Whether you're a Rapha-inspired MAMIL or a weather-beaten veteran of the peloton, a training-wheels newbie or a hell-on-wheels mountain biker, some of the UK's best cycling is to be found within the boundaries of its national parks. The diverse terrain and scenery offer challenges and joys to suit anyone on two wheels, and national park authorities are increasingly throwing their full support behind this sustainable mode of transportation.
The possibilities for routes are practically limitless. The selections go from easy routes that are suitable for families, to trails that will test the physical integrity of both yourself and your bike.
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 newly opened 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. And for those feeling a little less enthusiastic about tackling hills, the Cairngorms has recently established an Electric Bicycle Network around the park.
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.
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.
The National Cycle Network route 7 (NCN 7) runs through the heart of the National Park taking in classic Trossachs scenery en route. The route includes Balloch, Drymen, Aberfoyle, Callander, Strathyre, Lochearnhead and Killin and allows excellent safe and predominantly off-road cycling. Highlights include the Glen Ogle viaduct on the railway path between Lochearnhead and Killin.
A leg of the 2014 Tour de France was run in the Peak District, with organisers suggesting two of its hill climbs were the toughest of the tour. But cycling the Peak District isn't 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.
With much of New Forest National Park consisting of slower roads, National Cycle Network Route 2 offers a relatively relaxed experience. Additionally, much of the route stays to quiet country lanes. Set off from Southampton just for the ferry ride across the River Test and see how far your legs will carry you. The route crosses train lines to carry you back to civilisation at Beaulieu Road and Brockenhurst.
Covering a 60-mile circular tour of Exmoor's undulating scenery, the Exmoor Cycle Route was the same used in the 2007 Tour of Britain, during the South West stage of the race. Filled with steep climbs through the National Park's combes, each effort is rewarded with spectacular views. On a particularly clear day, one can see all the way to Brecon Beacons National Park, in Wales.
Accessible from Reedham Railway Station, the 20-mile Three Rivers Loop incorporates views of the Waveney, Yare and Chet rivers. Sticking mostly to quiet country lane, the route takes in a number of sites -- such as the Reedham Ferry, one of the few remaining chain ferries in the country -- as well as affording ample opportunity to stop at a village pub. The route is ideal for bird watchers in the spring and autumn.
Saddle up for the North York Moors' flagship, long-distance bike route. Connecting Scarborough, Whitby, Dalby Forest, Pickering and Great Ayton in a stunning series of moorland, forest, and coastal loops; there are around 150 miles of the Moor to Sea Cycle Route to explore. But the route is split into 11 separate sections, so you can devise your own itinerary. Most of the route is comprised of quiet roads, woodland tracks and bridleways.
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.
Lôn Las Cymru, aka National Cycle Route 8, runs the length of Wales, from Cardiff to Holyhead. Start at Merthyr Tydfil railway station and make your way to the village of Pencelli, about 16 miles into the Brecon Beacons. This was one of the routes favoured by gold-medal road cyclist Nicole Cooke as she trained for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Push yourself to Cooke's standard or stop for a pint at the Royal Oak in Pencelli before making your way back. The route takes in some of the most iconic views in the Brecon Beacons, including Pen y Fan and Corn Du.
There comes that point in every cyclist's life when he or she imagines themselves winning the Tour de France. Don't say you haven't; everyone has. A perfect place to act out that fantasy is the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where the first leg of 'Le Tour' was staged in July 2014. The Two Valleys is a cracking 33-mile road route comprised primarily of two long, steep climbs and fast descents that are a test of both your legs and your brakes. You'll need to provide your own yellow jersey, but the breathtaking scenery is a prize in and of itself.
The famous Reivers Route runs the width of Northern England, from Tynemouth to Whitehaven -- a coast-to-coast journey of 170-180 miles, depending on who you ask. Manageable in a day or two is the stretch that sees you running from Bellingham, on the eastern border of Northumberland National Park, to Kielder, on the western border. On the return journey, swing to the north side of Kielder Water and make your way back to Bellingham via a network of paths and country lanes.
Whinlatter Forest, in the northwest corner of Lake District National Park holds the distinction of being England's only mountain forest. Which, of course, makes it ideal for mountain biking. The red grade Altura Trail throws some 11 miles of challenges your way and takes you 1,600 feet above nearby Keswick. Expect incredible views of Derwent Water, Bassenthwaite and Skiddaw. Head to the nearby Whinlatter Visitor Centre for advice on where to fuel up before and after your ride.
In the late 1200s, Edward I built a string of castles in North Wales, hoping to bend locals to his will. More than 700 years later, Edward is dead and his castles crumbling, but the Welsh language, culture and spirit remain. Especially in Snowdonia. A glance at the landscape lets you know people here are indefatigable; they like doing things the hard way. And few things are harder, tougher and more bone-rattling than the Penmachno mountain biking trail. Pack some ibuprofen and all the courage you can muster for more than 18 miles of single track, pitched stone, boardwalk, bum-clenching descents and muscle-burning climbs. The pay off, though, is an almost scandalous abundance of postcard views. Your pint at the Eagles pub afterward will be well-deserved.
For more ideas on what to do in the UK's National Parks, visit our Top 15 lists page