Rail-trails are great places to walk, providing incredible backdrops for people to get to work and school, hang with family and friends, and reach great community destinations. In honor of Trails, Parks and Outdoor Spots month, here's a list of 10 great walking and hiking trails across America (in no particular order).
1Manitou Incline (Colorado)
This 1-mile rail-trail, which starts in Manitou Springs, has seen plenty of action since (and before) it became a legal trail in 2013, but flood damage forced its closing in August 2014. Climbing approximately 2,000 feet up the side of Pikes Peak—a National Historic Landmark—and boasting railroad ties as steps, the trail’s corridor was originally completed in 1907 to support construction of a hydroelectric plant and water pipeline, and later became a tourist attraction.
After a $1.5 million overhaul, the Manitou Incline rail-trail reopened to the public in December 2014. At 40 percent grade, the trail is considered one of the most physically challenging hikes in the area—but the “breathtaking” views from the top make it worth the effort.
2High Line (New York)
To quote TrailLink.com, “The High Line rail-trail is an urban marvel, stretching 1.5 miles and towering almost 30 feet above street level through several neighborhoods in the Lower West Side of Manhattan.”
The trail passes an array of incredible features such as rooftop gardens, grasslands, woodlands and cool artwork, and provides a beautiful view of the city skyline and the Hudson River. Integrated into parts of the pathway are some of the corridor’s original CSX railroad tracks (visible in the concrete slab designs that make up the surface of the trail) and original art-deco steel railings.
3Clipper City Rail Trail & Harborwalk (Massachusetts)
This 1.1-mile multi-use trail in Newburyport stretches from a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail station to the Merrimack River, passing through an industrial park, neighborhood and waterfront area. Trail users are treated to a collection of sculptures and artwork along the route, and a boardwalk made of sustainably harvested tropical hardwood.
The city is currently working on a 1.5-mile extension of the trail along the Merrimack River waterfront and through the South End residential neighborhood and woodland acreage into Newbury.
4Bridge of Flowers (Massachusetts)
The 400-foot-long Bridge of Flowers was built on an old trolley line bridge spanning the Deerfield River between Shelburne and Buckland. This trail is open from April to October (hurry!) and features exactly what its name implies, a gorgeous array of flowers, plants and trees that help frame the quaint and historic Shelburne Falls community. (Unfortunately, no dogs allowed!) Interestingly, Shelburne Falls can also claim the second-oldest bowling alley in the country.
5Astoria Riverwalk (Oregon)
Stretching 6.4 miles along the shores of the Columbia River (near the Pacific Ocean), the Astoria Riverwalk provides access to the city’s popular waterfront, connecting restaurants, museums, breweries and historic sites. The trail is accessible from almost anywhere along its length, but you might start at the western trailhead at the Port of Astoria, home to hundreds of ships. Highlights of the route include the longest continuous three-span through-truss bridge in North America (towering overhead), the Maritime Memorial, which honors the seafaring history of the region, and the 2,000 barking sea lions that—for better or worse—have claimed space on the docks of the East Mooring Basin. Up to 20,000 birds also congregate in the area during the annual fall migration.
6Superior Hiking Trail (Minnesota)
Spanning 220 miles along the shore of Lake Superior in northeast Minnesota, this long-distance footpath is modeled after the Appalachian Trail.
The trail is 1,750 feet above sea level and is characterized by ascents to rock outcroppings and cliffs and descents into river and creek valleys. There are trailhead parking lots every 5 to 10 miles, making it good for day hikes and camping. Panoramic overlooks of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains, and inland woodlands, lakes and rivers are abundant along the length of the trail.
7Chessie Nature Trail (Virginia)
This 7-mile rail-trail, more suited for walking than biking due to several fixed gates (though biking is permitted), spans through breathtaking rural Virginia countryside along the old Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad line. At its north end are Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute (which owns the trail) in Lexington, and at its southern end is Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista.
Both communities linked by the trail offer a variety of restaurants, accommodations and sites to see; you might try Stonewall Jackson’s house in Lexington to see where the famous Confederate general lived and is now laid to rest.
8Clarksville Greenway (Tennessee)
“In my opinion, this is the epitome of rail-trails. It’s scenic with nice views throughout,” said one TrailLink review of this 4.6-mile multi-use trail in Montgomery County.
The serene, peaceful, safe and beautiful pathway meanders along a creek through a tree canopy from Heritage Park to the water treatment plant in Clarksville. A highlight is the 600-foot-long Raymond C. Hand Pass pedestrian bridge—named in honor of the self-made businessman who began the Ideal Distributing Company in 1949—now the Hand Family Beverage Company, one of the largest beer distributors in the nation.
9Devil’s Fork Loop Trail (Virginia)
The 7-mile Devil’s Fork rail-trail boasts amazing rock formations, hemlock and rhododendron coverage, waterfalls, mountain views, and swimming and fishing holes along a natural dirt path, with the main attraction being the emerald-pooled Devil’s Bathtub (1.5 miles from the trailhead). Another must see: a 50-foot waterfall at the mouth of Corder Hollow, just a little further ahead.
But hikers beware: A 1,200-foot elevation change, 18 stream crossings (it can be slippery), a slightly tricky route (a compass and map are a must) and a lack of nearby facilities (be sure to take water!) mean that those who tackle the trail should be prepared for the challenge ahead.
NOTE: There are only 14 parking spaces (via the U.S. Forest Service) presently serving this trail. Please be courteous and respectful to all adjacent landowners (do not park on private property or block local access routes), and if you get to the trail and find there's no parking available, be sure you are equipped with information on other great local spots to try! (Special thank you to Nancy Johnson for providing this information.)
10August Canal Trail (Georgia)
This 7.5-mile trail occupies a unique historic and natural setting in the heart of Augusta. The trail is part of the larger Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, which highlights the only unbroken, accessible industrial canal in the South (originally constructed in 1845). Its textile heritage is preserved in several existing period structures, including ornate Sibley Mill and a Confederate-era parapet.
Trailside activities include boat tours of the Savannah River, canoe rentals and mountain biking on trails that parallel the main route. The trail ends at the scenic Savannah Rapids Park.
To learn more about these and other trails, check out TrailLink.com, a searchable database of more than 32,000 miles of trails nationwide.
Special thank you to Staff Writer Laura Stark for contributing content to this blog.