RTC embarked on a 12-month assessment of route options using its GIS database of more than 34,000 miles of existing, multiuse trails nationwide, and analyzing more than 300 state and local trail plans to identify planned future trails. RTC also met and worked with more than 200 local trail partners and more than 50 state agencies representing the trails along the route, shaping criteria to ensure safe, non-motorized travel on a route that is entirely walkable and bikeable. These trail criteria specify that the Great American Rail-Trail be one contiguous route that is preliminarily more than 80%, and ultimately entirely, off-road and separated from vehicle traffic; comprise existing trails to the extent possible; be reasonably direct from Washington to Washington; be amenable to the state and local jurisdictions through which it will cross; and serve as a catalyst for local economic development, including providing services for long-distance travelers.
Through the assessment, RTC and its partners have defined the preferred route of the Great American Rail-Trail as more than 3,700 miles—with approximately 2,026 miles of existing trails (trails along the route that are built and maintained by dedicated teams of local staff and volunteers) and 1,744 miles of identified trail gaps (sections of trail that still need to be developed).
While there are more than 1,700 miles of trails to complete along the route of the Great American Rail-Trail, each trail gap has one or more future trail options identified as possible trail connections. Many of these gaps and proposed future trails are already identified in public plans that have been adopted at the state and local levels. Insight from local trail partners and states has helped to identify the preferred alignment that best corresponds with their priorities, with the intention of maximizing existing trail momentum as the Great American Rail-Trail is connected across the country.
As work to complete the 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail moves forward, RTC has embarked on an endeavor through its national trail-finder website, TrailLink.com™, to examine and celebrate the unique history of people and places along the trail’s iconic route. In this video, we explore the history of three sites connected across distance and time by the developing trail, including the Alexandria Aqueduct in Washington, D.C., Our Lady of the Rockies in Butte, Montana, and WWII pilot Sator Sanchez of Joliet, Illinois.
Produced by Rails to Trails magazine.
Featuring Avigail Oren, lead historian; Dr. Pat Munday, Montana Technological University; Mike Nardollili, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.
The Vision of the Great American Rail-Trail
Picture yourself … pedaling across the entire country on a safe, seamless and scenic pathway—or walking a local trail that connects along historic routes. Imagine the incomparable experience of exploring America’s heritage by trail—its potential, its beauty and bounty, its people and places. Consider the economic opportunities and the benefits for communities along the route of a multiuse trail that stretches more than 3,700 miles between Washington and Washington. Learn more about the vision of the Great American Rail-Trail.
Discovering America: Reconnecting People and Places
The Great American Rail-Trail promises an all-new American experience. Through 12 states and the District of Columbia, the trail will directly serve nearly 50 million people within 50 miles of the route. Across the nation—and the world—only the limits of imagination will limit its use. Learn more about the preferred route.
"The Great American Rail-Trail will be a national treasure. It presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create—together—an enduring gift to the nation that will bring joy for generations to come."
—Ryan Chao, RTC President
Like you, we can’t wait to see the Great American Rail-Trail vision come to life—but we can’t do it alone. Help us reach 1 million pledges for the Great American, showing the strength and solidarity of the trails community.
The Great American Rail-Trail will stand alongside our country’s iconic landmarks as a national treasure. You can help by making a gift to RTC, supporting the national leadership and on-the-ground support—the work to organize people, plans and ideas; trail planning and community engagement; the advocacy and marketing that is necessary to completing the Great American Rail-Trail.