13 Popular American Rail-Trails for Delightful Cycling Recreation

24,000 miles.

Put together, that’s how many miles of rail-trails there are in the US. Every state has a few, including Alaska and Hawaii. Altogether, there are 2,117 rail-trails.  

These trails are a national treasure that allow people of all ages and abilities to get outside and ride. Cycling is a great way to really see and experience the countryside, and bike trails make that possible in a different way than riding on the roads.

Wouldn’t it be great if those thousands of miles of trails were linked? And you could ride from one side of the country to the other on them? Guess what? You’re in luck.

The Great American Rail-Trail will link up more than a hundred trails to create a route that goes from “Washington to Washington.” It will be some time, perhaps decades, before the project reaches completion, but those 2,117 already existing rail-trails are available to ride now.

From east to west (roughly), here’s a selection of some notable rail-trails, including some of the ones that form the foundation of the Great American Rail-Trail project.

The Northern Rail-Trail, New Hampshire

Okay, this one is notable because it’s right here at bikekitz headquarters. It stretches 58 miles through New Hampshire, from Lebanon on the Connecticut River to Boscawen just north of the state capital of Concord.

Northern Rail-Trail in Enfield, New Hampshire

Northern Rail-Trail in Enfield, New Hampshire

Island Line Trail, Vermont

The 13.4-mile Island Line Trail in Vermont connects Burlington with South Hero on the island of Grand Isle. The bike trail, which is wheelchair accessible and open to biking, inline skating, fishing, walking, and cross country skiing, traverses Lake Champlain along the Colchester Causeway. In order to cross The Cut, a gap in the causeway created by removal of the former railway bridge, riders can take the Local Motion Bike Ferry.

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Ferry Service Flag in Burlington Vermont
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Island Line Trail, Burlington, Vermont

Island Line Trail, Burlington, Vermont

Minuteman Bikeway, Massachusetts

Traveling through the Cradle of the Revolution, the 10-mile paved Minuteman Bikeway was built in the early 1990s by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It travels from Depot Park in Bedford to the Alewife T station in Cambridge and, along with many recreational opportunities, provides an important car-free commuting option.

Capital Crescent Trail, D.C. and Maryland

The Capital Crescent Trail travels 11 miles from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., to Silver Spring, Maryland. It is heavily used as a commuter trail as well as for recreational hiking, biking, and rollerblading. It will be the eastern terminus of the Great American Rail-Trail.

The Capital Crescent Trail in Washington, D.C. Photo by Hung Tran courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

The Capital Crescent Trail in Washington, D.C. Photo by Hung Tran courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Panhandle Trail, Pennsylvania and West Virginia

This 29.2-mile scenic trail travels through Pennsylvania and the Panhandle of West Virginia. With a surface of asphalt and crushed stone, the trail is a route from the suburbs of Pittsburgh to West Virginia and is open to biking, walking, cross-country skiing, and is wheelchair accessible. It will be part of the Great American Rail-Trail.

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, D.C. and Maryland

The canal towpath in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is one of the longest biking trails in the country at 184.5 miles, and will be part of the Great American Rail-Trail. As part of the National Park Service, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal park has certain rules riders must follow, including a speed limit and walking bikes over the aqueducts. But there are campsites along the trail, so bike camping is possible.

The Ohio to Erie Trail. Photo by TrailLink user meo courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

The Ohio to Erie Trail. Photo by TrailLink user meo courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Cardinal Greenways , Indiana

The Cardinal Greenways links Marion, Indiana, to Richmond, Indiana, by way of Muncie, stretching 75.5 miles from one terminus to the other. Maintained by the private, nonprofit Cardinal Greenways, the trail system is valued as a public resource and offers educational programming as well as historical points of interest. It will be part of the Great American Rail-Trail.

Cedar Valley Nature Trail, Iowa

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail, one of Iowa’s many contributions to the Great American Rail-Trail, spans 67 miles through wetlands, farmland, and forested land in eastern Iowa with a surface of asphalt and compacted limestone.

Casper Rail-Trail, Wyoming

The trail system in Casper, Wyoming, includes the River Trail which winds along 11 miles of the North Platte River corridor. It is the primary east-west non-motorized travel route and is open to cycling, walking, running, rollerblading, and Frisbee golf, and also provides river access for fishing and boating. Wyoming doesn’t have many rail-trails due to its challenging topography, but the state has made a statewide commitment to trails and this one will be part of the Great American Rail-Trail.

Headwaters Trail System, Montana

Montana sports 83 miles of existing trails in the proposed route of the Great American Rail-Trail, 12 of them in and around the city of Three Forks. The paved trails afford scenic views of the surrounding mountains, grasslands, and old-growth cottonwood stands.

Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, Idaho

One of two existing trails Idaho contributes to the proposed Great American Rail-Trail, this trail is a long one, coming in at 72 miles from end to end—all of it paved. It’s open to walking, biking, inline skating, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and electric wheelchairs. “It was created through a unique partnership between the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, Union Pacific Railroad, the U. S. Government, and the State of Idaho.”

Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. Photo by Lisa James courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. Photo by Lisa James courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, Washington

Spanning a whopping 200 miles from the Idaho border all the way to just 35 miles short of downtown Seattle, this trail brings the proposed Great American Rail-Trail almost to completion. Along the way, travelers on this trail can experience some “rugged and pristine” terrain and can go through a hundred-year-old tunnel at Snoqualmie Pass.

Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail. Photo by Gary Toriello courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail. Photo by Gary Toriello courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Katy Trail, Missouri

The Great American Rail-Trail will not go through Missouri, but we can’t not mention the Katy Trail. The longest trail in the U.S., the Katy Trail stretches 239 miles across nearly the entire width of the Show-Me State. The town of Augusta boasts a brewery and a bike shop right along the trail.

Have you visited any of these trails? Do you use a different trail? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!