The Colonial Parkway is an easy bike ride that takes you through the historic “triangle” of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown Virginia.
Mary and I were looking for a way to enjoy a bike ride in the eastern part of Virginia, after our son Tyler’s commencement ceremony at Christopher Newport University. After Googling around and talking to other cyclists, it seemed the go-to, bucket list ride was the Colonial Parkway. This turned out to be a good choice.
The Parkway offers scenery that is different from what we see in the mountains and offers opportunities for cyclists to immerse themselves in the region’s famous history, as well as the culture of local galleries and the plain fun of restaurants and shops. All of this on a stretch of road that is dedicated to this purpose, which makes it, in my mind the type of outlier that deserves special consideration.
It was easy to find a starting place. We drove to the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center where we found free parking and good advice. A woman at the help desk handed me a map and told me how to access the Parkway – which is no more than exiting the back of the parking lot.
From the Visitor Center you can ride 13 miles in one direction to arrive in Yorktown, or ten in the other to get to Jamestown. We didn’t have time to do both, so we opted for the out and back to Yorktown for a 26 mile round trip.
“The pavement is aggregate,” warned the nice lady at the help desk, referring to the rough surface of the roadway. This was also true, but no worse than the tar and gravel roads we see here in the Roanoke area. Though the help desk said traffic would be light, it was not. Cars passed at the rate of one-two per minute. The road is divided into three lanes however, and all of the cars gave us lots of room. There were numerous other cyclists on the road, so drivers had plenty of opportunity to become acclimated to the share the road mentality.
On this day in May there was a strong headwind, but we were protected for the first portion of the trip by the hardwood forest on either side of the road. We crossed over some ponds and creeks and after about 7 miles broke out into the open with the York River to our left for the next six miles. Here the wind became a serious issue, especially on the return trip — though I doubt it would be a problem on most days.
It seems odd, but the terrain on the Colonial Parkway is not exactly flat as I expected this close to the coast. We were going up or down hill for the majority of the ride, with the grade varying from about one percent up to five percent on my Garmin.
Nothing to complain or worry about, but not what I expected and different from the riding we see at the beach during our summer vacations. I had expected to average about 18 mph or so without much difficulty, but between the wind and the hills it was closer to 14.
The tidal rivers and creeks made for a nice change from the more typical riding we do in Roanoke, and had we had more time, we might have stopped at the numerous pull-offs, where markers explained the historic significance of the area.
I wish we had even more time to tour the battlefields and the Yorktown Victory Center, but our tight schedule and the fact that we were mostly focused on riding in a new area trumped the history. In a nutshell however — if it’s history you want to see by bike — the Historic Triangle offers plenty with Jamestown’s focus on the founding of America dating to 1607. Williamsburg lays claim to the revolutionary period, while Yorktown focuses on America’s continued struggles for Victory through the famous naval triumph at Yorktown in 1781.
After a quick stop for water at the Yorktown Victory Center we rode to the waterfront in Yorktown where the quaint buildings, shops and restaurants made us wish even more that we had more time to explore, and maybe take the time for a meal, ice cream or a beer. We stopped on one of the docks and saw a large sailing vessel on the horizon, while kids played on the nearby beach and seagulls circled overhead.
In addition to the change in scenery from the mountains we met Michael Althaus on his touring bike. He was on day one of a cross country trip to Washington state. He has started a blog about his journey and even has a tracking device on his bike so you can follow him if you like.
I have little doubt about his ability to complete his journey as he caught Mary and I on our simple road bikes as we returned to the Visitor Center. I was huffing and puffing on my carbon road bike while Michael rode his touring bike loaded with 75 pounds of gear for his self-supported trek across America.
Maybe someday I’ll do the cross country trek — but for now it was nice to see a bit of new scenery and to meet someone who is off to see a cross section of the nation that started right there in Yorktown.
More info at www.AmericasHistoricTriangle.com
One added bonus. The famous Pierce’s BBQ restaurant is only about 4 miles from the Welcome Center … Short of stopping at an eatery along the waterfront. This is a serious bonus for this trip.
Looking for another ride in Virginia? Try Waynesboro in the Shenandoah Valley where the Tour de Valley is held.