3 Iconic (and Beautiful and Challenging) Road Cycling Routes in the Northeast

April 27, 2018
Road cycling in New Hampshire
Photo courtesy of Colleen YoutWant an iconic road cycling experience? Test yourself on New Hampshire’s Tour de Notches.

Road cyclists have an embarrassment of riches: Unlike mountain bikers, pretty much anywhere they go, they can ride. If you think about it, our nation’s roads essentially form a coast-to-coast trail system. But some routes beat others, whether that’s due to the terrain, the traffic, or the scenery. Here are three big, ambitious bike rides that explore breathtaking northeastern locations with minimal route finding. Even out-of-towners should have no trouble navigating these rides, although you will want to be comfortable on a road bike and have some experience riding longer distances. (Your quads will thank you.)

Lincoln, N.H.
Distance: 77.5-mile loop
Looking for an epic, once-a-year, all-day ride? Consider the exhilarating Tour de Notches, around a portion of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. (Not looking for something quite so challenging? Scroll down for more modest rides.) The name comes from a former colleague here at AMC, Roger Scholl, who organized an annual bike trip in the White Mountains. The year I joined him, he had talked a half-dozen cycling friends into tackling this climb- and descent-filled ride.

The Tour de Notches is a loop, so you can start anywhere there’s a parking area. We began at a low-point: Main Street in Lincoln, N.H., and road clockwise, starting with the climb up Franconia Notch. You could just as easily start at a highpoint, such as AMC’s Highland Center in Crawford Notch. Once you begin, though, there’s no shortcut back to the start, so carry some spare tubes and a few bucks for snacks along the way.

Once we rolled out of Lincoln, we shifted into an easy gear and began pedaling north on Route 3 then merged onto the Franconia Notch Bike Path at The Flume parking lot. The path winds back and forth up the notch via the bike path, climbing about 1,000 feet in 10 miles. Cannon Mountain and Mount Lafayette loom far above, and traffic on I-93 zips by. At about 13 miles, the path ends, and you merge onto Route 3 again. Enjoy this relatively level stretch, because the end of your ride will be anything but flat.

Just past the 23-mile mark, in Twin Mountain, take a sharp right onto Route 302 and head east. You’ll pass the Bretton Woods ski area on your right and the Mount Washington Hotel on your left. On a clear day, the summit of Mount Washington might be visible in the distance, behind the hotel. Stop in at AMC’s Highland Center (31.5 miles) to refill your water bottles, eat lunch, and rest up for the challenging back half of the ride.

First you’ll plummet down Crawford Notch, where the road drops 500 feet in 1.5 miles. Ride carefully here (there’s only a narrow shoulder) then cruise into the town of Bartlett (46 miles), the lowest point on the ride, at 666 feet. In the middle of town, take a sharp right onto Bear Notch Road, shift into an easier gear, and begin to climb again. Bear Notch rises steadily to 1,773 feet in less than 5 miles then drops down to the Kancamagus Highway, where you’ll make the final right hand turn of the day.

From there, just the big climb and descent of Kancamagus Pass remain before you get back to your car. Don’t forget to take in some of the spectacular scenery along the way, though. By the time you’re done riding, you will have earned a healthy meal: During your Tour de Notches, you will have climbed 5,300 feet.

Gloucester and Rockport, Mass.
Distance: 17-mile loop
Enjoy rolling hills, waterfront riding, and perhaps even a fried-clam or lobster-roll break on this quintessential New England loop. Start and finish in downtown Gloucester for the best pre- and post-ride meal options (breakfast or brunch at Sugar Magnolias on Main Street is hard to beat). Another option is to begin your ride at Stage Fort Park, about 1 mile west of downtown, where you might find more parking. Follow Rogers and Main streets to the east side of downtown, then turn south to make a circuit of the promontory known as Eastern Point (via East Main Street, Farrington Avenue, and Atlantic Road). From Atlantic Road, you’ll follow Route 127A into Rockport then Route 127 around the northern and western edges of Cape Ann.

This route winds from commercial fishing harbor to rocky coastline, passing through the quaint village of Rockport (make an out-and-back detour down Bearskin Neck to find a couple small seafood restaurants—Roy Moore Lobster Co. for a lobster roll or Top Dog for fried clams are two of the most popular). After departing Rockport on Route 127, the surroundings become more residential and there tends to be less traffic. You’ll also pass the tranquil setting of Halibut Point State Park where you can explore an old quarry site on foot, relax on the grass, or sit on the rocks and look out to sea. As you near downtown Gloucester again, leave Route 127 at the rotary and follow Washington Street back into town.

Cape Ann gets crowded in the summers, especially in the vicinity of the public beaches, so spring and fall can be quieter times for this ride.

Fort Lee to Nyack, N.Y.
Distance: Varied, out-and-back
New York-area cyclists flock to New Jersey’s Route 9W whenever there’s good riding weather. The road runs parallel to the Palisades Interstate Park along the Hudson River, and its rolling hills, long straightaways, and wide shoulder make for great cycling. Sixteen miles of riding separate the George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges, while Nyack, N.Y., a good place to stop for a mid-ride drink or snack, lies just beyond the Tappan Zee.

Manhattan-based cyclists can get here by riding along the Hudson River Greenway on the island’s west side and crossing the George Washington Bridge. Then it’s a straight shot for whatever distance you’d like to ride before turning back toward home. With the park to the east and residential New Jersey to the west, there are plenty of places to stop for a break, a meal, or just an opportunity to look at the view from the Palisades’ cliffs that stand high above the Hudson. One-way rides are also an option, as the Metro-North Railroad allows bicycles. (Check the MTA Bike & Ride page for more info.)

Check out the Gran Fondo NY website for a 100-mile option that goes all the way up to Bear Mountain and back; the events elevation profile provides a good snapshot of the rolling terrain along Route 9W.


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Marc Chalufour

Marc Chalufour, a former senior editor of AMC Outdoors, contributes to the trail-running blog Running Wild.