Throw a leg over a bike and it doesn’t take long to find yourself riding to places you never thought possible, whether it’s the grocery store, across town, or from one coast to the other. Every day all across the country, people are discovering new ways to see the world by bike.
From the historical to the opulent to the unfathomable, here are five places in the U.S. you won?t believe you can explore by bicycle.
Volcanoes, Hawaii and Oregon
If you are undeterred by active volcanoes, elevated sulfur dioxide levels, and routes named ?Devastation Trail,? you?re in luck! Ditch the tour bus to experience the beauty and brawn of Hawaii’s volcanoes up close bicycling along Crater Rim Drive. Cresting at 4,000 feet, this paved road gives amazing views into the steaming K?lauea Caldera and the Mauna Loa Volcano. If smooth roads aren’t your style, never fear, because you can also check out the scenery along dilapidated truck roads that traverse lava fields.
If you prefer volcanoes more on the inactive side, Oregon’s Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful natural wonders on Earth?and you can take it all in bicycling along the 33-mile Rim Drive road. Even better? This year, the National Park Service designated September 19th and 25th as car-free days.
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
White as pristine snow and equally as barren, the salt-crusted earth of Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats spans out 30,000 acres. Located 120 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah, the massive expanse of Bonneville Salt Flats provide a curious combination of serene beauty and the ability to find out have fast one can go given enough open ground. Numerous speed records have been set here, including the world record motor-paced cycling speed that clocked in at a dizzying 166.9mph.
For us mere mortals, the smooth stretches of the Bonneville Salt Flats offer a unique opportunity to close your eyes and go for a ride, only to open your eyes and get blown away by nature’s curious creation all over again.
Mega Cavern, Kentucky
Image: Louisville Mega Cavern
One of the most unusual places to ride on earth is actually ten stories below the surface. Beneath the bustling city of Louisville, Kentucky, riders of all abilities are enjoying the world’s first underground bike park. At a whopping 320,000 square feet, it also holds the title of the world’s largest bike park.
With more than 45 trails that offer everything from easy singletrack to opportunities for flying high deep underground, the aptly named Mega Underground Bike Park is making limestone waves in the bicycling world. Thanks to its subterranean location, while the city above endures the Ohio River Valley’s icy winters and muggy summers, the bike park has a perpetual weather forecast of 60 degrees, dry, and ready to ride.
Underground Railroad, Alabama to Ontario
Image: Dennis Coello
Leading up to the Civil war in the early 19th century, up to 100,000 slaves are estimated to have escaped slaveholders using the Underground Railroad?a clandestine network of roads, paths, safe houses and hideouts leading to free states and Canada. Among those who escaped using this network are abolitionist newspaper publisher Frederick Douglass and Harriet ?Moses? Tubman, who became a prominent ?conductor? of the railroad, returning repeatedly until she?d aided the escape of at least 300 slaves.
The Adventure Cycling Association and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Minority Health, along with help from countless historians and experts, created a 2,006-mile bicycle route following the path of the Underground Railroad from Mobile, Alabama to Ontario, Canada. Along the way, museums, historical districts, and informational plaques commemorate the people and places vital to the Underground Railroad and serve as reminders of all the stories left untold.
Biltmore Estate, North Carolina
Image: The Biltmore Company
At 178,926 sq. ft., the Biltmore House is the largest privately owned home in the United States. Commissioned by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895, this house and its surrounding estate takes opulence to a whole new level with architecture and artistry that remains as impressive today as it was during its creation. Among the gardens, sculptures, and bevy of tourists that flock to this Asheville, North Carolina destination is an unexpected attraction: twenty-three miles of bike trails. So spectacular are the facilities that the Biltmore Estate will host the 2016 Cyclocross National Championships.
Beginning at the Bike Barn, riders can rent bikes or bring their own to tour the farm lands, riversides, and wildflower meadows of the sprawling 8,000 acre estate on trails that range from paved paths to rugged singletrack.
Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.