Cultural Landscapes by Bicycle

Black and white image of unpaved path through a wooded area with ferns
Bicycle path in Dorr Woods at Acadia National Park, June 3, 1905

NPS Photo / Herbert W. Gleason

There are many ways to explore national parks by bicycle, with opportunities for riders of varying levels and trail preference. Some trails provide a remote wilderness experience, while others connect to places in cities and towns.

From the 45 miles of crushed-rock and gravel carriage roads in Acadia National Park, to the two miles of East Shore Trail recently opened to mountain biking at Rocky Mountain National Park, bike options at national parks across the country can provide access to the scenic, historic, and recreational values of a place. The recently-installed repair stands on Skyline Drive, bicycle-only campgrounds on Natchez Trace Parkway, and bike share option for touring the National Mall are a few of the ways that bike exploration is encouraged.

These three routes in the southeast region are just a few of the paths to exploring park cultural landscapes by bike:

Cades Cove Historic District

European-American settlers arrived in Cades Cove by the early 1820s. Prior to their arrival, Cherokees had practiced subsistence agriculture and hunting in the central and southern Appalachians. One of the earliest European-American settlements in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove supported a subsistence agricultural community. The fertile valley was divided into fields and pastureland, the lower slopes of the mountains were cleared for crops and working woodlots, and cattle and sheep grazed high on mountain balds above the valley floor. The homesteads, churches, mills, and schools were connected by a loop road that encircled the open valley floor.
Seated farmer and his son grind sorghum cane in a field using a mule and a wooden mill
Farmers in Cades Cove use a mule-powered mill to grind sorghum cane into molasses.

NPS Photo / Laura Thornburgh

A post office was established as early as 1833, and before long, families established farms and gardens. By 1850, the population of the agricultural settlement had grown to approximately 685 individuals, and community buildings like churches and schoolhouses were constructed to support community life in the valley. The Cades Cove cultural landscape is notable for its concentration of homesteads and as an example of early European-American settlement history in the region.

The one-way loop road that travels through the historic district provides access to several homesteads that have been restored to their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century appearance. A wide variety of historic structures and landscape features, including three churches, corn cribs, a blacksmith shop, smokehouses, and barns, are connected by the road. There are several cemeteries dating to the historic period in Cades Cove, as well as road traces, fencelines, walls, and trails. During the early settlement period, much of the valley floor was cleared for pasture and crops. The grassy valley retains this open feeling, and hillsides are shaded by pine, hemlock, maple, and tulip poplar trees.
Two people with bikes beside a wood and wire fence, with a fog-filled valley and hills beyond
Cyclists stop along the Cades Cove Loop Road.

NPS Photo / Jim Bennett

The 11 mile loop road that wraps through the Cades Cove Historic District is closed to vehicular traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, from May through late September. Cades Cove is one of the most popular districts in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and this closure provides a unique way to experience the broad valley and its resources by bicycle or on foot. Bicycles are available to rent at the Cades Cove Campground Store during the summer and fall months.

Bike Cades Cove

Explore this cultural landscape at Great Smoky Mountains National Park by bicycle

Plan Your Visit

Mammoth Cave Bike and Hike Trail

Completed in 2007, the nine mile Mammoth Cave Bike and Hike Trail connects Mammoth Cave National Park with the gateway community of Park City. The Bike and Hike Trail is part of the nationwide Rails to Trails network that transforms former rail lines into multi-modal transportation corridors. The gravel path begins at the main hotel lodge parking lot in the Core Visitor Services Area. Although there are multiple points from which to access the trail. Interpretive information is located along the path, which is gravel with occasional steep grades.
An interpretive wayside stands beside a straight gravel trail through a wooded area
Mammoth Cave Bike and Hike Trail Segment

NPS Photo

Beginning in 1886, a spur line was created from the main railroad service between Louisville and Nashville. This 8.7 mile spur was used to transport early tourists from Glasgow Junction Depot, now Park City, to an entrance arch adjacent to the Mammoth Cave Hotel, near the cave entrance. The train was initially powered by a steam engine before being replaced by a rail bus in 1929. It closed in 1931 after more than four decades in operation. As road access expanded, cars replaced the train as the main form of transportation to Mammoth Cave. While the rails were ultimately removed in 1936, the railroad bed is still evident in the landscape. The trail allows visitors to follow portions of the historic railroad line path through the wooded landscape.
A red engine and black train coach are under a covered pavilion, surrounded by trees, sidewalk, and grass
Engine No. 4 and Coach No. 2 Train Exhibit, located south of the Visitor Center at Mammoth Cave National Park

NPS Photo

Engine No. 4 and Coach No. 2, one of the last train engines, is on display south of the Visitor Center along the trail, in approximately the same location as where passengers would disembark from the train to walk to the hotel during the early tourism era.

Bike Mammoth Cave

Explore the cultural landscape of Mammoth Cave on the Bike and Hike Trail

Plan Your Visit

Big South Fork Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is a popular recreational activity at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Located on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, the park boasts almost 300 miles of trails accessible to bicycles. This includes several miles specifically dedicated to mountain biking, ranging in difficulty and skill level. Many of the trails were built by the Big South Fork Bike Club, a group of volunteers dedicated to maintaining the trails. In 2012, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area was the first national park unit to receive the coveted International Mountain Biking Association’s “Epic Ride” designation, which indicates a unique backcountry riding experience.
A large group of cyclists in helmets, bright clothes pose in front of several barn-like structures
New Year's Day ride participants in front of the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

NPS Photo

The West Bandy Creek Trail is a relatively level, 3.1 mile route that starts near the West Bandy Trailhead and ends on West Bandy Creek Road, about 1.5 miles west of the Bandy Creek Visitor Center. The trail features a few small creek crossings, with occasional steep descents and climbs, and can be combined with the Collier Ridge Trail to create a loop. While not directly linked, the trail travels to the north of the Oscar Blevins Farmstead, which can be accessed via a connecting path.

View a map of the West Bandy Creek - Collier Ridge Mountain Bike Route (9.8 miles)

Cabin at Oscar Blevins Farmstead
Original cabin at the Oscar Blevins farmstead, a cultural landscape accessible by bicycle.

NPS Photo

The Oscar Blevins Farmstead is typical of the settlement patterns found throughout the Big South Fork plateau in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Encompassing nearly 24 acres, the site contains many features characteristic of a Cumberland farmstead, including fields and remnant orchards, structures, and road traces. The 1879 house remains, and an outbuilding and corn crib were both built circa 1870s‑1880s.

There are also contemporary structures and landscape features on the site, including a farmhouse and barn from around the 1950s, an uncompleted root cellar, NPS feeding bins, and fences. The diverse resources of the district are united historically and physically by their association with farming activity and rural life in the Upper Cumberland from the early 1800s through the mid-1900s.

Bike Big South Fork

Explore Oscar Blevins Farmstead and other landscapes of the Cumberland Plateau by mountain bike

Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Ride

Many national park units allow mountain biking on designated trails and dirt roads, in addition to countless more that welcome road cycling on pavement. For an enjoyable and safe ride, follow all rules of the road, use designated bicycle routes, and definitely take time to explore your surroundings.

Last updated: May 17, 2019