Best City Bike Paths

Best City Bike Paths

How many bike paths end with a boat ride? An ambitious project conceived in the 1970s and only just now nearing completion, the Bayshore Bikeway is a 25-mile loop encircling San Diego Bay, the last portion of which is a ferry connection between Coronado and San Diego. The majority of the palm tree-lined path is separate from traffic—in its current state, just under half of the bikeway uses bike lanes on city streets—and planners hope it may one day prove to be a faster way for many people to commute between cities than the freeway. For now, the path mostly serves recreational purposes.

The car is king in Los Angeles, but if you want to skip the highways and surface streets, there’s always 22 miles of beachfront riding on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. It begins at Will Rogers State Beach in the Pacific Palisades and passes through Santa Monica, Venice and other beachside cities all the way to Torrance—rarely out of sight of shore.

While not yet complete, this ambitious 55-mile multi-use loop around metro Tucson will connect several existing greenways into a single continuous path that passes within a mile of 60 percent of the region’s population, county administrator C.H. Huckleberry told a local news station. One of those greenways, the Rillito River Path runs along both sides of the (mostly dry) river of the same name and is mostly paved for its 12 miles, skirting the Catalina Foothills in the north of the city. Well used by cyclists, joggers and horseback riders alike, the popular trail showcases the desert scenery in this bike-friendly city.

Cutting through the sprawl of Silicon Valley, this 10-mile hike-and-bike path begins in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, makes its way through the town of Los Gatos and ends in San Jose. Often packed with joggers, dog walkers and the like, it can be crowded at times for cyclists—a slice of nature in the city has its price. The trail has regular water stations and restrooms, and will soon connect to the 9-mile Guadalupe River Trail, which stretches from downtown San Jose to San Francisco Bay.

The 13-mile paved loop around Lake Monona isn’t separated from traffic for its entire length, but it will take you through downtown Madison, one of the most bikeable cities in the country. Because there are relatively few hills, you can take in the entire lake in only an hour to an hour and a half, during which you’ll get plenty of views of the Capitol and pass by a popular picnic spot, the University Arboretum, and other paths in Madison’s extensive network.

While not technically in the District of Columbia, this 17-mile paved path starts a footbridge away from Washington’s Theodore Roosevelt Island and gives a panoramic view of the city’s monuments from just across the Potomac. Before ending at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic estate, the trail grazes Reagan National Airport and Arlington National Cemetery, and passes through the city of Alexandria. The southern part takes cyclists through a wooded, marshy nature preserve, so riders can fill up on peace and quiet before heading back and taking one of the connecting paths into the capital.

If you’ve ever wondered how this famously hilly city consistently ends up on lists of most bikeable cities, look no further than its network of low ground-seeking bike lanes and paths. The city’s most scenic bike route also follows this pattern, tracing the shoreline along the Embarcadero for just over two miles—beware, this section is only a bike lane—before feeding into SF Bike Route 2 (yes, there are numbered bike routes here) and then eventually, the Golden Gate Bridge, the west sidewalk of which is for bikes only. Not only does this path circumscribe a generous portion of the city, but it showcases the best of San Francisco: you’ll pass Fisherman’s Wharf, the sea lions at Pier 39, and Telegraph Hill, all while taking in gorgeous views of the bay.

Called the best bike path in Philly by Philadelphia Weekly, the 23-mile Schuylkill River Trail is a boon to commuters entering the city from Montgomery County, residents looking for a scenic shortcut through parts of downtown, and recreational cyclists making a weekend escape. The path winds unbroken, except for two short segments, all the way to Valley Forge National Historical Park.

A paved 32-mile route from downtown Sacramento to neighboring Folsom, this wide, multi-use path traces the American River through parks, scenic bends, wildlife areas, and even over a functional small-scale replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. With few road crossings, flat terrain (at least on the Sacramento end), and mile markers, this trail is a favorite for commuters and those looking to escape the city on a weekend ride.

It’s no mistake that Nike’s hometown has miles upon miles of trails dedicated to running and biking. This outdoors-loving home of the University of Oregon is one of two cities on this list to feature a Willamette River-centric path. Running for a combined 12 miles on both sides of the river (there are four crossings), this paved path has quarter-mile markers and gives access to parks, the university and a mall. It's also within blocks of several of the city’s famed breweries.

The busiest bikeway in the U.S. can take you from Inspiration Point, at the northern tip of Manhattan, all the way to the Battery, and back around for a 28-mile, mostly unbroken, tour of the island. Sure, you’ll have to hit the city streets for a few miles in Midtown and Harlem—don’t worry, there are bike lanes—but that’s part of the charm. You can dart back into the city at just about any point, making the path perfect for commuting, or you can marvel at just how much you get to see: the George Washington Bridge, the Palisades, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and, well, just about all of Manhattan.

This paved, 18-mile path along scenic Lake Shore Drive is often packed with joggers, bike commuters and tourists alike. With spectacular views of the cityscape, a cyclist can go from one end of the city to the other while avoiding Chicago traffic and taking in beaches, Millennium Park, and other iconic Second City sights.

Wikimedia Commons/Larry D. Moore

Although the Lance Armstrong Bikeway may speak in name to the Texas capital’s love affair with cycling—and its most famous resident, recent unpleasantness aside—it’s the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail that has the city’s heart. This 10-mile trail of easy-riding crushed granite loops around Lady Bird Lake (named for the late first lady, Lady Bird Johnson) right in the center of Austin. Popular among joggers as well as cyclists, the trail passes alongside Barton Springs, the aquifer-fed natural pool where Austinites love to cool off in the summer.

Wikimedia Commons/ArnoldReinhold

As with everything in Boston, function is closely tied to history. This 10-mile rail trail roughly tracks Paul Revere’s famous ride (hence the name) and connects the Greater Boston towns of Cambridge, Lexington, Arlington and Bedford. This multi-use path terminates at the Alewife ‘T’ station where riders can park at the “pedal and park” facility before hopping on mass transit.

Denver’s numerous paved bike paths extend citywide and beyond, earning the Mile High City annual props on Bicycling Magazine’s bike-friendly cities list. The standout (among many) is the Cherry Creek Path, which extends from the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River in downtown, all the way to Cherry Creek Reservoir 12 miles to the southeast—you can keep going for dozens of miles in either direction if you want, though, since it connects with other trails. Due to its central location, smooth grading and infrequent intersections, the path is practically a commuter highway from Aurora and points in between. But lest the h-word scare anyone, Cherry Creek is also known for its natural beauty.

Wikimedia Commons/Cacophony

Named the country’s best biking city by Bicycling Magazine in 2012, Portland boasts one of the densest networks of dedicated bike paths, greenways, and “bike boulevards” around. For a one-two punch of Portland’s best, take the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade along the Willamette River and switch to the Springwater Trail Corridor. The highlight of the 1.5-mile esplanade is a 1,200 foot “floating walkway”—the longest of its kind in the U.S. according to Portland Parks and Rec. After leaving Portland’s heart, the path connects with with the 21-mile converted rail trail that heads all the way to the eastern suburb of Boring. On its way there, the tree-lined path follows the meandering Johnson Creek through wetlands, parks, a wildlife refuge and several of the city’s colorful neighborhoods.

This former rail trail is a bike-obsessed city’s pride—and as far as urban bike paths go, arguably the nation’s. Its paved 27 miles begin on Puget Sound in North Seattle and trace the shoreline along the canal and up Lake Washington all the way to the town of Bothell. (A 1.5-mile gap in the Ballard neighborhood is the “missing link.”) One of the most heavily ridden multi-use paths in the country, it’s often called the “backbone” of Seattle’s cycling infrastructure, and its flat terrain, beautiful views, and plentiful access points invite casual cyclists and alley cat messengers alike.

Rising from the plains to the Rockies and bisecting this mountain town from East to West, the paved, 7.5-mile Boulder Creek Path epitomizes what makes Boulder one of the most active, outdoorsy cities in the country. It can be a thigh-blasting mile-high climb (followed by a thrilling descent, of course), a commuting artery through downtown and the university, and a leisurely ride along tranquil, park-buffered Boulder Creek. And everyone in town, it seems, uses it: joggers, hikers, tubers and kayakers, locals and tourists. The path also serves a city where bicycles have pride of place—nearly 10 percent of commuters use bikes. It may not be as long as many of the other paths on this list, but few, if any, are as central to the life of the city as this one.

Exhibit A in why Minneapolis is considered the best bike city in America: the Midtown Greenway, a 5.5-mile bicycle highway through the center of town. Following a sunken rail corridor with no major breaks in traffic, this path is almost entirely separate from pedestrian traffic and is busy with commuters year-round. That’s right: it’s plowed in the winter. The Greenway is also lit at night, so it’s functional 24/7, and has emergency call boxes, police patrolling on bike, and even its own suspension bridge.