10 Awesome Rail-Trails with First Day Hikes (on Jan. 1)

Posted 12/27/16 by Laura Stark, Amy Kapp in America's Trails, Trail Use

Virginia's New River Trail State Park | Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks | CC by 2.0

On New Year’s Day, state parks around the U.S. offer free, guided First Day Hikes to help children and families kick off the New Year—and connect to nature. Last year, nearly 55,000 people participated!

So many great rail-trails across the country claim state park status—and we figure there’s no better time than Jan. 1 for all of us to get started on our 2017 rail-trail journey. Here are just 10 great ways you can bring in the New Year on America’s awesome rail-trails. For more events at parks near you, check out the America’s State Parks First Day Hikes web page.


Fowler Trail

Fowler Trail in Colorado | Photo courtesy Eldorado Canyon State Park

You’re in for a short, but very sweet First Day Hike on the Fowler Trail, which offers phenomenal views of the Eldorado Canyon along Colorado’s Front Range. Even better, you’ll have both a state park interpreter and a “history enthusiast” guiding the 2-mile fun and educational trip. Children and leashed pets are welcome; they’ll even have doggie treats (and hot chocolate for their human companions) at the Eldorado Canyon State Park visitor center, where the hike begins at 1 p.m. Warm layers, shoe-traction devices and hiking poles are recommended for the possibly snowy and icy conditions of the trail.


Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail | Photo courtesy Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

You’ll need to get up early for this one, but it’ll be worth it! The First Day Hike begins at the historical Long Key Bridge on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail and takes place from 7–10 a.m. On the 2.2-mile journey, you’ll learn the history of the bridge and can even bring your fishing pole. The trail is planned to span more than 100 miles—it’s currently at 90—across the length of the Florida Keys. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate its possibilities than with a sunrise on New Year’s Day.


Tallulah Falls Rail-Trail

Tallulah Falls Rail-Trail in Georgia | Photo courtesy TrailLink.com/linda64

On the ranger-guided First Day Hike in northeastern Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge State Park, you’ll trace the rim of a 1,000-foot-deep canyon and wander through the park’s Appalachian forest. As it’s a 3.5-mile moderate trek, children must be at least 8 years old to participate. While the Tallulah Falls Rail-Trail (also known as the Shortline Trail) is not part of the official hike, its close proximity makes it an easy and worthwhile side excursion. The event takes place from 10 a.m.–1 p.m., leaving plenty of time to check out the paved 1.7-mile rail-trail afterward. You’ll be glad you did when you cross the Tallulah River on a beautiful suspension bridge.


Prairie Spirit Trail State Park

Prairie Spirit Trail State Park in Kansas | Photo by Trent McCown

Notable not only for its impressive 51-mile length, the Prairie Spirit Trail State Park also delivers a fantastic array of eastern Kansas scenery, putting it justifiably in the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. For the First Day Hike, you’ll start at the centrally located Garnett trailhead, where you’ll find the Santa Fe Depot, originally built in 1931 and open daily 8 a.m.–7 p.m. year-round; history buffs will enjoy the railroad memorabilia inside. Within Garnett, the trail is paved, but the route is primarily crushed stone. Pets are welcome to come too, so long as they’re leashed.


Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail

Monkton Station along the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail in Maryland | Photo courtesy Baltimore County Tourism & Promotion

Truly embracing the “rail” in its name, the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail offers many nods to its prior life as the route of the Northern Central Railway, such as Monkton Station, located roughly central to the pathway stretching from Cockeysville to the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line. The beautifully restored 1898 depot now houses a museum and ranger station, and it’s here that you’ll begin your First Day Hike, scheduled to run from 10 a.m.–12 p.m. The ranger-led hike will follow 1.5 miles of the crushed-stone trail along scenic Big Gunpowder Falls and is aimed to suit all ages. Afterwards, you can warm up with hot cider at the station!

RELATED: 10 Great Hiking and Walking Trails

Katy Trail State Park

Along the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri | Photo by Aaron Fuhrman

The beautiful landscapes of America’s longest continuous rail-trail provide a diverse range of habitats, as you’ll experience during the Katy Trail State Park’s 4-mile (2-mile out-and-back) First Day Hike. Beginning at the McBaine trailhead (7 miles south of Columbia) at 10 a.m., the guided hike will take participants near Perche Creek and through the wetlands to spy bald eagles, woodpeckers, and other waterfowl and woodland birds. The event is free, but it's not recommended for children age 4 and under, unless carried by an adult. Reservations required!


Paulinskill Valley Trail

Paulinskill Valley Trail in New Jersey | Photo courtesy TrailLink.com/slipsoup

As part of the New Jersey State Park Service’s 20 First Day Hikes celebration, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a 4- to 5-mile hike in Kittatinny Valley State Park along the Paulinskill Valley Trail—a cinder-based rail-trail with an easy, level, mostly rural route. Beginning at 10 a.m., the free walk starts out at Footbridge Park in Blairstown. Children and dogs are welcome (be sure to bring lunch and a drink to enjoy). Also, equestrians are not left out of the mix! An additional two-hour guided horseback ride will take place from 1–4 p.m., beginning at The Chatterbox Restaurant in Augusta. Note that this event is BYOH (bring your own horse)!


Walkway Over The Hudson

Walkway Over the Hudson in New York | Photo by Fred Schaeffer

What better way to spend New Year’s Day than on a glorious 212-foot-tall bridge offering beautiful views of one of America’s iconic rivers? If you agree, you might head to Walkway Over The Hudson State Historic Park for an optional 1.25-mile or 2.5-mile First Day Hike (runners and bikers are welcome too!), which will be followed by a raffle to win—among other things—tickets to the Walkway’s Firework Celebration on Independence Day! Note: There WILL be hot chocolate. Registration is recommended but not required; meet at either the east or west entrance gates at 2 p.m.


New River Trail State Park

New River Trail State Park in Virginia | Photo courtesy TrailLink.com/godeep12

Take in the natural beauty of one of the country’s premier rail-trails during this First Day Hike along New River Trail State Park. The 3-mile walk, which begins at 10 a.m. at Ed Dannelly Park in Galex, will take you along a scenic round-trip route to Chestnut Creek Falls. Furry companions are welcome; please ensure leashes are no longer than 6 feet. Participants will get a special bumper sticker for attending the walk and can win some serious prizes by participating in the Virginia State Parks photo contest.


Palouse to Cascades States Park Trail

John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington | Photo courtesy TrailLink.com/scfroehlich

Bucket-listers wishing to experience the longest rail-trail conversion in the U.S. might hop on the Palouse to Cascades States Park Trail (Iron Horse State Park) at 10 a.m. for a little First Day Hike action near Rock Lake and Slaughter Pen Bay. Get your shrub steppe on and enjoy beautiful lake views while learning about the area’s plants, animals and geographic features. You’ll also see relics from railroad days past. The 2-hour round-trip, moderate hike includes post-hike refreshments and prizes. Children ages 6 or older welcome, but please leave Fido at home!

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