If a cycle trail can be a poster child for two wheelers, then it would be the Red Squirrel Trail. This lasso-shaped route explores the east of the Island and is popular with families. The basic loop runs for 13 miles from Newport to Sandown and Shanklin, with the ‘noose’ of the lasso representing the extension up through Newport towards West Cowes and into Parkhurst Forest.
About 95% of the route is off-road, ranging from flat, former train lines to mud and puddles, and is suitable for trail bikes and mountain bikes, and bicycles with chunkier tyres. The route is really excellent for all age groups, so younger families can easily manage it with a trailer. If you’re looking for a day’s family cycling, consider hiring bikes to go from Newport to Dinosaur Isle and the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary on the edge of Sandown.
In the direction of Newport, the trail has a useful northern spur along the west bank of the Medina that offers hassle-free access to Parkhurst Forest. The trail includes a 3¼-mile loop through the woods. All the cycle trails within the forest are along gravel trails.
If you have the time, leave your bike for a while and continue along the sole walking route which leads from the car park for three-quarters of a mile to a log cabin-style hide. Here you can sit and stare up at the tree canopy, though try and manage expectations as there’s no guarantee that the red squirrels will be co-operative. The knack to spotting them is to look high in the pine branches: pick the outer edge of a branch and follow it inward towards the trunk and be alert for any movement.