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Three Epic Bike Rides in National Parks

From family-friendly to pick-the-grit-out-of-your-teeth rides, the Rocky Mountains and Southwest deliver with epic biking options. Not necessarily epic as in something only a few people can do, but rather rides that will leave an epic impression for years. Flat spins along paved trails can yield close-up views of mountains and wildlife; rugged slickrock and sand can challenge mountain bikers; and a seasonal park road offers a car-free experience for parents pulling toddlers in trailers to those seeking big climbs.

A family ride on the Multi-use Pathway in Grand Teton NP/Photo ©Becky Lomax

Best Family-Friendly Ride
For family fun on bikes, head to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The 15-mile Multi-use Pathway attaches to even more miles outside the national park. Its best section parallels Teton Park Road on a mostly flat spin between the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose and the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. During the ride, you’ll crane your neck to stare up at the Teton Mountains above you. 

At 7.5 miles, the paved pathway makes a good day trip with interpretive stops, especially to spot Teton Glacier. After riding through the park entrance (yes, bike riders still need to pay entrance fees), the paved pathway climbs up its only big hill. At the top, the fun pedaling begins as the trail remains almost flat. Use caution where it crosses the road and parking lot entrances. At Jenny Lake, stroll the interpretive Discovery Trail along the lake shore to stretch your legs and eat ice cream at the store.

A family ride on the Multi-use Pathway in Grand Teton NP/Photo ©Becky Lomax

You can pedal E-bikes with less than one horsepower and electric or battery-operated wheelchairs are permitted, but not motorized wheels. If you need to rent bicycles, Dornan’s Adventure Sports in Moose carries bikes for adults and kids, plus Burley trailers for baby-hauling and tag-a-long bikes for tots. 

Best Mountain Bike Challenge
In Canyonlands National Park in Utah, a 100-mile rugged sand-and-slickrock road circles the Island in the Sky district. The ride tours midway in elevation between the Green and Colorado Rivers and high plateaus, usually with dramatic cliffs above or below. While some mountain bikers ride one day on the White Rim Trail to experience the thrill and desert beauty, most plan 3-4 days to complete the loop, camping overnight at assigned locations and accompanied by a 4WD vehicle carrying water and supplies. 

Two bikers taking in the views from the White Rim in Canyonlands NP/Photo ©Becky Lomax

For mountain bikers, the narrow route throws exposed switchbacks, steep climbs and drops, bouncing terrain, soft sand (yes, I went flying off my bike in one sandy wash), eroded gullies, slickrock, and pebbles to small boulders at riders. If the weather delivers rain, parts of the trail can become impassable. Due to its difficulty, riding the route requires at least solid intermediate mountain biking skills. 

Mountain bikers on the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands NP/Photo ©Becky Lomax

Permits are required for overnight and day trips. You can apply up to four months in advance. Remaining permits are also available 24 hours in advance. Nearby, Moab has bike rental shops and guides for the White Rim. The best seasons for riding are spring and fall, but those are also the seasons when competition for permits is the toughest.

Best Spring Ride for Anyone
Snow buries the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park in winter, but April launches plowing season amid bouts of blue skies and cantankerous spring storms. As soon as plows hit the road, so do bicycles…riding as far as conditions permit on a car-free route. Weekly, plows push higher up the mountains, cutting through snow walls and avalanche chutes, and bikers follow, soaking up the views of swollen spring waterfalls and snow-capped peaks. When plows reach Logan Pass, the high point on the Continental Divide, in late-May or early-June, riders climb the 32-mile roundtrip route to the pass to do the flying descent. 

Climbing the last of the grind up to Logan Pass in Glacier NP/Photo ©Becky Lomax

Spring biking season usually runs mid-April through mid-June. Riding starts from Lake McDonald Lodge on the west side, but bumps to Avalanche when parking is plowed out. Families spin along the flats to Logan Creek and back; you’ll see kids on ride-alongs, in Burleys, and some on their own bikes. After Logan Creek, the steady 6% thigh-burning grade climbs to the pass. 

As soon as the road opens to vehicles for the summer, riding conditions change. Bikers face lines of cars at your elbows and no shoulders. Uphill riding is restricted 11 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Biking the upper part of Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier NP/Photo ©Becky Lomax

In Apgar, Glacier Outfitters rents bikes for adults and kids, including e-bikes. A bike shuttle usually runs in spring to get riders from Apgar to Avalanche as parking fills up early in the day. Glacier Guides leads bicycling trips on the Sun Road.

Header photo: Snow on the upper section of Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier NP/Photo ©Becky Lomax

From her home outside Glacier National Park, Becky Lomax revels in the Intermountain parks. You’ll find her hiking the mountain parks in summer and skiing them in winter. In spring and fall, the Southwest parks satisfy her need to hike. She’s the author of Moon USA National ParksMoon Glacier National Park, and Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton.

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