There are a lot of reasons to love bikes. They’re inexpensive, non-polluting, good exercise, and fun. Maybe best of all, they let you see your surroundings in a more intimate way than cars.
That makes them a fantastic option for family getaways—and if you add historic sites, you’ve got the best of all worlds. Here are 9 fascinating places to explore the past on two wheels.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Just outside Philadelphia, you can trace the steps of Washington’s troops during the winter of 1777/78—but on two wheels. The Valley Forge National History Park has more than 35 miles of designated trails. The five-mile paved Joseph Plumb Martin loop trail is a popular route, connecting many of the park’s key historic and interpretive sites. There are also unpaved dirt and gravel trails on Mount Joy and Mount Misery, and the lengthy (paved) Schuylkill River Trail runs nearby. Cyclists can ride shorter distances, or all the way to Philly should they want to roughly 15 miles, with longer options.
Colonial Parkway, Virginia
The Colonial Parkway is a 23-mile passage that links historic Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown. You can visit Yorktown Battlefield, site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War, exit to meander through Colonial Williamsburg’s living history museum, and then finish up visiting Jamestown, the nation’s first permanent settlement. The road is shared by vehicles, so this route is best for older teens and adults, and caution is advised at all times.
Biltmore Estate, North Carolina
What better way to explore this state’s most popular spot than on more than 20 miles of biking trails? The well marked trails are free and range from challenging, heart-pumping rides on dirt trails, to leisurely flat rides along paved trails surrounding French Broad River. Bring your own bicycle or rent one, venturing out by yourself or with a hired guide. The grounds of the Vanderbilts’ magnificent former family estate (known as America’s largest home) as well as the surrounding Blue Ridge mountains truly deliver on serenity and stunning landscapes.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
For more than a century, Mackinac Island has been a tourist destination and summer retreat. But before that, it was much more—a sacred place for Anishinaabek People, a part of New France, a fur-trading hub, a military outpost, and more. The island is 80% state park and has over 70 miles of trails. The 8.2-mile loop around the perimeter is the most popular biking route, and offers the flattest terrain. Pick up a map at the tourism bureau; trails are easily marked and fun to explore. Visit Fort Mackinac houses the oldest building in Michigan as well as an additional 13 historical structures. Demonstrations and tours by costumed interpreters happen throughout the day during warmer months.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock all hung around this Gold Rush town, which was named for the fallen trees that filled a local gulch. It’s more of a tourist attraction these days, with casinos. craft breweries, and museums. Cyclists can use the picturesque town as a start or end point for the 109-mile-long George S. Mickelson Trail, which runs through the heart of the Black Hills. The gravel trail includes more than 100 converted railroad bridges and 4 rock tunnels, and runs largely through National Forest land. It’s best explored April to October.
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, Texas
Palo Alto Battlefield was the site on which forces clashed as part of the U.S.-Mexican War, a war that literally changed the map of North America. Explore the Brownsville Historic Battlefield Trail on bike during any season of the year. The trail acts as a gateway to the Palo Alto Battlefield and offers a healthy and fun way to explore historic sites here and enjoy the great outdoors.
This Victorian-era mining town holds the title of highest in the United States. If you’re not used to the altitude, you may want to take it easy as you bike through a variety of historic sites. The 11.6-mile Mineral Belt Trail is easy, paved terrain that offers gorgeous views of the Sawatch mountains and is dotted with historic markers. It’s mostly out in the open, and there are some inclines.
Chickamauga Battlefield, Georgia
Just across the border from Tennessee, this region is one of the largest outdoor green spaces in the Chattanooga area. It’s also where Union and Confederate soldiers fought in the second-bloodiest battle of the Civil War, each trying to control the city that was considered the Gateway to the Deep South. Riders can watch a 30-minute movie in the Visitor’s Center for context. The park is rural, with plenty of opportunities to see natural vegetation and animals, and has several interconnecting paved roadways so it’s easy to ride in loops. You can also stop and enjoy exploring areas or monuments on foot.
San Juan Island, Washington
This 6 ½-mile wide island is known for its scenic beauty and safe cycling routes. But it’s also rich with history. In 1859, the U.S. and Great Britain nearly went to war over the island, which was in dispute despite a treaty that had established borders between the U.S. and Canada. The matter—known as the Pig War Crisis—was resolved peacefully. Two camps on the island, the American Camp on the southern tip and the English on the north side, offer miles of biking as well as wildlife and wildflower viewing in a wonderfully uncrowded environment. San Juan Island is a challenging loop to bike, but it can easily be broken up into shorter legs. Picnic, anyone?
This town has the distinction of being the world’s largest silver producer. It’s the richest mining town still in existence, and the last town entirely listed on the national Register of Historic Places. The Coeur d’Alene mines produce more silver than the rest of the states combined. The town offers easy access to the 73-mile Coeur d’Alene Trail, as well as the 15-mile Route of the Hiawatha Trail, among others, where riders can enjoy wild and scenic landscapes and plenty of outdoor adventure.