Cyclists ride a gravel road near Palmetto State Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

If you live in one of Texas’ urban centers, you’re probably under shelter-in-place orders. While it’s smart to stay home, those orders allow for exercise, and riding a bicycle is a great way to burn pent-up energy.

If you live in a city, you may be limited to riding close to home. But this provides a great opportunity to explore your neighborhood. Listen to birds chirp as you chug up and down a few hills. We bet you’ll feel better.

If you’re not living in the big city, you’ve probably got more freedom to roam. Might we suggest a little gravel riding?

Whatever you do, follow state and local guidelines, and avoid riding in large groups. Pedal with family members or roommates with whom you share living quarters, and bring plenty of water and equipment to fix a flat tire, just in case.

Here are a few of my favorite rides, but you can find equally satisfying routes anywhere across the state.

Bastrop

If you’ve got a sturdy bike, riding on rural, less-trafficked roads, makes a lot of sense right now. Book your day pass online for Bastrop State Park, park in the main lot near the pool, and take the loop road until you reach Park Road 1C. Pedal east toward Buescher State Park, but peel off to the left when you reach the fork at County Road 146. Now you’re in gravel paradise. You’ll pass historic old Antioch Cemetery, farm animals, fields of flowers, and plenty of wide open spaces. Check a map and have fun exploring rolling terrain along Farm-to-Market roads 153, 156, and 196 toward Paige, then loop back to the park.

Luling/Gonzales

For a mostly flat, mostly gravel ride, park at Palmetto State Park and head south on Country Road 261, taking a right onto Country Road 260. You’ve got a choice of gravel roads that wind past chicken farms, cattle ranches, and at least one very vocal donkey in the area, but for a nice 35-miler, pedal north on County Road 232, cross US 183, hop on Farm-to-Market Road 794 and head toward Harwood before looping back on Country Road 230 toward the old hot springs in Ottine and the park.

El Cap to El Cap

Check the wind forecast before attempting this 55-mile one-way adventure, which begins in the dusty town of Van Horn and finishes at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. As you pedal north on Texas 54, aiming at a mountain peak also called El Capitan, you’ll see the Sierra Diablo mountains crouched to the west and miles of prickly desert sweeping into the Delaware Mountains to the east. The Guadalupe Mountains, your finish line, loom far ahead, past the gray-green horizon. The route passes through terrain once served by the Butterfield Overland Express stagecoach.

The Fort Davis Scenic Loop

Only try this 75-mile barn burner if you’ve got quads of steel, or break it into a two-day journey. (All hotels, short-term rental,s and RV parks in Jeff Davis County are currently closed.) Start on Texas 118 in Fort Davis. Chug up Limpia Canyon, all the way to McDonald Observatory. (You can rest there.) Hop back on your bike, continue into Madera Canyon and turn left onto Texas 166. You’ll pass Mount Livermore, get a glimpse of Sawtooth Mountain, then descend south into the Sierra Viejo Mountains, before turning back toward Fort Davis, riding stretches of the highest public highway in Texas.

Castell

Central Texans can ramble the sandy, hilly countryside around Castell, 21 miles west of Llano, where the Castell Grind, the biggest gravel biking event in Texas, takes place each year. (This year’s race, scheduled for April, has been postponed until Oct. 17.) Be sure to include a spin up Keyserville Road to rev up your heart and make your quads scream, and enjoy views of the Llano River.

Willow City Loop

This classic Hill Country ride starts in Willow City, where sheep outnumber humans. You can make a 21-mile loop by biking west on FM 1323 until you reach Texas 16, then riding north for 6 miles until you reach the Willow City Loop. From there, it’s 13 miles of gorgeous, two-lane twisty road that dips past creeks and cow pastures, alongside a fence line capped with cowboy boots, and up a daunting ridge before you get back to Willow City. (Or do a simple 26-mile out-and-back on Willow City Loop.) Fields are carpeted in poppies, bluebonnets, and Indian blankets each spring.

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