Stretching from sea to shining sea is an incredible expanse of trails running through forests, farmlands, parks, city centers and wildlife areas—and connecting us with nature, history and our communities. And while every trail offers its own unique experience, there are some that are so extraordinary that they truly rise to the top.
Starting out west, we have the spectacular Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail in California. Known as “the Bizz” to locals, this trail made it into the RTC’s Rail-Trail Hall of Fame for good reason; its nearly 26 miles make it one of the longest rail-trails in the entire state. Giving its riders the ability to ride from up high through shady forest to along the craggy Susan River Canyon, the trail is sure to thrill. Known for its rubberneck-provoking foliage, the Bizz also has beautiful trestle bridges, a 25-foot carved redwood statue of Paul Bunyan, historical sites and a signature chili cook-off.
If you commute by bike, you know that not all paths provide very fluid or scenic rides—and that’s why the Midtown Greenway has easily landed its place on this top-10 list. Despite stretching just short of 6 miles, this urban trail is a commuter’s—and every other type of cyclist’s—dream! Sitting 20 feet below street level, the greenway completely removes its users from overhead street traffic to smoothly take them through the heart of south Minneapolis and under more than two dozen bridges (including a cool suspension bridge), and connect them to other recreational hotspots.
Another commuter utopia, Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductee and biking dream for history buffs is Massachusetts’ Minuteman Bikeway. Helping transport several hundred thousand users annually these days to work, town and places to play, this 10-mile trail also served to transport Paul Revere during his famous midnight ride in 1775. Much has changed since Revolutionary times, but the Minuteman Bikeway still allows its riders to get in touch with the country’s roots by journeying through Cambridge, Arlington, Lexington and Bedford, and passing several historic sites, museums and natural areas along the way.
Weaving its way through pristine forest, the Banks-Veronia State Trail is a 22-mile gem tucked along the foothills of Northwest Oregon’s Coast Range. This paved path is a popular and accessible escape in the Portland area, “even though it’s really close to the city,” says Barry Bergman, trail development manager at RTC. “It really feels like you are getting away from it all.” Packed with wonder and wildlife, the can’t-miss route runs through the 1,800-acre L.L. Stub Stewart State Park and over the jaw-dropping 80-foot-high and 735-foot-long Buxton Trestle Bridge.
We couldn’t leave this game-changing original off the list: Washington State’s Burke-Gilman Trail. Built in the 1970s, this far-out trail was one of America’s first-rail-trails and helped blaze the way for many similar trail projects across the country—and it isn’t hard to understand why. Spanning nearly 19 miles, this landmark trail links Puget Sound, Fremont Canal, Lake Washington, the University of Washington and many vibrant parks—and connects to other terrific trails. Students, commuters and trail users of all varieties take the trail to get around, get outside and to get to the waterfront!
6Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and Route of the Hiawatha (Idaho)
Majestic, distinct, dazzling and wild are all words that attempt to capture the spirit of Idaho’s Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and Route of the Hiawatha—but they don’t fully do them justice. These two Hall-of-Fame rail-trails are close to each other, and with the help of the NorPac Trail, make up a larger, nearly connected 85-mile network through some of the most scenic stretches in the country. The path flirts with the Idaho-Montana border, treating its riders to an unforgettable adventure with sweeping views of Lake Coeur d’Alene, upward climbs and exhilarating dips, diverse wildlife, high trestles galore and, of course, the 1.6-mile ride under the Bitterroot Mountains through Taft Tunnel.
Affectionately known by the locals as the “W&OD” trail, Virginia’s Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park is an all-around favorite for trail users. “I grew up in a neighborhood nearby and would spend countless hours biking and hanging out with my friends on the trail,” says Jorge Brito, RTC’s development manager. “It’s where I fell in love with cycling.” Spanning an impressive 45 miles, the W&OD functions jointly as the highway of commuter trails in busy Northern Virginia and the Capital area, as well as a recreational getaway. Well marked and packed with Civil War-era history, this Rail-Trail Hall of Famer is also an economic engine—with actual cabooses—that fuels a ton of trailside businesses (one of which is called Caboose).
Immersed (literally, it’s nestled 25 feet below street level) in downtown Detroit, the Dequindre Cut Greenway is both a fantastic ride and a fairytale trail. Once upon a time, this retired railroad corridor became neglected and felt the effects of decay. Then the strong community banded together to turn the 1.8-mile trench into a vibrant beacon and useful link through the city. Filled with eye-catching artwork and character, the greenway safely connects trail users to the Detroit River and the popular Detroit RiverWalk.
A best in the Midwest and a must-do nationally is Iowa’s famous High Trestle Trail. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably seen photos of the trail’s most notable feature: a high trestle bridge with 43 diamond-shaped swirls and blue-glowing LED lights—and after reading this, we hope you go ride it and snap a few of your own! The route itself amounts to a spectacular 25-mile ride through the outskirts of Des Moines, across neighborhoods and bucolic farmlands and above the Des Moines River Valley (approximately 130 feet!) on the iconic trestle bridge; it also connects you with a handful great trails along the way.
Last but certainly not least is the venerable and very first Hall of Fame trail: Pennsylvania and Maryland’s Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). Once the treading ground of President George Washington, “the GAP has given the trail movement a shining example of what an uber long-distance experience can do for both trail riders and communities along the trail,” says Eric Oberg, RTC’s director of trail development in the Midwest. Extending an astonishing 150 miles through two states, across the Eastern Continental Divide and Mason-Dixon Line, roaring rivers, mountain passes, epic tunnels and trail towns until it connects to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park towpath and ultimately reaches Washington, D.C., “This trail is certainly a bucket list adventure for any cyclist.”