Five Great Rail-Trails for Family Camping

Posted 07/16/15 by Laura Stark in Trail Use, America's Trails

Photo courtesy RTC

School is out, summer is in, and it’s time to take the kids on a vacay. Below are five great options for a weekend camping and biking trip!

And our list is by no means exhaustive; check our trail-finder website,, if you need to find something closer to home. At a leisurely pace with lots of stops to eat, explore and—let’s face it, pee—you might be surprised how far they can go!

1Banks-Vernonia State Trail, Oregon

Banks-Vernonia State Trail | Cropped from the original | Photo courtesy Todd Fahrner | CC by 2.0

Family camping doesn’t get much easier—or more beautiful—than this. The level grade, well-shaded rail-trail, situated a short drive west of Portland, offers 21 miles of smooth pavement with restrooms at trailheads every few miles. The rail-trail offers a gorgeous combination of woodlands and pastoral land, but the scene stealer is its collection of bridges; more than a dozen accentuate the trail, including a pair of 700-footers.

A full-service campground with tent sites, rustic cabins and hot showers can be found in Buxton at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. This is close to the trail’s midpoint, so you could split your adventure into two easy days, exploring half the trail one day and the other half the next day with plenty of time leftover for other activities, like checking out the park’s Discovery Depot, which has lots of great info on the area’s wildlife and history. Tent camping, as well as RV sites, can also be found in Anderson Park at the trail’s northern terminus in Vernonia.

Bike rentals are available at the south end of the trail at Banks Bicycles.

2Greenbrier River Trail, West Virginia

Seneca State Forest | Photo courtesy Subhamoy Pal | CC by 2.0

Perhaps a recent review posted to sums up this trail’s camping experience best: “We have just one regret ... being that this was our first bike camping trip, I am not sure that any other trail will compare.” The 77-mile Greenbrier River Trail in east-central West Virginia is in our Rail-Trail Hall of Fame for good reason. It offers scenic peaks and valleys, lush forests, pioneering history, genuine hospitality in its small towns and a picturesque river at its side. Although the trail is gravel, it’s well-maintained with clean trailside bathrooms, picnic tables and old-fashioned water pumps along the way.

Cabins are available in Seneca State Forest, adjacent to the northern reaches of the trail. They’re inexpensive and without electricity, but they’re comfortable and located in a beautiful natural setting. There are also similar cabins and campgrounds at Watoga State Park, some 30 miles south along the trail.

Bike rentals are available at Appalachian Sport on S.R. 55/219 just across the bridge from the trail into Marlinton.

3Cape Cod Rail Trail, Massachusetts

Cap Cod Rail-Trail | Photo courtesy Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism | CC by 2.0

This scenic 22-mile rail-trail serves up a genuine Cape Cod experience, stretching through quaint villages and along sandy beaches past a diverse landscape of salt marshes, pine forests and cranberry bogs. The trail is paved, with few inclines, and trailheads sprinkled along the route offer restrooms, food, water and swimming areas. Of course, Cape Cod National Seashore, with more than 40 miles of beach and picturesque lighthouses along the Atlantic Ocean, is the highlight of the trip.

Near mile 11, in Brewster, the wooded Nickerson State Park offers camping (including yurt options), as well as swimming pools, picnic areas and restrooms. Farther east and north, in Eastham, you’ll find Atlantic Oaks, an RV park that also offers two-bedroom travel trailers for a weekly rental rate, just a half-mile from the National Seashore.

Bike rentals are available at Barb’s Bikes Shop, with two locations not far from the trail: one in Dennis and the other in Brewster. Little Capistrano’s Bike Rentals, in Eastham, is another option.

4Kal-Haven Trail Sesquicentennial State Park, Michigan

Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park | Photo courtesy Mish Mish | CC by 2.0

The Kal-Haven Trail has the advantage of being bookended by two great cities in southwest Michigan—Kalamazoo and South Haven—that offer great amenities, attractions and convenience for travelers. In between, the crushed-stone rail-trail sprawls 34.5 miles through farmland, woodlands and charming small towns.

On the trail’s west end, camping is available in Van Buren State Park, where kids can enjoy exploring sand dunes and taking an unforgettable dip in one of the country’s Great Lakes. Another option for the young (and young at heart) in South Haven is Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park, which—in addition to covering your lodging needs with tent sites, cabins and RVs hookups—offers a plethora of activities for the energetic crowd including a pool, athletic facilities, outdoor movies and themed weekends.  

Bike rentals are available in Kalamazoo at Cabbage Bros. Bicycles and AEBike.

5Withlacoochee State Trail, Florida

Withlacoochee River | Photo courtesy B A Bowen Photography | CC by 2.0

Want to have a great time in Florida with the kids, but the idea of spending hours on end in a theme park not your thing? Take them on the Withlacoochee State Trail to experience Florida at its natural best. Ideally situated between Orlando and Tampa, the 46-mile rail-trail, all paved, travels along the Withlacoochee River through scenic wildlife areas. This is a terrific area for birding, and the probability of spotting a gator is high, a childhood experience that would surely never be forgotten! Multiple trailheads and the trail’s close proximity to the surrounding communities means food and drink are never far away—a plus for parents.

On the southern end of the trail, campsites with electricity, water, picnic tables, restrooms and showers are available within the Withlacoochee State Forest at the Silver Lake Campground and Cypress Glen Campground.

Bike rentals are available at Inverness Bicycle and Fitness and Suncoast Bicycles, both of which are located in downtown Inverness within two blocks of the trail.

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