Fall family biking: 3 tips, each illustrated by 3 trips

As months go, October may best illustrate the ever-turning cycle of seasons in the Northeast, as the last summerlike warmth flares, foliage reaches its annual peak, and summits acquire their first dustings of snow. Two-wheeled family adventures turn the seasonal cycle to advantage.

AMC authors and bicycling trip leaders offer three simple tips for family-friendly fall bike trips:

* Plan trips for less elevation gain and shorter distances than adult trips.
* Choose routes and trails that minimize traffic and maximize children’s safety.
* Combine bike trips with activities and destinations.

Biking down low, looking up high: 3 White Mountain trips. In Discover the White Mountains, AMC authors Jerry and Marcy Monkman give the “low-down” on three short, family-friendly rides that offer superb views of New Hampshire’s White Mountains and require little elevation gain. One ride is even downhill all the way!

Franconia Notch Bicycle Path. “One of the most scenic places in the White Mountains,” according to the Monkmans. Instead of riding the full length of the trail (9.2 miles each way), try a shuttle: Drop off a car at the Flume Gorge Visitor Center, then drive north on the parkway either to Profile Lake (5 miles) or Lafayette Campground (3.7 miles). The ride back to the Flume Gorge on the paved pathway is all downhill.
• Pemi East Side Trail and Lincoln Woods. A nearly level mountain-bike trail up and back along the Pemigewasset River offers a panorama of high-country views and sugar maples and yellow birches in fall foliage. The trail, which is 6.4 miles roundtrip, is easily accessible from the Kancamangus Highway.
• Conway Recreation Trail. A 6-mile out-and-back ride parallels the Saco River for several miles and passes by a still-active mineral spring. In the 1800s this water was bottled and sold to tourists. Refreshments today are back in town, close by.

Safe and straightforward: 3 Northeast rail-trail rides. By definition, rail trails are all railroad grade, which means you can count on gentle inclines, and they’re separate from car traffic. Both these characteristics make them great choices for families. And, as trip leader Rhoda Eisman of AMC’s Delaware Valley Chapter has noticed, rail trails don’t have turnoffs, so kids can explore without getting lost.

Cape Cod Rail Trail. The summer crowds are gone, leaving much more room on this popular 22-mile trail along the Massachusetts coast. Free parking at the South Wellfleet trailhead and the Cape Cod National Seashore at Marconi makes it easy to combine beach activities with bike-riding.
Walkill Valley Rail Trail. The total length of this trail through the Hudson Valley and below Shawangunk cliffs is 12.2 miles, but families may want to ride north or south from the historic town of New Paltz, N.Y., midway along the trail.
Lehigh Gorge Bike Trail. Trip leader Eisman recommends this mountain-bike trail in eastern Pennsylvania for its steep-walled gorge and the ice-cream parlor in White Haven. Park at the trailhead in White Haven for flexible out-and-back options.

Apple-picking, cheese factories, and covered bridges: 3 fall family activity rides. Bike trip leaders John Wojdak, of AMC’s Worcester Chapter, and Nancy and Tom Mann, of AMC’s Connecticut Chapter, recommend activities and destinations for fall family bike rides.

• Bike-riding and apple-picking. A favorite autumn ride for Wojdak starts in West Brookfield, Mass., on Wickaboag Valley Rd. Three moderately hilly miles bring him to Ragged Hill Road and a pick-your-own apple orchard by the same name.
• Ice cream and a Sleeping Giant. Nancy and Tom Mann recommend Connecticut Bike Rides as a source for 250 cycling routes within the state. The “Sleeping Giant Leisure Ride,” an 8.7-mile relatively flat ride mostly on back roads, starts and ends at the park of the same name, and includes the possibility of a stop at an ice cream shop.
• Covered bridge and cheese factory. What better way to spend an autumn day than biking through an old covered bridge and around the small Vermont village of Grafton, then touring a cheese factory? Start in the beautifully restored town of Grafton. Bike a short distance on country roads to the Kidder Hill covered bridge.

Learn more
"East Coast Bike Paths" (AMC Outdoors, September/October 2009) describes six additional family-friendly rides.
"Bicycling the Northeast's Rail Trails" in the same issue highlights trails in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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