If you're thinking about combining biking with either history, a holiday, or both, consider touring some of America's great battlefields and historic sites by bike. Touring either through or between these parks is a great way to soak up the scenery, enjoy low traffic roads and immerse yourself in the stories of the U.S. past.
The east and southeast in particular are heavy on national parks and historic sites from the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War. A few of these parks are sizable enough to contain a decent single day tour within them Or more promising is to string together a multi-day trip that includes rides both within and between these parks.
If this is something that interests you, here are some places you might consider as tour options. Some are self-guided, some are fully-supported tours offered by professional organizers:
- Underground Railroad Bicycle Route: The Adventure Cycling Association created the 2,000 mile long Underground Railroad Bicycle Route to honor the bravery of those who fled bondage and those who provided shelter. Beginning in Mobile, Alabama – a busy port for slavery - the route goes north following rivers through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. After crossing into Ohio, riders head toward Lake Erie and enter Canada at the Peace Bridge near Buffalo, New York, and continuing on to Owen Sound, a town founded by freedom seekers in 1857.
- American Heritage Bicycle Tours offers several different tours around the northeast U.S. that generally focus on campaigns of the Revolutionary War as well as the French and Indian War. Organizer Kyle Jenks has a particular emphasis on tying into battlefield reeactments wherever possible, and a coming highlight is a tour in September coinciding with the 400 year anniversary of the arrival of explorer Henry Hudson at present day Albany, NY, Riders have the chance to stay overnight on an exact reproduction of Hudson's ship, The Halfmoon, and take part in a walking tour of original 17th century homes within New York State's oldest historic district. The tour culminates with a visit to the oldest Dutch dwelling in the Mohawk Valley.
- Great Allegheny Passage tour: Offered by the Wilderness Voyageurs tour company, this Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. tour is 6 days/315 miles filled with "a multitude of natural, cultural and historically significant sites." You'll ride past remnants of the early 1900's industrial revolution when Pittsburgh Steel was king, Victorian Mansions, Civil War Battlefields, Historic Districts, and lots more.
Tour the Potomac River Valley along the C&O Canal with Bike and the Like. This tour offers flat riding, shorter milage, and nightly presentations from park rangers and historical interpreters - 6 days/184 miles.
Here's an interesting article about the C&O Canal tour from people who rode with Bike and the Like.
- The Lewis and Clark Trail: Following in the path of the Corps of Discovery, this 3,250 mile route offers cyclists the opportunity to follow the path of the intrepid explorers Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their 1804-1806 expedition.
A cyclist named Tom Swenson put together a tour for himself and five others of the Shenandoah National Park, a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Here are details of his trip, including the general route Swenson followed on this 1997 tour.
Another cyclist, a guy named Tom Revay put together a couple of bike tours for himself that focused on hitting many of the major civil war battlefields. Check these out for possibly following them as he laid them out or for ideas on building your own trip. Since these routes were put together several years back, however, you certainly need to verify that information is still current and that the roads he suggests are still the best and safest ones to ride.
- Charlottesville to Williamsburg - Six days/366 miles - opens an Excel spreadsheet
- Civil Wargasm Tour - Philadelphia to Williamsburg - Eight days/436 miles. Takes in 25 civil war sites, including Gettysburg, Harper's Ferry, Manassas, Fredericksburg and many more. Opens an Excel spreadsheet.