by Jake Lynch
August 14, 2014
Photo courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
When the American rail-trail movement began to gather steam in the 1980s, most of the old rail lines that had been turned into trails ran through idyllic rural expanses and were loved by early rail-trail fans for their serene scenery and isolation.
Fast-forward to 2014 and rail-trails have now become integral avenues through some of our biggest cities. Courtesy of our friends at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, here is a list of 5 great rail-trails for exploring by bike.
17 miles (27 kilometers)
The Burke-Gilman Trail stretches from the shores of Puget Sound to the west, and passes along Lakes Union and Washington as it connects Seattle’s distinct and vibrant neighborhoods such as Fremont, Ballard, and Bothell. Loved and heavily used by college students and commuters to local tech offices, the Burke-Gilman Trail is becoming as quintessentially Pacific Northwest as coffee and craft brews.
SCHUYLKILL RIVER TRAIL
27 miles (43 kilometers)
The Schuylkill River Trail follows the winding waterway right into the beating heart of Philly’s best attractions, including Boathouse Row, Schuylkill Banks, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Heading northeast, the Schuylkill River Trail provides an escape from the city for those seeking greener pastures, connecting to Valley Forge National Historic Park and a network of trails throughout southeast Pennsylvania.
SACRAMENTO RIVER TRAIL
16 miles (26 kilometers)
Tucked away in Northern California’s Shasta County, the charming city of Redding boasts a rail-trail system that is drawing new residents and businesses. The Sacramento River Trail runs along the banks of the Sacramento River, offering stunning views of the water and nearby mountains, and access to local attractions, including Turtle Bay Aquarium and Exploration Park, e McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, and the striking Sundial Bridge.
Planned 33 miles (53 kilometers)
In a city once known as the Terminus, the BeltLine is reenvisioning the city’s railroad past in a new wave of pedestrian and bike friendly urban design. Though still new, the developing BeltLine plans to be one of the best trail visitor experiences in the country. Already, the 2.25-mile (3.6 km) Eastside trail section – that connects Piedmont Park, the Historic Fourth Ward Park, and the destination neighborhoods of Virginia Highland and Midtown – is attracting thousands of locals each spring and summertime weekend.
CAPITAL CRESCENT TRAIL
11 miles (18 kilometers)
A leafy gem for commuters and tourists, the Capital Crescent Trail connects the growing Maryland cities of Silver Spring and Bethesda with downtown Washington, DC. Deer, foxes, and owls are common sites along this heavily wooded trail, which curves along the Potomac River and emerges in the heart of historic Georgetown.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy believes that biking is just plain good for people. What we’re working for is more safe and convenient places for people to bike (and walk, or run, if they’re eager) and get around in their everyday lives. And that’s about more than just rail-trails – it’s about changing the way we look at our built environments and recognizing that the time has come to acknowledge how millions of Americans really want to move.