Travel restrictions are easing, making distant-destination flights abundant. But carbon-intensive airplanes are far from the only way to get around. Train travel is not only more climate-friendly than air travel but it’s also more bike-friendly and affords way more scenic views. Amtrak has recently made it even easier to bring a bicycle on board, rendering fuel-filled vehicles completely unnecessary for many trips. Given the current car-rental shortage across the country (and rental cars’ accompanying skyrocketing price tags), forgoing automobiles altogether is not just better for the environment, it’s also increasingly wallet-friendly. Here are some top-notch cycling destinations that can be easily reached by train.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Amtrak can get you to Little Rock from 149 cities. Not only is Little Rock a fantastic destination for cyclists with its abundant city trails and surrounding forests, but also the city has made it incredibly easy for two-wheeled visitors by creating detailed cycling guides that include distance and elevation profiles, points of interest, and nearby trails to connect to.
Have your pick of self-guided themed routes (think tours centered around civil rights, military history, craft breweries, and dessert destinations), road routes, and rides for beginners and families. Within the city, road riding is the most popular form of cycling, and Little Rock’s most frequented road routes are the Thornburg Loop, Keo Loop, and the 88-mile Arkansas River Trail Loop (which is also beginner-friendly). Note that the Arkansas River Trail is presently undergoing construction on its north side, but you can still get a good feel for that side of the river by riding from the Clinton Presidential Center to the Big Dam Bridge on the south side.
Mountain bikers should head to the brand-new mountain-bike trails within two Little Rock city parks, Two Rivers Park and City Mountain Park, both set to open on June 17. If you’re up for riding 15 miles (each way) along the Arkansas River Trail, you could also check out the new mountain-bike-specific Monument Trail in Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Long-distance cyclists and bike tourists could also ride the 170-mile bike path from Little Rock to Memphis, where they can hop back on Amtrak and continue home (or on to their next cycling destination).
Amtrak’s Empire Builder route travels between Chicago and Seattle, passing through stunning northern Montana and stopping in several towns before crossing into Idaho. Whitefish, Montana, offers particularly fantastic cycling in and around town and, as the gateway town to one of the country’s most beloved national parks, serves as a great base for cycling within Glacier National Park.
Each spring and early summer, Glacier’s famous 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed to cars so that pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy the route. The first eight miles typically open to bikers and hikers in late April, with subsequent stretches opening as more snow melts or is plowed. The road then opens to cars in late June or early July, depending on snowfall and clearance. If you prefer riding with a guide, check out Glacier Guides, which operates guided cycling (and hiking, fishing, and rafting) tours in the park.
Early summer is a phenomenal time to ride in the park, but come peak summer months, cyclists are prohibited along certain stretches from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. because the winding, narrow roads become too crowded with cars. If you visit during these peak months, review the park’s bicycling information, stick to the approved shared road hours, and explore the bike-only paths near the Apgar Visitor Center.
While Glacier National Park is best for road cycling, the city of Whitefish is best for mountain biking. Several excellent mountain-biking trails are only a couple miles from the center of town (Lion Mountain Trailhead and Reservoir Trailhead are two great options), but watch out for pedestrians, since you’ll be sharing the trails with hikers. Glacier Cyclery rents bikes, knows the trails, and functions as a great hub of information. Pop in to talk trails or to pick up a printed map of local bike routes.
Whitefish Mountain Resort, a popular ski resort in the winter, transforms into a mountain-biking destination in the summer. Should you be in need of a mountain bike, they do offer rentals (but they’re anticipating a busy season, so make your reservation early). The Whitefish S.N.O.W. Bus (Shuttle Network of Whitefish) is a free shuttle that can ferry you and your wheels up to the resort and/or to other popular lodges and attractions around town.
When it comes to stunning seascapes, few destinations rival the California coastline. Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Route takes travelers along a particularly picturesque section from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, both of which are very welcoming to pedal-powered visitors.
In 2007, the League of American Bicyclists designated San Luis Obispo as an official Bicycle Friendly Community. The city continues to hold up the honor by offering bike-friendly infrastructure within the city and promoting road and mountain biking in and around town, including routes through oak woodlands, along coastal highways, and to inland vineyards. If you’re a fan of century rides (or the shorter versions typically offered within the event), San Luis Obispo hosts a Wildflower Century Ride each April and a Lighthouse Century Ride in September. Both rides are organized by the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club.
San Diego is home to quite a few cycling clubs, so if you like to make friends and join enthusiastic group rides for all levels of riders, this is the place for you. If solo riding is more your style, you could ride all the way to Mexico—only 18 miles away—and cross the border with your bike to spend the day in Tijuana. Should you be too tired to ride back up to San Diego, catch the bike-friendly trolley at San Ysidro, which is mere steps from the border crossing. Don’t forget your passport!
DC to Boston
Road riders who love cycling in urban environments should consider making a few stops in the Northeast. Amtrak’s high-speed Acela line links Washington, DC, and Boston, and also stops in New York City, all of which are known for excellent urban bike infrastructure. If you don’t want to bring your own bike on the train, you could rent a bicycle from a shop or use the bike-share program in each city (downloading the bike-share apps is optional; however, this can be very helpful when it comes to finding docking stations and knowing how much time you have left on your reservation). Bike shops are a great place to pick up a bike map to any given city, and even if you’re not using the bike-share program, the maps at their docking stations usually highlight popular bike trails, routes, and nearby attractions.
Anyone wanting to put in some more serious miles could take the Amtrak to Pittsburgh, then bike the 150 miles along the scenic Great Alleghany Passage all the way to DC. Though camping is abundant along the route, there are also plenty of hotels and B&Bs, if you wish to travel light.