Biking reveals the texture of the United States. Off the highway, cyclists discover the small towns, uncrowded parks, and rolling hills that cars speed right past. The fast-growing U.S. Bicycle Route (USBR) system, which points cyclists to low-traffic paths throughout 26 states and Washington D.C., makes it easy to hit the road. Here are highlights from five of the newest additions.
Bike Route 66
Baxter Springs, Kansas, to St. Louis, Missouri
Long a pilgrimage for motorized road-trippers, Route 66 now draws cyclists who want to take in the nostalgic sights at a slower pace. The 358-mile stretch through Missouri and southeast Kansas has become the first section of the highway to be designated for bikes. It leads riders past quirky sights such as Gary’s Gay Parita, a rebuilt Sinclair gas station turned souvenir shop and shrine to the Mother Road, packed with old comics, rusty Coca Cola signs, and other 1950s bric-a-brac. Where 66 gets busy, the bike route deviates onto quiet back roads. There are no signs yet, so download a Ride with GPS map before setting out.
Bike Route 36
Linesville to Matamoras, Pennsylvania
With a total elevation gain of over 21,000 feet in 398 miles, bike route 36 is no easy ride. But it’s a stunner, passing through the Allegheny National Forest and along the Susquehanna River. Mostly following U.S. Route 6, which has plenty of comfortable shoulders, it regularly hits small towns such as Wellsboro, a stuck-in-time treasure with gas streetlamps and a barrel-roof diner. For great stargazing, book a campsite at Cherry Springs State Park, a Dark Sky preserve about 10 miles off the route.
Bike Route 15
Clyattville to Fitzgerald, Georgia
Pedal past wetlands, timber tracts, and peanut farms on this largely flat, 92-mile route in southern Georgia. There’s hardly any traffic, so cyclists can focus on spotting egrets and blue herons, or admiring the azaleas that bloom in March. You’ll pass through five historic downtowns, including Nashville, home of the popular Georgia Smokehouse, and the college town of Valdosta, where GG’s Southern Kitchen serves fried chicken and Georgia Beer Company just opened a taproom.
Bike Route 50
South Lake Tahoe to Baker, Nevada
Nevada’s first U.S. bike route traverses the Great Basin on a stretch of Highway 50 known as the Loneliest Road in America. In other words, bring water: Towns can be 60 miles apart. It also means you have the desert salt flats, sagebrush fields, and big-sky vistas largely to yourself for 410 miles. The ride climbs 12 summits that top 6,000 feet and parallels the route of the Pony Express, the historic mail-delivery system. Cyclists can pitch a tent by Middlegate Station, a onetime stagecoach stop that now serves burgers, or in Great Basin National Park, a few miles from the highway.
Bike Route 23
Mitchellville, Tennessee to Hodgenville, Kentucky
Amish buggies make up much of the traffic on the back roads of southwestern Kentucky, where the varied, hilly terrain is great for cycling. Connecting with an existing bike route in Tennessee, the new 109-mile section cuts through rolling farmland, friendly small towns, and the Green River Basin, and it passes near a Civil War battlefield in Munfordville. It also tracks a steep ridge across Mammoth Cave National Park, home to the world’s longest cave system. Break up the ride at one of the park’s campsites or cottages.
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Rebecca Dalzell I am a freelance design and travel writer in Brooklyn. A contributing editor at Interior Design, I have covered a range of architecture and design projects around the world, from a gourmet food market in Vietnam to a school in India and a studio in Belgium.