Kids love bikes. As they take their first bold pedal strokes out of the driveway into an exciting new world, many develop a love for cycling that they will carry into adulthood. A bit of advice for parents: while you’re still ‘cool’, taking your kids for a family cycling trip is a great way to get some memorable family time in a unique setting. Initiatives like Rails-to-Trails have made paths easily accessible for all levels of cyclists and often have plenty of interesting things to see along the way. Even in busy cities, there are often hidden bikeways integrated into the landscape that help bring a touch of nature to the urban landscape. Our tour looks at five of the best family-friendly cycling areas that are geared towards a fun day out on the bikes with the kids.
1 – Minneapolis, MN – Dakota Rail Trail
Minneapolis is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. It has earned that reputation thanks to the miles of trails not only in the city itself but also those that extend out into the neighboring countryside. The Dakota Rail Trail is just such an extension. This paved, nearly all-flat trail is over 40 miles long. It quickly leaves the urban setting and then travels through the cornfields and farms of the Minnesota countryside. One of the most memorable options is taking the trail by Lake Wayzata, where 9 miles of the trail cruise on the shore, eventually reaching a narrow natural bridge that surrounds riders on both sides with water. Younger kids will enjoy a short ride to see the lake, while older kids can get in some miles while following Mom and Dad along one of the more scenic areas of Minnesota.
2 – Boulder, CO – Boulder Creek Path
Boulder’s beloved creek path is a wide, paved trail that starts at the eastern flats and eventually travels 4 miles up to Boulder Canyon to its western terminus at Four Mile Canyon Road. It’s also a fantastic place for families to take a bike ride. Parking at Scott Carpenter Park along 30th Street is a great starting point, especially for kids—there’s a playground and public pool on the grounds! From here, the path follows along the creek as it goes under bridges and towards downtown Boulder. The towering cottonwood trees that line the banks are hundreds of years old. There are lots of places to stop and play in the creek. About 3 miles up from Scott Carpenter Park, the path begins to climb Boulder Canyon and switches from pavement to dirt. If your kids prefer gravel under their wheels, parking is available at Settler’s Park (which also has a fine playground).
3 – Chattanooga, TN – Chattanooga Riverwalk Trail
This 7.5 mile trail is popular with runners and cyclists alike. As one of the key urban improvements to the city, it begins in downtown and ends 8 miles later at Chickamauga Dam. Along the way, there are incredible riverine views and lots of unique, fun terrain for families to bike. Besides the normal paved sections, there are lots of wooden bridges and sidewalks that are, simply put, just fun to ride on. Just be careful on rainy days—the wood can get rather slick! Younger kids will have a fun time just noodling around while older kids and families can tour the entire length of the trail—especially enjoyable if done as a point to point utilizing two vehicles. As Chattanooga continues its remarkable revival, the Riverwalk Trail will continue to be a fantastic place to spend time together as a family.
4 – Seattle, WA – I90 Trail
When you want to give the kids a ride to remember, the I90 trail is one of Seattle’s best family cycling destinations. The trail connects the mainland with Mercer Island via the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge, a floating bridge on Lake Washington. The entire trail is over 10 miles long (and has wonderful views of the city) but the bridge is what the family will talk about. Planning a day out to Mercer Island and back is a fun way to see the city from a new vantage point—and to point and laugh at all those poor motorists stuck in traffic! Your kids may very well be inspired to become lifelong bike commuters after this ride.
5 – Santa Barbara, CA – Cabrillo Beach Bike Path
How can you go wrong with a bike path that follows a Southern California beach? Families can enjoy the scenic, oceanside views along the path while stopping here and there to go out on the beach and look for shells or throw a frisbee. Kids will have no problem cruising on the flat, paved path—just be warned, it can get a little crowded on the weekends! The bike path is a special treat in the cooler months, when the fresh, salty air and fewer crowds make for a fun day out on the bikes. And catching a sunset at the end of your day out is always a good idea!