Five A.M. alarms. Waking up the kids. Packing some snacks and all the gear into the car. Another sip of coffee before confirming that everyone has their helmets for mountain biking. The kids fall quickly back asleep moments after pulling out of the driveway, and you’re off toward the mountains.
This is our life, weekend after weekend, all winter long. Now that the warmer months are upon us, you kind of sadistically miss it. Good news: It’s time to pack the car and get away this weekend as a family to explore some of New England’s finest cycling destinations.
For years when I was a child, our family would shift focus with the seasons. Winter was for skiing, and summer, well, summer was for adventures driving off to somewhere new where we could ride our bikes either along the coast, in the mountains or along some of the most beautiful valleys and forests. From mountain biking at Killington, to pedaling along the bike paths in Acadia National Park, there were plenty of spots my family and I would go to explore.
Now as a father I am off to great places with my own family exploring bike paths, rural routes, rail trails, singletrack and bike parks throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Let me share some of our favorites …
Kingdom Trails, East Burke, Vt.
Easily one of the best mountain bike destinations east of the Mississippi, Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vt., has become a must-visit spot for my kids and I every year. With trails for all abilities, Kingdom offers a diverse array of terrain and difficulty levels suitable for families just starting out mountain biking to the more adventurous families who want to venture off into the woods of the Green Mountain State. Check out the pump track and skills development area dubbed Chutes and Ladders, perfect for all ages to hone their riding skills. There is even a balance bike area for the littlest riders.
Once everyone is feeling more confident, venture off into the trail network, which has multiple options, from smooth-flowing singletrack, to technical trails with bridge work, berms and jumps. But if things get too intense, you can always hop onto the doubletrack cart roads.
From the smooth flow of the trails, you can catch all kinds of great sites, including vistas looking back across the valley to Burke Mountain and the Burke Ski Area. Long stretches of trail are out in open fields where you see multiple peaks of the Green Mountains, including the Willoughby Gap. But there also are great sites to see down on the lower trails where the ribbon of singletrack follows sections of the Passumpsic River. Finish off your ride with a refreshing dip in the river, then a sweet treat at Ruby Lee’s Ice Cream.
For more information on mountain biking at Kingdom Trails, visit kingdomtrails.org.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Located on the rocky coast of Maine, with tremendous ocean views, Acadia National Park is a magnificent place to take the family. The stunning scenery and grand views from the summit of Cadillac Mountain will have you convinced you’re still in the mountains, while the tidal pools and rocky cliffs jutting out over the ocean will remind you of where you truly are. There is obviously much more to do here than just bike, but you would be amiss to plan a family vacation here and not bring your bike.
Forty-five miles of carriage roads weave their way throughout the park, bringing cyclists through the varied terrain and ecology of the park. From the mountains to the coastline, cyclists can enjoy all that this national park has to offer. Maybe even more impressive than the views is the history of the carriage roads themselves. Build in the early 1900s by John D. Rockefeller, the carriage road is a network of crushed stone that makes its way through the park, crossing over stone bridges and through gateways. It is both a beautiful ride and a trip through time before modern engineering techniques. Enjoy a trip to the nearby town of Bar Harbor after your ride for a great lobster dinner.
Great Glen Trails, Gorham, N.H.
Located at the base of Mount Washington, Great Glen Trails is known for cross-country skiing in the winter, but these trails serve as wonderful mountain biking trails in the summer. Mostly made up of doubletrack carriage roads with singletrack trails in between, the system winds its way through the Pinkham Notch area of the White Mountain National Forest. There are many great views of the notch, the ravines off of Mount Washington and across the valley over on Wildcat, Carter Dome and Middle Carter Dome.
Bike rentals are available here, too, for families looking to spend some time on the bike during their vacation to the White Mountains but don’t want to lug their bikes along with them. Check in at the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center across from the Mount Washington Auto Road. Make sure to enjoy a bite at the Glen View Café, and venture to the summit of New England’s tallest peak when you are done via the Auto Road.
For more information, visit greatglentrails.com.
Bretton Woods, Bretton Woods, N.H.
Located on the opposite side of Mount Washington from Great Glen Trails is Bretton Woods and the Omni Mount Washington Resort. In the summer, the cross-country trail network at Bretton Woods becomes a grade-A mountain bike trail network. These doubletrack trails navigate throughout the Ammonoosuc River Valley, providing stunning views of Mount Washington’s Ammonoosuc Ravine and the Cog Railway. Bike along the river with great swimming holes for the family to cool off in, then venture into the forest rich with evergreen trees that will delight your senses with mountain fresh air. You also can challenge your riding skills on Bretton Woods’ lift-access downhill mountain bike trails, featuring smooth-flow trails and more technical singletrack.
Bretton Woods and the Omni also serve up other great family activities, too, from their adventure center, to fly fishing, golfing, canopy tours, horseback riding and rock climbing. You can book a long weekend stay or a whole week of family vacation fun at the Omni Mount Washington Resort.
Visit brettonwoods.com for more details.
Island Line Rail Trail, Burlington, Vt.
Along the shores of New England’s largest lake sits a wonderful rail trail that brings cyclists through Vermont’s town of Burlington and up to the Hero Islands. At a little more than 13 miles one way, the Island Line Rail trail presents a fantastic way to enjoy Lake Champlain without having to get wet. Families can pedal right next to the shore through Burlington then out onto the Causeway that connects the mainland to South Hero via the South Hero Bike Ferry. Enjoy views of the Green Mountains of Vermont and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks in New York. The path is mostly crushed stoned with some paved parts.
Enjoy the additional activities in Burlington that are right along the Island Line Rail Trail like the ECHO (Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunities) Leahy Center for Lake Champlain and Waterfront Park. Stop by the Skinny Pancake for crepes, great for lunch or just a sweet treat. If you plan enough time into your day, you also can stop at North Beach for some swimming and fishing before heading back home.
Learn more about this and other rail trails in Vermont at railstotrails.org.
Cady Hill Trails, Stowe, Vt.
If your family loves to mountain bike, you need to go to Stowe, Vt., this summer to hit the Cady Hill Trails. With parking right in town and accessible from a bunch of the local inns and resorts via the Stowe Bike Path, the Cady Hill Trails are a perfect introduction to the amazing mountain biking trail networks that have been built in Stowe over the past several years. With buttery-smooth singletrack that winds its way through the Cady Hill Forest, this network is great for families with adventurous children who want to get after it. Plus, with an overlook view of Stowe Mountain Resort from an old double lift chair, every little skier and snowboarder will be stoked on this place. Make sure to build in enough time to visit the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterville on your way home for a reward.
Learn more about the Cady Hill Trails and other great mountain biking in Stowe at stowetrails.org.
Montpelier and Wells River Rail Trail, Groton to Marshfield, Vt.
If camping is your thing in the summer, check out Groton State Forest. With plenty of camping options right on the banks of Groton Pond, the state forest is a great spot for families to truly get away from the hustle and bustle of daily routine. Plus with the Montpelier and Wells River Rail Trail accessible throughout most of the forest (some even right from the campground entrance) you can plan time to see a bunch of this beautiful forest in the middle of the Green Mountain State. The trail, made up of crushed stone, will take cyclists through dense hardwood forests, past beaver ponds lined with evergreens, and through river valleys with the sounds of nature playing in the background. Views of the local mountains and hillsides make this trail truly an adventure through the lush Vermont outdoors.
Make sure you pack plenty of fixings for s’mores for when you return to your campsite. You’ll have some hungry campers, for sure.
Learn more about this and other Vermont rail trails at railstotrails.org and the Groton State Forest at vtstateparks.org.
Northern Recreation Rail Trail, between Lebanon and Boscawen, N.H.
Past lakes, through river valleys, historic towns, old forgotten farms, dense forests and open wetlands, the Northern Rail Trail in New Hampshire can take families on a bicycle adventure of any length and experience. Enjoy views of Lake Mascoma and the surrounding hillsides as the trail follows the eastern shoreline. Take in the beauty of Mount Cardigan as the trail meanders from Grafton to Danbury. Visit the historic town of Franklin along the Merrimack River. One of the best parts of this trail is the multitude of access points, allowing for varying lengths of rides. Make the trail an out and back, or point A to point B. Plus with several inns and bed and breakfast spots along the trail, there are plenty of places to make this trail an extended adventure for the family riding the entire 58 miles.
Learn more at nhstateparks.com. Click on the link for Recreation Rail Trails.
Ocean Boulevard/Route 1A, Hampton Beach to Odiorne Point State Park, N.H.
If your family enjoys the road a bit more than bike paths or mountain bike trails, this is the ride for you. Following the Atlantic coastline of New Hampshire Route 1A, also known as Ocean Boulevard, which runs from Hampton Beach to Odiorne Point State Park and is banked by stunning mansions in Rye, the beautiful salt marshes, sandy beaches, the Hampton Boardwalk and the tidal ponds and forests of Odiorne. Families can take their time cycling, enjoying the many sites and activities along the route. Note that this is an active road, so road cycling awareness and skills are needed. Dip your toes in the ocean, visit the Seacoast Science Center, and play some arcade games along the boardwalk of Hampton Beach. Make sure to snag a lobster roll from The Beach Plum, just across the road from the North Hampton State Beach.
Find out more about Odiorne Point State Park at nhstateparks.org.
Highland Mountain Bike Park, Northfield, N.H.
Here it is, the place that you can truly feel like you are back in the mountains skiing, or I mean riding — riding bikes, that is — this summer. Highland Mountain Bike Park is the only dedicated lift-access mountain bike park in America. Built out of what use to be Highland Ski Area, the team there has built a worldrenowned downhill mountain biking destination right here in New England. But don’t let the big jumps, drops and berms fool you — this is a great place to bring your family to spend a day letting gravity take over the bike. With a dedicated beginner area, park progression area, kids’ push-bike pump track and a learn-to program aptly called “Find Your Ride,” Highland Mountain Bike Park is a great place to bring the whole flock, regardless of skill level. Plus with trail ratings taken right out of the ski area playbook — green circles, blue squares, etc. — you’ll be able to progress at your own rate, confidently.
Located in the Tilton area of New Hampshire, Highland Mountain has great views to the northwest with Mount Kearsarge and Cardigan Mountain both prominent along the skyline. Further to the north you might catch a glimpse of the White Mountains on bluebird days. With rental bikes onsite, plus all the additional gear needed (pads and helmets), this is a one-stop “let’s try mountain biking today” place. Enjoy great après food and drinks right at the Highland Pub when you’re done hitting the trails for the day.
Learn more at highlandmountain.com.