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Beautiful Bike Rides

You won't have to work up a sweat on these scenic cycling paths. 

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  • Boise River Greenbelt, Boise, Idaho, image
    Photo credit
    Photo: Glenn Oakley
    Photo caption
    The leafy miles provide a welcome respite from the bustle of Boise, Idaho.
  • Cyclists on Portland's Steel Bridge, Ore., image
    Photo credit
    Photo: Don Frank
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    Cyclists ride on Portland's Steel Bridge, a segment of the Willamette River Loop.
  • Eastbank Esplanade bike path, Portland, Ore., image
    Photo credit
    Photo: Don Frank
    Photo caption
    The Eastbank Esplanade hugs the wide Willamette in Portland, Ore.
  • Girl on bike on Row River Trail in Cottage Grove, Ore., image
    Photo credit
    Photo: Greg Vaughn
    Photo caption
    A young bicyclist, pretty in pink, leads a pedal-perfect outing in Cottage Grove, Ore.
  • Woman cyclist on Friendship Bridge, Boise River Greenbelt, Idaho, image
    Photo credit
    Photo: Glenn Oakley
    Photo caption
    A cyclist enjoys the Friendship Bridge on the Boise River Greenbelt.

No, you don’t need to wear Lycra, and no, you don’t need to shave your legs for speed either to tackle these scenic bike routes in the West. We’re talking pancake-flat, car-free, escape-to-nature fun on two wheels. Several paths offer longer hauls, but we picked stretches within them that you can do with ease. Most folks can ride about nine miles in an hour, but you’ll want to take more time and dawdle along the way at covered bridges, smoothie shops, and secret swimming holes.

Row River Trail Start in Cottage Grove, Ore. Go south | 12 miles round-trip

The railway route that once brought giant felled Douglas firs to southern Oregon’s sawmills now serves as a bike path showcasing some of the region’s finest covered bridges. The generously shaded Row River Trail begins on Main Street in Cottage Grove, Ore., and then, two miles along, links with the river, where swimming holes abound. Three miles in stands Mosby Creek Bridge. Quaintly clothed in white clapboard with a peaked roof, it appeared in the 1986 film Stand by Me. A mile later comes the long, red-and-white covered Currin Bridge. At Dorena Lake, you can picnic overlooking the water, with a view of the forested shoreline.

Tip: Rent a bike from Rainy Peak Bicycles, two blocks from the start of the trail. 711 E. Main St., (541) 942-8712, rainypeak.com.

Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail Start in Mosier, Ore. Go west | 9 miles round-trip

Conceived as the King of Roads and finished in 1922, the Columbia River Highway was born at a time when driving was new and magical. It swoops through the forested hills lining the gorge and offers breathtaking views of the Columbia River. And today, stretches of it are closed to cars. On the lovely, auto-free Twin Tunnels segment, the path meanders through a dry ponderosa pine forest and then dives into two cool, dark adjacent tunnels cut into the rock hillside. From there it presses on through an entirely different ecosystem—a lush landscape of firs dotted with moss and prehistoric-looking ferns. You can almost feel the air grow damper as you pedal.

Tip: Buy a state park day pass at the trailhead for $5 per car; credit/debit cards only.

Boise River Greenbelt Start in Julia Davis Park, Boise Go east | 8 miles round-trip

Pedal away from Zoo Boise, home to ocelots and giraffes, and wend 1.5 miles along the river to the Morrison Knudsen Nature Center, which offers a sampler of Idaho’s ecosystems. A mountain stream complete with an underwater window allows you to watch fish wriggle by. At 4.5 miles, the brand-new Marianne Williams Park has a splendid picnic spot with a view of the velvety, creased Boise Foothills. Cross the river on the East Parkcenter Bridge. The bike path runs along Parkcenter Boulevard and heads east to the Boise State campus, past the hallowed blue Astroturf on which the beloved Broncos angle for football glory. For refreshment, check out Tree City Juice and Smoothie Cafe (1265 S. Capitol Blvd., 208-342-0467). The Strawburst smoothie—with strawberries, bananas, strawberry sorbet, and passion fruit–guava juice—is your reward.

Tip: For a longer, 16-mile out-and-back ride, continue along the path to the pond at Discovery Park.

Willamette River Loop Start in Portland’s Waterfront Park Go north | 3 miles round-trip

One of Oregon’s busiest recreational paths heads over the Steel Bridge and then, after a mile, cuts east over the Hawthorne Bridge. Weave past joggers and baby strollers and skateboarders close by the city’s soaring skyscrapers. Experience the weird, buoyant delight of cycling over the Eastbank Esplanade, where one 1,200-foot-long section of bridge actually floats just inches above the water. Go slowly—wayward children are forever skittering underfoot—and stop every so often to see ducks and Canada geese swimming along through the heart of the city.

Tip: Rent from Kerr Bikes, 1020 SW Naito Pkwy., (503) 808-9955, kerrbikes.org.

Need more paths? Check out Fifteen Bike Paths in the West. For basic bike safety tips, read How to be a Supersafe Cyclist.

This article was first published in May 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.