There's no better way to see an area than from a bike seat.
Whether looking for a mountain trail or winding blacktop, a day trip or a weekend tour, there are countless ways to create your own Tour de Southeast.
Cruising around on a lightweight road bike is one of the fastest and most fun ways to get some exercise, enjoy the outdoors and see the countless beautiful views in the region.
• Cherohala Skyway - The highway connecting Tellico Plains, Tenn., and Robbinsville, N.C., offers more than 40 miles of curving roads and scenic views. Billed as the "Drive Above the Clouds," the road climbs 5,400 feet above sea level, giving great views of two national forests.
• Blue Ridge Parkway - With a low speed limit and steep hills, the Blue Ridge Parkway makes for a safe, challenging bike ride. More than 469 miles of roads connect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Several campgrounds, picnic areas and trails offer riders the chance to climb off their bikes and take in a bit of nature.
• Silver Comet Trail - This 61-mile fully-paved rail trail crosses 13 miles northwest of Atlanta and goes through Cobb, Paulding and Polk counties. The Silver Comet is quiet, nonmotorized and perfect for those who would prefer not to share a lane with cars and trucks.
• Chief Ladiga Trail - Alabama's first rails-to-trails project is a 33-mile stretch from the Georgia state line near the end of the Silver Comet Trail to Anniston, Ala. Riders can switch over from the Silver Comet to the Chief Ladiga Trail for a 90-mile nonmotorized ride from west of Atlanta to Anniston, Ala.
Sometimes the smooth comfort of a paved road isn't quite challenging enough. Luckily, there are several great trails in the region for everyone from novice to expert mountain bikers.
• Mulberry Gap - Located 12 miles from downtown Ellijay, Ga., Mulberry Gap in the Chattahoochee National Forest features 80 miles of single-track trails for both intermediate and advanced riders. The gap has scenic nature trails with both steep and gradual climbs and descents. Several cabins and camping areas, hot showers, bike maintenance equipment and trail guides let bikers pop in for a day trip or spend a whole weekend exploring the area.
• Chilhowee Mountain - Lodges and campgrounds coupled with trails for all experience levels make Chilhowee Mountain, on the outer edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, a great mountain-biking weekend destination. "This is the mecca for mountain biking on the East Coast," said Zac Holford, biking expert and director of Chattanooga's Main Street Bike Co-op. "You'll have a whole weekend of hitting some awesome trails."
Those looking for a more intense experience can saddle up their bikes and go on a cross-country tour. These long-distance bike trips are for hard-core cycling enthusiasts, offering a challenge and sense of accomplishment unlike any other ride.
• This expert form of riding often requires support from someone not biking who can drive luggage and repair gear from one hotel or campground to another.
• Holford himself did a coast-to-coast tour for charity in 2008 and said it was a great experience. "It was everything. It was boring at some times," he said. "It was just as fun as it was hard."
• Those looking for more exotic international tours can contact local tour company BikeToursDirect.com. "It makes it easier for people who might be intimidated," Holford said.
- Compiled by staff writer Carey O'Neil at email@example.com, 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.