Myth: Living in a metropolis means your cycling adventures consist of being trapped inside the stifling four walls of a gym with a techno-music loving spin instructor.
Fact: There’s no reason to go stir-crazy or spend the majority of your bike rides dodging cars. Major cities such as Boston and Atlanta have combined fitness with nature in the form of urban biking trails — perfect for connecting with the great outdoors while never leaving the comfort of the cityscape.
“Cycling is a great option for aerobic/cardio-respiratory exercise because it is low-impact, unlike running which can be painful for the knees, hips and lower-back,” says Pete McCall, exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise.
Whether you’re a biking beginner or a Lance Armstrong-in-training, here’s a breakdown of the top urban bike paths that will leave you breathless — for more than one reason.
Atlanta, Georgia: Silver Comet Trail
Admit it, the daily gridlock of the big city has really tamed your inner Paul Bunyan. Thankfully, just about 14 miles northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, lies 61.5 paved miles of scenic, woodsy bliss. The Silver Comet Trail begins in Smyrna, Georgia and runs all the way to the Alabama border where it meets the Chief Ladiga Trail.
Built over an abandoned rail line, the trail is relatively flat, with a few medium hills at mile marker 19.4 and 36 and steep hills near the end of the path at mile marker 45.8 and 51.4. So while you can brag to your coworkers on Monday about the scenic trip you took through Georgia’s countryside that had you biking over rushing creeks, winding between rock cliffs and pedaling through railroad tunnels, you can leave out the fact that the trail is extremely user-friendly with plenty of access to rest stops and bathrooms. Frankie’s Italian Restaurant near the Rockmart Trailhead at mile marker 37.6 caters to cyclists and next to Coot’s Lake Trailhead at mile marker 33.5 is Coot’s Lake Beach which has public swimming and a picnic area for a small entry fee.
Boston, Massachusetts: Minuteman Bikeway
The bicyclists are coming! The bicyclists are coming! The Minuteman Bikeway’s level terrain is both scenic and historic — the trail closely approximates the route Paul Revere took on his famous ride in 1775, announcing the incursion by British forces. The 11-mile paved trail connecting Bedford to Cambridge passes through Lexington and Arlington, with plenty of open spaces — perfect for relaxing, playing ball and hiking along the way. The Alewife Brooke Reservation at the end of the bike path in Arlington boasts playing fields and bird watching, and in East Lexington is the 183-acre Great Meadows. Also adjacent to the bike path is Spy Pond, which has a boat ramp and picnic tables. Be forewarned that the Minuteman Bikeway can become crowded so try to keep your bike rage to a minimum and consider crowd-dodging an extra workout.
Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Lakefront Bike Path
With “lakefront” in the trail’s name you know this bike path is on some prime real estate — and what’s more scenic than rolling along the edge of Lake Michigan? With the shoreline on one side and a view of the city skyline behind you, Chicago’s Lakefront Bike Path is the picturesque urban biker’s dream. The 18.5 asphalt miles between Rogers Park and the South Shore Cultural Center includes the Shedd Aquarium and the Navy Pier where you can rent bikes as well as check out Pier Park’s Ferris wheel and miniature golf course. But if your bike rides are strictly for fitness, you can easily turn the bike ride into a whole day of physical activities thanks to the volleyball courts, playgrounds, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and soccer fields found along the path.
Northern Virginia/DC metro area: Mount Vernon Trail
For nature-lovers, there is more to metro D.C. than just the cherry blossoms. Steal a glimpse (away from the crowds) of some of the capital’s favorite monuments while enjoying the serenity of biking along the Potomac River. Located across the river from downtown Washington D.C. the trail extends 18.5 miles from near Theodore Roosevelt Island to Mount Vernon, along the Potomac River. Start with a warm-up walk at Theodore Roosevelt Island where you’ll find two and a half miles of nature trails and breathtaking views of the nation’s capital. Back on the trail, you’ll see the historic Arlington Memorial Bridge, which symbolizes the strength of the post-Civil War united nation, as well as the Navy-Marine Memorial and Jones Point Lighthouse. The paved trail is fairly flat with an occasional rolling hill but make sure to save some energy for the end — the last mile heading towards Mount Vernon has a decent climb. Stop at Gravelly Point (between mile three and four) for a panorama view of Washington, the Potomac River and Washington National Airport.
Sacramento, California: Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail/American River Bike Path
Home to glitzy Los Angeles and scenic national parks it can be hard to stand out in California; but the 32-mile Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail/American River Parkway accomplishes just that. Dubbed the “Jewel of Sacramento,” the paved asphalt bike path that runs between Old Sacramento and Beal’s Point at Folsom Lake transports cyclists from the chaotic lifestyle of urban California (and far away for the Los Angeles smog) to a biker’s oasis. The mostly flat route travels along the American River and has a top elevation of about 450 feet. The trail is home to Run the River — Sierra-Cascade Adventure Racing Sport’s half, full and ultra marathon. Along the trail you’ll pass Discovery Park, the 302-acre park in downtown Sacramento where the American River meets the Sacramento River as well as Guy West Bridge (a pedestrian bridge replication of the Golden Gate Bridge) and C.M. Goethe Park.