This year, why not shake up your annual summer road trip and see the sights on two wheels? Exploring the country at 2 (or 10 or 12) speeds “gives you a better feel for the culture of a place,” says Ellee Thalheimer, author of the Cycling Sojourner guidebook series. “On a bike, you stop and talk to people, you smell the flowers; it’s a sensory experience.” Better still, the kids will be tired at the end of the day. You don’t have to be in Tour-de-France shape to enjoy a bike vacay. These four family cycling destinations are easy to navigate via beginner (read: mostly flat) trails, with options for both long rides and quick loops. All are convenient to get to by RV or car (don’t forget the bike rack!) and each boasts ample off-the-bike-path activities for when little legs get tired. So hop in the saddle!
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
This New England favorite features 600 miles of coastline—and 114 miles of leisurely bike paths.
Stretching from South Dennis to Wellfleet, the paved 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail runs through quaint towns and along beaches, salt marshes, and cranberry bogs. (To enjoy exploring over a few days, bunk at Nickerson State Park, the route’s halfway point.)
The first few miles feature many spots for picnics and ice cream breaks, as well as detours to other towns. Around mile 16, the forest gives way to the pristine Cape Cod National Seashore. Here, you’ll find a lane leading to the prime swimming waters of Coast Guard Beach and the historic Nauset Light lighthouse (you may recognize the red and white structure, built in 1877, from bags of Cape Cod Potato Chips!).
A half hour from Nauset Light beach is Provincetown, where you can catch a boat tour to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, one of the world’s top whale-watching sites. The massive humpbacks come surprisingly close, breaching acrobatically for wow-worthy photos. At sunset, head over to Art’s Dune Tours for a guided off-road adventure over mountains of sand via an air-conditioned Suburban.
One of the country’s most bike-friendly cities, this Pacific Northwest gem caters to the two-wheeled with more than 300 miles of paths to explore.
Try the Springwater Corridor, a 20-mile multi-use path that runs from Southeast Ivan Street to the town of (yes) Boring, providing lovely views of Mount Hood. Pull over and picnic at Powell Butte Nature Park, an extinct cinder-cone volcano. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the resident coyotes, gray foxes, and black-tailed mule deer. Another must-see: Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, home to hawks, woodpeckers, and great blue herons.
Ready to bed down for the night? Jantzen Beach RV Park and Columbia River RV Park offer hotel-like amenities (two words: laundry facilities).
Don’t miss Washington Park, home to the Oregon Zoo and the children’s museum (check out the Water Works exhibit, which demonstrates how H2O is moved via funnels, valves, and fountains). Elsewhere in the park, admire the more than 1,400 species of plants (and hunt for ladybugs) at Hoyt Arboretum.
Park City, Utah
A former mining town, this Southwestern stop is now home to more than 400 miles of public trails set amid stunning views of the Wasatch Mountains.
The 28-mile Union Pacific Rail Trail winds from the city downhill (hooray!) across Silver Creek Canyon (keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, moose, and deer) through the small communities of Wanship and Coalville to Echo Reservoir. There, you can fish for rainbow trout. Not up to the full journey? Take advantage of the turn-around points and shorter loops. (Prearranged shuttle pickups are also available if your kids are likely to run out of steam.) In the evening, set up camp at Park City RV Resort.
Get some thrills on the Alpine Slide, the Extreme Zipline, and the 65-foot Drop Tower at Utah Olympic Park. On summer Sundays, stroll through the Park Silly Sunday Market on Main Street. The kids will enjoy free live music and performances, while you’ll appreciate gourmet food stands, antiques stalls, and a beer garden.
Ride through American history on 35 miles of paths! This northern Virginia haven was the site of four major Civil War battles.
Though it’s just 1.6 miles long, the Rappahannock River Heritage Trail, which runs north along Caroline Street, provides a powerful trip back in time.
Stop off at the Rising Sun Tavern, originally the home of Charles Washington, George’s little brother. During the Revolutionary War, our first president hung out there with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Today, a costumed guide describes the details of a typical Colonial stay.
Farther down the street, kids will get a kick out of learning about 18th-century remedies (like leeches!) at the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop.
Continue by bike to Old Mill Park to see the Trail of Freedom, where, in 1862, thousands of slaves crossed over to the Union side of the Rappahannock River.
Afterward, roll your bikes into local icon Carl’s, a frozen-custard stand on Princess Anne Street, where servers use 1940s ice-cream machines to make your soft serve.
If you still have energy to burn, try the 1.76-mile Salamander Loop Trail, named for the critters that roam it. The tree-lined path starts at River Stone Drive and parallels the Ni River. Fair warning: It includes a few climbs!
Six miles east of Fredericksburg, in Stafford, visit the White Oak Civil War Museum and wander through replicas of soldiers’ huts and campfires, then view relics including canteens, mortar shells, and swords. Back in Fredericksburg, take a self-guided walking tour of four actual battlefields, complete with trenches and cannons, at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Then soak up a different kind of history at Goolrick’s Pharmacy, one of the country’s oldest soda fountains. Sample an authentic cherry Coke or malted milkshake and sit down. You’ve earned it!