It’s winter. I’m staring at snow. I really want to get on my bike and go somewhere, but all I can is plan trips for once the weather gets nicer, including a multi-day ride on New York’s new Empire State Trail.
If you’re getting cabin fever too, here are five favorite DIY bike overnights using trails or mostly trails and (important for me) easily reached from New Jersey. (Sorry, Katy Trail, much as I enjoyed it.) We are generally credit-card tourists, travelling light and staying in hotels rather than camping. But I’ve included some camping information if that’s more your thing.
I hope they inspire you to find your own adventure on the trails, especially if you’re not ready for a road adventure or you know someone who isn’t. In no particular order:
Schuylkill River Trail
This trail is practically gap-free between Philadelphia and Reading, Pa., so that gives you more than 60 miles each way. If you’re a newcomer to DIY bike touring, it’s a good way to start. We opted to ride from suburban Conshohocken to Reading and then back the next day with little more than toothbrushes and a change of clothes. More here.
Really, all you need to do is book where you’ll spend the night. Alas, the hotel we stayed in has gone fully condo.
Our trip was 50 miles each way, but this trail also works for shorter rides. Spend the night in Phoenixville, perhaps? Go longer by starting at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia? Or use another Philly station as your starting point and plot your distance from there?
If you drive to your starting point, what to do with your car? There’s a SEPTA train station parking lot just off the trail in Conshohocken, but we went on a weekday so it was full. We talked a hotel clerk into letting us leave our car tucked out of the way there.
Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Trail
Two of us biked from home to New Hope, Pa., and the D&L trail, where our Garmin told us the next turn was in 35 miles. So you can’t get lost between there and Easton! And while the trail is less straightforward between Easton and Bethlehem (we spent the night there), we want to return, bike to Allentown and turn north, though it will mean dealing with a road gap.
Here’s the blog post about that adventure.
If you’re biking on a Saturday, you might catch a polo match along the way.
We’ve also ridden the D&L trail south of New Hope — past Washington Crossing, Yardley, all the way to where it ends in Bristol. The area around Jim Thorpe (explored here) is popular, just further away. All told, this is a 165-mile trail with a bit of work still to do but deserves more attention from people outside the area.
Looking to camp? Here’s what you need to know.
Not everyone can or wants to bike from home like we did. We did it because we couldn’t figure out where we could leave a car overnight. Not allowed at a trailhead, not allowed at a park. One suggestion from the D&L is to approach a church about parking in exchange for a donation. Just be back before Sunday!
Lake Champlain and Quebec’s Route Verte
Bring your passport for this one. For us, it was a five-day bike ride leaving from St. Albans, Vermont. It’s a mix of trail and quiet roads — simply awesome. And because Quebec is French-speaking, you feel at times that you’ve gotten the benefits of a trans-Atlantic trip without the pain of jet lag. Croissants, pastries, cheese .. all there. And we only experienced a little bit of the Route Verte. It would have been easy to make this several days longer. In hindsight, we should have.
We were able to leave our car at the hotel for free while we biked. Border crossings on a bike pre-COVID were painless. I just wish it didn’t take at least six hours for us to drive to Canada.
East Coast Greenway in Connecticut and Rhode Island
Instead of going point to point between New Haven and Providence, two of us have done loop rides along most of it, sometimes using a campsite as a base, sometimes picking a trailhead for the day and driving to a hotel at the end of the day. Regardless, this area has some five-star, increasingly connected trails: the Farmington Valley trails, the Hop River and Air Line trails, the Washington Secondary Path. Bet the Charter Oak Greenway is too — here’s a new map from East Hartford east, showing it, the Hop River and part of the Air Line trails.
The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile route going through major cities from the Canadian border in Maine to Key West, Florida. More than a third is now on trails, and it’s always getting better. I’ve ridden most of it with a group, but we’ve also done a DIY ride along the route between Providence and Portland, Maine (more here and here).
Watch for an East Coast Greenway guide coming soon for the entire Providence-to-New-Haven segment.
Great Allegheny Passage
Of course you knew the GAP would make this list! Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, essentially on one long rail trail. Four of us biked this just before I started blogging here, and I’d love to do it again. Maybe this year?
A big question is always transportation. We drove to Pittsburgh and spent that night in Homestead (on the trail just beyond Pittsburgh) that let us leave the car in the parking lot. We biked to the Point in Pittsburgh and back that same day. Whether you aim to bike 50 miles, 40 miles, 25 miles each day is up to you — lots of places to stay. We booked a shuttle in Cumberland to get back to the car.
I know of someone who did a one-way van rental to the Pittsburgh airport, biked the GAP and the connecting C&O Canal towpath to Washington, D.C., and took Amtrak home. So that’s another option to consider.
If you camp along the route, just know that there is an active train line on the other side of the Youghiogheny River. Bring earplugs! We spent one night in a guest house in Dawson on that side of the river — and it was just three doors down from the tracks. I’ll just say no one slept well.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is near Ohiopyle, but it’s a steep climb from the trail. If that seems too much, get a ride. Just get a timed ticket for admission before you go.