The golden season before the trees relinquish their leaves is a short but glorious one. And one of the best ways to experience autumn's fiery plumage is on the saddle of a bike, while the crisp breeze whispers by and the blond sunlight glances down. After picking the brains of the experts — everyone from members of local bike clubs to leaders of large tour operators — U.S. News found some of the country's best bike rides for viewing fall foliage.
In Pictures: America's Best Fall Bike Rides
With its mountainous backdrop, rolling foothills and charming downtown, Boise, Idaho, is a fun fall destination. The peak time to view foliage is in October, when the weather is the epitome of autumn — brisk temperatures range from the 40s to the 60s. One of the best places to bike is the nearly 25-mile-long Boise River Greenbelt, which skirts the Boise River and travels through clumps of vibrant crimson- and amber-colored trees. The trail also passes through a number of recreational areas, from Ann Morrison Park to Willow Lane and more, providing ideal access points for parking your car and hopping on the Greenbelt. You'll also find a handful of bike rental shops tracing the river should you want to rent wheels rather than bring your own.
"For me, foliage is New England," said Gregg Marston, president of VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations. And one of his favorite fall bicycling vacations is one that travels through Vermont's Champlain Valley. The six-day itinerary starts in Bristol, Vermont, heads to Lake Champlain and its islands and stops in Ticonderoga, New York before concluding in Middlebury, Vermont. Along the way, you'll spot an array of colors and feel the season's slanting sunlight as you ride anywhere from 13 to 33 miles a day. The all-inclusive trip, which costs a little more than $2,000 per person, includes bikes, accommodations at local inns, meals at local restaurants and a handful of additional sightseeing excursions, such as a kayaking trip and admission to Fort Ticonderoga. Two guides accompany each excursion and a 15-passenger van regularly sweeps the route in case of emergencies. Not surprisingly, Marston said the foliage season rides sell out every year, so book your trip quickly if you'd like to reserve a space.
Contrary to its name, the Black Hills landscape is drenched in the golden colors of the surrounding aspen, birch and oak trees come fall. Brent Kertzman, president of the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association, recommends riding a portion of 111-mile-long Trail 89, which is also known as the Centennial Trail. You can access the bike path at the Dalton Lake Trailhead near Nemo, South Dakota. After parking your car at the trailhead, bike about 6 miles north to a spot locals refer to as the Dalton Plateau. In addition to trees dripping with color, this vantage point also affords a glimpse at some of the Black Hills' main attractions, including Bear Butte, Custer Peak and Harney Peak. After taking in the view, simply cycle back down the way you came. Kertzman advised setting aside three hours for the leisurely 12-mile round-trip ride.
Asheville Cycling's Michael Biggs said that one of his favorite fall routes traces the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Town Mountain Road in Asheville, North Carolina. Here's how to do it yourself: You'll start and end at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Along the 20-some mile route, you might encounter creatures far more wild than college students — Biggs said to look for wild turkeys, albino squirrels and even the occasional black bear. You should also be prepared to take in the splendor of the trees, especially on Town Mountain Road as you look out over downtown Asheville. Before heading down the numerous switchbacks of the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway back to the university, peer out at the mountains on Blue Ridge Parkway.
A bike ride around Kebler Pass is not for amateurs: This unpaved, gravel road through the Colorado Rockies can be a challenge for the even the most experienced riders. But if you consider yourself a skilled cyclist, the blindingly beautiful yellows of the aspen trees are worth the strenuous pedaling (and the day-after muscle soreness). Intermediate riders can hop on the Kebler Wagon Trail No. 606 — less than a 3-mile ride. Meanwhile, more advanced cyclists should head to the 5-mile-long Dyke Trail No. 838 — a route known for its elevation gain and intense physicality. Whichever route you choose, watch for herds of sheep as you cycle — the animals are known to graze in the area. You can also stick to the Kebler Pass (or County Road 12) itself; it's another taxing yet beautiful ride. And unlike the other trails, the pass is open for vehicles as well.
The Fall Foliage Bike Festival (Oct. 17 to 19) sends cyclists on a tour of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley when it's ablaze with color. This festival, which kicks off and ends in Staunton, Virginia (about 40 miles west of Charlottesville), is unique in that it gives cyclists the chance to choose from 13 different routes of varying degrees of difficulty. There's everything from a 6.4-mile family route on Saturday to a 100-miler "century" on Sunday. All routes open at 8 a.m. and close at 4 p.m., with a long, rolling lunch break each day. Along with a breathtaking view of the Shenandoah Valley's flaming red and orange foliage, the $85 registration fee will also get you some swag, including a long-sleeve T-shirt, a window sticker and a bike tag. If the registration fee is a little too steep, take a drive to see the foliage then head to the festival's free street party in downtown Staunton on Saturday.
The 25-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail, which runs from South Dennis to Wellfleet, is a lovely way to spend a fall day. This fairly flat route travels through a handful of quaint towns, including Harwich, Brewster and Orleans, and snakes under a canopy of trees. And come late September, the branches start to cluster with brilliant colors, creating a stark contrast to the bushy greens that last all winter long. The best place to park your car and jump on the bike path is at the Dennis Trailhead, just off Route 134. If you want to rent a bike, you'll find a number of shops dotting the trail — just make sure to pack your own moisture-wicking, technical wear as temperatures can drop into the 40s.
In Pictures: America's Best Fall Bike Rides
Emily H. Bratcher is a freelance writer living in Iowa City, Iowa. She has also written for the Washingtonian and Outside Online, among other publications.
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