With the summer heat in the rear view mirror and the spectacular colors of autumn foliage lining the trail ahead, fall is the perfect season to hop on a bike and make the most of cycling-savvy destinations across the country. Each of our hand-picked spots comes with plenty of blazing colors – and the road is wide open for all levels of cyclists, from casual bikers looking to work off their morning donuts to mountain bikers bagging end-of-season bragging rights.
But wherever the trail takes you, experts say autumn is time to slow down and take it all in. "Besides the fall color palate, the great thing is you're probably in shape from a summer of activity and so you can relax and enjoy the trip more," says Meagan Coates, trip design manager for biking outfitter Trek Travel. "Fall is our top biking season, and that's because bikers feel they can get through the ride more easily, so why not stop to take that extra photo or try a local beer?" Coates asks.
So take your pick – from smooth paths tunneling through the trees to high-altitude rides, America’s brilliant autumn hues await in these cycling-friendly spots.
Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
Whether you're looking to ride through rolling countryside or you're seeking spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway scenery, the area in and around the vast Pisgah National Forest, about 30 miles from Asheville, North Carolina, is calling your name. Brevard, a small town perfectly situated in the midst of the forest, makes a good base. Aim to visit from Oct. 10-20 to see the best of the fall foliage along the region's network of bike paths. Base yourself at Pilot Cove, a family-owned adventure resort offering contemporary cabins right by the forest entrance. Just steps away from Pilot Cove, you'll find The Hub, a bike rental outfitter and roadhouse tavern that offers a great place to rent a bike at dawn and unwind after a day in the saddle.
Sonoma County, California
Coates describes Sonoma County as an undiscovered gem for a fall biking trip. "I've cycled California's wine country in all seasons, and I think fall is the best by far," she says. "The vineyard leaves change to golden as the grapes ripen. It's also crush time, with all the festivities surrounding the harvest season," she adds. There's a ride to suit all needs in Sonoma County, from rails to trails to vineyard-swathed valleys to mountain passes. Or, for those who want worry-free biking, wine, world-class food and posh lodging during the prime vineyard color season, there's Trek's new four-day tour (available for $4,799 per person) from Oct. 23-26, based at Sonoma's Singlethread Farms, a contemporary inn and restaurant located on five acres between the Russian River and the historic San Lorenzo Ranch in Healdsburg, California.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
With gorgeous national parks like Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, who needs to go farther west? Along 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, fall colors crescendo slowly into vibrant crimsons, oranges and golds, which local bike shop owner Bob McLain, who launched McLain Cycle and Fitness in 1978, says are especially lovely during the first two weeks of October in contrast to the area's cobalt blue lake and pine trees. McLain has two stores, including one in Cadillac, Michigan, and one in Traverse City, Michigan, a main area hub close to the park. "My wife and I often bike the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, a 10-foot wide paved trail that runs from Empire, the gateway to the park, down to Glen Arbor," he says. "This is a flat, forested area where anyone can ride. You'll see a four-year-old on a bicycle to a guy we know who's 107 years old and rides a three-wheel TerraTrike [a high-tech recumbent adult tricycle made by the eponymous Michigan-based company]." Since java fuel and cherry pie are serious pursuits in this part of the country, McLain recommends breaking at trail faves Martha's Leelanau Table for a nice coffee and the Cherry Republic for a sweet treat.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington
The Northern Cascades, traversed by the mighty Columbia River, offer some of the best mountain biking in the country, according to Washington native and Bicycle Adventures guide Matt Paul, whose new High Cascades Tour fall ride ($2,598 per person) is centered around a hike and bike expedition in Angel's Staircase, in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. "For a couple days around Oct. 10, the Alpine larches – a conifer that loses its needles in the fall – turn molten gold," Paul says, adding that the view of gleaming larches against the dusty tundra and crystal blue lakes is "probably the most beautiful sight I've seen in all my years of mountain biking. You can't see these rare trees from the road." Cross-country bikers will want to go for the full Angel Loop, a classic ride that takes you to the highest singletrack trail in Washington state. Paul recommends staying at the Lake Pateros Motor Inn – a mountain lodge on Lake Pateros – for easy access to the trailhead.
Katy Trail State Park, Missouri
More than half of Missouri's 240-mile-long Katy Trail State Park – America's longest rails-to-trails conversion project – runs along the Mississippi River. Stephen Hale, founding brewer of St. Louis-based Schlafly Beer, rides to work daily, but on the weekend he recommends hitting the park for "pleasant, tree-lined biking with a lot of charming little towns along the way." Although there are many forested stretches along the flat, crushed-limestone trail, the area around Rocheport, Missouri, a river town about 100 miles from Kansas City, Missouri, is especially dramatic in mid-October, when the hardwood forests (oaks, ash, mulberry and walnut) crowning the Mississippi's towering limestone bluffs blaze with color.
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