Photo: NPS/N.Lewis

The 5 Best National Parks for Road Cyclists

There’s often no better way to immerse yourself in these stunning, protected landscapes.

There are 63 full-fledged parks in our National Park Service system, representing the most outstanding landscapes throughout the United States. Protecting the deepest canyons, tallest peaks and most lush forests has been dubbed “America’s best idea,” but the truth is, the vast majority of those parks were established with two public user groups in mind: automobile drivers and hikers. Cyclists, on the other hand, are typically an afterthought. But it’s easy to argue that there’s no better way to immerse yourself in the landscape than on two wheels, cruising through a river valley or muscling it up a mountain pass. And some national parks go out of their way to make bikers feel more welcome with discounted entry fees, designated paths and special “car-free” days where cyclists rule a park’s signature scenic road. Here are the best national parks for road cyclists. 

Crater Lake National Park

First off, this park is stunning, even when compared to iconic others that offer heaps of grandeur. It protects its namesake lake, which is the deepest pool in the U.S., created when the active volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted and collapsed into itself—the resulting giant bowl has collected rainwater for 7,700 years. Experience it on the 33-mile Rim Drive, which circumnavigates the lake and offers nonstop views. Most of the time, cyclists and vehicles must share the road, which, unfortunately, does not feature bike lanes. However, the park occasionally shuts the road down to cars, giving bikers free reign during Ride the Rim events (register in advance). Level Up: Is riding the Rim Drive once not enough of a challenge for you? Join the century club by pedaling it three times in a day. 

More Info: ridetherimoregon.com, nps.gov

Shenandoah National Park 

There’s only one paved road inside Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, which protects a particularly gorgeous stretch of mountains ripe with craggy peaks and ice-cold waterfalls: the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, which runs north to south through the center of the park along the ridge of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. It’s not for the faint of heart—you’ll climb 15,000 feet of elevation if you complete the whole road. Also, you’ll share the road with vehicles, though views are still stellar—you’ll have 75 scenic overlooks along the road to catch your breath. Go Long: The road is equipped with campgrounds and lodges, so you can break up the journey into a multi-day effort. And if you’re really gung-ho, when you finish Skyline Drive, you can roll directly into the Blue Ridge Parkway, which extends for 469 miles from the southern border of Shenandoah National Park to the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

More Info: nps.gov

Grand Teton National Park

Few national parks are as accommodating to cyclists as Grand Teton. All roads are open to bikers and there are almost 70 miles of car-free multi-use bike paths extending from communities surrounding the park and connecting to 15 miles of paved, car-free trails inside the park. You can ride from downtown Jackson, Wyoming, all the way to Jenny Lake, a glacial lake at the base of the Tetons, and then pick up the Jenny Lake Loop Road, a one-way, 5-mile romp of uninterrupted beauty. Local Tip: If you time your trip for April, you can enjoy a 14-mile section of The Teton Park Road car-free. Park officials plow the road at the end of March, but don’t open the section between Taggart Lake Trailhead and Signal Mountain to vehicles until May 1. 

More Info: nps.gov, tetoncountywy.gov

Indiana Dunes National Park

One of America’s newest national parks (it was established in 2019), Indiana Dunes sits on the edge of Lake Michigan, protecting 15,000 acres of tall sand dunes, beach, prairies and forest. It also boasts a paved trail system that covers 50 miles across the national park, connecting the protected land with various communities surrounding it. Most of the trails are flat and have multiple access points, making the riding perfect for beginners or families. Expect views of the dunes, Lake Michigan, and the chance to hop off the bike to take a hike or swim. Double Up: The trails also access nearby Indiana Dunes State Park, as well as the public train system, making shuttle rides easy. 

More Info: nps.gov

Zion National Park 

Cyclists actually have the advantage when visiting Zion National Park, which allows bikes on all park roads, even roads closed to vehicular traffic. The 2-mile Pa’rus Trail is the warmup, a paved path for cyclists and walkers that cruises along the Virgin River from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Park shuttle buses are the only vehicles allowed on that scenic road, which cuts through the center of the park, surrounded by red rock cliffs. But cyclists are welcome as long as they pull over to the shoulder when buses approach, making it a low-stress pedal for cyclists willing to muscle up the 7.5-mile gradual climb. Local Tip: Take the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava, at the top of the climb, and coast downhill on your bike back to the visitor center. 

More Info: nps.gov

Bonus: Natchez Trace Parkway 

OK, the Natchez Trace doesn’t have full-fledged national park status, but this Mississippi highway is managed by the National Park Service and considered one of its 423 units. More importantly, it’s a cyclist’s dream with management practices that take bikers into special consideration. The 444-mile two-lane blacktop cruises through three states, retracing a historic corridor used by Native Americans. The pedaling is “cruisey,” as opposed to grueling as it passes by countless historical sites. Take It Easy: There are five free campgrounds that are set aside for cyclists only. 

More Info: nps.gov

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.