Many years ago I took a meandering 5,000 mile bike ride across the US, from San Francisco to New York via Idaho and Texas. I rode back roads all the way and it was a highlight of my life. But this long bike ride would have been 100 times better if I did not have to share the road with careless drivers, overloaded pickups, and logging trucks, not to mention suicidal teens in hot rods. Wouldn’t it be great if there were long-distance trails specifically for bicycles? Basically — roads without cars?
Well, there are! A quickly emerging network of abandoned railway lines are being converted by regional governments into superb bike paths. In addition to offering very gentle grades that are ideal for bikes, many of these new trails are satisfying long. The longest rail trail is over 300 miles long, and the longest off-pavement bike trail in the country stretches 2,500 miles. On these bike roads you can cruise along for weeks without ever encountering a car, or worrying about being bumped off the white line by an oblivious motorist. These are not paved roads, but packed gravel or dirt. Many sport spectacular tunnels and bridges courtesy of the former railways. At the same time these trails pass through small towns affording local eateries and rural lodging, as well as the usual camping spots along the way. I tell you, there’s nothing like arriving at the soft pillows of a B&B after a long day of pedaling.
Many of these trails did not exist as bike paths even a few years ago. More are being opened every day. There’s great effort to sew short sections together into long haul bike-primary paths. Eventually you will be able to cross the country via a series of interconnected car-free roads. In the meantime, the clearinghouse for the latest additions to the bike-road network is the Rail to Trails Conservancy. But you don’t have to wait to enjoy some fantastic overnight tours on roads without cars. Here are six of the longest continuous bike trails in operation right now, in ascending order of length.
John Wayne Pioneer Trail — 113 miles
While this trail officially transects Washington state, only 113 miles of the final 200 mile trail have been developed (by 2007) and are presently open. You can get several overnights out of it. Great diversity of terrain: unshaded, dry sagebrush in east, glacial valleys and ranchlands in the west. Hard gravel. Biker/hiker camps. Best source for update info for bikers is from Jennifer’s List of Bike Trails. For mile by mile descriptions of the trail try Spokane Outdoors.