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Using Trails

How to Plan Your First Overnight Bike Trip

By: Katie Harris
May 22, 2015

Bike touring is rising in popularity across the country, and for good reason. Many seasoned cyclists will tell you: There’s no better way to experience a place than by bike.

If your relationship with your bike stops at day trips, the idea of a multi-day excursion might seem intimidating! Rest easy! These simple tips can help get you on your way to your first overnight bike trip. And we bet it won’t be your last!

First, Ask Yourself…

What distance is reasonable? Are you comfortable on gravel trails, or would you prefer a paved path? Remember, this is your trip, so cater to your own desires. FYI: With RTC’s trail-finder website,, you can search for trails in your region and even sort them by activity and length. 

Pick a Destination

Choosing a trail near your home is a smart way to go for your first trip. You know the area, and you’ll be more comfortable finding things you may need (e.g., ice cream) along the way. But if you don’t want to stay close to home, there are many fantastic candidates around the country for you to enjoy.

On the Klickitat Trail in Oregon | Photo by Gabriel Amadeus | CC by 2.0
On the Klickitat Trail in Oregon | Photo by Gabriel Amadeus | CC by 2.0

Plan Your Sleeping Arrangements

Is a night under the stars your style? Or would you prefer to indulge in the comfort of the trailside bed and breakfast (B&B)? Explore the campgrounds, B&Bs and hotels available along your route, and make advanced reservations when possible. Once you know where you’ll be resting your head, other planning aspects will be less stressful.

Check the Forecast

Be mindful of what the weather is predicted to be so you can plan accordingly.

Don’t Be Fooled

Be skeptical of a perfect weather forecast, and be prepared for it to change—without warning. You never know when Mother Nature will throw you a curveball, and a surprise rainstorm can be a real bummer when you aren’t equipped with the right gear. Be sure to pack a rain jacket and at least one extra warm layer (and plenty of socks). On the other extreme, multiple water bottles and sunscreen can also make a big difference, particularly if you’re riding through a very remote area.

Panniers like the one shown here can help lessen the load on one's back during a bike ride. | Photo courtesy Brad Reber | CC by 2.0
Panniers like the one shown here can help lessen the load on one’s back during a bike ride. | Photo courtesy Brad Reber | CC by 2.0

Pack Up

A rear rack and a sturdy set of panniers can help ease your load, but a backpack is also a perfectly acceptable way to carry your gear (just know that it might get heavy by the end of your ride, depending on how much stuff you’ve got).

Bring Snacks

Staying fueled and hydrated is imperative on any self-propelled trip, but it is especially important when you aren’t returning to your home for the evening. Make sure you are eating throughout the day and drinking plenty of water.

Take a First Aid Kit

Anyone on a bike knows that minor bumps and bruises are possible—even on short trips.

Just Go!

The biggest mistake you can make during your first bike overnight is not going! There are a million excuses to stay home, and getting out the door can sometimes be the biggest challenge. But once you’re on the trail, you’ll be so glad you made the effort.

Enjoy It

Don’t rush through the experience! Listen to your body, and deal with minor injuries/tweaks before they become larger problems. Allow your trip to evolve, and be flexible when the unexpected happens.

In closing, know that your first overnight bike trip comes with a warning label: May Have Addictive Properties. It’s easy to get hooked on bike travel, and with your first trip under your belt, the opportunities (and trip ideas!) are limitless.

See you on the trail!

Katie Harris

Katie Harris is a climate justice advocate, bicyclist and beekeeper who lives in Bellingham, Washington. Katie is inspired by and works on projects in the built environment that have benefits for climate + community + health, like trails, stormwater infrastructure and parks.

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