopelli trail, the Tabegauche trail and the Paradox trail they can be ridden separately or as a combined loop of approximately 360 miles. Terrain varies from desert single track to high alpine all in a very remote setting with few services available.

  • Glen NMMBA
    Reply

    Don’t forget the High Country Pathway in Vanderbilt Michigan. It’s an 80 mile loop that’s over 90% singletrack.

  • Jon
    Reply

    We need more of these around the world.

  • Kathleen Rock
    Reply

    Remind me why I moved to the Northeast because it’s really looking like a bad idea.

  • Jae
    Reply

    Mt. Hood’s Cascade hut-to-hut gets rave reviews.

  • Dave
    Reply

    Awesome article. I love reading about this stuff.

    Glen, thanks for that. I am just getting into bikepacking and the would be a good route to try out since I live in Michigan City, IN

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