A well done bike path is a wonderful thing.
Families can let the kids cycle ahead, without worrying about traffic. Map-challenged cyclists don’t have to worry about navigation. Bike touring newbies can relax, knowing that trailside communities will provide plenty of water, food and accommodation. And the scenery just seems to get better and better as the trail takes you through the heart of the local landscape.
Here are 3 great bike paths we’ve had the pleasure of riding.
Otago Rail Trail – South Island, New Zealand
Set in the heart of New Zealand’s stunning South Island, the Otago Rail Trail is a 150km long path between the towns of Clyde and Middlemarch. It takes you through old gold mining towns, across the Maniototo plain and alongside gorges and mountain ranges. As you travel the trail, information boards tell you more about the history and nature of the area.
The trail is open year round and you can either camp alongside it or rest for the night in one of the many B&Bs, hotels and campgrounds dotted along the route. Because the Otago Rail Trail has become very popular, it may be crowded in peak summer season (Christmas, New Year and Easter are the busiest times).
To get to the beginning of the trail, most people start from the city of Dunedin. From here, tour operators offer transfers to Middlemarch. You can also cycle out from the city to Middlemarch in a day (about 80km) or take the stunning Taieri Gorge Railway from Dunedin to Pukerangi and ride the remaining 21km to Middlemarch.
Read More: We kept detailed notes on cycling the Otago rail trail. There’s also the official Otago Central Rail Trail site.
Side Trips: From the Rail Trail town of Ranfurly, detour to Naesby and try the sport of curling in their year-round rink. Continue into the countryside on the road that leads over stunning Danseys Pass. The pass isn’t a rail trail, but there’s so little traffic on the road it feels like you’ve never left the bike path!
Via Claudia Augusta – Germany to Italy
The Via Claudia Augusta must be one of Europe’s most spectacular rides. Running from Donauworth, on the Danube River in Germany, to the Adriatic Sea and the classic Italian city of Venice, you’ll find plenty to admire on this 700km route.
It’s hard to decide what is the best part about this path. Is it the 2,000 years of Roman history that you pass on the way, including 2 original milestones that have been unearthed? Is it the fantastic orchards and vineyards you pass through? Or is it the stunning mountain views?
It must be said that the Via Claudia isn’t entirely off-road (sometimes it uses low-traffic roads) but if you want to experience a section that is all on a bike path, then head for the Austrian town of Nauders, tucked into a corner of the Alps that borders on Italy and Switzerland. From Nauders, you can head south, going almost immediately into Italy and the cities of Merano, Bolzano and Trento. This section is not only paved and dedicated to cycling, it’s also all either downhill or flat!
Read More: Information in English on the Via Claudia is hard to track down. There are some general pointers on the Via Claudia Augusta website and Bikeline produces a great guide to the Via Claudia for cyclists but it’s not in English. Even so, it’s worth it just for the maps.
Side Trips: Plan to spend a few days in Bolzano, where you can go see Otzi the Iceman (a neolithic man who was preserved in the icy mountains nearby and only discovered in 1991) and make side trips up the various mountain passes. Our favourite (but challenging) route takes you from Bolzano to Seiser Alm – a gorgeous alpine pasture.
Coeur d’Alenes – Idaho, United States
The Coeur d’Alenes trail cuts across narrow northern Idaho on a 115km route from Plummer to Mullan. It’s entirely paved and flat, so this is a great one for beginners and young families.
Like the Otago Rail Trail, the path meanders past old mining towns and plenty of plaques along the way tell you about the history of the area. The trail is well thought out too, with plenty of picnic spots and toilets, meaning you’re never caught short. But our favourite part of the trail was the chance to see some local wildlife. It’s not at all uncommon to spot a moose sauntering between wetlands, not to mention numerous birds and other critters.
There are also some truly gorgeous places to pitch your tent, not least of which is Heyburn State Park. Get a spot overlooking the water, light the campfire and enjoy a great sunset.
Read More: Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes
Side Trips: Near the Montana border, it’s an easy ride from the end of the Coeur d’Alenes trail to the Route of the Hiawatha – a mountain-top bike path that packs 10 tunnels and 7 high trestles into 15 miles of riding.