Twenty years ago, the best resources for planning one’s own bicycle route included state and county road maps, state-issued traffic-flow maps (with roads color-coded indicating their average daily car count), and statewide atlases such as the DeLorme Gazetteers.
Even today, when some would say the obituary of the large-scale fold-out map has been written, such maps are indispensable aids for both planning and executing tours.
Really, for both practical and safety reasons, one should have a better awareness of what lay off and around the designated route (doubly true when bikepacking in remote areas), which is difficult to get in an app. Bigger maps, not surprisingly, give a better idea of the bigger picture than do the GPS maps on handhelds and other electronic devices.
Plus, there’s nothing better for show-and-tell than a big old fold-out map with your route highlighted. Then, at that barbecue back home, you can show the folks where you bicycled, and what happened in this town, and in that park.
That said, the technology available today for route planning and navigating is incredible, and it will only improve as time marches on and connectivity improves.
It’s still possible to pick one’s route as you go, turning left at one junction and right at the next. It can lead to lots of adventure — but not always of the good kind, such as running into narrow, car-clogged roads you wouldn’t want to ride on.
But few today, in the age of information, like to leave that much up to chance. And frankly, that’s probably a good thing. With 325 million people in the U.S. in 2018 compared to 225 million in 1980, there are just a lot more cars on the roads.
Adventure Cycling Association Forum
A fantastic place to find route suggestions, ways to navigate those routes, and tips from experienced bicycle travelers that you won't find elsewhere.
Ride with GPS
An online and mobile app that allows access to bicycle routes and helps you navigate them.
Another online and mobile app that allows access to bicycle routes and helps you navigate them.
DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer Paper Maps
Large paper booklets for each state, featuring details of all types of roads. Great for planning, a pain to tote along on a bicycle trip.
An aggregation website of unique and standard camping opportunities for any budget.
The preeminent house-stay website for bike touring. Bicycle enthusiasts open their homes to traveling bicyclists all over the country.
Then put on your reading helmet.
Whether using maps, apps, or a combination, try to find the elevation profile of the route you're considering. A lot of big climbs and descents make for more difficult, but sometimes more interesting, biking.
Keep in mind the distance between services and water refill opportunities.
Consider the road conditions of the route. Is the road busy, does it have adequate shoulder, is this road heavily used by trucks? This is where having the first-hand account of a bike traveler who has ridden that particular route can come in very handy. Check out our Forums for a world of expert route advice.