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Biking with Kids in National Parks: Central and Eastern US

The West Coast has an undeniable monopoly on National Parks in the United States. The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain… the list goes on and on (and on). But while the central and east coast areas of the country have fewer National Parks, they are some of the most beautiful parks of the bunch! From Maine and Florida, to Tennessee and Ohio, we’ve rounded up five of the most fantastic central and east coast National Parks that also feature family-friendly bike trails.

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky

5. Mammoth Cave National Park

Big Hollow Trail

The highlight of central Kentucky’s cavelands might seem like it would be, well, the caves.  And yes, the 365 miles of underground caves including the Diamond Caverns are absolutely awesome, but above ground has some pretty fantastic gems too (haha, see what we did there?!).

With over 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers running through the park, there are plenty of activities for water-sport-loving families: fishing, canoeing, swimming, kayaking, and even riverside camping. On land you can go hiking, horseback riding, and, of course, bike riding!

Big Hollow Trail is definitely the highlight of the bike trails in this particular National Park.  This family-friendly trail is specifically geared toward beginning riders but still has enough features and alternate lines to make it fun for intermediate riders.  The trail really is perfect for beginners: it’s shaded with only minor elevation changes and runs through a gorgeous wooded area that will give the kids plenty to look at and enjoy as they ride.

Trail Info:

 

Best For: All ages and skill levels.  Trails are available for kids in trailers as well.
Bike Rental:
  • Wheel Fun Rentals (1 1/2 hours away but is the closest available) has kids bikes, tandem bikes, and bike trailers.
  • Hickory Cabins also offers bike rentals to their guests.
More Information: Visit Crazy Family Adventure for tips on visiting with kids, and Mom of 6 for specific information on exploring the caves with kids.

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Gatlinburg Trail

Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, this beautiful National Park has some one-of-a-kind attractions, including dinner at the Leconte Lodge Kitchen delivered by… llamas.  Yes, llamas.  No, they’re not waiting on tables (though that would really be a one-of-a-kind experience), but a llama train does make the 6.7 mile trek up the mountain to deliver food, linens, and other supplies three times a week.  Seriously, where else in the U.S. can you eat a llama-delivered dinner??

Aside from fantastic eating experiences, the park has family-friendly hikes, nearby whitewater raftingand tubing adventures, as well as guided nature walks.

Most importantly though, there are some fantastic and kid-friendly bike rides you can take in the park.  Our personal favorite would have to be the Gatlinburg Trail.  This tree-covered trail runs along the Little Pigeon River, over wooden bridges, and past old homesites.  Your kids will love taking breaks to play in the river and stopping for a picture in front of an old chimney.  History lesson + exercise + water play = win win win.

Trail Info: 

  • Hard-packed Gravel/Dirt Easy – Gatlinburg Trail  (3.8 miles roundtrip)
  • Paved Moderate – Cades Cove Loop on Wednesdays and Saturdays before 10:00 am (11 mile loop with 5 and 8 mile options if you take dirt road shortcuts)
  • Dirt Easy – Oconaluftee River Trail (3.0 miles roundtrip)

 

Best For: All ages and skill levels.  Trails are available for kids in trailers.

Bike Rental:

  • Bike the Smokies: 20″ bikes, adult bikes, bike trailers, electric bikes with seating for kids in the back. (These guys are really knowledgeable and can help you find the best bike path for your family!)
  • Cades Cove Campground Shop: If you’re sticking to the Cades Cove Loop you can pick up a bike at the campground shop in sizes from 16″ to adult bikes.

More Information: Visit Scary Mommy for tips on visiting the entire area, and My Smoky Mountain Park on visiting the caves.

Everglades National Park in Florida

3. Everglades National Park

Shark Valley Trail

Have you ever dreamed of biking with alligators?  Yeah, neither have we.  But your kids probably have, which will make you a total hero if you take them biking in Everglades National Park.

Yes, you can safely bike ride among the alligators.  And no, there haven’t been any reports of the alligators eating the cyclists.  Apparently alligators are the couch potatoes of the animal world and don’t like to eat anything they can’t swallow in one gulp.  Phew.

The easiest trail in this National Park is the paved Shark Valley Trail which usually has dozens of alligators lying on or near the trail.  Slightly creepy?  Yes.  But your kids will seriously love you. Or… have a panic attack. Ha!

While the trail itself is an easy ride, it’s quite long (14.5 miles) and the Florida heat/humidity can make it a bit daunting for young riders.  We suggest you plan to ride along the trail for a bit and then ride back rather than attempting the full loop.

In addition to cycling past the alligators, you can take an airboat tour through the mangrove forest, walk through the rainforest-like Mahogany Hammock Trail, or even get up-close-and-personal with all kinds of slithery critters at the Everglades Alligator Farm.

Trail Info:

 

Best For: All ages and skill levels.  Trails are available for kids in trailers.

Bike Rental:

  • Shark Valley Visitor Center offers a limited number of bikes on a first come, first served basis.  In addition to adult bikes they offer 20″ bikes and child bike seats.
  • Bike and Roll Miami has 20″ bikes, tag-alongs, bike trailers, child bike seats, and tandem bikes.

More Information: Check out Earth Trekkers (our new #familygoals) to see a detailed plan of visiting Everglades National Park.

Cuyahuga National Park in Ohio

 

 

 

2. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail

We had no idea Cuyahoga Valley National Park even existed until last week, and we are so excited to have discovered it!

This is the ONLY National Park we’ve found that offers a Bike Aboard! program, which allows you (and your bikes!) to take a scenic train ride into the park and then bike your way back out.  Cool, right???

The bike paths in Cuyahoga are extremely kid-friendly as well.  You’ll actually be traveling along what’s called the Towpath Trail, named for the mules that used to tow canal boats down the river along the very paths you’ll be biking on.  And since mules don’t like tugging boats uphill (and you thought pulling your kid in a bike trailer was hard!), this trail is nice and flat, making it perfect for even the littlest rider.  Oh, and did we mention that you’ll be biking along the Cuyahoga River?  Talk about a beautiful bike ride!

For the days you’re in the park without a bike there are tons of kid-friendly hikes and activities.  Blue Hen Falls is just an easy half mile hike to (you guessed it!) a waterfall, or there’s Brandywine Falls for the truly adventurous who can handle a 1.5 mile hike. You can also fish, canoe, or kayak on the Cuyahoga River.

Trail Info:

 

Best For: All ages and skill levels.  Trails are available for kids in trailers.

Bike Rental:

  • Century Cycles – 24″, tag-along, bike trailer
  • Eddys – 16″ – 24″ bikes (training wheels available) 24″ mtb

More Information: Visit A Dangerous Business Travel Blog for tips on visiting with kids.

Acadia National Park in Maine

 

1. Acadia National Park

Eagle Lake Trail

Maine might be famous for being the only US state with a one-syllable name (what, you didn’t know that?), its delicious lobster, beautiful lighthouses, and pristine beaches, but this state is also home to one of the few island-based National Parks.

Acadia National Park is one of the most family-friendly parks on this list.  With easy (but stunning!) hikes, free blueberry picking, and biking options aplenty, it’s a perfect vacation destination for families with young children.

Acadia has some of the easiest bike riding options around, thanks to its system of carriage roads, built in the early 1900’s.  Let us give you a short (and super interesting) history lesson: John D. Rockefeller wanted to be able to ride on his horse from Point A to Point B on the island without having to deal with motor vehicles.  So, like any red-blooded American, he poured 3.5 million dollars, 10,000 acres of land, and 27 years into making a system of carriage roads inside Acadia National Park.  And unlike publicly-funded roads, these carriage roads would be accessible only to pedestrians, horses, carriages, and bicyclists.  Go, J.D.!

Luckily for all of us bike riders (especially those with small children!) there are no longer any carriages and these roads are relatively flat, so it makes for easy cycling through the park and around the island.   A word of warning though – the soft dirt and rock trails can make it tricky for little riders, so make sure to bring a ride-along option if you’ve got especially young kids.

For those who want a bit more adventure, you can make a day of riding on the Schoodic Peninsula trail.  You (and your bikes!) can take the 45 minute Schoodic Ferry from Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor.  The fantastic captain and crew will narrate the ride for you by pointing out seals, lighthouses, celebrity homes, working lobstermen, bald eagles, and more.  One ferry rider even reported that the captain and crew let their kids help with some of the on-ship tasks!

Once you get to the Schoodic Peninsula be prepared for absolutely breathtaking views, a few hills, and a fantastic day.  You have the option of either taking the hard-packed gravel bike path or using the paved loop road which is also open to cars (though traffic is minimal).  Whichever path you take, you’ll have some of the best views imaginable of the Atlantic Ocean.  And when you’re ready for a break you can stop in one of the small villages for some delicious local seafood or ice cream.

Trail Info:

 

Best For: All ages and skill levels.  Trails are available for kids in trailers as well.

Bike Rental:

  • Acadia Bike rents 20″ to 24″ kids bikes, child bike seats, tag-alongs, bike trailers, and tandem bikes.
  • Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop rents 20″ to 24″ kids bikes, tag-along bikes, bike trailers, and trailer hitches.

More Information: Visit Our Escape Clause or New England Travel to see a complete list of family activities in Acadia National Park, including biking. A HUGE shout out to our reader Kristin Spirek for her help and photos in this and the Great Smoky Mountains section!

 

Two Wheeling Tots, Article by Kristen >