20 best bike paths in the West

Get to know these Western routes the way the locals do ― on two wheels

Biking couple

Enjoy public art and Willamette River views along Portland's popular downtown river loop.

Thomas J. Story

Sunset's solutions for the most common biking problems

    • Problem: Too much traffic.
    • Solution: The best driving route is never the best one for biking, because that's where the cars are. To find the best bike route, channel your inner 8-year-old to think about your neighborhood: Can you cut through the cul de sac into the back of a park, then on a side road with little traffic? That's the best way. Or, a road with wide bike lanes.
    • Problem: What if I get a flat tire?
    • Solution: Your phone is your best friend. Call someone you know for a ride, or look up the nearest bike shop. If it’s close by, walk there. Better World Club, a Portland-based eco-minded auto club, offers nationwide bicycle roadside assistance for $40/year (or $17 with auto membership). And for you MacGyvers, many bike shops offer flat-fixing seminars.
    • Problem: Helmets—not a good look.
    • Solution: You're right. We got nothing. Except that no one has ever regretted wearing one, only the opposite.
    • Problem: I live too far away from everything to integrate biking into my day.
    • Solution: Think about where you can bike from. Work? Keep a bike at your office, and use it to go the .8 miles to Chipotle for lunch. Downtown? Drive to a periperhal parking lot, then bike around town to do all your errands.

Here are our favorite routes for exploring the West on two wheels. For even more trails, including descriptions, maps, and GPS coordinates, visit the Rails to Trails Conservancy's trailink.com

1 | SAMMAMISH RIVER TRAIL, REDMOND, WA (11 miles)

The Sammamish connects to the northeastern terminus of Seatttle's popular Burke-Gilman trail (make a left at the fork after crossing 96th NE). The scenic 11-mile Sammamish, continues past the wineries in Woodinville to Redmond and the popular Redhook Brewery. Info:  www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/trails/regionaltrailssystem/sammamishriver.aspx

2 | SPRINGWATER CORRIDOR, PORTLAND TO BORING, OR (40 miles)

Portland is synonymous with biking thanks to trails like this one, which runs through the city along the Willamette River and over the famous, double-lift Steel Bridge (a boat, train, cars, runners and cyclists can simultaneously cross above or under it) to the town of Boring. This loop, which may eventually link to the Pacific Crest Trail, ends in Boring, however, it's anything but. Info: www.portlandonline.com/parks/finder/index.cfm?PropertyID=679&action=ViewPark

3 | IRON HORSE REGIONAL TRAIL, CONCORD, CA (24.5 miles)

Stretching two counties and 12 cities along I-680 (from Concord to Dublin), this trail is the ultimate connector – and a beautiful ride, to boot. With multiple access points to each town's commercial districts, you've got your pick of rest stops for a coffee, bathroom break or bench to kick up your cleats. You can even tee up at the San Ramon Golf Club – the path slices through the green before reaching Dublin. Info: www.ebparks.org/parks/trails/iron_horse

4 | PROVO RIVER PARKWAY, PROVO, UT (15 miles)

Meander along the Provo River in Utah Lake State Park to the mouth of Provo Canyon on this path that picks up a slight gradual incline. Some short, steep climbs make it challenging at times, but its well-worth it. The reward: Bridal Veil Falls. The rushing water, which drops 600+ feet through a double cascade, is the perfect escape. Info: www.traillink.com/trail/provo-river-parkway.aspx

5 | BAYSHORE BIKEWAY, SAN DIEGO, CA (12.5 miles)

Views of the beautiful bay and San Diego skyline makes this palm tree-lined path one of the most memorable in county. The trail ties a handful of communities, including National City, Chula Vista and Coronado, as well as several wildlife preserves. Look up every once in a while to spot birds crossing the Pacific Flyway, a major avian highway that runs from Alaska to Patagonia! Info: www.sandag.org/index.asp?projectid=63&fuseaction=projects.detail

6 | PLATTE RIVER TRAIL, DENVER, CO (28.5 miles)

With the Rockies in the backdrop and the smooth trail ahead of you, roll into Denverfor lunch before heading north toward Henderson into high plains. The river ride turns into the Mary Carter Greenway, which continues to Chatfield State Park. There, it connects to the five other cool trails. In between: cafes, botanical gardens and lots of parks. Info: www.traillink.com/trail/platte-river-trail.aspx

7 | AMERICAN RIVER, SACRAMENTO, CA (32 miles)

You'll find plenty of access points, mile-markers, maps, water fountains, and restrooms on this shady two-lane trail, which starts in Discovery Park in Old Sacramento and ends at Folsom Lake. Break for a swim, picnic in the park, or snack at a cute restaruant along the way. Tip: You won't find solitude on this trail, particularly on weekends when walkers, skaters, and equestrians flock here. Info: www.trailsfromrails.com/american_river_trail.htm

 

8 | SPOKANE RIVER CENTENNIAL TRAIL, SPOKANE, WA (39 miles)

Better name might be the Tour de Spokane County. On this ride, you'll get a glimpse of the suburbs, Gonzaga University campus, downtown, and rural countryside. Simply pedal along the contours of the glistening river—at times, running parallel to I-90—from the Idaho state line to Nine Mile Falls (it's a short, easy hike to the modest 50-foot falls) and Riverside Park. Info: www.spokanecentennialtrail.org

9 | PEAVINE AND IRON KING TRAILS, PRESCOTT, AZ (9.2 miles)

Sixty miles north of Phoenix, you'll find this pair of crushed-stone trails (they make a rough “T”). Keep your smart phone handy for snapshots of the grandiose Granite Dells – weathered boulders that jut skyward from Watson Lake – and rusted, gutted old train cars. You may get winded at 5,200 feet, but taking your time means more photo opps. Info: www.traillink.com/trail/peavine-trail.aspx

10 | OJAI VALLEY TRAIL, OJAI, CA (9.5 miles)

Go for a spectacular spin through the artsy city of Ojai – 35 miles south of Santa Barbara and 73 miles of Los Angeles. Every June, the city hosts a music festival at the local amphitheater. Stop to rock out or continue onward to explore the Los Padres National Forest. Stay on path, which seamlessly joins the Ventura River Trail (6 miles), to hit the beach and cool off with a dip. Info: www.traillink.com/trail/ojai-valley-trail.aspx

11 | PASEO DEL BOSQUE TRAIL, ALBUQUERQUE, NM

The Paseo del Bosque Trail is a shady 16-mile corridor that follows the languid Rio Grande west of downtown. Don't pass up a visit along the way to the Rio Grande Botanical Garden, a 20-acre desert oasis that includes a butterfly pavilion and is bordered by the world's largest cottonwood gallery. Info: www.nmts.org/rides/riversideTrail.htm or 505/768-2680.

12 | BOULDER CEEK PATH, BOULDER, CO
With mountain views, garden scenery, and public art displays along the way, nothing says "Boulder" better than the 7-mile Boulder Creek Path. From the flatlands near Valmont Reservoir, the path gently climbs 600 feet while paralleling Boulder Creek and plumbing the town's core. Eventually the pavement enters the chiseled Boulder Canyon, where low gears help you climb the remaining unpaved section that tops out at the Fourmile Canyon intersection. Info: www.bouldercolorado.gov or 303/441-3266.

13 | CHERRY CREEK TRAIL, DENVER, CO

Plying the city's best neighborhoods while following a rippling waterway, the 12-mile Cherry Creek Trail is the city's own Tour de Denver. Beginning at Confluence Park ― a kayaker's playground ― the paved sub-street-level trail scoots past LoDo and Capital Hill, past the tony Cherry Creek Shopping Center, before its rendezvous with Cherry Creek Reservoir. Info: www.denvergov.org or 720/865-2453.

14 | SOUTH BAY BICYCLE TRAIL, LOS ANGELES, CA

Stretching 23 miles from Pacific Palisades almost to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the trail is a fossil fuel-free way to explore the best of Southern California. The route traverses the full range of beach life, from the eccentric funk of the Venice Boardwalk to the hard-bodied, hard-hitting world of South Bay beach volleyball courts. Tip: If you want to avoid crowds, get out early and finish by 11 ― after that, stretches of trail can bog down as surely as a So Cal freeway. Info: www.coastalconservancy.ca.gov/Wheel/lapage/2_smb/bike.html or 626/458-3940.

 

15 | WILLAMETTE RIVER LOOP, PORTLAND, OR

Bike-friendly Portland's most scenic ride by far is the 10.4-mile loop up and down the Willamette River. Head north on the Eastbank Esplanade, cross the river on the Steel Bridge, and go south through Waterfront Park. Recross the river on the Hawthorne Bridge for a 3-mile loop, or continue south past RiverPlace Marina, following Moody Avenue through the South Waterfront District. Continue south to the Sellwood Bridge, and to complete the loop, head north through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. Info: www.gettingaroundportland.org or 503/823-7083.

16 | JORDAN RIVER PARKWAY TRAIL, SALT LAKE CITY, UT 

When the Parkway is completed, riders will roll 50 paved miles between Provo's Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake. But some of the best scenic stretches are already finished. The 8.5-mile section just west of downtown Salt Lake City has an urban skyline but is wonderfully rural, meandering along the river, sweeping through nine city parks and stately Rose Park Golf course, near wetlands teeming with birds. Info: www.parks-recreation.org/parks/html/jordan.html or 801/468-2299.

17 | BIKE THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, SAN FRANCISCO, CA

An absolute classic ― easy, breezy, and with some of the most breathtaking views of the city you'll find anywhere. Start along Marina Green at the intersection of Marina Boulevard and Webster Street. Heading west on the paved trail towards the bridge, you'll pass the city's swankiest yacht clubs and lots of kite-flyers. At Crissy Field, where the whole city gathers on fog-free days to wade in the bay and walk their dogs, transfer over to gravel paths and continue west. Follow signs up the hill to the bridge, and, as you cross on the bridge's western side, take in views of the Farallon Islands and the Marin Headlands. For an only-in-SF ending to the day, continue down to Sausalito and catch a ferry back to the city. Info: www.blazingsaddles.com/rides.html or 415/202-8888.

18 | LOS GATOS CREEK TRAIL, SAN JOSE AREA, CA

By far the prettiest way to travel from San Jose to Los Gatos is along the Los Gatos Creek Trail. The paved route's 8.5 miles are mostly flat and screened from the South Bay's busy roads by eucalyptus, willows, and the gentle mumurings of the creek. Stop the meander for a picnic, to feed the ducks, or for a paddleboat ride at Vasona Lake County Park. Info: www.sccgov.org/portal/site/parks or 408/356-2729.

19 | BURKE-GILMAN TRAIL, SEATTLE, WA

The paved and mostly level 14.2-mile trail starts in Ballard, winds east through fun, funky Fremont, curves north along the shores of Lake Washington (see views of downtown) and ends in Kenmore. There's parking at several spots, including Gas Works Park, Matthews Beach Park, and Tracy Owen Station. This year, you'll need to detour around construction at the Fremont Bridge. Info: www.metrokc.gov/bike

20 | RIO SALADO PATHS, TEMPE, AZ

The best routes for urban explorations of Tempe's 165-mile bikeway system are the downtown Rio Salado Paths. Flanked by the iconic Arizona State University and Sun Devil Stadium, the 5 miles of paved, landscaped pathways wind along Tempe Town Lake, past Tempe Beach Park and imaginative public art displays, like the murmuring water of the Marina Water Muse. Info: www.tempe.gov/bikeprogram or 480/350-8810.

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