Can you imagine your perfect outdoor oasis? Take a moment to picture it. Is it quiet, or is it filled with the laughter of playing children or the melody of songbirds? Are there trees, fields, flowers, shorelines or lots of wildlife? Is it in a tiny city pocket park or a remote reserve?
Doesn’t it make you feel happy?
Being able to spend time outside to connect with nature is a uniquely special feeling and has many health benefits. It’s also something we believe that everyone should be able to experience. Thankfully, trails enable people of all ages and abilities to do just that. In urban, suburban and rural places all across the country, trails can take us to (and are!) incredible natural spaces.
No matter what your dream space looks like, we encourage you hit a trail and try to find it! To inspire you, here’s a list of some great paths for getting in touch nature:
1Banks-Vernonia State Trail, Oregon
Starting in the West, we’ve chosen one of our favorite city escapes: Oregon’s Banks-Vernonia State Trail. Sitting less than an hour's drive outside of the hustle, bustle and delightful “weirdness” of Portland, this trail stretches nearly 23 miles through the foothills of the Coast Mountains and the magnificent L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. The park is an 1,800-acre delight equipped with campgrounds (for people and for horses), RV hookups, an 18-hole disc golf course, wildlife viewing areas and a fun Discovery Depot.
The trail’s completion is in part due to the opening of the spectacular park in 2007; its history, however, extends back to the 1920s, when it was first used to haul timber. Currently, the route hosts hikers, cyclists and equestrians, and travels under 13 bridges and two 700-foot-long, 80-foot-high railroad trestles.
2Tahoe Trailways Bike Path, California
When asked about the Tahoe Trailways Bike Path, our team said it “could not get any prettier unless there were rainbow unicorns prancing on it.” And although you will not find any mythical beasts over its 19 miles, you will find this California rail-trail to be a magical place where peoples’ dreams come true—665 Olympic dreams, that is! One of the trail’s three branches travels to the base of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympic Valley, the home of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
In addition to its golden history, the trail leads its users by the Truckee River, Sugar Pine Point State Park and the shore of Lake Tahoe, the country’s second-deepest lake! The trail also has a bright future as it’s part of a developing network that will link communities across two states to trail.
3Colorado Riverfront Trail, Colorado
Your moment of Zen on the Colorado Riverfront Trail is possible due to the dedication and hard work of the Colorado Riverfront Commission. This 22-mile paved beauty follows the Colorado River and goes through several parks. Starting off with a stunning view of the Colorado National Monument canyons, from the aptly named Monument View Section, the trail soon introduces you to the Walter Walker State Wildlife Area, reaches the Connected Lakes Section and then forks off into two other nature havens: the Blue Heron Section and Audubon Section. From either shady route, you’ll pass by glittering lakes and have the opportunity to spy some spectacular birds, including bald eagles, herons, osprey, owls and hawks.
The trail reunites again near the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, and then passes by Western Colorado Botanical Gardens and Butterfly House, the Las Colonias, the James M. Robb Colorado River State and Clifton Nature parks before it ends.
4Ti-Haul Trail, Vermont
In the Burlington, Vermont, suburb of Shelburne, near the mighty Lake Champlain, you’ll find the charming Ti-Haul Trail. This trail is short, sweet, scenic and shady, and was constructed for the sole purpose of moving the Ticonderoga steamboat from the lake to the Shelburne Museum.
Though the rail-trail itself only covers 1 mile, it links to Shelburne Bay Park and the park’s slightly longer Rec Path, and sits a mere half-mile away from the expansive Shelburne Farms. The entire length of the trail runs along this iconic property, which operates as a nonprofit dedicated to “educating for a sustainable future,” and encompasses 1,400 acres of working farm and forest as well as an estate that was designated a National Historic Landmark. The property has maintained the spirit of its roots, as it was originally created in 1886 to be a model agricultural estate by Dr. William Webb and Eliza Vanderbilt; the design was in part guided by Frank Law Olmstead, the famous landscape architect of New York City’s Central Park.
5John Heinz Refuge Trail, Pennsylvania
If you imagined your ideal space as an idyllic island surrounded by the thrum of industry, then you will absolutely love the John Heinz Refuge Trail. But even if you did picture something different, you will still fall for America’s first urban wildlife refuge and its residents: deer, opossums, foxes, turtles, frogs and more than 300 species of birds. Conveniently located within eyesight of the Philadelphia International Airport, this nearly 8-mile trail is as much a sanctuary for wildlife as it is a refuge for city dwellers.
While navigating its two wide loops along Darby Creek, woodlands, meadowland and the Tincum Marsh, trail users need only look northeast to feel welcomed by the City of Brotherly Love’s skyline. The trail also serves as a key piece of the developing 750-mile Circuit Trails Network and is part of the Maine-to-Florida route known as the East Coast Greenway.
6New River Trail State Park, Virginia
Rounding out this list is one of our southern belle routes: Virginia’s New River Trail State Park. Truly the bell of the ball, this delightful rail-trail was declared an official National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior for good reason! Graced with the good looks and shade from the surrounding Blue Ridge Highlands—the professed Birthplace of Country Music—the majority of the verdant route is within view of the New River. Visitors can cool off and become fully “immersed” in nature by going for a swim or canoe ride in the refreshing water, or taking a forest bath underneath the tree canopy.
The 57-mile trail’s natural beauty is complemented by its manmade garnishes, including two cavernous tunnels, impressive dams, railroad trestles—such as the 950-foot Hiawassee trestle—the historical shot tower, train depots and even a red caboose.