Here on TrailsScotland we know that bicycles are more than just a mode of transportation. Those two wheels represent a leisurely sport that can take us to grand highs and challenging lows, letting us travel from one spectacular place to another. With that in mind, here are five of the world’s most challenging and beautiful trails:
Bealach na Bà – Scotland
Let’s start our tour of the world right here in Scotland, with the Bealach na Bà all the way up in the Scottish Highlands, just north of the Isle of Skye and a 70km ride from the village of Applecross. Nicknamed “the Holy Grail” by no less than 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs author Simon Warren, this trail is known as one of the toughest, longest, and most rewarding stretches of tarmac in the country.
The 70-kilometre circuit partly follows the North Coast 500 and features coastal roads and stunning highland landscapes. The climb to Bealach na Bà will take you over 626 metres above sea level through gradients of up to 20%.
The Great Ocean Road – Australia
One of the best-known thoroughfares in all of Australia, the fantastic Great Ocean Road stretches some 250 kilometres from Torquay to Warrnambool. This historical route takes you through cliffs, beaches, ocean stacks, seaside towns, and even patches of temperate rainforest, bringing about a sense of inner peace and being at one with nature. Take your time through the trail, and don’t pass up the chance to surf or enjoy the white sandy beaches.
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The Shimanami Kaido — Japan
Perhaps the easiest trail on this list is the 64-kilometre Shimanami Kaido that connects Japan’s Honshu and Shikoku islands, spanning six smaller (yet nonetheless stunning) islands along the way. The roads and bridges themselves are technically an expressway, but they were designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind.
This scenic path can be travelled in one day and, in contrast to the rest of the routes on this list, is made for gentle bike ride or stroll depending on your preference. Wanderlust Magazine shares that the route begins in Onomichi and ends in Imabari, letting you enjoy views of the ocean, mountain, and mangroves. There are 14 different bike rental terminals along the way, alongside lodges and campsites if you want to take your time. Note that each bridge will charge a small toll, but it’s well worth the fee.
The Inca Trail — Peru
The celebrated Inca Trail is actually part of an even wider and more expansive network of roads that were built to link the different parts of the Incan empire. Most notably, the trail includes an excursion to the world-renowned Machu Picchu. Lottoland notes that 15th-century Inca citadel and UNESCO World Heritage site was “rediscovered” in 1911. The hidden city is nestled right in the middle of lush, tropical mountain forests. But what’s even more remarkable is that it’s far from the only fantastic stop on the Inca trail.
In fact, the stretch of road from Andahuaylas to Cusco takes you through the world’s 2nd largest mountain range — rewarding cyclists with views of majestic mountains, wide valleys, and deep canyons. Although relatively short at 43km, it’s quite a challenging landscape, with hard climbs and even steep declines. The end of the trail, which is marked by -18% grade for around 8km, leads you to the Pacific Ocean.
Midlands Meander — South Africa
The Culture Trip explains that the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands in South Africa offer some of the most breathtaking views of the region, best enjoyed on two wheels. The area itself is known for its rolling green countryside, wildlife, and, most importantly, their arts and crafts stores. The overall effect is a country charm that can’t be found anywhere else on the continent.
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From the coastal city of Durban, take the N3 to Lower Lotheni in Drakensberg, the start of the trail. You’ll start the four-day cycling trail by heading eastward through grasslands and farmlands to the town of Howick, and then into the Balgowan Valley. From there, you’ll climb out of the valley and into Curry’s Post. You’ll also have the option of going through the less technical Karkloof Falls trail and Game Valley.