The 15 Best Rail Trails in the U.S.

These routes span the country — including water-bound trails in Vermont and desert routes in New Mexico.

Rail trails are slowly transforming the way Americans recreate. What were once abandoned and overrun corridors and railways, are now places for people to walk, run, or bike. This renewal of long-forgotten outdoor space is taking place all over the country — from Virginia to Utah — and it’s still gaining steam.

According to ​​the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a trails advocacy organization, trail use in 2022 was 45 percent higher than it was in 2019. To keep up with the growing number of people who want to access trails and get outside, the conservancy is ramping up their signature project, the Great American Rail-Trail, which will eventually connect 3,700 miles of multi-use trails between Washington, D.C. and Washington State.

Bike on the George S. Mickelson Trail, South Dakota

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“Now, after several years of sustained demand for trails, it’s clear that this is a trend and that this infrastructure is essential to people across the U.S. These consistently high levels of trail use reinforce how critical this infrastructure is to our physical and mental health — as well as the well-being of our communities,” said Torsha Bhattacharya, the research director at the conservancy in a December 21, 2022 press release

As we await the completion of the Great American Rail-Trail (which is more than 50 percent complete), we’ve called out a few paths you can hop on now. These rail trails are some of the nation’s best, and are situated all over the country, from the fully paved Paul Bunyan State Trail in Minnesota to the water-bound Island Line Rail Trail in Vermont.

William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail, New York

William R. Steinhaus Dutchess Rail Trail in Poughkeepsie, New York

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This route has a stunning finish, with the crossing of the 1.28-mile Walkway Over the Hudson  pedestrian bridge (which itself is linked to a regional network of trails). But before you reach the trail’s grand finale, you’ll traverse the towns of Poughkeepsie, LaGrange, Wappinger, and East Fishkill and pass over several creeks and waterways. All told, this continuous paved rail trail, which starts at the Hopewell Depot Trailhead, runs for 13.4 miles and connects with several other trails, including the Morgan Lake Trailhead. 

Paul Bunyan State Trail, Minnesota

River view along Paul Bunyan State Trail in Minnesota

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If the trail name doesn’t get you, the landscape will. This 115-mile route, which just so happens to be the longest continuously paved rail trail in the country, passes through woods, wetlands, and farmlands, and provides easy access to Minnesota's iconic lakes. If 115-miles isn’t in the cards, feel free to break it up — just make a point to make it to Bemidji, where the trail ends and the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statue stands. 

Olympic Discovery Trail, Washington

Bicyclist on the Olympic Discover Trail in Washington

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This route provides an up-close look at the mossy landscape and rugged coastline of the Olympic Peninsula. Along the route’s 90 completed miles (it will be 135 miles eventually), you’ll travel from the Victorian seaport community of Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, you can expect to see unbelievably lush valleys, bright blue mountain lakes, and snow capped peaks. 

Great Allegheny Passage, Maryland to Pennsylvania

Bike leaning up against rock on the Great Allegheny Passage

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There’s a lot of land to cover on the Great Allegheny Passage, which travels a full 150 miles between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cumberland, Maryland. Along the way, the trail passes through various landscapes, providing access to sites like Point State Park and Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece “Fallingwater,” which was constructed to harmonize with the lush natural landscape.

Elroy-Sparta State Trail, Wisconsin

Elroy Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin

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You might not expect the oldest rail trail in the country to be in Wisconsin, but the Elroy-Sparta State Trail has been around since 1967 — long before turning old railways into hiking and biking trails became a thing. The nation’s first rail trail is also one of the most popular, with three rock tunnels and landscapes that range from wetland to prairies along the route’s 32.5 miles.

Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail, Utah

Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail in Utah

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This route follows the route of an old mining railroad that transported coal and silver in the late 1800s. These days, the 28-mile Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail is popular among outdoor enthusiasts as it starts in the mountain town of Park City (at 6,800 feet) and passes through some of the state’s wildest landscapes. In the winter, you can even trail the rail trail on skis.

Santa Fe Rail Trail, New Mexico

Bicyclist on the Santa Fe Rail Trail, in New York

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This 17-mile trail starts in Santa Fe in the hip and up-and-coming Railyard District — a great place to grab a bite or a beer. From there, the Santa Fe Rail Trail meanders through the city before passing through a wild desert landscape that includes yucca, juniper, and piñon trees. The route ends in the town of Lamy at the century-old train depot.

East Bay Bike Path, Rhode Island

East Bay Bike Path on Rhode Island

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As the name suggests, the East Bay Bike Path was built for bikers, but walkers are welcome on the pedestrian walkway that runs parallel to the bike route. It’s good news because this trail is one for the books — it begins in Providence, crosses the Seekonk River, and continues along the waters of Narragansett Bay. This 14.5-mile paved trail is all about enjoying and celebrating the state’s watery landscape.

Island Line Rail Trail, Vermont

Bicyclists on the Island Line Rail Trail in Vermont

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This rail trail, which travels along a sliver of land surrounded by water, looks like it could belong in the Florida Keys — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This 13.4-mile route is found in northwest Vermont and travels along the Colchester Causeway, a narrow stretch of land that crosses Lake Champlain. To add to the adventure, rail trail travelers will have to hop aboard a ferry to reach the causeway’s northern end.

Moab Canyon Pathway, Utah

Bridge on the Moab Canyon Pathway in Utah

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This may be the second rail trail in Utah on this list, but our roundup wouldn’t be complete without the Moab Canyon Pathway, a truly stunning trail that passes along the border of Arches National Park before linking up with an active railroad. All told, this route is just 13 miles long, but it packs a punch of red-rock landscape and desert beauty.

Katy Trail, Missouri

Bicyclists on the Katy Trail in Rocheport, Missouri

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This renowned rail trail sits within one of Missouri’s most beloved state parks, the aptly named Katy Trail State Park. The trail itself is the country's longest recreational rail trail at a whopping 240 miles. The extensive route traverses along the bank of the Missouri River and follows the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. 

Greater Yellowstone Trail, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana

Bicyclist on the Greater Yellowstone Trail

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When it’s completed, this trail will connect two of the nations most beloved national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, over the course of 180 miles. Until then, hikers and bikers can get a feel for the route (which is mostly completed) by riding one of the many paved and unpaved sections of trail. The views of the Teton mountains, which seem to shoot out of the earth, are worth every ounce of effort. 

Virginia Creeper Trail, Virginia

Virginia Creeper Trail at Whitetop Station in Virginia

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This rail trail is most popular in the fall, when the tree-lined route comes alive with oranges, reds, and yellows — but the reality is this 34.3-mile route is beautiful year-round. The trail cuts through two Virginia counties and ends just past Whitetop Station in Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. To avoid most of the uphills, do the route in reverse — starting at Whitetop Station and ending the day in Abingdon.

Empire State Trail, New York to Canada

Empire State Trail in New York

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We’d be remiss to not include the impressive Empire State Trail, which travels from the southern tip of Manhattan to Albany before splitting into two routes — one that leads to the Canadian border and one that heads west to Buffalo and Lake Erie. The 750-mile trail, which was named the longest multi-use state trail in the country, is fit for both bikers and hikers who want to enjoy the route’s miles of both paved and packed dirt trails.

George S. Mickelson Trail, South Dakota

Bike on the George S. Mickelson Trail, South Dakota

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Over the course of almost 109 miles, this rail trail offers stunning views of the Black Hills and passes through almost 100 converted railroad bridges. If you have the time, you can dip off the trail to check out some of the state’s biggest draws, including Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Mount Rushmore.

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