Atlantic Coast Bike Tour
The northern sections of the Atlantic Coast Bicycle Route are excellent for history buffs, as you’ll discover sites dating back to the early days of the United States and beyond.
In the Northeast, you’ll enjoy the flavor of quiet Maine coastal towns, New England villages, the rural countryside, and bucolic Amish farmlands. Once you cross the Mason-Dixon Line, which is the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, you’ll ride into the South and get some exposure to Civil War history by visiting the battlefields at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the city of Richmond, Virginia. Spurs lead into the various larger cities along this route. A lack of road signs can make parts of this route challenging.
Starting in the tourist town of Bar Harbor, Maine, on Mt. Desert Island, you’ll bike out of town through Acadia National Park and then along occasional back roads situated near the coast. Allow some time to savor the quintessential ambiance of the coastal towns. After crossing the Penobscot River, the route passes by Ft. Knox, an exceptionally well-preserved unused Revolutionary War fort. Most of the route in Maine straddles views of the Atlantic Ocean, from the rocky jagged shore downeast (which is directionally “northeast”) to the expansive sand beaches south of Portland.
More New England beauty will be enjoyed as you head south through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. In Massachusetts you can take a 30.6-mile spur into Boston. You’ll see charming, picturesque towns that you might find on your wall calendar. As you bike through New York, you’ll pass through scenic farmland. Several sites of historic significance are off route north of Poughkeepsie, New York. The route uses portions of several rail trails.
Entering New Jersey, you’ll ride through one of the best areas in the state for bicycling as you travel along the Delaware River. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is particularly beautiful and gives an other-world meaning to typical images that people have of New Jersey. At Lambertville, the New York City Spur extends eastward for 52 miles to Summit, New Jersey, where you can take a train into New York City. The main route heads west into Pennsylvania through productive farms and many hills. Downtown Philadelphia is a short distance from the route via the Schuylkill River Bike Path. You’ll ride through Valley Forge National Historic Park. The route traverses Lancaster County, which is home to many Amish families. Beginning in York, it follows the York County Heritage Trail which becomes Torrey C. Brown Trail in northern Maryland. The route swings west around the outskirts of Baltimore, though you can take the alternate through the city if you prefer. There are more farms in northern Maryland, which will turn into suburban sprawl as you reach the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
Traffic and road congestion increases tremendously north of Washington, D.C. The route uses the Rock Creek Trail and the Capital Crescent Trail to take you to the Lincoln Memorial and the Potomac River. After crossing the Potomac, you’ll ride another beautiful bike path to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s residence from 1754 until his death. Then there are more urban areas in expanding northern Virginia, some quiet country roads, and increasing urbanization as you approach Richmond.
The route uses the Virginia Capital Trail from Richmond to Jamestown. After crossing the James River on a ferry, you’ll head south through the farmlands of Virginia and encounter swamps when crossing into North Carolina. If you choose to ride the Outer Banks Alternate, you’ll have a treat biking along the sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean and have the chance to see tools utilized by the famous Wright Brothers in their bicycle shop. Expect high temperatures and humid conditions in the summer, though beach riding will be tempered by ocean breezes. The winds can be strong (that’s why the Wright Brothers flew their first plane there), and sand may blow onto the road. In the Outer Banks, there are two ferry rides, one of which is 2-1/4 hours long.
Riding southward, you’ll encounter the busy city of Wilmington, North Carolina, and take another ferry ride into Southport. The route skirts the coast through Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and surrounding communities. Many tourists visit this area. You’ll also ride through historic Charleston, once described as “an 18th-century painting come to life.”
Heading into Georgia, Alligator Alley/SR 170, a scenic road through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, offers plenty of opportunities to pull over and gawk at the view. Savannah is a charming city, which has one of the largest national historic landmark districts in the United States. Because the route is close to the coast expect more tourist traffic.
As you cross into Florida, you’ll be alongside the coast again. A spur to reach the Jacksonville Airport for transportation is shown, while the main route continues through occasional coastal towns along the beaches. St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement in the United States, which displays distinctive Spanish architecture. Starting in St. Augustine, the route alternates between urban and suburban conditions most of the way down the coast through Miami. Florida has an extensive though sometimes confusing network of bicycling facilities ranging from 2-foot bike lanes or shoulders to separated bike paths and sidewalks. For some stretches it will be better to use the sidewalk rather than the road while in highly trafficked beach areas, the sidewalks will be pedestrian use only. The approach to often nearly invisible short bridges are usually marked with “frogs”, “buttons”, “turtles”, “slugs” or rumble strips.
Take advantage of the opportunities to enjoy the numerous beach accesses. County parks often include such amenities as picnic tables, cold water, showers and toilets and are inexpensive or free to cyclists. State Highway A1A will change names many times on its journey along the coast. This is especially true as it nears Miami. Often it is located adjacent to an aquatic preserve or wildlife refuge offering bird watching as well. South of Jupiter, campgrounds for tenting are almost nonexistent until south of Miami.
Leaving Florida City on U.S. 1, you begin a 20-mile ride with no services, potentially heavy traffic and abundant crocodile sightings. If you see what appears to be a green couch along the road, it’s probably not! Always give crocs a wide berth, and be ready to sprint if necessary. Crocodiles can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour for very short distances. On the road to Key West the roadways have generous shoulders, though we recommend using the bike paths. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy this section and have your camera at the ready. As you cross the many old bridges there are multiple occasions to stop and take in the scenery. Each of the Keys offers their own information center with local knowledge of available activities. If you wish to stay at one of the Bahia Honda State Park campsites, make reservations early. For those who don’t wish to reverse their route back across the Keys, a loop route can be created by taking a ferry from Key West to Fort Myers Beach where it is possible to join the Florida Connector and return to Fort Lauderdale. Space is limited on the ferries, so when you make your reservations, be sure to let them know in advance that you have a bike.