Author Topic: Route ideas for 300+ miles in May  (Read 2974 times)

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Offline ChadWeisshaar

Route ideas for 300+ miles in May
« on: February 25, 2022, 08:50:11 pm »
I am new to bike touring and am looking for some advice picking a route for my first long tour this May. My girlfriend and I (who has lots of experience bike touring) will probably travel 50 miles a day and have 2-3 weeks with some breaks. Probably 300-1000 miles (maybe split between trails). We like scenic routes. She especially likes mountains. We like the flexibility of being in National Forest for dispersed camping but will occasionally stay in hostel/motel. I'm trying to avoid too much rugged or very steep trails.

We've looked at the loops in AR and TX, the Natchez trace, route 66 and western express in CA.

I'm curious how difficult and steep the AR tails are: are there long sections >10% grade? How much hike-a-bike? How rugged are the gravel sections?
Will the TX Hill country loop already be too hot in May?
Is there great scenery along the Natchez Trace?
How much climbing and what is the scenery like on those CA routes?

Do you have other route ideas? We will have a car for getting to the start points. And we are based in CO.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Route ideas for 300+ miles in May
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2022, 12:32:56 am »
First, welcome to the ACA Forums!

Your mileage range is pretty wide as it ranges from 18 to 55 miles per day (assuming an 18-day ride) so it is a little hard to suggest a route based on that.

I have not ridden the Arkansas High Country Route but am familiar with the Ozarks.  While they are not long (maybe 1/4 mile or so), they are fairly steep (10%+) and worse is that go up and down, up and down, all day long.  I personally think the Rockies are easier since you can get into a rhythm even if it lasts for over an hour.  I do not think there is any Hike-a-Bike on the AHC Route and the gravel roads should be relatively OK except with possibly ruts due to storm run off.  I am unsure if there are any rough trails but do not think so looking at the GPX data.

The route is pretty and May would be nice.  Since you don't define what hot is to you, I would suggest you check out for great climate data for this route and the Texas Hill Country Route and thousands of other places.  Just note that May can have very strong storms pass through Arkansas so be sure to keep an eye on the weather radar. 

Since it seems you don't have a problem with gravel, for a route that has mountains, lots of dispersed camping, etc., you might think of something like this:

This has lots of mountain scenery, lots of dispersed camping, and you can start in El Paso or Phoenix and at the end of the ride, one of you can take a train, bus, or cheap flight back to the starting point while the other stays with the bikes and then drive back to the ending point and pick up the other rider and the bikes.  Note there are a few long (5+ miles) somewhat steep (5+% climbs).  You would also have to be experienced in planning your supplies, especially water as this is a fairly remote route.  You could add extra miles by going to Gila Cliffs Nat'l Monument north of Silver City, NM.  You could shorten the route by starting/ending in Tuscon instead of Phoenix but you would have to take a train or bus back to the starting point.

Another option is to take the Southern Tier Route from El Paso to Del Rio with a side trip from Marfa > Presidio > Big Bend NP > Marathon > Del Rio where you catch the train back to El Paso.  Here you could drive from Colorado to El Paso, drop off the bikes at a bike shop or WarmShowers host, drive the car to Del Rio, take the train back to El Paso then the car is waiting for you after you complete the ride so you have not time schedule to keep do to a tickets.  This route is not as scenic overall IMO but it is easier (less climbing) and the stretch between Presidio to Marathon is nice.  Again, you would need to have planning to keep supplies and water topped off.

Whatever you decide, I hope you have a great trip. 

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Route ideas for 300+ miles in May
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2022, 09:03:32 am »
Re: Natchez Trace, I've only driven/ridden the northern half (Tennessee River (in Alabama) to outside  Nashville.  Grades are moderate, hills increase as you go north.  To paraphrase an AC article, the scenery is nice middle Tennessee, not Rockies or even Smoky Mountains.

Be aware that the Park Service is finally funded to do some road maintenance.  Some of this is more road re-building than re-paving; the current closure, for instance, involves 30 miles of off-route detours.  When they get to the Tennessee River bridge, the detour will be longer and busier.

Don't look for many name brand motels along the NTP.  However, there are usually campgrounds and water sources appropriately spaced for bicyclists.

With the exceptions of Tupelo and Jackson, the NTP is great for cycling.  Low traffic, generally good pavement, good sightlines, and even the steepest parts aren't THAT steep!

Offline David W Pratt

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Re: Route ideas for 300+ miles in May
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2022, 04:34:21 pm »
Oh, in Mayat first I thought you wrote Day.  Blame my old eyes.  The GAP and C&O are just about 300 miles and well supplied with services.  You could do it any way, from 100% self-contained to shuttle supported, inn to inn.  Spring would be lovely on that combo.
Good luck.

Offline BikePacker

Re: Route ideas for 300+ miles in May
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2022, 08:30:49 am »
The Katy Trail in MO is 240 miles and level;
however, be aware that it is hard packed crushed rock/limestone(?), not paved,
thus takes a little extra energy following a rain.
The Adventure Cycling Association maps embrace it with documentation.
Highly bicycle accommodating.
Both camping and B&Bs.
~ Best of tour (where ever : ) wishes.

Offline Ty0604

Re: Route ideas for 300+ miles in May
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2022, 01:40:33 pm »
the Natchez trace, route 66
Is there great scenery along the Natchez Trace?

I rode Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monta and continued down the coast to San Diego between April and June of 2018. It’s a lot of history BUT I wouldn’t suggest a bicyclist ride the route. 66 is such poor condition the route requires several hundred miles of interstate riding, which I like, but isn’t for everyone. There’s a bridge on the interstate that doesn’t have any shoulders and is sketchy. It’s short so with a break in traffic it’s a “sprint” to get across it before traffic, approaching you at 80mph, catches up to you. It can also be hot in May, especially in the Mohave, with limited services. We were there in mid May and temps were in the low 100’s and there’s only a few services in a 150 mile stretch.

I also rode the Natchez Trace Parkway (NTP) from Nashville to Natchez and continued onto New Orleans via the ACA’s Great River’s South Route in the fall of 2021. Getting to the beginning of the Trace in Nashville was an adventure in itself. The roads (mainly State Highway 100) to get from Nashville to the Northern Terminus is narrow with a lot of traffic. If I did it again I would catch a WeGo Public Transit bus from downtown Nashville to Bellevue and ride to the terminus from there.

The NTP climbs steadily as it leaves the Music City and enters the farmland of rural Tennessee. As Pat said, not a lot of traffic with the exception of Tupelo and Jackson BUT most of the route through Jackson is on MUPs. There’s a lot of free bicyclist camping along the way. We stayed at a few of them. My favorite was the Meriwether Lewis Campground, a short walk from where the famed expedition leader committed suicide at and was buried in 1809. The cabin he died in is still on site near his grave. We also stayed in Colbert Ferry and Rocky Springs. Colbert Ferry was great and had electricity. Rocky Springs, while it still has a campground, has been abandoned for over 20 years and is in serious need of repairs. It’s nasty. I wouldn’t stay there again. We had plans to stay at Parkway, the parks headquarters near Tupelo, but after a few days without a shower we instead opted for a hotel. When in Tupelo, be sure to go see the Birthplace of Elvis, the museum grounds are free and open during daylight hours. We’d also planned to stay at Jeff Busby Campground but treated ourselves to a stay at French Camp Bed & Breakfast in French Camp, town surrounded around an academy for at-risk youth. We were the only guest that night and it was really enjoyable. So much history on the route! We stopped at almost every pull off to read the signs. They were doing a lot of construction around Tupelo but we skipped the detour and rode the NTP anyway. It was freshly paved and none of the construction workers stopped us.

If you decide to continue onto New Orleans the route climbs all day as it leaves Natchez and heads towards St. Francisville before dropping into Baton Rouge and New Orleans. From Baton Rouge, you can ride the Mississippi River Levee Trail all the way to New Orleans, over 100 miles. It’s not on the maps this way because the trail is crushed gravel in a lot of areas and it only shows the paved sections. I rode it with my 28x700 Gatorskins and had no issues even when it down-poured.

Also, I second the GAP and C&O. Rode this from Pittsburgh to DC in the fall of 2018. The Potomac had just flooded and the trail was a mess so keep an eye on that. It was still a great time. A ton of free bicycle camping along the way. We lived in Denver at the time and took Amtrak to Pittsburgh with our bikes. Just a single transfer in Chicago. The C&O east of White’s Ferry was too messy to ride so we took the now-defunct White’s Ferry ferry across to Leesburg and rode the Washington & Old Dominion Trail into the city. I do not know how the bridges are across the river for bicyclist. I highly recommend staying in Harper’s Ferry. So much history there. We took our only day off of the tour there and really enjoyed it. The chicken-coop in Hancock and the Maple Syrup Grounds in Meyersdale were other favorite camping spots of mine.

Happy Touring!
Instagram: tyjames0604


Offline ray b

Re: Route ideas for 300+ miles in May
« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2022, 01:50:03 pm »
Not clear where you live. You might have the convenience of routes out your back door. (I always prefer trips that begin and end in my basement shop.)

For what it's worth, I have a paper version of the ACA Arkansas High Country Route maps in front of me. If you're up for a 50% gravel ride, the loop out of Bentonville is great - though the combination of gravel and hills might make this more of an epic than desired, the lack of traffic is a plus.

Your note suggests you already know - if you hit the internet, you'll see a ton of Arkansas cycling on tap.
“A good man always knows his limitations.”

Offline ChadWeisshaar

Re: Route ideas for 300+ miles in May
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2022, 01:14:48 pm »
Thanks everyone for all the great ideas! Lots of future trips here  :) We may end up doing the MO trails on the way over to AK, but we're still researching.

To answer a couple questions:
We plan to start with 40 mile days (potentially with rest days interspersed) and hopefully ramp up as I get in better shape.
We are in the Denver area, but she has done quite a bit of the stuff around here.
We are fine with somewhat rough gravel. We should both have 2+ inch tires and front suspension.