Before I became a Backroads Trip Leader, a crazy project took me on a bicycle adventure along the spine of the Americas, from northern Canada to southern Argentina, chasing down the Rockies, the Sierra Madre and the Andes mountains. Here is what I consider to be the Top 10 Best Roads Segments from that trip. This list includes different sceneries, jaw-dropping sights and some of the places that made me shout out "wow" uncontrollably. Moreover, some of these routes can be experienced on your next Backroads adventure!
This is where my adventure started. This road crosses Nordic forests, vast tundra zones and two mountains ranges, and is just north of the Arctic Circle. Two river crossings are done by ferry. Make sure to bring plenty of food as there are no stops along the way, except for two villages along the northern part of the road. At the halfway point, an oasis of "civilization" (a restaurant, showers and campsites) is a welcome sight. Although resources are scarce, making this a challenging ride, I will always remember cycling under the midnight sun, looked after by a lonesome wolf up a hill in the distance. If you prepare well, this Canadian Great North road will inspire you. But don't forget to pack mosquito repellent!
- Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada
A classic route in the Canadian Rockies, the Icefields Parkway is home to raging waterfalls, snowy mountains and towering glaciers. You won't be able to resist hopping off your bike for some day hikes. Because it is so far north, the tree line is low making for extraordinary views with minimal climbing effort! And while there tends to be some road traffic, most drivers are also taking the time to enjoy the scenery and a good shoulder keeps cyclists at a safe distance. It's on this road that I met a Backroads leader who introduced me to the company and led me to apply for a job. Whether Biking, Walking & Hiking or Multisport; Deluxe Camping, Casual or Premiere Inns; Classic, Family, Family Breakaway or Solos, Backroads has this region covered.
Another region guaranteed to be an unforgettable vacation with Backroads. Geysers, buffalo, deep canyons, elk, colorful thermal waters, lakes, waterfalls... the neighboring parks in northwestern Wyoming have everything to please the cyclist. They also have reduced entry fees for cyclists and hikers and there are well-organized amenities and facilities. Parking lots near geysers and other geological marvels (which are almost everywhere in the parks) are often packed with cars and traffic jams, but when you're cycling, you simply pass everyone, lock your bike at the start of the walking trail, grab your camera and prepare to be wowed!
- Chuquicara Valley & Cañón del Pato, Ancash, Peru
If Cañón del Pato--a sinuous road that passes through almost forty tunnels--shows up in tourist guides at all, it's because it is an impressive entrance into the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. The nearby Chuquicara Valley road is even more remote and unknown but just as impressive. Its lack of tunnels offers incredible panoramic views of the arid region and will make you feel quite small at the bottom of this deep rocky valley. It's under the name of progress that people are here at all: mine remains, ghost towns and dams are the only sign of civilization for miles. Be sure to bring a headlamp for the tunnels!
There is a lot of space to play in this marvelous national park in the Cordillera Blanca, a mountain range with summits more than 19,000 feet in elevation. It is possible to enjoy treks and expeditions from the mountain towns of Caraz, Carhuaz or Huaraz. Some bike routes cross the park through the mountains. If the landscapes are breathtaking, the altitude is as well. Passes can be up to 15,000 feet! If you don't take the time to acclimate, the experience can be challenging, but it truly is Peru at its best. Tack it on to the end of your Backroads Peru Trip!
- Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
In Moyogalpa, one of the island's two entry ports, I immediately felt time slow down and learned to adapt to the relaxed pace of life in the area. Ometepe Island simply charmed me. Bike routes follow around the two volcanoes that long ago united to form this island in Lake Nicaragua. There are many little villages, each of them with affordable yet basic accommodations, which make it easy to break up the trip--enjoy a hike to a volcano, swim in fresh thermal waters or visit a beautiful waterfall. Mangoes seem to fall from the sky and monkeys are all over the place! It's a great spot to extend a week and rest after your Backroads adventure in neighboring Costa Rica!
Let's give credit to the roads where you'll find the highest number of cyclotourists in South America. In additional to local cyclists, thousands of visitors travel to Chile and Argentina each year specifically to bike along these roads, and for good reason: it's simply gorgeous. In an effort to be neutral (competition between Chile and Argentina is already quite fierce), I've put both of these roads at number four. Although the chance of rain is more likely than sun, weather doesn't stop people from gathering on the Carretera Austral to enjoy the thick forests, snowy mountains and glaciers (don't miss Queulat National Park). If you're lucky, you might even glance at a few dolphins while riding along Puyuhuapi fjord. Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Road), explores many lakes in Lanín and Nahuel Huapi National Parks in Neuquén province, Argentina. Even if you could cross the region in two days, many cyclists take up to a week to stop along the many lakes, staying at campgrounds and in mountain hotels. Visit the region on a Multisport Trip with Backroads!
Alternative roads to the Panamerican Highway in Colombia, these routes pass through small towns perched on the top of mountains, overlooking deep valleys. The Andes are incredibly green in Colombia, in contrast to their rocky and arid look as the range extends further south. Be amazed and charmed by the tropical feel of the region, the tranquility of the roads and the authenticity of the towns. Explore Colombia with Backroads and experience the warm hospitality of the country--you won't want to leave.
Thermal sources with no one else around. Salt basins with dazzling spectrums of color. Pure and revealing starry skies. Fuming volcanoes. Llamas, vicuñas, alpacas, viscachas, flamingos and rheas. Abandoned or scarcely-populated ghost towns. Sandy mountains profiling the infinite view of the treeless Altiplano. The raging sound of the wind juxtaposed against complete silence. These are just a few of the highlights. The road is a challenge--you generally find yourself at between 11,500 and 13,000 feet of elevation. A difficult pass goes over 16,000 feet, but can be avoided by a long detour. It's a parallel itinerary from the famous Salar de Uyuni and Laguna Route in neighboring Bolivia, without the four-wheel drive lineups of tourists.
The mythical Ruta 40, which is really only a thin gravel road, is a place with incredible geological value just outside a national park. From Abra del Acay at about 16,000 feet, the highest point of the road, it's a downhill ride towards the Valles Calchaquíes. The road follows a large valley along a river, with lots of climbs to avoid rock formations that interrupt the route. Add to that some lonely cacti, a few not-in-a-rush old cars, goats and cows, a gaucho here and there and otherworldly red rock formations, and you'll have your eyes wide open all the way to Cafayate, a town in the middle of wine country where stopping to taste (and rest!) is a must.
So, see you on the road?