America is famous as a classic road-trip destination, but what if you prefer two wheels to four? Eli Orzessek finds five of the country's best bike trails.
1 Underground Railroad bike trail
Undertake one of America's most important historical journeys by tackling the epic Underground Railroad bike trail from Mobile, Alabama to Owen Sound in Ontario, Canada. This trail loosely follows the 19th-century network of clandestine routes where African American slaves travelled to find freedom in the Northern United States and Canada. Its starting point, Mobile was a major port for slavery and the route follows rivers through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. Along the way, you'll find plenty of historical road plaques to keep you on track, as well as important sites like museums and safe houses. The route varies from flat farmlands and rolling hills in Alabama and Mississippi to steep climbs and descents in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana — and at 3227km all up, you'll want to take a few breaks along the way.
2 Poison Spider Mesa Trail
Moab is a popular location for serious mountain bikers and this trail is a long-time favourite. With impressive — and often tricky — sandstone landscapes, you'll encounter challenging slickrock steep stretches and climb more than 300m on to Poison Spider Mesa. This 20km loop trail is not for beginners — the fast and sharp descent back through the gnarly Portal Trail can be dangerous. Deep sand along the way also makes the trail feel longer, as well as providing a hell of a workout. Be sure to bring plenty of water for the desert heat — you won't find any mountain springs here — and don't forget to stop and admire the wildflowers.
3 Munds Wagon Trail
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Carving up the iconic red rock landscapes of Arizona, this trail definitely won't disappoint when it comes to breathtaking scenery. Known as one of the most beautiful singletracks in the United States, the Munds Wagon Trail ascends to 365m, but there are dips along the way to break up the climb. There are some difficult sections but less advanced riders can always dismount and push for a while. If you're still itching for more at the end, continue up the Schnebly Hill Trail for even more impressive views.
4 Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
This paved trail starts downtown in the Alaskan city of Anchorage and follows the coast to the chalet at Kincaid Park, telling a story of natural and human history along the way.
You'll travel through old-growth forest, along the fault line of the 1964 earthquake and admire the dramatic coastline and beaches — if you're lucky, you might see a moose or a bald eagle along the way. As you'd imagine, the views are a real treat as well. The sweeping coastal vistas give you the opportunity to spot beluga whales, as well as offering views of North America's highest peak, Denali, and the Cook's Inlet salt marches. It's a gentle 17km trail that beginners can easily undertake — and you can start at a number of points around the city.
5 Big Sur coast
Carmel to Cambria, California
There are plenty of great photo opportunities along this dramatic ride along California's Central Coast, featuring wild and rugged terrain with roads carved out of cliffs. An epic road cycling journey, this is one for more advanced riders — you'll also need to be comfortable riding with traffic, as some parts of Highway 1 have little or no shoulder. The terrain is challenging, with numerous climbs and descents — but you'll be
well rewarded with fantastic views of crashing waves along the Pacific coast. There are also many interesting places to spot along the way — the iconic Hearst Castle is a must-see, as is the elephant seal rockery in San Simeon. Your end point is Cambria, a cute seaside village with beautiful beaches, quirky antiques shops and plenty of great places to eat and drink.