For such a simple device, the bicycle is an incredible thing. There are plenty of studies to show that the physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits of cycling are almost limitless. And it's a great way of making the most out of your national parks.
With major events like L'Eroica Britannia and the Tour de France having staged events in the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales, it goes without saying that Britain's breathing spaces are home to some of the best and most challenging cycling in the world. But you don't have to be Bradley Wiggins to enjoy the national parks on two wheels. There are also plenty of family-friendly routes! Here are just a few suggestions, but for even more ideas get in touch with your nearest national park information centre.
Brecon to Talybont Towpath: Running alongside the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, this entirely traffic-free route offers a lovely, flat ride that ends at a working lock and beautifully situated picnic area. There are no navigational issues as the ride follows the canal the whole way. Find out more on the Brecon Beacons website.
Broads Route 6: A short ride along quiet country lanes, this ride is suitable for the whole family and includes visits to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Hickling Broad, home to many rare species of Broadland wildlife, and Sutton Mill, one of the tallest mills of its type in the country. Dowload a PDF of the route, or visit the Broads cycling pages for more information.
Old Logging Way: The Cairngorms is perhaps best known for its rugged landscapes, but tucked amongst the mountain range are moorland, farmland, the UK's most extensive remnants of Caledonian pine forest, and a number of other spots perfect for a more relaxed pedalling experience. A good place to start is the Old Logging Way – a 3.5-mile traffic-free route between Aviemore and Glenmore. The route takes you through forests and lochs, with views of the Cairngorms in the background. Get more ideas on cycling in the Cairngorms.
Granite Way: Accessible by train and with cycle hire available on the trail, the 6-mile Granite Way is an ideal family day out. The route is mostly traffic-free and traverses the Meldon Viaduct, offering incredible views of the surrounding countryside. A number of additional trails split off from the route, which also connects with National Cycle Network route 27. For more cycling routes visit the Dartmoor National Park cycling pages.
West Country Way: Part of a National Cycle Network route running from Padstow to Bath, the West Country Way offers beautiful scenery through quiet country lanes, as well as some traffic-free sections. If you are keen to tackle some of the more up-and-down sections of the route you may want to consider hiring an electric bicycle to help with the climbs. Find out more from the Exmoor National Park cycling pages.
Keswick Railway Path: Running a little more than 6 miles along the old Keswick to Penrith railway line (discontinued in 1972) this relatively flat route takes in tremendous scenery. Crossing and re-crossing the River Greta the traffic-free path offers incredible views of surrounding fells then winds its way through woodland. There are a number of detours that allow you to explore even more on foot. Download a PDF with information on the Keswick Railway Path.
Clyde and Loch Lomond Cycleway: A 20-mile traffic-free route, the Clyde and Loch Lomond Cycleway runs from Glasgow to the shores of Loch Lomond, taking in iconic sights such as the docks at Clydebank and Dumbarton Castle. With a number of railway stops along the route, it can be broken into even smaller, more manageable sections. Learn more about cycling in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.
Family Cycling Adventures: New Forest National Park has set up a special series of pages on its website to encourage the whole family to get cycling. The Family Cycling Adventures pages offer loads of information on cycling events, bike hire, safety, and more than 100 miles of family-friendly cycle routes.
Pennine Cycleway: Still relatively undiscovered, the meandering Pennine Cycleway takes you through the centre of Northern England.The cycleway itself is more than 350 miles long, with many challenging sections. But a good section for families is the section that runs through Hadrian's Wall country. For more information on cycling in Northumberland visit the CyclePad website.
Cliff Trail: Head to Sutton Bank National Park Centre and enjoy the fantastic cycling facilities developed by PACE cycles and the North York Moors National Park Authority. The Cliff Trail is a family-friendly 3-mile 'green' circular off-road cycle trail that is mostly level, part of which follows the famous cliff edge. Find out more about cycling in the North York Moors.
Tissington Trail: With major cycling events like L'Eroica Britannia and Tour de France Grand Départ visiting, the Peak District prides itself on being a cycling haven – but it's not all challenge. Covering 13 miles of traffic-free pedalling on a former railway line, the Tissington Trail is a relaxed route for cyclists of all abilities. Hire bikes at Parsley Hay or Ashbourne or bring your own. Visit historic Tissington along the way. Public toilets and snacks stops are to be found on the route as well. Learn more about cycling in Peak District National Park.
Y Dramffordd: An easy 2-mile offshoot of the considerably longer Celtic Trail, the entirely traffic-free Dramffordd (aka the Tramway) is a perfect place for a family to stretch its cycling legs. Running from Stepaside to the popular beachside village of Saundersfoot, the route is wide and well-paved. This is a popular shared path, so please be considerate of other cyclists, walkers and wheelchair users. Learn more about cycling in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Mawddach Trail: A popular 9-mile stretch of former railway track that follows the river from Morfa Mawddach (at the South side of the Barmouth railway bridge), up to Dolgellau. It is managed by the Snowdonia National Park Authority as a leisure route for walkers and cyclists, and is part of the Sustrans Cross-Wales Cycling Route - No 8. Learn more about the Mawddach Trail.
South Downs Way: Don't be surprised to find yourself washing mud from your gears after cycling from one end of the South Downs to the other on an almost completely off-road track. Stretching from the ancient cathedral city of Winchester in the west, first capital of England, through to the white chalky cliffs of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head at Eastbourne in the east, the South Downs Way is easy to tackle in short sections or, for the energetic, in one 100-mile adventure. Learn more about cycling in South Downs National Park.
Gargrave Circular: A relatively short route with no big climbs, the Gargrave Circular takes you from the small town of Gargrave up into the southern Yorkshire Dales. The roads have little traffic, and there are great views of Flasby and Barden Moors. Gargrave has the well known cyclists' cafe called the Dalesman, and at Hetton is the Angel Inn which is famous for its food. Learn more about cycling in the Yorkshire Dales.