Northern Tier

Great Lakes and Great Mountain States
Peter Hinman
Price :
Surface :
Duration :
89 days
Support :
Van Supported
Difficulty :
Level 5

The Northern Tier has been the location for great bike adventures for a quarter of a century, following a wonderfully diverse cross section of the North American continent. The coastal beginning and ending points of Bar Harbor, Maine, and Anacortes, Washington, receive approximately 50 inches of precipitation each year. The landforms, flora, and fauna change continually throughout this trip. You’ll experience the lovely, sun-dappled hardwood forests of New England, pedal through the glimmering lake country of the upper Midwest, and be intoxicated by the haunting, fern-rich rainforests of the western Cascades.

Enjoy the added ease of luggage support as you travel with a close-knit group of cyclists on this three-month adventure. Grab your bike and make this your year to ride across the Northern Tier!  

Photos by Jim Buckheit | Rick Bartlett | Liz Walton | T Temperley

There are no scheduled departures for this tour.

"This was an outstanding adventure for me. Our leader and the other cyclists were all great!"


Week 1. Bar Harbor, Maine to North Woodstock, New Hampshire

After taking a shakedown ride to dip our wheels in the saltwater of the Atlantic, we'll point our handlebars westward. Leaving Bar Harbor and beautiful Acadia National Park, we'll ride through the stunning harbor village of Camden and Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, a national historic landmark and the only actively functioning Shaker community in the world. Then it's on to New Hampshire.

Week 2. North Woodstock to Old Forge, New York

The North Woodstock-Lincoln area of New Hampshire, buzzing with Appalachian Trail activity, great shopping, restaurants, and outdoor stores, will be a fun contrast to our Shaker experience. Weather permitting, we might stop for a refreshing dip in the swimming hole at Swift River Lower Falls before passing through Conway. We'll tackle the White Mountains on the Kancamagus Highway, topping out at 2,855-foot Kancamagus Pass. Considered one of the most scenic roads in New England, the Kancamagus is a National Scenic Byway. After a thrilling descent, we'll cross the Connecticut River into Vermont, the Green Mountain State. Rolling, timber-studded hills, bucolic farmsteads, and picturesque villages are the hallmarks of Vermont, considered by many the best state in the Union for bike touring. We end the week crossing southern Lake Champlain by ferry into our fourth state, New York.

Week 3. Old Forge to Holley, New York

We'll ride through Long Lake and Ticonderoga, home to Fort Ticonderoga National Historic Landmark, which played an important role in America's early wars. Riding through the Adirondacks, we'll pass historic Old Forge, the western terminus of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Then we'll head west along Lake Ontario's shore at Pulaski, New York, but not before jumping into this, the warmest of the Great Lakes.

Week 4. Holley to Grand Rapids, Ohio

Following the southern shore of Lake Ontario, the big highlight this week will be thundering Niagara Falls, where we'll likely enjoy a layover day to take in such activities as the Maid of the Mist boat tour, which will get us up close with the legendary waterfalls. We will also briefly cross Adventure Cycling's Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. In the mid-1800s, freedom seekers would hide by day in safe havens in the Buffalo area and then steal across the Niagara River by boat in the relative safety of night. The week finishes with a ride along the shores of Lake Erie.

Week 5. Grand Rapids to Odell, Illinois

As we travel farther through the Midwest, we'll pedal a rural inland route that will take us through southern Michigan before we find ourselves back home again, in Indiana! We'll pedal bucolic farmland ending up south of Chicago, preparing to head farther west.

Week 6. Odell to Lacrosse, Wisconsin

As we bid adieu to Illinois, we're headed to Iowa -- home of corn, and as any RAGBRAI rider knows, other four-letter words (heat, hills, and wind, anyone?). Heading north from Muscatine, we'll overlap with the Great Rivers South route until we hit Lacrosse, Wisconsin, where we'll spend a layover day where options include relaxing at Riverside Park, drinking locally roasted coffee, or checking out the World's Largest Six-Pack.

Week 7. LaCrosse to Walker, Minnesota

Leaving Wisconsin, we will skirt the Twin Cities before heading northwest through Minnesota. Firmly back into timber country in the well-watered reaches of Minnesota, we'll enjoy riding on bike paths that pass through small towns and maybe enjoy an ice cream at the Bicycle Bunkhouse in Dalbo!

Week 8. Walker to Fargo, North Dakota

North of Walker, we'll enjoy some traffic-free riding on one of many rail trails in Minnesota. We'll reach Bemidji and admire the giant statues of Paul Bunyun and Babe, the Blue Ox! We'll start to head west, where we'll have the opportunity to walk across the Mississippi River at its headwaters in Itasca State Park. Merely a creek just a few inches deep where it leaves Lake Itasca, the Mississippi gently gurgles over a rim of neatly lined stepping stones. Time permitting, we'll ride the beautiful 16-mile Wilderness Drive Loop, which is like an upper Midwest version of northern California's Avenue of the Giants.

Week 9. Fargo to Bismarck, North Dakota

We will take a layover day in Fargo, North Dakota. This community lines the banks of the Red River, which flows north to Canada's Lake Winnipeg. As you will see, the floodplain of the Red River is perhaps the flattest place you'll encounter on your entire tour. We'll take a day to explore the many galleries, theaters, and museums of Moorhead. Firmly on the route in North Dakota, we'll head straight to Bismarck.

Week 10. Bismarck to Glendive, Montana

Continuing our journey across North Dakota, we'll pedal through the waving grasslands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The Dakota Dinosaur Museum in Dickenson is well worth a visit, boasting fossils from around the surrounding area as well as other visiting exhibits. The week finishes as we cross into Montana's Big Sky Country and enjoy a stay in Makoshika State Park, where you can explore prehistory in the park's newly renovated interpretation center.

Week 11. Glendive to Lewistown, Montana

From the eastern edge of Montana, we'll continue to travel west into the big empty, perhaps trying out our three-part harmonies on "Four Strong Winds," Ian Tyson's classic ode to the prairies -- of course, we hope to have just one strong wind, blowing from behind. We'll continue westward through central Montana, riding through rugged, arroyo-dissected plains where it takes little imagination to picture what the Lewis and Clark expedition must have experienced passing through this region. We'll pedal through tiny towns and enjoy their slower pace of life, stopping for a layover day in Lewistown where we can enjoy local restaurants, shops, and galleries -- and if we're lucky, we may even find a yogo sapphire.

Week 12. Lewistown to Cusick, Washington

We will ride through St. Mary's, which paves the way to Glacier National Park and Going-to-the-Sun Road. After leaving the resort village of Whitefish, we will cross paths with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which traces the spine of the Rockies from Jasper, Canada, to the Mexican border. Next stop is Eureka, where we can visit the evocative Tobacco Valley Historical Village, a must for any bicycling history buff. The week finishes with a ride along the shores of Lake Koocanusa to the northwestern Montana community of Libby. We will complete our long journey through Montana this week when we ride the remarkable Bull Lake Road, situated at the foot of the lofty Cabinet Mountains. A potential short side trip is a hike through the Ross Creek Cedars, a 100-acre fairyland of giant ancient cedars surrounded by an explosion of fiddlehead ferns and embraced by a silence that seems primeval. Crossing the Idaho panhandle, we'll quickly encounter the lively resort community of Sandpoint, which is nestled on the shores of massive Lake Pend Oreille, one of the five deepest lakes in the U.S., reaching depths of 1,150 feet in some places. The week finishes in the forests and grain fields of northeastern Washington.

Week 13. Cusick to Anacortes, Washington

We begin the week with a ride through the sun-baked Okanogan Valley. It's one of many grape-growing areas in a state once known primarily for its apples. After a visit to Methow Valley, a recreational mecca, we'll begin our last series of climbs as we enter vast North Cascades National Park, home to high peaks and deep valleys, countless waterfalls, and nearly 300 glaciers. After three months together, we will finish with a long downhill beside the Skagit River. Our parting will be bittersweet, but after this ride, you and your fellow bicycle travelers will know the beautiful country and rich culture of the Northern Tier like few others do.


Additional Details
Start Location:
Bar Harbor, ME
End Location:
Bellingham, WA
Bangor Intl. (BGR), Seattle Tacoma Intl. (SEA)
Total Days:
Riding Days:
Layover Days:
Average Daily Mileage:
Shared cooking
Level 5
Elevation Alert:
High Point: 6,650'
Restricted Bike Type:
eBike, eTrike