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The Budget Traveler’s Guide to Cycling the National Parks

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
May 6, 2019
A view of cyclists on a road in Yellowstone National Park
Courtesy Trek Travel
Learn how to undertake one of the most rewarding experiences our parks have to offer - on two tires!

America’s national parkland is certainly no secret - more than 330 million people visited National Park Service sites last year, typically entering the park in a car, SUV, or camper, and spending their days driving to marquee attractions like Old Faithful, the giant redwoods, and the Continental Divide, and hiking the glorious trails.

But there is another way to navigate a national park: Cycling. The benefits include a healthy workout each time you hit the road, no worries about parking your car at, say, a tourist-packed waterfall or hot spring, and virtually 360 views everywhere you go. Sure, cycling always requires a little prep and know-how, and for that we turned to Grace Heimsness, a bike tour guide for Trek Travel with some important questions.

BT: What should cyclists know before traveling to a national park?

Grace Heimsness: Definitely study up on the typical weather for the time of year in which you'll be traveling so that you can pack and dress accordingly. Layers are a must in almost all parks, as is good footwear! Keep in mind that many parks close certain areas and trails seasonally. You can look these up on the park website in advance. This will give you an idea of where you'll be hiking ahead of time, and make sure you pack enough food, water, sunscreen, and clothing for the adventure. Don’t forget to study up on park rules! Three important ones are to pack out what you packed in, leave no trace, and keep your Clif bars to yourself (and let the wildlife take care of its own lunch!).

READ: 11 Safety Essentials for a National Park Trip

BT: When is the best time for cyclists to travel to national parks?

GH: It depends on the park, but summer is a great time. Early spring and late fall tend are also great, as the parks tend to be less busy. Keep in mind, however, that some areas of the park might be closed in the colder months. April-May and late October-November are my favorite times to visit.

BT: What is a good national park for a cycling beginner?

GH: The west side of Zion National Park is a great place for those who are just getting into cycling. While the road on the east side of the park--with tight corners, lots of traffic, and more punchy climbs--might be better for more seasoned cyclists, Zion Canyon Road is ideal for beginners and veterans alike. The road is closed to all traffic except park shuttles, and the gentle climb up to the Narrows is approachable for most fitness levels. Cycling in the shadows of stone giants like the Court of the Patriarchs and Angel's Landing provides an incredible opportunity to connect with the park on a profound level.

BT: What is a great national park for a more advanced cyclist?

GH: Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is an excellent choice. Going around the rim provides an excellent 360-degree experience of the park, and the frequent climbs and descents make for a challenging and rewarding conquest. Keep in mind that early in the season, half of Rim Road is typically closed due to snow.

BT: Any other favorite national parks for cyclists?

GH: Grand Tetons National Park has a fantastic bike path system, and the views of the Tetons from the valley are unbeatable.

BT: What essentials should cyclists pack with them in order to make the most of their ride through a national park?

GH: Make sure to bring your cell phone, layers, snacks, plenty of water, tools and parts for minor repairs, and a map of the park. Bring a pair of walking shoes if you plan to take a hike mid-ride. And always ride with both front and rear lights - the more visible you are to other vehicles, the better.

BT: Do you have any tips on how to stay hydrated and fueled for a bike ride through a national park?

GH: As a bike tour guide, my mantra is: Eat before you're hungry; drink before you're thirsty. A good rule of thumb is to drink one bottle of water per hour and one snack every 90 minutes or so.

BT: Are there any other important tips or advice that you want to share with cyclists?

GH: Wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Smile, wave, and play nice with other visitors. Lastly, respect your public land! We are fortunate to be surrounded by so much beauty, and it's our responsibility to take care of the planet that provides for us.

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This Baby Bison Video Is a Dose of Travel Spring-spiration!

Sometimes just the right image, or moving image, is worth well over the fabled “thousand words.” OUR FAVORITE VIDEO OF THE WEEK When it comes to delivering spring-spiration to travelers weary of the cold weather (and as I’m typing this, a cold rain is falling outside my window here in New York), our contacts at one of America’s favorite parks have come through for us today. This video of the first baby bison born this year at Custer State Park, SD (travelsouthdakota.com), will steal your heart - and possibly inspire you to book a trip this spring or summer to South Dakota. SOUTH DAKOTA MAY BE CALLING YOUR NAME We love Custer State Park’s 1,300 free-roaming bison, and the fact that visitors to the park can see animals in their natural habitat along the park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop. And we’re not just talking cute little cinnamon-furred baby bison but also herds of fully grown bison, majestic elk, stately bighorn sheep, and lots of deer. Any visit to this region of South Dakota should also include stops in Rapid City, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2018. WHAT’S YOUR BEST-EVER WILDLIFE-SPOTTING STORY? Tell us in the comments below what your favorite wildlife-viewing experience has been. Or post your pics to Instagram and tag them #MyBudgetTravel.

Adventure

8 (Other) U.S. Canyons to Add to Your Must-See List

The Grand Canyon National Park celebrates its centennial this year. The fanfare is well deserved, but it’s far from the only American canyon worth visiting. There's an array of gorgeous gorges across the U.S. with diverse landscapes, and unlike the always popular Grand Canyon, you can have them all to yourself if you time it right. Stopping at the rim and peering down into the depths of each of these destinations is a perfectly fine start, but there’s much more to be done in and around each of these incredible canyons. From the Grand Canyon of the Pacific to the Grand Canyon of the East, and the lesser-known rock formations in between, here are eight stunning geological wonders to visit next. 1. Cedar Breaks National Park: Utah For: superlative stargazing Sitting at more than 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks crowns the grand staircase, the geologic formation covering much of southern Utah and including the Grand Canyon. 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Adventure

A Locals' Guide to Outdoor Adventures in Durango, CO

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Adventure

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