Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is encouraging all Americans to join the REI movement to #OptOutside on the day after Turkey Day, Nov. 23—and what better way to do that than on America’s trails? They’re the perfect way to get outside and enjoy nature, whether you’re a bicyclist, hiker, cross-country skier, happy horse rider or everything in between!
Here are some of our favorite trails to help you get started—straight from our staff and other trail users around the country. For lots more, check out RTC’s free trail-finder website, TrailLink.com, which maps more than 34,000 miles of multiuse trails!
Great Long-Distance Ride
If you’re looking for a longer ride, you’ll want to put this nearly complete, 300-ish-mile trail on your bike-ride buck-list radar. A favorite amongst multiple staffers at RTC (check out a recent summer trip), the cross-state Ohio trail features every type of landscape from the Ohio River to Lake Erie—with a route that includes a National Park, Amish Country, four metropolitan cities and a National Scenic River. Completing this trail also means you’ll get to check off the many great trails comprising the route, including the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Scioto Greenway Trail on the Columbus waterfront, and the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a Hall-of-Famer stretching from Xenia to just outside Cincinnati.
“Even where the trail is not completely finished, the on-street connectors are low stress, making for a comfortable ride.”
– Eli Griffen, RTC Manager of Trail Development Resources
Great Rail-Trail Course for a Horse
Here’s a great pick from our “Best Of: 10 Winning Rail-Trail Courses for Horses” article, by author Danielle Taylor—featured in the Spring 2017 issue of Rails to Trails—Kentucky’s Dawkins Line Rail Trail. Hailing from America’s most horse-friendly state, “it’s no surprise that this corridor in eastern Kentucky welcomes trusty steeds and riders alike with open arms,” wrote Taylor. “Along its route, which travels through a national forest and a state park, the trail crosses 24 trestles and passes through the 662-foot Gun Creek Tunnel, all of which are open to equestrians.
“Eventually, the state will double the trail to … 36 miles and encompass the 1,556-foot-long Tip Top tunnel. The full trail will also pass by Breathitt County’s new elk-viewing station and feature amenities for horses and riders alike, including water fountains for both, hitching posts, mounting blocks and corrals.”
NOTE: Horse trailer parking is available at the Swamp Branch, Royalton and Jane Beshear trailheads. From Royalton, the trail gradually slopes downhill as it meanders northwest.
Great Long-Distance Hike
A big shout-out to TrailLink user Carolyn H, who recently backpacked this 64.5-mile trail in Texas stretching from Estelline to South Plains. It features some of the state’s most scenic northern areas, with views including rangeland, fields of cotton and wheat, canyon vistas and juniper trees. It also boasts the Clarity Tunnel, home to thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats. While there’s no water along the trail, Carolyn mentions plenty of places to cache water in public areas (except the 17.5 miles from Monk’s Crossing to South Plains in which extra water is a must!), as well as taking advantage of amenities in Turkey and Quitaque for lodging and meals.
“This is an awesome trail for hiking with an easy grade. The trail winds through canyon breaks and up the Caprock Escarpment. Along the way the trail passes through rangeland, as wild today as it was when the bison roamed here …. There was always something new to see and discover.”– TrailLink user Carolyn H
Quick Jaunt Through Nature
If you’re looking for a slightly shorter but still beautiful walk, run or ride through nature, Ben Kaufman from our Western Regional Office recommends the 5-miles-pus Sir Francis Drake Bikeway, a.k.a. the Cross Marin Trail. The family-friendly pathway between Tocaloma and Shafter meanders through old-growth redwoods and alongside Lagunitas Creek, which features swimming holes as well as Silver Salmon and Steelhead trout that migrate up the creek to spawn in winter.
A special highlight is Samuel P. Taylor State Park (named after a guy who struck it rich in the California gold rush), which was one of the first sites in the country to offer camping as a recreational activity. Other features include oaks, Douglas firs, California native buttercups, Indian paintbrush and black-tailed deer.
“As fallen leaves crunch under your tires, it’s easy to get lost in the forest’s peace.”
– Ben Kaufman, Trail Development Manager, RTC Western Regional Office
Walking Through History
While RTC focuses on multiuse trails, there are still multiple reasons to shout out the pedestrian-only San Antonio River Walk. This network of walkways along the San Antonio River exists one story beneath the streets of the city, making for a safe, fun and low-stress way to access the many restaurants, shops, parks, bars, public artwork and cultural sites along the route. A great thing about this walkway is that when on it, you are literally walking through centuries of (recorded) history, with a nearby connection to one of America’s most famous historical landmarks—yep, you got it, the Alamo!
“The architecture and layout of the trail are super interesting. You could walk along it a hundred times and see something different each time.”
– Kevin Belanger, RTC Trail Planner
The San Antonio River Walk gets a lot of attention, but equally awesome—and a big favorite of RTC policy staffer Andrew Dupuy—is the 30-mile San Antonio River Walk Hike & Bike Path connecting Brackenridge Park and Mission Park. The City of San Antonio has diligently worked to extend this trail system into its neighborhoods, making it perfect for commuting and for reaching the endless hotspots and cultural/historical sites connected via its northern and southern reaches. This includes the lively, refurbished Pearl Brewery District, the art museum, the hip Southtown neighborhood and the city’s four historic missions, which—along with the Alamo—have a World Heritage Site designation.
“It’s a connector in the truest sense. The trail links neighborhoods, workplaces, and cultural and entertainment amenities, and there’s a good density of bikeshare stations. It’s a big part of how the city is changing its transportation culture and making the city more appealing to millennials.”
– Andrew Dupuy, RTC Manager of Policy Outreach
Cross-Country Skiing Wonderland
Alaskan native Eric Oberg in our Midwest Regional Office puts forth this 11-mile trail in Anchorage as his hands-down favorite cross-country skiing trail. Following Anchorage’s coastline along Knik Arm and Cook Inlet, the multiuse trail—which is also suitable for biking, running and walking—boasts rest areas with scenic views of the surrounding mountain ranges and wildlife viewing particularly along the southern half of the trail away from the more populated areas.
“The trail has good snow conditions most of the time—which is important for a cross-country ski trail! Add to that the amazing views of Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains, and this trail should be on any list of must-ski destinations.”
– Eric Oberg, Director of Trail Development, RTC Midwest Regional Office
Inline Skating Super Star
When gathering ideas for any kind of “favorites” or “best of” list, this trail inevitably pops up, and with good reason. The 45-mile urban-suburban connector is one of the Washington, D.C.-area’s most popular rail-trails, used heavily by commuters, endurance bicyclists, runners, walkers and those simply looking to have a great time outdoors. The nicely surfaced asphalt-concrete trail extending from Arlington to Purcellville is mileage-marked every 0.5 mile, and contains a variety of amenities for trail users, including benches, park pavilions, water stops, nearby shops—even breweries and wineries—and restroom facilities along the way; plus, it's got terrific signage! It is a particular favorite of RTC’s social media guru, Suzanne Matyas, an avid inline skater who has been using the W&OD since she was 5 years old!
“The trail is smooth and well maintained, which keeps your wheels from wearing out quickly, and is wide enough to accommodate the arcing motion of your blades without getting in the way of trail users coming from the opposite direction. I’d like to say I never fall—but that would be a bald-faced lie!”
– Suzanne Matyas, RTC Marketing & Social Media Manager
Alaska Best Of California CelebrateTrailsDay Encouraging Trail Use Health and Active Living Healthy Aging Heritage and Restoration History Happened Here Kentucky Ohio Texas Tourism Tourism and Economic Development Tourism and Economic Stimulus Trail Businesses Trail Communities Trail Destinations Trail Use Tips Urban Pathways Virginia Walkability and Bikeability Winter Uses