Written by Jenny Burden, Program Manager, Texan by Nature
For this Texan, there aren’t many better ways to enjoy the outdoors than on two wheels. Cycling culture in Texas grows year after year and bikes offer Texans a fun way to stay in shape and explore the outdoors in meaningful ways with friends and family. Whether riding epic trails for 100 miles or spinning around the block to get some ice cream, bikes are an excellent way to be Texan by Nature. Our #TxN5WayFriday series provides weekly insight on being Texan by Nature. Start exploring today by checking out the following:
1. State Parks
Texas State Parks are some of the best ways to experience mountain biking (as well as road, gravel, or other types of biking) across all types of natural settings in the state. From actual mountains at the Franklin Mountains or Big Bend Ranch to the dense forests of Tyler State Park and every kind of trail in between, our state parks have something for every skill level. Big Bend Ranch State Park is home to an IMBA Epic Trail – this designation means the trail offers a “true backcountry riding experience” and is voted on by riders from around the country. The Fresno-Sauceda Loop is nearly 60 miles of truly “epic” riding through the park. Not ready for epic trails? Just looking for a little dirt on your tires? Check out Texas Parks and Wildlife’s information page on riding bikes in their parks. Trails are broken down by region and difficulty level, making it easy to plan your next adventure! My personal favorite is Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which has trails so amazing, it’s where the XC (cross-country) Mountain Bike Marathon Nationals were held in 2019!
2. County & City, and other Local Parks
If you don’t have a state park nearby, check out local City and County parks departments for trail maps. Many trail systems are open to certain types of users so make sure you confirm that bikes are allowed. If you aren’t familiar with the trails, find a local group ride to join! Your local bike shop can point you in the right direction or try searching for bike-related Facebook or meet-up groups in your area. Having someone show you trails your first time at a park can help make sure you have fun, and that ensures you ride again! If you live in Central Texas, you’re lucky because Travis and Williamson County have fantastic trails at many of their parks! My personal favorites are Pace Bend Park (Travis County), Brushy Creek Regional Trail (Williamson County, and home of Texas’s only machine-built flow trail on public land, Peddler’s Pass!), and Muleshoe Bend (Travis County) Don’t forget to check out other landholders for riding opportunities! Reservoirs, rivers, and other undeveloped lands often have recreation opportunities, such as another IMBA Epic trail, the Goodwater Loop, which is operated by the Army Corp of Engineers around Lake Georgetown.
3. Private Lands
Texas is 95%+ privately owned. While in other states, the millions of acres of public land provide a majority of the riding opportunities, Texas is blessed with landowners who not only care about the maintenance of natural spaces but who also love inviting the public to enjoy the amazing resources they call home. This has created room for amazing adventures on private lands, increases revenue opportunities for private landowners, and has led to some pretty big innovative investments in the Lone Star State. Popular private land riding opportunities include Flat Rock Ranch in Comfort (my favorite!), Reville Peak Ranch in Burnet, Flat Creek Crossing in Johnson City, Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville, Bandera Bike Park in Bandera, Bluff Creek Ranch in Warda, and more. These trails often have entry fees, but those fees cover insurance, trail building supplies, and help ensure land is kept wild and conserved as open space since the landowner is able to make a living from the land without having to sell it to development. If you’re looking for ways to reduce your costs, check and see if you can help with a trail building day. Volunteers often get to ride for free after putting in the time to help make the trails systems even better! Did you know that Texas is home to the ONLY year-round lift-served bike park in America? Spider Mountain in Burnet, TX has a chairlift that takes riders to the top, where they can enjoy downhill-style trails for every level without having to fly all the way to New Mexico or Colorado, and it’s never closed for snow!
4. Bike Tours & Charity Rides
If knobby tires aren’t your thing, don’t worry, there are thousands of miles of roads and bike paths in Texas to enjoy. If you head out on the road, ensure you leave your ride plan with someone or ride with a friend. Be on the lookout for distracted drivers and always follow the rules of the road. Bikes are considered vehicular traffic by the state of Texas, which means riders must obey the same laws they do when driving a car! If riding the roads is intimidating, or if you’re traveling and want to be shown the best and safest places to ride, look up a tour company! Companies such as Velo View, operating in the Hill Country, Texas Bike Tours, and more have guides that will show you where to go, where the best snack stops and scenery are, and help if you have a mechanical situation. If you’re wanting to give back to a good cause while spinning your legs, charity bike tours and rides are a great way to get in miles. Huge events such as the MS150, Bike Around the Bay (put on by Conservation Wrangler Galveston Bay Foundation!), and Hotter ‘n Hell 100, cover hundreds of scenic miles around the state. Smaller local events, such as the Polk County Spirit Ride, the Tour de Gruene, or the Fiesta Wildflower Ride all offer shorter routes to enjoy with old friends, or make new ones!
5. Your own Neighborhood
You don’t have to go far to enjoy the benefits of the outdoors on two wheels. Explore your neighborhood and the city around you! Riding bikes with your kids is a great way to instill in them a love of the outdoors and of exercising as something fun. Make sure you all wear helmets and hit the pavement for a fun and easy way to connect! Don’t have kids? Have them but want to make an impact on others? Local groups such as Little Bellas provide local opportunities to mentor kids on bikes and help them enjoy the outdoors. If you have no idea where to start, visit a local bike shop and ask about group rides, shop nights, clubs in the area, you name it!
Bikes are machines for freedom, and Texans are freedom-lovers blessed with thousands of miles of opportunity to explore. Whether on dirt, gravel, or paved roads, bikes are an amazing method for exploring the Lone Star State in all of its glory. Be safe out there, and have fun, the Texan way!