A great way to experience national parks is to get out on your bike and pedal through them. While there are many national parks here in the United States that offer great cycling opportunities, places such as Devils Tower National Monument, Badlands National Park, and Shenandoah National Park, you can quickly expand the possibilities when you look out across the globe at national parks abroad.
What would you think, for example, of pedaling by day along Croatia’s Mediterranean coastline and spending the nights on a boat cruising that same coastline? Or perhaps you would like to head to South America and explore Chile's Alto Bio Bio National Park, or maybe mountain bike through Scotland?
Those are just some of the possibilities that come up when you explore the trips made possible through BikeToursDirect, a U.S. company that works with independent cycling tour operators around the world, from Africa, Asia, and Australia to Europe and the Americas.
Natalie Cook, the company’s marketing director, says the company offers roughly 450 bike tours across 70 countries.
“We have four difficulty ratings: easy, leisurely, moderate, and challenging,” says Ms. Cook. “Most of our tours are in that leisurely to moderate range. The majority of our clients are not serious bikers by any means.”
Picking The Perfect Trip
Exploring the company's website can be a little daunting because of all the tours that are offered. While the site does offer a search function by which you can narrow the possibilities down by country, departure date, ability to level, and price range, the company also has a staff of tour specialists who can help you find a tour that best suits you.
“These folks are very well-versed with our tours. I don’t know how they do it with so many tours on our site,” said Ms. Cook.
While the staff in general can handle questions about any tours, she said they do have specialists on both Europe and Asia who are particularly knowledgeable about bike tours on those continents.
Tours offered through BikeToursDirect range from group adventures to self-guided treks and even mountain bike tours. If you choose a self-guided trip, your bags will be transported from lodging to lodging while you spend the day pedaling.
As far as the accommodations you’ll find yourself staying in, Ms. Cook said that on average you can expect a 3- or 4-star accommodation. However, there often are opportunities to upgrade your accommodation to a 5-star hotel if that’s what you desire, she said.
“In Croatia, (the accommodations are) mostly motor yachts, so you’re staying on the boat at night, they pull to land, you take your bike off and ride during the day," explained Ms. Cook. “Those are really popular. In Holland, we have a lot of bike and barge tours.”
Vetting The Tour Operators
If you’re wondering how the company decides which tour operators to work with, Ms. Cook explained that they go through a rigorous vetting process.
“We vet all of the operators before we represent them. We don’t just accept anybody who wants to be represented by us,” she said. “They have to submit a lot of information to us, including all of their recent client feedback and contact information for clients who have ridden with them so we can get direct information from people who have gone on their trips."
BikeToursDirect also searches out companies that have been approved by their national tourism board, "some sort of operator certification or seal of approval. We like to have that because the tourism board has researched the company already," said Ms. Cook.
Another benefit of working with BikeToursDirect is that you pay the company in U.S. dollars rather than having to deal with currency conversions. While you can bring your own bicycle with you, few people go to the trouble and expense of shipping their bikes overseas and instead rent one of the tour operator's bikes, said Ms. Cook.
“They fit the bike for you, maintain it for you," she said.
While there are bicycle tour companies in the United States that offer rides around the world, BikeToursDirect likes to work with operators based in the countries where the rides are.
“We like working with the smaller tour operators who grew up in the country and know it like the back of their hand," said Ms. Cook.
Here's a glance at just four of the company's tour destinations:
Croatia’s Mediterranean coastline is dominated by thousands of islands, reefs and bays. This bike and boat tour explores the romantic ruins, charming hill towns, and spectacular coastal scenery by land and sea.
Travelers cruise between the mainland and the Dalmatia islands with daily rides, including visits to two national parks and the islands of central Dalmatia. Travelers cruise through the National Park Kornati, an archipelago in crystal-clear water known for its rich aquatic flora and fauna, to the Nature Park Telašcica. Guests then cycle though forested valleys to the Visovac Lake, which is situated on the upper course of the river Krka. In the afternoon guests visit the most famous part of the national park of Krka with its unique waterfalls.
Land cost for the 8-day “National parks of Dalmatia by Bike and Boat” tour is €890 (currently about US $1,200) and includes support van, guide, accommodations, most meals and entrance fees.
This epic mountain biking adventure explores the world’s deepest valley in the shadow of the world’s highest mountains in the Nepalese Himalayas. Travelers ride for several days in the lush Shivapuri National Park, making several steep ascents before peeling off the main trail onto a fast descent lined with traditional Nepalese prayer flags. High above Kathmandu, adventurers traverse technical trails with glimpses of the snow-capped Himalayan mountains in the background and spend overnights in teahouses run by local villagers.
Land cost for the “Nepal Mountain Biking” 12-day tour is £1,800 (currently about US $2,800) and includes support van, guide, accommodations, most meals and entrance fees.
This road cycling tour averages 50 miles of riding per day on back roads through a landscape dominated by clear-water lakes and live volcanoes. Ride alongside the Andean areas of Chile's first geopark and climb up to the border with Argentina across Alto Bio-Bio National Park, reaching an altitude of 6,000 feet. Cyclists will also ride alongside Lake Llanquihue through Vincente National Park until arriving at the amazing Petrohue Falls and the Osorno Volcano. Cyclists can challenge themselves and climb Osorno volcano, one of the steepest climbs in South America.
Land cost for the 8-day “Chile’s Lake and Volcano District” is US $3,125 and includes support van, guide, accommodations, entrance fees, and most meals.
BikeToursDirect offers two tours with rides along the largest national park in the Alps, the Hohe Tauern National Park. The park includes all the important aspects of Alpine ecosystems, including glaciers, mountain rivers, lakes, and hundreds of peaks, many of them 10,000 feet high. These tours follow the Tauern Bicycle Path, a popular route for leisurely cycling along the Salzach and Saalach rivers. Travelers cycle about 50 miles along the northern border of the Hohe Tauern National Park, observing wildlife and Alpine landscapes from dedicated cycling paths along the undulating foothills.
Land costs for these 8-day Tauern Bike Path tours are €499 (currently about US$675) for the Salzburg-to-Salzburg itinerary and €510 for the Krimml-to-Passau route (currently about US$690). Prices include accommodations, breakfasts, route maps and descriptions, service hotline, and luggage transfers.
BikeToursDirect serves as a central resource for bicycle tours worldwide, representing nearly 100 local bicycle tour companies that offer 400 tours in 70 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas. BikeToursDirect offers a variety of resources to help travelers search for and choose tours and handles the entire booking and payment process.