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One of the best ways for a family to explore a destination they are visiting is by bicycle. Thankfully, Australia is packed full of amazing family bike rides, with each state offering myriad fun two-wheeled adventures. In this instalment of our Best Family Bike Rides series, we look at some brilliant rides in South Australia.


River Torrens Linear Park Trail

Distance: 35km  Grade: Easy  Bike: Any

Meandering beside Adelaide’s major waterway for the length of its journey across the Adelaide Plain, the River Torrens Linear Trail slices through the city and suburbs while feeling all but removed from them.

With trails running along both sides of the river most of the way across the plain, the ride is as much a commuting corridor as a scenic trail, a journey from the Adelaide Hills to the sea that also showcases many of the city’s major cultural attractions. Bridges are plentiful, making it easy to switch from bank to bank as you please.

This sealed route follows the pretty River Torrens, starting up in the Adelaide Hills. Andrew Bain

In the east, the fully sealed trail begins at the mouth of a gorge, where the River Torrens pours out of the hills (and where the Mawson Trail begins its journey in the opposite direction). The sealed paths descend around 100 vertical metres to the river mouth at Henley Beach. Most of the descent comes in the early kilometres, where the river still resembles a creek, and the trail passes beneath magnificent river red gums. The grassy banks provide endless opportunities to pause and picnic.

Through the city, the ride becomes an Adelaide highlights reel, with the now-busy trail passing the zoo, the Festival Centre and Adelaide Oval, all set to the backdrop of the city skyline. From the city centre, it’s around 13km to the coast. A good option for a return ride is to set out from the city and pedal to Henley Beach along one riverbank, returning along the other. This is also the flattest stretch of the linear park.


Coast to Vines Rail Trail

Distance: 37km  Grade: Easy  Bike: Any

This descriptively named ride does exactly what its title suggests, connecting Adelaide’s southern coastline to the McLaren Vale wine region, following a disused railway and adding to South Australia’s rich collection of wine-themed bike trails.

Setting out from the train station at Marino Rocks, the ride burrows through Adelaide’s southern suburbs, weaving through parkland and crossing over the Southern Expressway and, more peacefully, the Onkaparinga River. It utilises a combination of wide bike paths and roadside paths, with a dividing line painted down its centre like a road.

The Coast to Vines Rail Trail offers a beautiful mix of rural and coastal scenery. Andrew Bain

There’s a distinct moment where the ride slips out of the suburbs, pressing through a last line of houses in Seaford Rise and setting out above Pedlar Creek towards McLaren Vale. Vineyards quickly appear below the trail, and 6km after leaving Seaford Rise, the trail rolls into the town of McLaren Vale.

Crossing Main Rd, the ride heads briefly up Caffrey St before returning to the trail, which, between here and Willunga (8km away), is also known as the Shiraz Trail. The ride continues to squeezes between vineyards, offering plenty of chances to stop and sip, with tall eucalypts forming a scenic corridor as the trail climbs gradually towards Willunga. 

The trail ends beside the old Willunga railway station (which doubles as the start of the Kidman Trail), but it’s worth pedalling on through High St to the Old Bush Inn for another cycling classic – a marker beside the pub notes the start of Old Willunga Hill, the most famous climb in the annual Tour Down Under pro cycling race.


Encounter Bikeway

Distance: 31km  Grade: Easy  Bike: Any

Showing off one of South Australia’s favourite holiday coasts, this seaside cycle stretches along the southern edge of the Fleurieu Peninsula, taking in the likes of Victor Harbor, Port Elliot and Middleton Beach as it journeys from The Bluff to Goolwa.

From a car park on the slopes of The Bluff (it’s worth walking to the top of the 97m-high headland for a view over Encounter Bay and much of the ride ahead), the bikeway drops to the shores of Encounter Bay, following a foreshore path into Victor Harbor. As Victor’s causeway stretches across the water to Granite Island, the ride turns with the coast, continuing to run pinched between the sand and the town.

The view afforded by the Encounter Bikeway is pretty magical. Adam Bruzzone/SATC

Crossing under a railway bridge and over the Hindmarsh River, the ride becomes a combination of bike paths and streets, but it always stays close to the coast – if you’re riding between May and September, keep a watch on the sea, especially along Boomer and Basham beaches, where southern right whales are regularly sighted.

The ride stays with the coast to Middleton, where it cuts briefly inland to Goolwa, the town sitting on the final bend in the Murray River’s long journey – the river mouth is just 10km away from here. The bikeway heads upstream from Goolwa, finishing abruptly and anticlimactically at Laffin Point. A more fitting finish is at the Goolwa Wharf (3.5km before Laffin Point), beside the Hindmarsh Island Bridge. It’s home to a distillery, eateries and a cellar door/craft brewer. Time the ride right and you (and your bike) can return to Victor Harbor on the Cockle Train, riding Australia’s oldest steel-railed railway.


Barossa Trail

Distance: 40km  Grade: Easy  Bike: Any

Cutting a line through one of Australia’s premier wine regions, this ride is a Barossa Valley highlights reel, and must qualify as one of the country’s (not just SA’s) best family bike rides. It begins at the edge of Gawler (at Gawler’s eastern edge, though it’s a 5km ride to the start from the Gawler Central railway station at the northern end of Adelaide’s train network) and makes it way north through Lyndoch, Tanunda, Nuriootpa and Angaston.

The ride is a mix of roadside bike paths and rail trail, running beside the busy Barossa Valley Way from Gawler to Rowland Flat, where it turns away from the road and into the most interesting, scenic and challenging of the trail’s sections.

The Barossa Trail is a fun day out on the bikes for you and your family. Barossa Grape & Wine Association

Following the North Para River, this section has several steep (but short) pinches and some tight switchbacks, the effort of which is relieved by the vineyard views and the presence of a trio of cellar doors: Jacob’s Creek, St Hugo and St Hallett. Just past St Hallett, the trail returns to the edge of the Barossa Valley Way, following it through Tanunda and out to Nuriootpa. The trail here is ruler straight and steamroller flat, with vineyards stretching away either side.

Weaving through the side streets of Nuriootpa, the ride turns east towards Angaston, a town as famous for its dried fruit and horses as its wines. Following the course of the old Barossa Valley railway line, the ride ascends 100m between ‘Nuri’ and Angaston, finishing at the Barossa Adventure Station, which features a 1km MTB loop if you fancy a bit more riding.


Melrose

Distance: 230m-6.6km  Grade: Easy to Advanced  Bike: MTB

Scratched into the slopes of Mt Remarkable, the tallest peak in the southern Flinders Ranges, the Melrose trail network covers around 100km, split into three sections: Melrose Town Trails, Bartagunyah and Willowie Forest.

Sunset over the Melrose trails. There is a mix of different grade trails here to satisfy the keen bike-riding family. Adam Bruzzone/SATC

The Melrose Town Trails form the heart of the network. Leaving from the very centre of town, they set off in all directions across and up the slopes of the mountain. The signature trails are arguably Weaving Camels and Dodging Bullets. The former is a 1km blue (intermediate) trail that rolls along the banks of Willochra Creek, set beautifully among large river red gums and functioning as an access trail to the southern end of the network. Here, the blue Big Rhua and a selection of black trails coil up the slopes to Wilburs Watch, offering the accomplished young shredders of your family the chance to ride to a ridge-top building with extensive views over Melrose and the flat earth well beyond.

Willowie Forest, 8km north of town, has good offerings for novice riders, especially on the flowing Twisted Sisters, which is one of the region’s best family bike rides. Bartagunyah, on a private property 5km south of town, is a more unmaintained, rough-and-ready collection of trails.