A Wheelie Good Time

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, Family Vacation Guide

A Wheelie Good Time
From coastal byways to high-altitude singletrack, four planned-to-the-mile family bike trips


Gear to Go
All the right stuff for biking

Way to Go
Tips for First-Time Family Bike Trippers

Gulf Islands, British Columbia
Blissfully situated in a rain shadow between the British Columbia mainland and Vancouver Island, the sunny Gulf Islands comprise a network of peaceful paved roads that follow the islands' shorelines and run inland past rolling farm country. The moderately challenging terrain is a mix of short but steep hills and more gradual climbs, good for kids ten and over.

Day 1: Mileage: 12.5. Head north 16 miles from Victoria on Vancouver Island to Swartz Bay in Sidney and catch a BC Ferry (250-386-3431) to Mayne Island. Begin exploring the three-by-five-mile island by heading 1.5 miles north to the Springwater Lodge, where you can grab an oysterburger for lunch and take in a view of Active Pass, a ripping current that runs between Mayne and Galiano islands. Continue pedaling north about another 1.2 miles to the lighthouse at Georgina Point, then go another six miles or so and pull off for a 45-minute hike up Mount Parke, on the south-central part of the island (look for the signs), for a view of Swanson Channel, Vancouver Island, and the Olympic Mountains. Spend the night at Fernhill Lodge (doubles, U.S.$69-$104 per night, including breakfast; $14 each additional person 13 and up; $10 for 12 and under; 250-539-2544), a three-bedroom inn that caters to cyclists.

Day 2: Mileage: 34.Take the 35- to 90-minute ferry ride to neighboring 38-square-mile Saturna Island. Here you'll pay your dues on a few challenging hills, then cash in with miles of flat, traffic-free riding along the eastern shore (a great place for spotting orcas). Hike the mile-long trail up the side of Mount Warburton Pike or bike the steep, three-mile gravel road to the peak for a panoramic view of the Gulf Islands, San Juan Islands, and Vancouver Island. Spend the night at Saturna Lodge (doubles, $70-$105 per night, including breakfast; 888-539-8800), on a hill overlooking Boot Cove.

Day 3: Mileage: 7.5. Take a one-hour ferry ride to Galiano, where you'll ride along hilly country roads on the 20-by-two-mile island. Head a mile and a quarter south to check in to one of the two-bedroom cottages with kitchens at the Driftwood Village ($94 per night for two people; $3.50 each additional child under 18; 888-240-1466), a cluster of cottages tucked in among apple, pear, and cherry trees; gardens; and ponds. Then ride another five miles west to 220-acre Montague Harbor Provincial Park, where you can hike through forests, along white-sand beaches and across craggy headlands and open meadows, or rent rowboats or kayaks at Montague Harbor, just outside the park.

Day 4: Mileage: 37. Your next destination is Salt Spring Island (the largest of the group), via the 90-minute ferry and a 20-minute ride to Anchorage Cove (doubles, $80-$94; 250-537-5337), a three-bedroom B&B on the island's north end just across the water from Ganges (you can row into town if you'd like). For guided kayaking, sailing, and rock climbing, call Island Escapades (888-529-2567).

Day 5: Mileage: 6 or 11 miles. Explore the marina and town of Ganges, full of artisan shops and galleries. Grab lunch at Alfresco's or Luigi's Pizza and, if it's Saturday, stop at the market in Centennial Park for fresh fruits and vegetables, then catch the ferry for the 35-minute ride to Victoria from Fulford Harbor (11 miles from Ganges), or the 1.5- to 2.5-hour trip to Vancouver from Long Harbor (six miles from Ganges).

The easy way: Butterfield & Robinson can customize a trip for groups of ten or more for about $2,650 per person, including most meals; 800-678-1147.

Kaibab National Forest, Arizona
This off-road trip through the Kaibab National Forest covers moderately challenging terrain and altitudes of 8,000 to 8,800 feet, mostly via singletrack, and is good for kids ten and up with some mountain-biking experience. You'll spend five days skirting the remote East and North rims of the Grand Canyon amid ponderosa pine, juniper, and piñon. Watch for mule deer, wild turkeys, black bears, and bobcats as you enjoy the new (as of summer 1998) 18-mile Rainbow Rim singletrack that runs along the canyon's edge. Unless you have a friend who can drive a support vehicle (necessary in certain sections), this trip is best done with an outfitter (see below).

Day 1: Mileage: 15-30. Starting from Jacob Lake, you'll push off onto the singletrack known as the Arizona Trail. You'll descend through meadows, enjoy some quick ups and downs, and make the final pull up to the secluded East Rim of the Grand Canyon. Set up camp at this aspen- and ponderosa-pine-forested perch, where you'll have an aerial view of the lower desert and the canyon.

Day 2: Mileage: 20. This is a one-way ride out to Imperial Point. Pedal on singletrack through wildflowers and past cool springs to the National Park boundary. If you want to enter the park, you'll need a support vehicle to take the bikes from here, because you can't ride inside the park. Take the three-mile hike through shimmering aspens and pine to Imperial Point, for another view across the canyon. Your driver can pick you up here and shuttle you back to your East Rim campsite.

Day 3: Mileage: 25. Start the day with three miles of singletrack riding to the old Grand Canyon logging road. This will take you west across the plateau through the deepest sections of the Kaibab National Forest, to Timp Point on the North Rim (this route is a bit complicated, so check with the National Forest Service for specifics; 520-643-7395). You'll camp overlooking Tapeats Amphitheater on the North Rim, and your westward views guarantee an unforgettable sunset.

Day 4: Mileage: 36. Ride the new 18-mile singletrack out and back as it zips along the North Rim, offering more than 20 different vistas of the canyon.

Day 5: Mileage: 15. A long descent leads through the west side of the National Forest; look carefully for the endangered Kaibab squirrel, a white-tailed creature that resembles a skunk and is found only on the Kaibab Plateau. At Indian Hollow, your final destination, take a quick, five-minute hike for a final view of the Canyon. You can shuttle out from here.

The easy way: Escape the City Streets offers this itinerary specifically for families, departing June 28, July 19, and August 23 ($745 per person; one kid under 16 per parent is half price; 800-596-2953).

Nez Perce Trail, Montana
On this ride, you'll follow the Nez Perce tribe's historic route to its hunting grounds edging the 101-mile, all-dirt Magruder Road Corridor; it winds through two vast wilderness areas along the Idaho/Montana border in the company of moose, bighorn sheep, and black bears. This is fairly rigorous cycling, best attempted by strong kids 12 and older who have some off-road experience. You'll pedal through open meadows, angle along forested ridges, and haul up several steep, winding stretches; if you're on your own, come equipped to handle breakdowns of bikes and bodies, as this is truly remote.

Day 1: Mileage: 30. Drive to Nez Perce Pass (6,589 feet) to kick off 16 miles of downhill flying. Take a lunch break at Deep Creek Bridge (good fishing here for cutthroat) before following the peaceful Selway River for a few miles. A tough pull of about ten uphill miles takes you to Observation Point (7,620 feet), where you'll camp overlooking the Frank Church River of No Return and the Selway-Bitterroot wildernesses crowned by the 9,983-foot summit of El Capitan.

Day 2: Mileage: 17. A gentle three-mile warm-up leads to the base of Salmon Mountain Lookout trailhead. Leave the bikes and take this steep hike through subalpine larch, past wild buttercups and shooting-star flowers, to the small granite summit. Afterward, bike on through "ghost trees" left by forest fires to Dry Saddle (7,920 feet), where you can camp in a meadow.

Day 3: Mileage: 3. A hiking day, mostly. From Dry Saddle, climb Sheep Hill Trail as far as ten miles into a mountain lake region filled with blue-green tarns. The biking afterward is easy — only three miles to Burnt Knob Lookout, with another knockout panoramic view of both wilderness areas, including the landmark Buffalo Hump.

Day 4: Mileage: 13. Start your day with an eight-mile downhill through evergreen forest to Poet Creek (watch the hairpin turns). From the creek bed, you'll climb gently through thick swaths of pine up to Granite Springs for the night.

Day 5: Mileage: 20. A quick downhill puts you at the Red River Ranger Station and your first paved road in five days. Parallel the Red River valley with its grassy meadows and gravel bars, gradually climbing uphill to Dixie Summit. Then it's back to dirt, but it's ten downhill miles of wide, smooth hardpack to the tiny mining town of Dixie. Reward your kids with ice cream at the general store, then head for the Crooked River Campground.

Day 6: Mileage: 25. Pedal up a steep grade to Lemon Creek Saddle, roll over the fir-covered summit of Jersey Mountain, then fly down more than 2,000 feet to the roaring Salmon River. Kick off your shoes and soak your toes.

The easy way: Wilderness River Outfitters runs trips July 30 and August 8, 16, and 24 ($1,130 per person; ask about special discounts for families; 800-252-6581).

The Lighthouse Route, Nova Scotia
This five-day road-cycling trip covers moderate terrain, good for kids eight and up. The route passes fishing villages, sandy beaches, rocky coves, and a string of lighthouses built on rocky promontories.

From Halifax, shuttle your bikes south to your first campground at Rissers Beach Provincial Park (902-688-2034; for information on shuttle services, call 800-341-6096) in Petite Rivière. Leave some time for exploring the saltwater marsh and the boardwalk.

Day 1: Mileage: 36. Your first stop is Crescent Beach, a few miles from Rissers Beach, for clam-digging and an early-morning snack. Take a tour of the Fort Point Lighthouse at the mouth of the LaHave River, then head for the beachside Ovens Natural Park Family Campground in Riverport (902-766-4621), which has a swimming pool and hot showers. Here you can explore a chain of sea caves (Zodiac boat tours are available from within the campground) or go whale-watching nearby.

Day 2: Mileage: 44. Grab a handful of breakfast bars and spin into the fishing port of Lunenburg for breakfast. Don't miss the view of the HMCS Saguenay, a half-sunk destroyer in Lunenburg Marine Park. There's great scuba diving here for intermediate to experienced divers ($31 per person for a two-tank dive; call Jo's Dive Shop at 902-634-3443). You can board the Theresa E. Connor, the last schooner to fish the Grand Banks with dories and now a floating museum, at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, or take a boat tour out to the Battery Point lighthouse. Then push on to Mahone Bay, another traditional shipbuilding town famous for its midsummer wooden boat festival (July 28-August 1). Camp at Graves Island Provincial Park (902-275-4425).

Day 3: Mileage: 40. Today you take a loop ride through a series of villages along the Aspotogan Peninsula. Spend the day at Bayswater, where there's a superb white-sand swimming beach and a neighboring freshwater pond. Return to your campground for the night.

Day 4: Mileage: 31. Ride north along the shore, skirting St. Margarets Bay and winding past fishing boats and dory docks. Stop for a swim at Queensland Beach, famous for its warm water. Bed down at Wayside Camping Park (902-823-2271) in Tantallon.

Day 5: Mileage: 15. Take a leisurely loop ride out to Peggys Cove (population 50), which some claim is the most photographed fishing village in the world. The lighthouse here houses a U.S. Post Office — the only one in Canada.

The easy way: Backroads runs family-specific trips departing July 10 and August 7 along this route that include activities like sea kayaking ($848 per adult; kids 13-16, ten percent off; kids 7-12, 20 percent off; and six and under, 40 percent off; 800-462-2848).
— Tracey Minkin

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