Meet the Newest National Recreation Trails (Hint: Six Are Rail-Trails!)

Posted 06/01/18 by Laura Stark in America's Trails

Cannon Valley Trail - Photo by TrailLink user caferacer42

This week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced 19 new National Recreation Trails in 17 states, including a half-dozen amazing rail-trails.

“National Recreation Trail designations are bringing the National Trails System into an increasing number of American communities,” said Marianne Fowler, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s senior strategist for policy advocacy.


“We are so proud that six rail-trails are honored this year. The strength of the National Trails System is the wide diversity of trails that it recognizes and highlights.”

—Marianne Fowler, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy


Below are the rail-trails now joining the ranks of more than 1,000 National Recreation Trails designated across the country. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act, which established National Recreation Trails along with National Scenic Trails and later National Historic Trails. This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the Railbanking Amendment to the National Trails System Act, which has made possible hundreds of rail-trails nationwide.

Iron Ore Heritage Trail (Michigan)

Iron Ore Heritage Trail | Photo by Ali Fulsher
Iron Ore Heritage Trail | Photo by Ali Fulsher

The Iron Ore Heritage Trail traverses 47 miles across the Marquette Iron Range in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. The rail-trail follows the route of railroads built to carry iron ore from the mines to the Lake Superior harbor, and on the journey, travelers will see many relics from a bygone era: mining shafts, forges, furnaces and other historical structures. 

North Western State Trail (Michigan)

North Western State Trail | Photo by TrailLink user deckheck
North Western State Trail | Photo by TrailLink user deckheck

Beginning from the tip of Michigan’s “mitten,” the North Western State Trail winds south from Mackinaw City, where two of the Great Lakes meet. From there, the rail-trail heads 32 miles south to Petoskey, traveling through lush forests and alongside wildlife-rich lakes and providing access to small towns large in Midwestern charm. 

Cannon Valley Trail (Minnesota)

Cannon Valley Trail | Photo by TrailLink user caferacer42
Cannon Valley Trail | Photo by TrailLink user caferacer42

Southeastern Minnesota’s Cannon Valley Trail offers some of the state’s best scenery over the course of nearly 20 miles, including a striking mix of wetlands, hardwoods, river bluffs, several large lakes and rolling farmland. Following the route of the former Chicago Great Western Railway, the rail-trail connects the communities of Red Wing, Welch and Cannon Falls along the Cannon River.

River’s Edge Trail (Montana)

River's Edge Trail in Montana | Photo by Kevin Kim
River's Edge Trail in Montana | Photo by Kevin Kim

The River’s Edge Trail begins in northern Montana’s Great Falls and heads northeast along both banks of the Missouri River, offering more than 40 miles of trail with a postcard-perfect backdrop. Travelers will follow in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as they explore the region’s picturesque waterfalls falls, rocky cliffs and the river canyon in view of distant mountains.

Jim Mayer Riverswalk Trail (Pennsylvania)

Jim Mayer Riverwalk | Photo by TrailLink user jpw1971
Jim Mayer Riverwalk | Photo by TrailLink user jpw1971

Although just 2 miles long, the Jim Mayer Riverswalk dazzles with views of the Stonycreek River, wooded hillsides, colorful wildflowers and the 50-foot Buttermilk Falls. Named for a local conservationist, the crushed-stone pathway provides a natural retreat in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Johnstown.

Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (Virginia)

Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail | Photo by TrailLink user perrywinkletiger
Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail | Photo by TrailLink user perrywinkletiger

The 16-mile Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail offers a rustic experience through unspoiled woodlands just outside of Fredericksburg in Northern Virginia. Adventurers may see foxes, eagles, beavers, hawks, deer and other wildlife in this scenic and tranquil setting. The pathway is also part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, which extends from the Chesapeake Bay to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Note that a permit is required to visit the trail, but can conveniently be acquired online.

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