10 Best Rails to Trails Bike Trails

Here’s our list of the 10 best rails to trails we’ve ridden and why we think they’re the best. Rails to trails are paved or gravel biking trails that are built on retired railroad routes. This means they are often very long with very few road crossings, are generally relatively level with few major climbs or descents, and frequently feature tunnels or bridges along the route. Another great feature is that they often pass through small towns that are happy for the tourism they bring. This means there are often great restaurants, breweries, bike shops, and other places to stop along the way. Rails-to-Trails are a great way to explore the scenic countryside, particularly the portions outside large urban areas.

1. Route of the Hiawatha Trail Awesome Trail Ride – Route of the Hiawatha, ID-MT: The Route of the Hiawatha is a very scenic unpaved biking or hiking trail located on the Idaho/Montana border. The Hiawatha is 15 miles long with 10 long, dark train tunnels and 7 very high and somewhat narrow trestle bridges. The Hiawatha is also served by shuttle buses, so you can ride the mostly downhill portion for 15 miles and then the buses will transport you and your bike back to the top.

2. C&O Canal Trail: The C&O Canal Trail isn’t really a rails to trails, it started as a towpath along the canal. But, it’s so scenic and in such a great area that it had to make our list! The 184.5 mile long Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is located along the north bank of the Potomac River, starting in Washington, DC and ending in Cumberland, MD. The canal was built between 1828 and 1850, and operated sporadically until 1924. In 1954, US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas organized an eight day hike up the canal’s towpath in an effort to save it from being converted to a parkway. His efforts succeeded, and in 1971 the canal became a National Historic Park.

3. Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes Amazing rails to trails – Trail of the Couer d’Alenes, ID: The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes was named one of the 25 top trails in the nation in 2010 by the Rails to Trails Conservancy. The 73-mile paved trail spans the Idaho panhandle between Mullan and Plummer. The trail follows the Silver Valley, along the Coeur d’Alene River past scenic Lake Coeur d’Alene and through rolling farmlands to Plummer. Coeur d’Alene is named for a local Native American tribe that traded in the area. In French “Coeur” means heart and “Alene” means awl, a sharp pointed tool used to pierce leather. In other words, they were known as sharp traders with hearts like the point of an awl.

4. Virginia Creeper Trail: The Virginia Creeper Trail is a recreational trail (rails to trails) located in Southwest Virginia, and stretches 34 miles from Abingdon to Damascus. The Creeper runs along the Whitetop Laurel River and up to its highest point Whitetop Station near the NC State Line at Whitetop, Virginia. A very common ride on the Virginia Creeper is to take a shuttle from Damascus to Whitetop, and then ride the mostly downhill 17-mile section back to Damascus.

5. Spokane River Centennial Trail Nice rails to trails – Spokane River Centennial Trail, WA: The Centennial Trail is a 37-mile paved recreational trail for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles. The trail stretches from Sontag Park in Nine Mile Falls, Washington to the Washington/Idaho state line. At the state line the trail continues another 24 miles beyond the Washington state border into Idaho as the North Idaho Centennial trail through Post Falls and into Coeur d’Alene.

6. Katy Trail Beautiful Bike Rides–Katy Trail, Missouri: The Katy Trail is also a state park, and the longest developed rail trail in the country. The park, built on the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT or Katy), is 240 miles long and runs between Clinton and Machens with 26 trailheads and four fully restored railroad depots along the way.

7. Banks-Vernonia State Trail Rail Trails – Banks-Vernonia State Trail: The Banks-Vernonia State Trail is the first rail trail in Oregon. The trail follows an abandoned railroad bed that stretches 21 miles between the cities of Banks and Vernonia. The trail is very scenic as it passes through forests and farmlands, and features more than a dozen bridges and views from the 733-foot long, 80-foot high Buxton Trestle.

8. Withlacoochee State Trail – The Withlacoochee State Trail is a 47 mile paved trail from Citrus Springs, FL to Dade City, FL. The trail is designated part of the Florida Greenways and Trail System, and is also designated as a National Recreation Trail.

9. W&OD Trail: The Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad Regional Park is a paved trail between Shirlington and Purcellville, Virginia. The 45-mile trail follows the former roadbed of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, which runs through Northern Virginia’s urban heartland and into the rural countryside. Along the way, it passes through quaint villages like Falls Church and Leesburg, and high-tech centers like Reston and Herndon.

10. Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail: The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail is a 75-mile, paved, multi-use trail extending from downtown St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. The Trail, created along a portion of abandoned railroad corridor, provides a unique, protected greenspace for walking, jogging, skating and biking. The trail runs East-West between St. Petersburg and Treasure Island, and then North-South all the way to Tarpon Springs and beyond. The Pinellas Trail offers some amazing views of the barrier islands, intercoastal waterway, and the Gulf of Mexico in addition to an up close view of St. Petersburg’s diverse metropolitan area.

Here are some links to other lists of 10 best rails to trails we’ve found while planning our rides:
Adventure Cycling Ten Best Rail Trails for Cyclists
Bicycling.com The 10 Best Rail Trails in the U.S.
Outside Magazine What Are the Most Scenic Rails in the U.S.