Within the early twentieth century, the patchwork of the USA was quilted together by almost 300,000 miles of railroad lines. When train transport fell into disuse within the Fifties and ’60s, a movement began to remodel those abandoned industrial corridors into recreational space. Those miles of track had the potential to be ideal bike paths, due to limited incline and their proximity to towns which stood to learn from a recent type of tourism.
There are numerous ways, and many steps needed, to show a track with steel rails and spikes, wood sleepers and stone ballast right into a smooth, inviting bike route. But while the rails-to-trails movement began within the ‘60s, it got a significant boost in 1986 with the event of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national organization that has helped local communities plan, fund-raise and execute their very own trail development. Now, Rails-to-Trails is essentially focused on connectivity — linking already existing trails (over 25,000 miles of them) to create bike networks that span the country, namely, the Great American Rail Trail, which can cross the country from Washington, D.C., to Washington state. Other long-distance projects include Peaks to Plains in Colorado, the Great Redwood Trail in Northern California, and the Route of the Badger in Wisconsin.
“We’re at a extremely exciting time on this country when it comes to a never-before-seen understanding of the worth of protected, outdoor activities,” said Ryan Chao, president of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
One among the key advantages of the rails-to-trails movement is the sheer variety of trails. Listed below are eight to get you began.
Maryland & Pennsylvania
For an approachable, multiday ride through Northeast mountains
The Great Allegheny Passage connects Cumberland, Md., to Pittsburgh, passing around and thru the Allegheny Mountains, the Laurel Highlands and 10 towns in Pennsylvania and Maryland. While its 150-mile span may sound daunting, the complete through-ride offers ample opportunities to rest, eat, swim and sleep: There are bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and ice cream shops in towns like Frostburg, Md., and Confluence, Penn.; campsites and shady spots within the mature forests of Ohiopyle State Park; and the Casselman, Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers offer dips for drained toes and opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, rafting and fly fishing. Plan on spending three days and two nights on the complete ride, or go for a shorter journey. One one-day trip between Meyersdale and Rockwood, Penn., allows bikers to explore old railroad structures (just like the Salisbury Viaduct, a destination for 360-degree views) or try an overnight ride from one trail town to a different with an available shuttle service. (Amtrak’s Capitol Limited line also runs parallel to the route.) The trail is a stellar example of how prioritizing cycling infrastructure is usually a boon to local communities — based on Bryan Perry, the manager director of the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy, the trail created roughly $121 million in economic impact for the region in 2019 alone.
Variety of miles: 150
Difficulty: Moderate; you’ll gain as much as 1,700 feet in elevation, however the climb is gradual and smooth
Good for youngsters: Yes, each the entire trail or shorter day trips and overnights
Don’t miss: Absorb 360-degree views from the Salisbury Viaduct, which spans 1,908 feet across the Casselman River west of Meyersville, Penn.
Time to ride: Three days and two nights for the complete ride, with ample options for day trips and overnights
For simple windings through striking scenery
For a motorbike trail with gorgeous scenery, user-friendly terrain and approachable trail towns, search out the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. The 73-mile route, parts of which are maintained by the Coeur d’Alene tribe and Idaho Parks and Recreation, runs between the towns of Plummer and Mullan, Idaho, and is fully paved — so cyclists of all levels (and with all types of bikes) can benefit from the ride. Winding through the striking mountains and valleys of the Idaho panhandle, the trail takes about two days to ride to completion, and that itinerary leaves ample time for stops like a meal at the Snake Pit in Enaville (the oldest restaurant in Idaho), swimming at Heyburn State Park and wildlife spotting along the Coeur d’Alene River. Riders seeking to get a taste of the route with lakeside scenery and fewer distance should try riding from the town of Harrison to the Chatcolet Bridge, an enjoyable 8-mile jaunt.
A Summer of Cycling Across the Globe
Love exploring recent destinations on two wheels? Listed below are some routes to try, from riverside jaunts to mountain climbs.
Variety of miles: 73 miles
Difficulty: Easy, mostly flat and fully paved
Good for youngsters: Yes, the trail is paved from one end to the opposite
Don’t miss: Fuel up on the Snake Pit, the oldest restaurant in Idaho, and stop for a photograph on the official Center of the Universe in Wallace, Idaho
Time to ride: Two days
For a family-friendly taste of the wilderness
Biking between trail towns has its appeal, but there’s something to be said for a trail that looks like a correct wilderness ride. The Medicine Bow Rail Trail, a 21-mile gravel trail that cuts through the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in southern Wyoming, offers just that, in a rugged, forested landscape with frequent wildlife sightings. While the trail is decidedly distant — Laramie, Wyo., is the closest big city and is 30 miles away — it’s still family-friendly, with little elevation gain and a generous width allowing parents to ride alongside their children. The world is wealthy with history, too — many native tribes, including the Arapaho and Cheyenne, regularly visited the world to conduct ceremonies, and parked on the trail’s northern end near Lake Owen (a worthy destination in its own right) are the stays of a train caboose from the track’s railroad past. Plan on the complete ride a technique taking around five to 6 hours, depending on how often you stop to search for moose, elk and other wildlife, and also you’ll have to go away a automotive at each end — there isn’t a shuttle service. One other hint: Bring loads of water as there may be none available on the trail (you’ll find restrooms and picnic tables, though).
Variety of miles: 21
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, 688 feet of elevation gain total, but at high altitude
Good for youngsters: Yes, the trail is 10 feet wide so parents can ride alongside their children
Don’t miss: Take a look at Lake Owen, where you’ll discover a footpath and the stays of an old railroad caboose
Time to ride: Five to 6 hours for a one-way ride
For a multiday bike-packing adventure through lush greenery
West Virginia’s Greenbrier River Trail strikes a fantastic balance between accessibility — it’s relatively flat and reachable at various points along its 78-mile length — and remoteness. The trail, which cruises downhill between the towns of Cass and Caldwell, runs alongside the Greenbrier River through lush West Virginia forest. This makes it a superb bike-packing trail, with water, bathrooms, campgrounds and basic cabins available along the route, including on the Greenbrier and Seneca State Forests and Watoga State Park. The flat grade makes the trail accessible for youngsters, too, whether you choose for shorter segments or the entire 78-mile, multiday journey. Since remoteness is a significant a part of this trail’s appeal (cell service is intermittent to nonexistent), creature comforts like fish tacos and a chilly beer on the Dirtbean Cafe and Bike Shop in Marlinton are all of the more appreciated. Make sure you stop for a photograph on the curving, 230-foot Sharps Tunnel Bridge 10 miles north of Marlinton.
Variety of miles: 78
Difficulty: Moderate, goes downhill at a one-percent grade
Good for youngsters: Yes, the trail is essentially flat and accessible for shorter sections
Don’t miss: The 230-foot Sharps Tunnel Bridge is a must-stop for a photograph
Time to ride: Two to 3 days
For adrenaline-rush mountain biking on former mining trails and roads
The Downieville Downhill in Northern California — though consistently named probably the greatest mountain bike trails within the U.S. — is technically not a former railroad track. As a substitute, the trail is part of the larger Lost Sierra Route, a work-in-progress trail network currently spanning 600 miles of decommissioned mining infrastructure that run through the Eastern Sierra Nevada, bringing biking and mountain climbing tourism to former Gold Rush towns including Portola, Quincy, Susanville and, in fact, Downieville. About 16 or 17 miles and a 5,000-foot drop through verdant evergreen forest, this route will not be a beginner trail, but intermediate and advanced mountain bikers can expect a high-velocity adrenaline rush in one of the crucial beautiful parts of the country (shuttle services are highly really helpful, and make it easy to get to the highest of the trail for multiple rides, in the event you can’t get enough). The trail can be the anchor of the Downieville Classic, an annual mountain bike festival, race and fund-raiser that might be returning to the town and celebrating its twenty fifth 12 months in 2023.
Variety of miles: 16 to 17
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced; the trail drops greater than 5,000 feet in about 16 miles
Good for youngsters: No, unless they’re little rippers
Don’t miss: The Downieville Classic, an annual mountain bike festival and race that might be celebrating its twenty fifth anniversary in 2023
Time to ride: Depends how briskly you shred
For swimming stops galore
One among the primary rail-to-trail conversions within the U.S., the Heartland State Trail is a largely flat, 49-mile trail that runs between Park Rapids and Cass Lake, Minn. Fittingly for the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the trail offers multiple, easily accessible spots for swimming and wading in lakes and rivers. Along with city beaches alongside or near the trail within the towns of Park Rapids, Nevis and Walker, keep a watch out for places along the ride where steps have been built to permit riders to achieve the river. Water isn’t the one attraction on this well-maintained, appealingly forested trail — you’ll want time to explore small yet bustling trail towns like Dorset, Minn., and stop for photos on the Paul Bunyan statue in Akeley. Experienced cyclists can actually tackle the complete 49 miles in in the future, but those in search of a more leisurely (and kid-friendly) ride would do well to take a weekend, stop for an evening in Dorset and leave loads of time for swims.
Variety of miles: 49
Difficulty: Easy, the trail is generally flat
Good for youngsters: Yes
Don’t miss: The Paul Bunyan statue in Akeley
Time to ride: One to 2 days
For urban exploring amid desert landscapes
The Chuck Huckelberry Loop in Arizona, connecting unincorporated Pima County, Marana, Oro Valley, South Tucson and Tucson, is an example of newer urban infrastructure being reclaimed for recreation. After major floods within the Seventies and ’80s, Pima County constructed soil-cement bank protection along the Santa Cruz and Rillito Rivers, and noticed that residents were using the embankments as multiuse paths. Following their lead, the county began developing river parks with paved paths, connecting the river parks with neighborhood bike lanes and ultimately making a full loop that was accomplished in 2018. The 137-mile paved loop features a 68-mile circle around Tucson plus additional out-and-back rides along the banks of the Cañada del Oro Wash and Santa Cruz River, making for a singular combination of urban exploration — a Sunday farmers market within the Rillito River Park or a pit stop for coffee, beer and southwestern fare at downtown Tucson’s Mercado San Agustin near the Santa Cruz River Park — and striking desert landscapes with views of the Santa Catalina and Rincon Mountains.
Variety of miles: 137
Difficulty: Easy; total elevation gain is about 1,000 feet, but the typical gradient is one percent. There are short sections of as much as 5 percent gradient at underpasses.
Good for youngsters: Yes
Can’t miss: Take a look at Tucson’s Mercado San Augustín near the Santa Cruz River Park
Time to ride: One to 3 days for the complete loop
Connecticut & Massachusetts
For a multigenerational history lesson
The history of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is straight away evident in its name — the largely flat trail runs alongside the previous Farmington Canal, which was once used to move agricultural products and manufactured goods on horse-towed boats. The canal, which ran from Latest Haven, Conn., to Northampton, Mass., was replaced by a railroad that was decommissioned within the Nineteen Eighties. A neighborhood residents’ group transformed a piece of the corridor right into a recreational trail in 1993, and over the many years added more miles with a roughly 81-mile connected trail now the goal. While some gaps still remain, the finished 64 miles provide a draw for cyclists of all ages. Learn more concerning the route with stops on the Lock 12 Historical Park in Cheshire, the Southington Train Depot in Southington and the Lock Keeper’s House in Hamden, where you’ll discover a small exhibit on the canal’s history in a restored home. This 12 months marks the two hundredth anniversary of the incorporation of the Farmington Canal Company and numerous events are happening through the summer and fall to have a good time, including a historical walking tour along the F.C.H.T. in Latest Haven on June 17.
Variety of miles: 64
Difficulty: Easy, about 600 feet of total elevation gain
Good for youngsters: Yes
Don’t miss: The Lock Keeper’s House in Hamden, Conn., which has a small exhibit on the canal’s history
Time to ride: One to 3 days