March 26, 2013 at 8:59 AM ET
You can often find Ron Van Dijk leading groups of travelers along bike paths in Germany, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands. As a cycling expert and the director of European operations for Austin-Lehman Adventures, he has spent years introducing people to his favorite rides. Here, Dijk shares his top 10 picks from Europe as well as the United States.
France's Dordogne Valley
Route: between Argentat and Beynac (110 miles)
This is one of my favorite regions of France, for its authenticity, peace, great food, old Romanesque churches, castles and history (such as the Hundred Years War between France and England). Make sure to divert from the valley every now and then to visit villages like St-Céré, Autoire, Loubressac, Rocamadour, as well as the lively town of Sarlat.
Route:Reschen Pass to Merano (50 miles)
Starting at the top of the pass, it's almost all downhill for about 50 miles on bike paths, and you're surrounded by some of the most majestic mountains of the Alps. Pass by villages, lakes, meadows, apple orchards and end your ride in the noble spa-town of Merano.
Spain's Rioja Vineyards
Route: Between Logroo and Haro (35 miles)
This is best done in the fall (October), when the leaves are turning. The colors are incredible in every direction you look and you've got the roads to yourself. Villages and towns to include are La Puebla de la Barca, Laguardia, Navaridas, Elciego, Baos de Ebro, San Vicente, Rivas de Tereso, and of course Haro. Prepare yourself for some hills, and be sure to visit some tapas bars in Haro for an unforgettable and fun meal while mingling with the locals!
Germany's Mosel Valley
Route:Trier to Koblenz (132 miles)
You'll need four days to do this stretch. Every couple of miles you'll pass another quaint wine village, each tempting you with its delicious Riesling. Throughout the trip, you ride by the river and are surrounded by steep hills covered with vineyards. It's a gentle, downhill trip with winds at your back. You'll find numerous Roman buildings in Trier and a hilltop castle or ruin around every bend of the river.
Austria's Salzach Valley
Route:Gerlos Pass/Krimml to Salzburg (115 miles)
This could very easily be the most scenic of all the routes listed here. With the snowcapped Grossglockner and many other mountains by your side, enjoy lots of downhill and flat meadows (and a few ups) as you descend from Gerlos Pass (1628m = 5340 ft) to Salzburg (443m = 1450 ft).
Austria's Danube Valley
Route: Linz or Enns to Krems (80 miles)
Easy cycling along the wide river makes this an unforgettable experience. The stretch through the wine region Wachau, between Melk and Dürnstein (23 miles), is some of the most pleasant cycling you’ll encounter anywhere in Europe. Be sure to visit the Baroque Abbey of Melk: it’s a masterpiece!
Holland's Tulip Fields
Route: Gerlos Pass/Krimml to Salzburg (115 miles)
This could easily be the most scenic of all the routes listed here, with the snowcapped Grossglockner and many other mountains in sight. You'll enjoy lots of downhill and flat meadows (and a few uphills) as you descend from Gerlos Pass at 5340 feet to Salzburg at 1450 feet.
South Dakota's Mickelson Trail
Route: The Mickelson Trail (110 miles)
The Mickelson Trail–South Dakota's first rail-to-trail project–follows the abandoned Burlington Northern line that took trains from Edgemont, South Dakota up north to the Black Hills and gold mines of the Deadwood area. At approximately 110 miles, you'll see a lot of different country, ranging from unique granite rock formations to hay bale-dotted farmland. A few highlights are riding through blasted hard-rock tunnels and over 100 converted railroad bridges. Careful of the wild turkeys crossing the path!
Washington's San Juan Islands
San Juan Island offers a great 20-mile loop with a variety of places to stop along the way. San Juan routes are challenging but the views, history and wide-open space make it worth the work. The famous Pig War “Crisis” of 1859-1872 was on the island. Both the English Camp and American Camp are a must-see for history buffs. Lime Kiln Point State Park, a.k.a. Whale Watch Park, is a great spot to look for orcas in the open waters and learn about the history of the lime kilns and the nearby lighthouse. Lastly, a ride around the island wouldn't be complete without a stop off at Pelindaba Lavender Farm, where you will find some calming views (and wonderful scents) of rows of lavender.
Route: 20 miles around San Juan Island
Montana's Glacier National Park
Route: The Going-to-the-Sun Road (50 miles)
Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is perhaps the most exhilarating and challenging way to see one of the United States' most precious natural gems. Winding around curves and pumping your legs as you crawl up the Continental Divide at Logan Pass will give you a new found appreciation of the only road that runs through the heart of the national park. When you reach the turning point, stare for miles around at the jaw-dropping views in all directions, take pride in knowing you conquered the pass, and smile when you know an epic downhill is waiting for you on the other side!
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