Leave No Trace This Spring on These (Mostly) Paved Bike Trails

March 28, 2019
Brother M/The City Project, Creative Commons via FlickrPaved bike trails include Acadia’s Park Loop Road (left) and Manhattan Waterfront Greenway (right).

You know the feeling: Yesterday was rainy, but today the sun is out, the sky is clear, the temperature is creeping toward warm. It’s spring, and you’re ready to hit the bike trails. But hold up there, friend. Before you unleash your wheels on vulnerable backcountry mountain bike routes, think about whether there are other options near you.

As the snow melts, you can help prevent erosion and other damage by opting for less muddy—and equally adventurous—rides on the eight paved and otherwise durable-surface bike trails, below. While you pedal, don’t forget the other Leave No Trace principles relevant to cyclists, including: staying on marked paths, properly disposing of trash, cleaning your bike between rides to prevent the spread of unwanted vegetation, and observing wildlife from a distance. Good? Great. Now get out there and ride!


1. Bar Harbor to Ocean Drive | Bar Harbor, Maine

The stunning harbor views on this road route make the estimated 2-hour ride drift by like an ocean breeze. From the Village Green in Bar Harbor, follow Route 3 south for 1.2 miles, turn left on Schooner Head Road, and reach an intersection just beyond a large beaver pond. Take a right for a short detour to Schooner Head Overlook, a perfect clifftop vantage point for watching the sunrise. Otherwise, turn left onto the one-way Park Loop Road and ride up to Acadia’s iconic pink-granite ledges. Take in the salty sea spray of Thunder Hole at mile 5.2 and then turn right off Park Loop Road onto Otter Cliff Road (unmarked), which returns to Route 3 at mile 7.7 of the ride. Along the way back to Bar Harbor, cycle to Tarn, a glacial pond nestled beneath Dorr Mountain. To tack on a short ride to Sieur de Monts Spring, turn left after Tarn, where you can visit the Abbe Museum’s trailside offshoot, dedicated to Native American history, and Wild Gardens of Acadia.

Distance: 11.5-mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Info: Outdoor Adventures: Acadia National Park (AMC Books)


2. Nashua River Rail Trail | Nashua, N.H., to Ayer, Mass.

Formerly the Hollis Branch of the Boston and Maine Railroad, the Nashua River Rail Trail brings cyclists through deciduous forests, wetlands, and sprawling meadows. Park your car at the northern trailhead in Nashua, N.H., and cross the state border after 1 mile before continuing through the 400-acre Dunstable Rural Land Trust Wildlife Preserve, toward the town of Pepperell, Mass. Head north on Groton Street and you’ll find one of only three historical covered bridges on a public road in Massachusetts. Be on the lookout for beavers swimming in the shallows of Groton School Pond before concluding your ride in Ayer, where you may opt to leave a second vehicle in the parking area for your return drive to New Hampshire.

Distance: 12.3 miles, one way
Difficulty: Easy
Info: Nashua River Trail


3. Minuteman Bikeway | Cambridge to Bedford, Mass.

Retrace the steps—this time by cycle, not steed—that Paul Revere and William Davies took to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of oncoming British troops in April 1775. Cyclists can easily access the rail-trail from the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge. (Bikes are allowed on the T’s Red Line, except for weekdays from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.) Pedal toward numerous historic sites in Arlington and Lexington, including the Old Burial Ground, Hancock-Clarke House, Munroe Tavern and British History Museum, National Heritage Museum, and Old Schwamb Mill—America’s oldest still-functioning mill, built in 1864. Take time to rest at Arlington Reservoir, the 17.5-acre Parker Meadow, or Depot Park in Bedford, where the trail converges with two other former railways.

Distance: 10 miles, one way
Difficulty: Easy
Info: Minuteman Bikeway


4. Charter Oak Greenway | Bolton to Hartford, Conn.

Glide into the heart of Hartford from the city’s western suburbs on this section of the East Coast Greenway, a multiuse trail-in-process that eventually will span 3,000 miles, from Maine to Florida. Begin at the eastern trailhead, where parking is available off of Highland Street, and ride through the Birch Mountain Brook stream valley. Rest in Charter Oak Park before continuing, after a 0.5-mile on-road stretch, through the campus of Manchester Community College and past the University of Connecticut’s football stadium. You’ll share the road with cars for 1 mile, catching glimpses of the state capitol’s skyline in the distance. Enjoy the charming atmosphere of Great River Park and, after crossing the Connecticut River, slow down to enjoy downtown views from a section of the path two stories above the city’s Riverwalk.

Distance: 16.6 miles, one way
Difficulty: Easy
Info: Charter Oak Greenway, East Coast Greenway


5. Manhattan Waterfront Greenway | New York, N.Y.

Hop on the subway or cycle toward the Hudson’s riverbank to access the mosaic of green spaces, athletic fields, and playgrounds dotting the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway. The route is a part of the annual TD Five Boro Bike Tour, which gives cyclists access to 40 miles of car-free roadways in all five boroughs. (This year’s event takes place May 5, 2019.) The Greenway leads riders past the borough’s iconic Little Red Lighthouse (West 178th Street) and underneath flowering cherry trees on Cherry Walk (between 100th and 125th streets) before proceeding south through Riverside Park (89th Street). Stop at one of the many commercial piers scattered throughout the 550-acre Hudson River Park before concluding your ride in Battery Park, Manhattan’s southern tip and the city’s oldest public space.

Distance: 32 mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate, due to length
Info: AMC’s Outdoors with Kids New York City (AMC Books), Bike New York


6. New River Trail State Park | Galax to Pulaski, Va. 

Begin at New River Trail’s midpoint, at Foster Falls near the state park headquarters, or park your car for a fee at the Galax trailhead and ride the entire south-to-north route, including a 12-mile round trip excursion to the town of Fries. Be sure to pack enough water and supplies, as the rail-trail is fairly remote past Fries Junction (until around mile marker 30). From the junction, your journey is downhill as you parallel the New River for 39 miles and pass steep dams, big tunnels, a 75-foot-tall historic shot tower, and the 950-foot Hiwassee River Bridge outside of Allisonia (near mile marker 8). Be on the lookout for the warblers and orioles that make this area their home. End in Pulaski, where several companies offer shuttle services for your return to Galax.

Distance: 57.7 miles one way (including 12-mile round trip to Fries)
Difficulty: Challenging, due to length
Info: New River Trail State Park , DCR Virginia


7. High Bridge Trail | Pamplin City to Burkeville, Va.

Crossing Virginia’s longest recreational bridge is a highlight of biking the 31-mile, pet-friendly High Bridge Trail.* Stretching 125 feet above the Appomattox River, the 2,440-foot long structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. Head either east or west of the bridge for a longer, forested ride or park at the River Road parking lot in Farmville (fee) for a quick 1-mile cycle to the bridge and back. The crushed limestone pathway is also accessible to hikers and horseback riders. Note that no drinking water is available along most of the trail, so remember to pack your own.

Distance: 31 miles, one way
Difficulty: Moderate, due to length
Info: DCR Virginia, High Bridge Trail

*Due to a culvert collapse in October 2018, High Bridge Trail is closed between Rochelle (2.2 miles east of Farmville) and River Road. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation recommends visitors use the River Road parking area (555 River Road, Farmville) or Camp Paradise parking area (1466 Camp Paradise Road, Rice) to access High Bridge. Repairs on the main culvert collapse began March 18 and will take an estimated 2 weeks. Once complete, repairs between Rice and Burkeville will begin. Check the Virginia DCR website for most up-to-date information.


8. Panhandle Trail | Carnegie, Pa., to Weirton, W. Va.

This rail-trail, formerly a Conrail train line, runs parallel to West Virginia’s Harmon Creek until meeting with another creek, Robinson Run, in Midway, Pa. The crushed stone and asphalt route leads cyclists over numerous river crossings and through small towns surrounded by rolling hillsides. Panhandle Trail connects to the Mountour trail—between Primrose and McDonald, Pa.—which ultimately links to Washington, D.C., via the Great Allegheny Passage (150 miles) and C&O Canal Towpath (184.5 miles). The route serves as the entrance to the Great American Rail-Trail: a 4,000-mile planned path that, when completed, will connect more than 125 different rail-trails from Washington D.C. to Washington state.

Distance: 29 miles, one way
Difficulty: Moderate, due to length
Info: Panhandle Trail, Great Allegheny Passage, Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park, Rails to Trails Great American Rail-Trail



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Michaela Johnston

Michaela Johnston is the editorial intern at AMC Outdoors magazine.