The end of spring is approaching and that means summer is just around the corner. During this time, millions of people around the world come miles away to visit our national parks in the United States. When going to national parks the usual way to see the natural beauty of our county’s landscape is driving from one section to the next. Taking a bicycle instead can give you an alternate way to experience your trip of the national parks.
There are over thirty national parks that have bike routes for road biking as well as mountain biking. You can either bring your own bicycle or rent a bicycle. Most national parks have bike rentals provided within the parks or at bike shops that are located close by. The best way to plan your bike adventure is to research before going.
Last year I visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Acadia National Park in Maine. During my visit to both parks, I did not bring my personal bicycle. When deciding to go biking in either park, weather conditions may vary from season to season. Comparing the trails, they have a difference in weather, difficulty of the course and terrain.
Yellowstone National Park has bike trail that is great from the novice to the experienced rider. Most of the roads in Yellowstone are open to bicycle traffic, but of course there are a few precautions to take. If you plan to take the main traffic roads, keep caution of motor vehicles since at times the road can be narrow and winding. If you plan to bike from the southern to the northern end of
the spacious park or vice versa, the weather has a tendency to change rapidly. Yellowstone is known for having drastic changes of weather, so plan for both sunny and passing showers. Some of the main roads could be difficult due to changes in the elevations. All year round you will also need to be aware of wildlife in the roads and paths. Bears and bison often roam in the park and it is best to keep a good distance of at least a hundred feet away from them.
Since my stay was very limited to one day of bicycling, my group decided to bike close to the Old Faithful area where we lodged. We started by renting mountain bicycles at the Bear Den Gift Shop by the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the morning. Our 10.8 mile route consisted of three bike paths: the Morning Glory Trail, the Daisy Geyser to Biscuit Basin Trail and the Fountain Freight Road.
During the ride we made many stops to look and admire the geysers, hot springs and thermal pools. One of the most impressive geysers on the route is Castle Geyser. When it has a major eruption, the geyser first goes through a thirty minute water phase and transitions to a forty minute steam phase. We were lucky enough to see both parts of these phases.
Castle Geyser(May 2013)
The hot springs are usually one of my favorite things to see in Yellowstone. The vivid colors that the hot springs could produce highly depend on the time of year, the level of bacteria and temperature. During late May it appeared that the hot springs were not as stunning in comparison to autumn from a previous visit.
Hot springs in May 2013(left) and September 2012(right)
Once we reached the trailhead to Fairy Falls and parked our bikes, we had to turn back. During the late spring when we visited, there is often an increase of bear activity when the bears travel to lower elevations to search for berries and food where temperatures are warmer. The park rangers posts signs to warn visitors if there have been bears spotted in areas. Since we did not have bear spray and did not want to risk encountering one face to face, we decided it was best to head back.
Although bears roam Yellowstone, it is more likely that you will encounter bison. On our return back towards the Old Faithful visitor’s center, we saw a small herd of bison from afar. It is important to always keep a distance from the majestic creatures since they are wild and unpredictable.
Acadia National Park in Maine has forty-five miles of rustic carriage roads to ride a bicycle through. The carriage roads will take you through parts of the park that are not assessable by car. Throughout the carriage roads there are many scenic views that give great photo opportunities.
During our stay in Bar Harbor, we took advantage of the free Island Explorer shuttle that has routes throughout Mount Desert Island. By taking the local shuttle, we did not have to worry about looking for parking in the Bar Harbor Village Green nor inside the park. From the Village Green, there is a bicycle express van that directly takes you to the Eagle Lake carriage roads drop off which has very limited parking spaces.
Since my group had beginner bikers, we could not do the full forty-five miles of carriage roads. For me, I found the carriage roads about a moderate difficulty in all, but can be a bit challenging if you are a novice biker. The easiest part of the trail is the northern Witch Hole Pond loop. It is great for those who want a very quick spin, but it does not give the great scenic views that lie south toward Jordan Pond by Eagle Lake. Heading south on the west side of the lake could be slightly challenging since there are some moderate inclines up and down the mountain.
The payoff is the amazing drop back of different scenery you will experience. Riding on the twenty mile loop from Witches Hole Pond to the east side between Bubble Pond and Eagle Lake, there are waterfalls, lakes and bridges that give great chance to give yourself a break to rest and enjoy the views. On the way you may come across tiny wild blueberries by the lakes which are open for visitors to eat. They are safe to eat, but not as sweet as the usual blueberries you find at a farm or market. The blueberries are more toward the tart side. You may also come across lakes full of lily pads that add a little extra beauty. The weather generally was great in early August. It was mostly sunny with one small period of light rain on our bike ride that passed by quickly.
If you need a halfway point to take a rest, it is best to plan to have lunch at the Jordon Pond House. The restaurant is best known for their famous giant popovers with clotted cream and jam. The buttery and airy treat is flakey and wonderful for a quick bite. When dining at Jordon Pond on a sunny day, you will be given the option to take indoor or outdoor seating. The restaurant can get busy at the stop and the parking lot is usually full most of the time or has car traffic that goes out on the main road. This makes travel via bicycle great since all you need to do is lock up you bike at the bike rack.
I loved the carriage roads trail, but was unable to finish the entire loop up to the Eagle Lake drop off. Part of my group became exhausted from biking on the hills on our return up by Bubble Pond, so we had to cease our ride short. My only complaint about the course would be the pesky mosquitoes that took every chance to bite you when you stopped to wait for other riders to catch up. I would love to return to finish this course in the future.
So if you are planning to visit any of the parks for a bike ride, be sure to do your research before coming and expect to be ready for all types of weather ahead. It is also important to figure out the limits your group has pending on the amount of bike riding experience each individual has. Remember to pack water for your trip since it is the key to prevent dehydration during the ride. Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is to enjoy the beautiful scenery and to have fun.
See the list below of parks of the National Park service that have biking trails available:
Acadia National Park (Maine)
Arches National Park (Utah)
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Kentucky and Tennessee)
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)
California National Historic Trail (California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Missou ri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming)
Canyonlands National Park (Utah)
Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)
Catoctin Mountain Park (Maryland)
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (District of Columbia, Maryland and West Virginia)
City of Rocks National Reserve (Idaho)
Colorado National Monument (Colorado)
Curecanti National Recreation Area (Colorado)
Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)
Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado and Utah)
El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico)
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
George Washington Memorial Parkway (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia)
Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
Great Falls Park (Virginia)
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park (West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland)
Joshua Tree National Park (California)
Katmai National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
Kobuk Valley National Park (Alaska)
Lackawanna Heritage Valley (Pennsylvania)
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
Little River Canyon National Preserve (Alabama)
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)
Mojave National Preserve (California)
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail (Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming)
Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)
New River Gorge National River (West Virginia)
Noatak National Preserve (Alaska)
North Cascades National Park (Washington)
Obed Wild and Scenic River (Tennessee)
Olympic National Park (Washington)
Oregon National Historic Trail (Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon and Wyoming)
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia)
Pinnacles National Park (California)
Pony Express National Historic Trail (California, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada Utah and Wyoming)
Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia)
Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (California)
Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
Yosemite National Park (California)
Zion National Park (Utah)
Visit the National Park Service website for more information.