For some, a dream vacation involves sweating the way up a mountain path on a bicycle rather than relaxing on a beach. If this is you, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re looking to bomb down some hills, go on an endurance trek through the jungle or cycle around the North Sea, here are the best bike trails in the world.
1. The Great Divide Mountain bike route, Canada
If you’re looking to put your body to the ultimate test, then this is it. This unbelievable off-road trail begins in beautiful Banff, Canada and finishes all the way down at the US-Mexico border town of Antelope Wells, New Mexico. It’s one of the longest yet the best mountain bike trails in North America and will take you from tops of mountain passes to the bottoms of river valleys, from high deserts to open grasslands. A truly long haul, there’s no better way to see North America!
- Distance/duration: 4339 km. About 37 days, but the riding time per day is entirely dependent on the rider’s ability to ride over such long distances.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Banff, Alberta and ends in Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
- Terrain type: You’re going to see a little bit of everything in terms of terrain on this trail because of the sheer size and distance covered, but on the whole, you’ll be traveling on maintained dirt roads, gravel roads and trails, with only a few sections of unmaintained tracks.
- Trail grade: Grade 3 trail. Do keep in mind that this is a hardcore distance trail. You’ll need to make sure that you’re adequately supplied in addition to being reasonably fit and experienced with your bike.
- Why we love it: This trail is almost mind-bogglingly long and it takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America. Completing its length is something you can be proud of for the rest of your life.
- Our tip: If you want to push yourself further, you can join the Tour Divide, an annual race that takes place in June. The record for completion is 13 days, 22 hours, and 51 minutes. Think you can beat it?
2. The Whole Enchilada Trail, Utah
The Whole Enchilada Trail is one of the most popular mountain bike trails in the United States, and for good reason. It takes you from alpine passes above the tree line to the incredible sandstone canyon of the Colorado River and it is legendary among mountain bikers. Be aware that you can only access the whole trail at certain parts of the year, so make sure to double check that the entire trail is open before heading to Utah!
- Distance/duration: 43 km. This trail takes 11 hours on average and is usually completed in a single day.
- Starts/ends: Starts at Geyser Pass Road and ends at Porcupine Rim.
- Terrain type: Mostly single-track, with a few old double-track sections through a lot of sandy and rocky terrain that can be difficult to navigate, plus a lot of steep descents.
- Trail grade: Grade 3 trail. You’ll encounter steep slopes and generally avoidable obstacles on some terrain with poor traction. It is definitely not a beginner trail.
- Why we love it: The sheer variety in Moab’s landscape is unbelievable. You’ll travel through fairytale forests, gaze out at panoramic views of the valley and ride through the desert all along this one trail.
- Our tip: “A mile in Moab equals two anywhere else” is a common saying because you ride on a combination of sand and rocks. So, make sure you research ahead of time to ensure you’re up for the task and give yourself the right amount of time.
3. Death Road, Bolivia
Take your life in your hands and cruise down the most dangerous road in the world! This insane road features a full 64 km downhill mountain biking stretch, on a road that is often only big enough for a single car, in spite of the traffic coming from both directions. Adding to the confusion is the fact that this is the only road in America driving on the left is required so that drivers can better navigate and the route is safer. It’s no surprise this road is known for claiming an average of 300 traveler lives per year.
- Distance/duration: 64 km. Can be completed in 5 hours, but we recommend setting aside a little time to stop and take photos.
- Starts/ends: Starts in La Paz and ends at the Senda Verde Animal Refuge.
- Terrain type: Death Road is almost entirely downhill, with steep drops to the sides that are known to claim lives if your attention slips. The road is paved in some places and gravel or dirt in others.
- Trail grade: Grade 3 trail. Most tourists who brave this trail go in a tour group, which can provide a lot of the gear and local knowledge you need to do this safely. They say that even a confident beginner can safely complete this ride, but due to the steep slopes and narrow roads that are shared with cars, one still needs to be cautious while riding.
- Why we love it: Nothing will get your adrenaline pumping quite like this trail. Couple that with incredible Andean views and bragging rights for life and I think you get the gist.
4. Old Ghost Road, New Zealand
The gruelling Old Ghost Road is categorized as one of the top mountain bike trails and is New Zealand’s longest, and most popular, single-track. It rewards its travellers with breathtaking mountain views and thrilling descents that will make the heart race. The route passes through no less than five abandoned mining villages and takes its name from these eerie ghost towns. Riding through here is like cycling through a museum.
- Distance/duration: 85 km. Two to four days with a daily riding time of up to eight hours per day.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Lyell Historic Reserve and ends in Sedon Ville.
- Terrain type: This trail is characterized by its rugged, single-track trail. A lot of the trail itself is maintained and graveled, but you’ll also have to dismount and do a little bit of climbing from time to time as you ascend.
- Trail grade: Grade 4 trail. It’s intended for advanced riders and occasionally the terrain rises into Grade 5 territory. You’ll be riding through trails that get as narrow as 400mm, with steep exposed drops to your side and a ready supply of obstacles to navigate. It requires a high level of experience.
- Why we love it: If the endless panoramic views of New Zealand’s mountains don’t keep you grinning the whole ride, you’ll enjoy discovering the abandoned villages as you pass them by.
5. Beinn Damh Circuit, Scotland
This popular Scottish trail takes you along the shores of Loch Damh and then up Beinn Damh for a tricky ascent and beautiful views of the Torridon mountains and sea. The Torridon circuit is the most popular trail around Beinn Damh and certainly the most rewarding. With its prime Scottish location, this trail is wet (and thus muddy) most of the year, but well worth it and loved by everyone who’s ridden it.
- Distance/duration: 24 km. This route is easily done in four hours, even with stops for photos along the way.
- Starts/ends: This route starts and ends at the Torridon Inn.
- Terrain type: After the short ride along the loch on a large and well-trafficked trail, you’ll mostly ride along a narrow and rocky single-track for the rest of the circuit.
- Trail grade: Grade 4 trail. With some highly technical sections of trail and a steep ascent, it will definitely challenge any rider.
- Why we love it: No matter the weather, you’re in for a treat on this trail. The views are just as striking when the sky is dark and the mist is settling as they are when the sun is shining.
6. Freeminers Trail, England
The Forest of Dean in Gloucester, England, is made up of over 110 square kilometres of ancient woodland that is filled with history. It was used for hunting in the middle ages and coal mining in the Victorian era until it finally became a protected park in modern times. It is also a fantastic site for mountain biking. Freeminers trail is the most difficult, yet also a very popular, trail in the Forest of Dean, especially suited for advanced riders who want to play in the forest. It is a demanding single track with variations in the trail that challenges even the best bikers.
- Distance/duration: 12 km. The whole trail can be done in 1 hour.
- Starts/ends: Starts and ends at the Cannop Cycle Centre.
- Terrain type: Single-track, with roots and various obstacles, plus a few wooden skill features to play with.
- Trail grade: Grade 4 trail. It’s technically demanding and features tight switchbacks, rooty drops, and hairpin bends.
- Why we love it: The trail has a very natural feel to it with all the trespassing plants and bare roots spread across the paths and it’s quite astounding how quickly you feel all on your own in the forest, in spite of knowing that there are obvious numbers of riders in the trail.
7. Munda Biddi trail, Australia
Munda Biddi means ‘path through the forest’ in the local Aboriginal Australian language, Noongar. This trail ranges over 1000 km of undeveloped wildlands, ranging from eucalyptus forests to bushlands to coastal cliffs, so the name is well earned. Each day brings something new to discover along the trail and at night you can camp in the trail shelters or stay in the little villages. The weather is bikeable any time of year, but note that it can be extra hot in the summer.
- Distance/duration: 1000 km. 20 days if you’re averaging about 45 km a day.
- Starts/ends: Starts at Sculpture Park, Mundaring and ends in Albany.
- Terrain type: The terrain changes as you travel, from the occasionally difficult to navigate pea gravel of the northern section of trail to the loamy forests and white sands in the southern section.
- Trail grade: Grade 2 trail. It’s reasonably beginner friendly as the majority of the trail avoids steep slopes and hill climbs. You’ll get those mostly around the river valleys.
- Why we love it: What better way could there be to explore the uninhabited majesty of Australia’s natural world than by spending nearly a month biking it? You’ll get to see all kinds of different biomes and wildlife!
8. Pacific to Atlantic Coast, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to the most gruelling mountain bike race in the world, La Ruta De Los Conquistadores. If you are up for it, follow the same trail which travels across the South American landmass from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast, crossing five separate mountain ranges, traveling through the sweltering rainforest, and tackling all kinds of conceivable riding surfaces. With so many diverse terrains that it has to offer, it is undoubtedly one of the best bike trails in the world. If you’re not planning on doing this as a race, we recommend going with a tour group that will make the trip a little longer, but include outdoor activities like whitewater rafting to spice things up!
- Distance/duration: 260 km. 7 days (or a mind-blowing 3 days if you’re a La Ruta competitor)
- Starts/ends: Starts in Jaco Beach and ends in Playa Bonita Limon.
- Terrain type: Insanely variable, single-track and fire road trails will take you through gravel roads, pavement, dirt, sand, mud, and more.
- Trail grade: Grade 5 trail, for experts only. Seriously, it took the conquistadors 20 years to traverse this stretch of land because it’s so hazardous. You need to really know what you’re doing to make this ride.
- Why we love it: Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, home to a full 5% of animals and plants on the planet, in spite of the fact it only occupies 1% of the land. You’ll get up close and personal with some exotic wildlife that can’t be found anywhere else.
1. The Shimanami Kaido, Japan
The Shimanami Kaido is a toll road that connects Japan’s Honshu island with the island of Shikoku, passing over several small islands on the way. It’s the only way to reach Shikoku from Honshu by foot or bicycle and it offers cyclists a scenic 70 km ride with beautiful views of the Seto Inland Sea and plenty of attractions to stop off at.
- Distance/duration: 70 km. 1 day, though there are campgrounds and hotels along the way if you want to take it slower.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Honshu, Onimichi City and ends in Shikoku.
- Difficulty level: It is an easy beginner route that anyone can navigate.
- Why we love it: Apart from the sea itself, this ride offers many cool sights. You can visit unique temples and the Hirayama museum, dedicated to one of Japan’s most famous painters.
2. The North Sea Cycle Route
The North Sea Cycle Route is a massive circuit that follows the coastline of the North Sea through seven different countries. From the cliffs of Norway to the beaches of the Netherlands and everything in between, this route is full of variety and seaside beauty. You’ll get to enjoy ferry rides and sea breezes as you navigate from Scotland to Norway and back from the Netherlands to England once again.
- Distance/duration: 6000 km. 100 days if you can average 60 km a day with some wiggle room for higher and lower than average days.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Harwich, England and ends at the Hook of Holland where you can catch a ferry back to Harwich and complete the loop.
- Difficulty level: This trail is very beginner friendly and well-marked with Eurovelo signs. It’s also very very long and most people will drop in and do sections, rather than attempting to complete the entire loop, making it even more accessible for beginners.
- Why we love it: This route is so big and passes through so many different countries that there’s something here for everyone to enjoy, no matter what it is you’re into. The sheer variety of it is delightful.
3. The Great Ocean Road, Australia
The Great Ocean Road is one of the most popular cycling routes in Australia, a journey of several days enjoying the sea breeze, ocean views, and beautiful landscape of Australia’s coast. The route will take you past incredible limestone cliffs and through magnificent forests in a kaleidoscopic mixture of idyllic terrain. Plus, you’ll see some world-famous surfing resort towns where you can stay for a day or two and take some lessons.
- Distance/duration: 266 km. Four days, so long as you’re getting in a full 60 km per day. There are campgrounds and hotels available along the way.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Warrnambool and ends in Geelong.
- Difficulty level: Intermediate. While most of it is on softly undulating terrain, you’ll have a couple of steep hills to get up and it’s a long trek.
- Why we love it: Riding along beautiful beaches is nice, but the real gem of this route is the jaw-dropping rock formations along the coast, like the famous Twelve Apostles.
4. The Pamir Highway, Tajikistan
The Pamir Highway is the second highest international highway in the world, frequently sustaining an elevation of around 4000 meters. As you cycle along the lonely highway, you’ll be surrounded by the harsh, dusty peaks of the Pamir Mountains which are simultaneously breathtaking and foreboding. It’s the kind of bike trip you’ll need to be careful to pack appropriately for, as you may go days without seeing another person.
- Distance/duration: 1250 km and twenty days or more. Cyclists cruising along this road tend to miss a handful of biking days over the duration of the trip due to illnesses that can extend the time.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Dushanbe and ends in Osh.
- Difficulty level: Advanced. You’ll be biking in a high-altitude/low-oxygen environment with some strenuous sections and the real possibility of not seeing anyone for several days at a time.
- Why we love it: Along the way you have the option of camping out beneath stars that will make you dizzy with their number or staying in homestays with locals. The Tajik people are incredibly hospitable and you’ll have unforgettable experiences getting to know them and share their lives for a night.
- Our tip: Bring a sterilizing pen for your water. The few stores along some of the more remote parts of the road don’t always have bottled water and you’ll need to stay hydrated!
The friendship highway connecting Lhasa and Kathmandu is the longest downhill road in the world. Ride through the incredible landscape of the Himalayan mountains as you pass through Tibet and into Nepal, enjoying temples, monasteries, and an endless number of prayer flags fluttering along the way. It really is a once in a lifetime ride.
- Distance/duration: 1000 km. Fifteen days, with overnights in local hotels or camping out. You’ll pick up some time in Tibet with some intense passes, but you’ll drop it again when you spend two days descending.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Lhasa and ends in Kathmandu.
- Difficulty level: Intermediate. You’ll be navigating through some strenuous conditions, with gruelling ascensions and a two-and-a-half-day descent. Not to mention you’ll be carrying all of your gear and food with you.
- Why we love it: The most common route travels via Everest Base Camp, so your journey will include a visit to the tallest mountain in the world. Seeing Everest in person is a memory that you’ll cherish forever.
6. La Route Verte, Canada
If you’re looking for a pleasant paved bike trail that combines an urban environment with isolated rural expanses, look no further. La Route Verte is comprised of over 5300 kilometres of well-marked trails, covering a whole range of scenery from lazy rides along the St. Lawrence River to lovely views of the Laurentides. While that leaves you with plenty of riding to do, if you’re looking to make just one trip along this massive trail, we recommend heading from Montreal to Quebec City.
- Distance/duration: 255 km. Five days gives you plenty of time to complete the route without stressing too much during the day about how far you’re going and there are plenty of places to stay along the way.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Montreal and ends in Quebec City.
- Difficulty level: Beginner. This is a pretty easy ride as it’s generally pretty flat riding on well-maintained trails with clear signs. No real technical skill needed.
- Why we love it: While many of the routes on this list will take you to exotic locations and release you into an alpine or desert wilderness, this route is different. It lets you explore the beauty of an urban setting and then before leaving the crowds behind and slip into the rural countryside or cycle through forests instead, giving you the best of both worlds!
- Our tip: Pick up a hard copy of the La Route Verte guidebook. It has information on nearly every kilometre of the trail and can show you the way or direct you to the best places for accommodation and attractions. Even better, it's designed to fit easily in your pack for those low-battery- or no-WiFi moments.
7. Carretera Austral, Chile
The Carretera Austral started as a lonely dirt road connecting some of the most remote places in Chilean Patagonia. It’s become one of the best paved bike trails in the world. Many cyclists hop on the trail after Coyhaique, which is where the pavement ends and the rest of the road is largely free of cars and surrounded, almost overwhelmingly so, by incredible natural sights. Take a side trip to the hot springs near Puyuhuapi and soak your weary bones before continuing on your journey. You’ll thank us later!
- Distance/duration: 1200 km. Five weeks, depending on how often you want to stop and stay and sightsee in towns and villages along the way
- Starts/ends: Starts in Puerto Montt and ends in Villa O’Higgins.
- Difficulty Level: Advanced. You’re in for a tough ride and tougher weather, as wind and rain can descend suddenly and fiercely. Shorter sections of the trail, especially the paved parts, are more accessible for less advanced riders though.
- Why we love it: There’s something magical about being in a place that’s so isolated and overgrown it feels like you’re in a different world. That’s the experience of the whole southern half of the Carretera Austral. You, your bike, your companions, and the unknown.
8. National Highway 1, Vietnam
Connecting Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is National Highway 1, a modern symbol of national unity for the Vietnamese and a stunning cycling trip for the active tourist. A ride down this road takes you past the nearly 2000 limestone crags of Ha Long Bay, through the imperial city of Hué, the evening lanterns of Hoi An, and along an endless stretch of beautiful sandy beaches.
- Distance/duration: 1600 km. Two weeks, with a couple of days added in for potential illness. Most of the highway is reasonably flat, so you should be able to cover large stretches of highway per day.
- Starts/ends: Starts in Ha Noi and ends in Ho Chi Minh City.
- Difficulty level: Intermediate. While the roads themselves might be a little rough sometimes and navigating a different style of driving might be tough, this isn’t a route which requires any great amount of technical skill.
- Why we love it: National Highway 1 is a reasonably flat and easy to navigate the road, with large shoulders for cyclists. This isn’t necessarily the norm in Southeast Asia, so it’s great to find such a scenic route that even beginners can do!
- Our tip: No matter what time of the year you go, bring rain gear. Dry season only means that it rains less. You’ll be in for a rough trip without quality rain clothes.
- Wear a helmet! Biking can be dangerous if you’re not careful and everyone crashes sometimes; it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Know your limits and ride within your skill level.
- Bring the right kind of bike for the terrain you’re riding.
- Know the basics for bicycle maintenance, especially if you’re setting off on a multi-day endurance ride where you may not have access to a bike shop.
- Bring a first aid kit; falls and scratches do happen and if you’re in the jungle or up in the mountains you want to be sure you can disinfect any injuries, no matter how small it is.
- Stay alert! You’ll often be on roads with cars and you’ll need to be aware of them at all times to ensure you have an accident-free trip.
- Know and obey the rules of the road in the country you’re cycling through.
Whether you like to cruise casually on the pavement or bomb down terrifying slopes, these are the best bike trails you’ll find around the world. Each one of them will challenge you and change you and you’ll leave with a collection of fantastic stories and experiences to share. So what are you waiting for?