Family vacations to national parks are clich? but essential for the recreation-savvy. For those in mountain biking families, though, a holiday can quickly turn sour if you arrive at a park to find there's no riding allowed.
However, over the past few years, rules and regulations in national parks across America have grown more welcoming to two-wheeled visitation, permitting the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and other groups to build trails for a new population of park-goers.
"There are 40 national parks where you can mountain bike on singletrack or dirt roads, so it's a lot more widespread than people realize," says Mark Eller, IMBA's communications director. "Most people don't know there's mountain biking in National Parks," or that bans have lifted, he says, "but there also hasn't been much good mountain biking in those parks until recently." IMBA signed a partnership agreement with the National Park Service (NPS) six years ago to develop and enhance more mountain bike opportunities, and has been chipping away at trails ever since.
There's definitely trail to crush already, but IMBA's biggest challenges in making parks more bike-friendly revolve around accessibility to current and future trails, and adding actual mountain bike focus so the rides are fun. Most parks just coming into mountain biking networks aren't full of fireroad trails or easy gravel doubletrack; areas like New River Gorge in West Virginia are all about singletrack, and while some trails are beginner-friendly, many now offer technical challenges for skilled cyclists. Quite a few early-adopter parks still haven't built much for mountain bikers, so expect a lot of gravel and bridle paths in addition to tiny segments of singletrack.
Some park rangers may still bristle when you roll up with a bike, but Eller says the overarching response to seeing mountain bikes in parks has been positive. "Some of the NPS staff are really excited about bringing these new visitors into their parks and doing really positive things for mountain bikers," he explains. Before you fill your Subaru's hitch rack, make sure to check the NPS website and make sure the park you're heading to allows bikes.
Our picks? These parks are leading the way in mountain bike infrastructure.Read the original article published on Bicycling.com.
New River Gorge National Recreation AreaWest Virginia 1 of 6
New River Gorge National Recreation Area, West Virginia Relatively new to mountain biking is New River Gorge National Recreation Area in West Virginia. "A couple of years ago, we worked with the Boy Scouts and they built a bunch of mountain bike singletrack," Eller says. "We're getting things lined up to do more in the park." Eller believes 70,000-acre New River Gorge will quickly become one of the premier mountain biking destinations in the US, partially because it's located near some major metropolitan hubs. "It's pretty close to Washington, DC, and it's accessible from even Atlanta," he says. "It's a great example of a best-case scenario for IMBA." Spring and summer are the best times to head to New River Gorge, both for mountain biking in great weather in the thickly-forested wilds of West Virginia and for other activities that the park offers, like epic white water rafting.
Trails: About 15 miles of singletrack, with more on the way.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation AreaTennessee 2 of 6
With over 30 miles of biking, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is an MTB mecca. The massive 125,000-acre park sprawls between Kentucky and Tennessee, and is best visited in the fall or early winter when the South cools down—even the park's website warns the only predictable thing about its weather is its unpredictability. With trails maintained by the local Big South Fork Mountain Bike Club, there are mountain bike-specific singletrack trails, plus plenty of horse paths, paved roads and even a hiking trail that shares the path with cyclists. The park doesn't just tolerate cyclists: It claims mountain biking is one of its best attractions, and caters to every level. For advanced riders, there are trails like the Collier Ridge Loop, complete with drops, logs, and sharp turns, while the Duncan Hollow Loop—with an easy creek crossing and some minor ups and downs—shows newer riders how much fun mountain biking can be.
Trails: 30 miles of singletrack and horse paths for beginners and experts alike.
Cuyahoga Valley National ParkOhio 3 of 6
For a look at good NPS singletrack, Eller suggests checking out Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland, which he says will soon be brimming with good singletrack. In the meantime, there's plenty of multi-use trails for longer rides. To Eller, this park illustrates NPS biking's popularity. The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail runs through the park, with plenty of historical landmarks along the way—and with 95 miles of paths open to riders, you can spend plenty of time pedaling without ever crossing the same spot. It's gorgeous in the fall when leaves are turning, so avoid the New England leaf-peepers and head to Cleveland instead.
Trails: 95 miles of paths with singletrack in the works.
Redwoods National ParkCalifornia 4 of 6
You can't beat riding through redwood forest or along the California coastline—the giant trees will make you feel like a Hobbit on a bike. Most trails in this park are rehabilitated logging roads, but between 50-plus miles of trails and the steep climbs you'll hit along the way, this park has plenty to offer, even without much singletrack riding. To get in nearly 10 miles of climbing, try Little Bald Hills Trail (1,600 feet of climbing), which whittles to completely nontechnical singletrack and ends on a pine-dotted hilltop, followed by the USFS Paradise Trail. You'll pass through some beautiful fir tree groves, and the beauty of this park is that there's no bad time of year to check it out: No matter the season, the weather is temperate.
Trails: 50 miles of gravel and fireroad path.
Saguaro National ParkArizona 5 of 6
Like cactus? You'll love this park. Saguaros—those tall, pointy cacti that feature heavily in cartoon slapstick—grow alongside these dusty trails, making the park that bears their name a dangerous place in which to crash. But Saguaro itself isn't your ultimate destination if you're riding here. It might not seem like much, but the fact that this park allows mountain biking on a three-mile stretch of dirt trail actually serves a huge purpose for local bikers. The trail connects Tucson to the Arizona Trail, a great singletrack destination with over 800 miles of mountain biking from Utah to Mexico. Pro cyclists flock to Tucson come winter, so don't be surprised if you spot national champions.
Trails: 3 miles of doubetrack in the park, but attached to the 800+ mile Arizona Trail.