5 Rails-to-Trails Paths to Traverse This Fall
Looking for a fun way to explore the U.S.? America’s Rails-to-Trails paths are turning disused train tracks into the best places to stretch your legs.
America has a great tradition of transforming disused rail lines into community spaces where people can walk or ride their bikes. Instead of abandoning them completely, these Rails-to-Trails projects have become beloved spaces within their communities, sometimes with restaurants and shops along the way. Others are the perfect place to disconnect in nature. All are among the best rail trails to be found in the USA.
Little Miami Scenic Trail, Ohio
Running 78 miles, the Little Miami Scenic Trail is the third-longest paved rail trail in the country. It passes through the charming towns of the Little Miami River Valley, including Milford and Xenia. Spot railroad trestles and historic train depots. The Little Miami is popular with hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders. It also connects to the Ohio to Erie Trail, an over 300-mile trail that connects Cincinnati to Cleveland.
Rio Grande Trail, Colorado
The Rio Grande Trail, named for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, runs 42 miles between the towns of Glenwood Springs and Aspen, Colorado. The path is paved in most sections and is a great trail to see by bike. It’s the longest rail trail in the state and has preserved artifacts from its time as a rail line, including crossings signs and trestles. Keep an eye out for wildlife when you’re navigating this great trail!
Silver Comet Trail, Alabama and Georgia
Considered to be one of the best rail trails in the USA, the Silver Comet Trail runs between Georgia and Alabama, starting just outside of Atlanta. It’s named for the former passenger train that operated until 1969. It’s now a paved path running over 60 miles, popular for walking, biking, and rollerblading. The trail is connected to public parks and will one day connect to the Atlanta Beltline, another Rails-to-Trails project.
Tammany Trace, Louisiana
Located on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, the Tammany Trace is a short drive from the French Quarter of New Orleans. This trail follows the former Illinois Central Railroad corridor, between the towns of Covington and Slidell, over the course of 31 miles. The trace is paved for bikes and wheelchairs and has trailheads to the towns’ restaurants, shops, and even a craft brewery.
Virginia Creeper Trail, Virginia
Named for the train of the same name that “crept” through the mountains, the former Virginia–Carolina Railway runs 35 miles from Abingdon to the North Carolina state line. The path runs near national parks sites like the Appalachian Trail as well as wineries, art galleries, and restaurants. There are inns along the way and outfitters offering shuttle services for those looking to bike one-way. The Virginia Creeper Trail also repurposed the rail trestles into bridges.
What to Bring
Before hitting the rail trails, bring a few essentials for your journey. It should go without saying that a hat and sunscreen are recommended, no matter the weather. If you’re walking or biking for the day or afternoon, bring a small backpack with your bottled water, snacks, and a first aid kit. A packing sac set is perfect for holding all the bits and bobs. If you are spending multiple nights on the trail, biking or hiking and spending the night in the towns nearby, bring a small duffel with your overnight clothing and toiletries. If you’re traveling by bike, bring your helmet, lock, and equipment to make any minor repairs.
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By Caroline Eubanks on October 15, 2020
Caroline Eubanks is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia whose work has been published by BBC Travel, Afar, Thrillist, and National Geographic Traveler and is the author of the book This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States. You can follow her work at CarolineEubanks.com.