Every year, more and more outdoor enthusiasts are discovering the appeal of bikepacking. It’s an incredibly immersive way to see the country—no shuffling on and off tour buses or watching the miles whiz by from a car window. Plus, it’s cheaper than most motorized travel, it’s a great way to get your exercise in every day, and it’s almost guaranteed to earn you some bragging rights.
The East Coast is chock-full of some of the country’s best options for bikepacking routes, from the rhododendron-lined singletrack of Alabama’s foothills to former railroad beds turned tree-lined trails outside Washington, D.C. Here are five of the best bikepacking routes on the East Coast, from intense singletrack for backcountry adventurers to urban rides perfect for hotel stays and craft beers. No matter which you choose, you’ll be challenged, invigorated, and get a firsthand look into the region you’re pedaling through.
1. Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal
Distance : 334 miles Type : Point-to-point Start and end point : Can be ridden in either direction, with one terminus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the other in Washington, D.C.
Why it’s amazing : This route combines the Great Allegheny Passage with the C&O Canal Towpath to link together a fairly nontechnical route exploring some of the most historic parts of the United States. Regardless of which direction you go, the trail hits the high point in the middle, so the first half of the trip will follow an uphill trajectory—but that makes the second half that much sweeter. Be sure to take time to explore the historic sights of Washington, D.C. and the Appalachian Trail Headquarters in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The route will likely take just under a week to complete, as big miles can be ridden each day.
Gear : Of course, everyone needs a helmet on any bike ride, and the Smith Venture features extended coverage over the back of your head for added protection. More than 20 vents will help you stay cool, and Smith’s VaporFit system provides a secure and comfortable fit.
2. Green Mountain Gravel Growler
Distance : 248 miles Type : Loop Start and end point : Begins and ends in Burlington, Vermont
Why it’s amazing : Beer, biking, and backcountry riding. This one-of-a-kind loop ride takes beer and biking enthusiasts on a highlight reel of some of the best microbreweries in the country, conveniently located in picture-perfect towns scattered throughout the Vermont countryside. This route is primarily non-technical and on gravel roads—instead of seeking out rock gardens and gnarly descents, you’ll be passing under covered bridges and coasting into town for a fine meal and a pint of local beer. There are more than a dozen breweries and pubs to choose from, but the Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro and Zero Gravity Brewing in Burlington are top-notch.
Gear : You’ll need a tent for your trip, and the Nemo Dragonfly is an ultra lightweight two-person option that won’t take up too much space on your bike. The Featherlight poles are high-arching, giving you more volume in the tent to let you stretch out a bit more.
3. Alabama Skyway
Distance : 123 miles Type : Point-to-point Start and end point : Begins at the Alabama/Georgia state line and finishes at Flagg Mountain
Why it’s amazing : With more than 11,000 feet of ascent over approximately a hundred miles, this short-but-stout route is not for the faint of heart. The climbs aren’t long, but they are steep, and you’ll get a taste of what Alabama’s backcountry really has to offer. The route traces historical long-distance trails and regions and follows along the Pinhoti Trail before finishing at its southern terminus at Flagg Mountain. One of the must-stop spots is Cheaha State Park, Alabama’s high point. Expect to take three to four days to bike this route, with the entire trail rideable for most cyclists.
Gear : For any long trip, chances are you’re going to want a handlebar bag. The Timbuk2 Frontrunner is an excellent option, with enough space to carry a small tent. The bag’s body has internal stiffness to keep the load balanced and what’s inside protected.
4. Virginia Mountain Bike Trail
Distance : 473 miles Type : Point-to-point Start and end point : Begins in Front Royal in northern Virginia, and ends in Damascus near the Virginia/Tennessee border
Why it’s amazing : This burly ride isn’t for the timid, requiring the navigation of rugged terrain, overgrown vegetation, singletrack, and multiple sections of hike-a-bike. But you’ll also be treated to sublime scenery through Virginia's mountainous region, including farmland, old-growth Appalachian forest, and open ridgelines. We recommend hitting the trail in the fall for a maximum pop of foliage through incredibly scenic sections of the George Washington and Jefferson national forests. You’ll also want to make a stop in Clifton Forge, a quaint riverfront town. Keep in mind that this ride is highly technical, and should be attempted only by riders with extensive mountain biking and bikepacking experience.
Gear : To track where you’re going, you want easy access to your smartphone on the bike. With Delta’s Hefty Smartphone Holder, you’ll have to problem following directions.
5. Huracan 300
Distance : 313 miles Type : Loop Start and end point : The route begins and ends in Ocala, Florida
Why it’s amazing : This ride traverses pretty much every kind of terrain Florida can throw at you. Expect deep sand, marshland, and singletrack with short stretches of pavement in between. This route takes riders through the Seminole State Forest and the Ocala National Forest, something all East Coast cyclists should see in their lifetimes. Depending on the season, one of the trickiest parts of this route will likely involve several high-water crossings, not to mention the alligators watching you from the edge of the water. This route hosts big-time races every year, so if you’re ready for the challenge, make the trip a self-supported competition and ride with some of the best the region has to offer.
Gear : You don’t like to think about mechanical problems on your ride, but you should be prepared. The Topeak Mini 20 Pro Bike Tool is small and compact, but it has just about everything you could need to make an emergency repair.
Written by Matcha for Outdoor Gear Exchange and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]