There are more than 400 national parks scattered throughout the country, and each one is astoundingly beautiful in its own way. From Crater Lake National Park to Death Valley National Park, our national parks boast deserts, mountains, forests and nearly every other possible natural feature you can imagine. Most parks are open to cyclists, and if you’re looking to get in touch with nature and explore the great outdoors, then you definitely need to visit at least one of the five national parks listed below.
Crater Lake National Park
Located in Oregon, Crater Lake is a sizable lake (in fact, at 1,943 feet deep, it’s the deepest lake in the U.S.) that’s nestled in the heart of what’s known as a caldera—it’s basically a concave depression that was created when a volcano collapsed. The lake is fed by rain and snowmelt (according to the NPS, the lake holds nearly 4.6 trillion gallons), and cyclists can actually ride around the rim of the caldera, which is about 33 miles in total. The view from up top, especially of the lake’s remarkably blue hue, is definitely something you shouldn’t miss.
Zion National Park
The American Southwest is renowned for its natural beauty, and Utah’s Zion National Park encapsulates some of the region’s most awe-inspiring natural features. From the park’s canyons to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes and the iconic Navajo Sandstone cliffs, Zion features some of the most beautiful desert landscapes in the nation, if not the world. The park also features a wide range of habitats, ranging from grasslands to isolated forests. Bonus: from early April until late October, only bicycles and park shuttle buses are allowed on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (no cars allowed!)
Don’t let the name fool you—California’s Death Valley National Park isn’t as foreboding as it sounds. The landscape, which can be a bit austere at times, is also gorgeously varied. From salt flats to badlands and sand dunes, cyclists interested in exploring some of the scenery that’s associated with iconic Old West lore will find that Death Valley is right up their alley (and yes, there are plenty of old abandoned mines in the neighborhood as well!). While it is a desert—the hottest temperature in the country (134 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded here—at night the Valley comes to life, as its common to see animals such as coyotes, bobcats, and even bighorn sheep. The best months of the year for cycling Death Valley are October – November and January through March, when temperatures are most bike-friendly.
Badlands National Park
Cyclists who also happen to be fans of classic Western films need to pay South Dakota’s Badlands National Park a visit. From the park’s herds of bison roaming grasslands to its rugged but severe badlands, the 244,000-acre park is a living representation of classic Old West history and culture. Cyclists can roam about the park, and one of the best routes is the Badlands Loop Road, which runs for 24 miles and offers extensive views of the park. After riding, you can also go and check out the Fossil Exhibit Trail, which features a cool collection of replica fossils of some of the extinct creatures (including sabre tooth tigers) that once roamed the area.
Glacier National Park
If you’re looking to hit the mountains, then Montana’s Glacier National Park is perfect for you. From alpine meadows to impressive mountains, there’s plenty to see in this park. According to the NPS, there are over 700 trails in the area, so there are a number of opportunities for doing a bit of mountain biking. However, if you’re aiming to put some miles behind you, one of the most iconic road rides is Going-to-the-Sun-Road, which is nicely maintained and extends roughly 50 miles through the heart of the park.
Each of these five national parks is a real treasure, so whichever park you end up checking out for your cycling adventure, you’re bound to have an incredible time.