For Pedaling Pilots, Six Airports Near Bike Trails and Rentals

Sometimes bikes are ideal for covering aviation’s ‘last mile’ to your destination.

is set in a rolling countryside that is well suited to bicycling and is close to the Blazing Star State Trail. [File photo: Shutterstock]

Whether you are arriving at a sprawling international airport in St. Louis or a quiet strip in rural Maine, one of your chief concerns is how to get from the airport to the hotel, restaurant, or other attractions you might want to visit. Taxis and rideshares are fine, but when truly exploring a new place, often what you want is a bicycle.

You can bring a bike with you, sure. But the good news is that a growing number of airports and nearby shops offer bikes that pilots can rent or even borrow for a ride into town or to check out local trails. The trails themselves have also become more plentiful and accessible in the past several years as groups like the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy continue to expand, maintain, and improve the network of trails built on former railroad rights of way.

Many pilots have already grown accustomed to taking their bikes with them when they fly. This is especially convenient with modern lightweight folding bikes—or those that allow for the front wheel to come off to fit into an airplane with decent cargo space, such as a Beech Bonanza, Cessna 206, or Piper Cherokee Six. However you choose to approach it, the connection between flying and bicycling can lead to satisfying day trips and great vacations. Below are just a few of the airports that open the door to two-wheeled exploration.

Albert Lea Municipal Airport (KAEL)

Albert Lea, Minnesota

The airport is set in a rolling countryside that is well suited to bicycling and is close to the Blazing Star State Trail, which is paved and runs roughly six miles from Albert Lea Lake to Myre-Big Island State Park. But this is just an introduction. The trail connects with the city trail system in Albert Lea, and when additional links are completed the trail will stretch to 20 miles and connect with the city trail network of neighboring Austin and the Shooting Star Trail. Bike rentals are easy to find in and around Albert Lea.

Chatham, Massachusetts [File photo: Shutterstock]

Chatham Airport (KCQX)

Chatham, Massachusetts

Cape Cod is a fantastic place for bicycling, and Chatham can be an ideal starting point. Located at the “elbow” of the cape, the town is somewhat off the beaten path of Route 6, which is the main—often crowded—thoroughfare that runs all the way to Provincetown. There are quieter side roads around Chatham that are pleasant for riding and local attractions include the lighthouse, Coast Guard Station and the commercial fishing pier. Rental outlets are plentiful, and you can easily map out a short ride or tackle the 30-plus miles to the tip of the cape.

Mackinac Island [File photo: Shutterstock]

Mackinac Island Airport (KMCD)

Mackinac Island, Michigan

In some ways, this place, a vacation destination since the 1800s, is a portal to simpler times. The clopping sound of horse-drawn carriages replaces the more familiar car engines and horns. Indeed, Mackinac Island has been car-free for more than 100 years. But there are plenty of bicycles—more than 1,500 of them for rent—so getting around after landing on the island’s 3,501-foot runway is no problem. Mackinac is known for great food and a variety of unique hotels (no chains) and bed and breakfasts, and is attractive whether you visit for the day or plan to stay a while. 

[Courtesy: City of Portland]

Portland International Airport (KPDX)

Portland, Oregon

Portland has long been a bicycle city. When you look on the Bureau of Transportation website for the best ways to get from the airport to downtown areas, riding a bike tops the list. There is a bike path around the airport and an assembly area with tools available in the FBO for people who travel with their bikes. The city has a number of projects underway to expand the airport path network and connect it with on-street bike lanes and other exclusive bike paths.

Presque Isle International Airport (KPQI)

Presque Isle, Maine

This is a new addition to the list of Maine airports where bikes are available under the Bicycles for Pilots Program put together by the Maine Aeronautics Association. The bikes are a great way to get into town and explore nearby trails, like the Aroostook Valley Trail, part of a railroad right of way that pases by the south side of the airport and stretches for nearly 30 miles. The Aeronautics Association and its partners have also placed bikes at several other airports in the state including Bethel Airport (0B1) and Brunswick Executive Airport (KBXM) for use from May to October.

[File photo: Shutterstock]

St. Louis Lambert International Airport (KSTL)

St. Louis, Missouri

There is more than a century of history to explore at the former Lambert Field, including the famous arched 1956 terminal designed by Minoru Yamasaki to the first test flights of the iconic McDonnell F-4 Phantom fighter at the airport in 1958. But today we are here to talk about the remarkable Katy Trail that passes nearby. Many consider this the king of all rail trails, stretching 237 miles and passing dozens of towns, bridges, former rail depots and other historic buildings. Strong riders have on occasion ridden the full length in a day, but why hurry, with so many ice cream shops to visit along the way?

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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