Easy bike paths in California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington provide plenty of car-free pedal fun.
Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail Start in Old Sacramento, Calif. Go north | 16 miles round-trip
Beginning in Old Sacramento, meander next to the broad Sacramento River for about a quarter of a mile. Then, at Discovery Park, turn right along the American River (hence the trail's local moniker, the American River Bike Path). As you pedal through the tawny flatlands, watch for green herons and egrets feeding on frogs in the river. Around the eight-mile mark, gaze on the Guy West Memorial Bridge, a mini-Golden Gate Bridge. Turn back here or continue to the end of the trail (an additional 46 miles round-trip).
Tip: Rent a bike from Practical Cycle, 114 J St., (916) 706-0077.
Monterey Bay Coastal Trail Start in Pacific Grove, Calif. Go southeast | 29 miles round-trip
Get rolling at Lover’s Point, a crescent-shaped beach where sea lions and otters play in the surf. Ride southeast with the coast on your left, and after a mile you’ll be at Monterey Bay Aquarium, home to a small waddle of skittering African black-footed penguins and also to an exhibit titled (shhh . . . ) The Secret Lives of Seahorses. At Monterey State Beach, about five miles in, paragliders sail over the dunes and the sea. The turnaround point is Fort Ord, one of the nation’s newest national monuments and a preserve for the endangered Smith’s blue butterfly, which you’ll likely find fluttering amid the buckwheat flowers.
Tip: Rent a bike at Adventures by the Sea, 299 Cannery Row., Pacific Grove, Calif. (831) 372-1807.
Truckee River Bike Path Start in Reno’s Wingfield Park. Go east | 16 miles round-trip
Roll onto the path in Wingfield Park. Watch kayakers at Truckee River Whitewater Park battle the rapids, and then ride east toward Sparks in the shade of the cottonwoods. Five miles along, beneath the East McCarran Boulevard Bridge, glance up at the summer home of 80,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats. Bring a flashlight to spy them inside expansion joints in daytime¾or better, watch them flutter out into the sky en masse at dusk. Three miles later, at the trail’s end, stop and watch for wild horses, often whinnying on the other side of the river.
Tip: Throughout July, Wingfield Park often hosts free concerts.
Bear Creek Greenway Start in Central Point, Ore. Go south | 18 miles round-trip
Wildlife lovers will savor this easy route. About a mile in at Mingus Marsh, pied-billed grebes and other ducks glide among the water lilies. Three miles later you come to Medford’s Hawthorne Park where returning chinook salmon, some as large as 40 pounds, struggle upstream through the clear water to spawn each fall. Roughly seven miles into the ride is Coyote Trails Jefferson Nature Center (541-772-1390), which displays old tortoise shells, shed snakeskins, and the sun-bleached bones of black bears. A couple miles later, turn left on to Fern Valley Road in Phoenix, where you’ll find the Grass Shack Cafe (205 Fern Valley Rd., 541-512-8969) serving up delectable Hawaiian food. Try the kalua pork and wash it down with a passion fruit–flavored iced tea.
Tip: Bring binoculars for the critters.
Provo River Parkway Start just east of Provo, Utah. Go northeast | 30 miles round-trip
Beginning at Utah Lake State Park amid farm fields, a ribbon of asphalt runs through the dry, cragged Provo River Canyon. The parkway is often shaded and the first few miles offer various spots for wading in the river. Near the three-mile mark, look for a footbridge over the river that leads to secluded Paul Ream Wilderness Park, where you can picnic beside a small duck pond. The marquee attraction is ten miles later: Bridal Veil Falls, a double-cataract cascade that plunges 607 feet. —By Bill Donahue
ten more great bike paths
Contra Costa Regional Canal Trail and Iron Horse Regional Trail East Bay, 43 miles
At a combined 43 miles, these two sections cover a large swath of Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. The mostly flat paths meet in bustling Walnut Creek and head in the four cardinal directions, connecting the grassy hills of Lime Ridge Open Space with the charming small town of Danville and numerous other cities, parks, and spur trails.
Dry Creek Trail Modesto, 5 miles
The Dry Creek Trail runs under leafy trees as it follows a seasonal creek bed, linking Moose, Kewin Thousand Oaks, and East La Loma Parks, and then skirting the Creekside Golf Course.
Golden Gate Park San Francisco, length varies
Dedicated trails give bicyclists the run of the city's favorite urban oasis, especially on Sundays, when the eastern half of John F. Kennedy Drive closes to cars. Head west from Kezar Drive, past the Conservatory of Flowers, botanical gardens, and Murphy Windmill before hitting Ocean Beach, where two more miles of paths parallel the Pacific.
Lake Almanor Recreation Trail Lake Almanor, 11 miles
Half of this bike path in Lassen National Forest hugs the lake, while the other half runs up into the trees. Start to finish it delivers views of the lake, Dyer Mountain, and towering Lassen Peak.
San Francisco Bay Trail San Mateo, 18 miles
From Coyote Point Park in San Mateo to Redwood Shores, this flat stretch of path cruises the bay front, offering prime views from Seal Point Park of planes landing at SFO. It passes the pickleweed marshes of peaceful Belmont Slough, where spear-billed great egrets wade in search of lunch.
Yosemite Valley Yosemite National Park, 12 miles
The valley's multiuse trail crisscrosses the Merced River and delivers peaceful vistas of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, and verdant meadows. You can take in Sierra splendor at a slow pace, making stops for views without fear of getting rear-ended.
Pittman Wash Trail Henderson, 4 miles
The four miles of the Pittman Wash Trail between E. Pebble Road and the Arroyo Grande Sports Complex in Henderson is just a sliver of the 66-mile network the city has built so far, but it’s a particularly picturesque one, meandering alongside the scrub-speckled wash and past trees, cactus, and the grassy lawns of several parks.
Candy Mountain Express Bike Trail Elsinore, 7 miles
Starting at Center Street in Elsinore, the path climbs several hundred feet over seven miles along the rushing Sevier River. Keep your eye on the canyon walls for the rock face resembling a mountain man in sunglasses, but save some wonder for the reds, oranges, and yellows that seem to melt over Big Rock Candy Mountain at the top of the route.
Jordan River Parkway Salt Lake City, 16 miles
Beginning at West 200 South in Salt Lake City and running for 16 peaceful, uninterrupted miles to South 700 West in Midvale, the bike path wiggles after the waterway, crossing over wooden bridges, under the branches of cottonwoods, past patches of bulrushes, and along the edges of many parks.
Olympic Discovery Trail Sequim, 19 miles
From North Sequim Avenue, the Olympic Discovery Trail runs 19 miles west—under the towering wooden beams of Railroad Bridge on the Dungeness River, through forest and field, along the edge of the Juan de Fuca Strait—to the ferry terminal in Port Angeles. —By Eric Smillie
Photography courtesy of Mike Scalora/Wikipedia
This article was first published in March 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.