Six Ideas for Exploring and Celebrating Trails…Virtually at Home!

Posted 04/10/20 by Laura Stark in America's Trails

During the coronavirus pandemic, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy urges everyone seeking trail experiences to practice social distancing and follow the safety guidelines on being active in the outdoors outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the laws and regulations set forth by state and local governments. For additional information, please visit our COVID-19 Resources page.

Each year, we celebrate Opening Day for Trails as the national kickoff to the spring trail season. This year, in an effort to keep trail users healthy and safe during the coronavirus pandemic, we’re shifting gears—and encouraging Americans everywhere to “Celebrate Trails @Home!”

Traditionally for this special occasion, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has promoted opportunities for people to gather with friends, family and neighbors on local trails for a group walk, run, ride, hike or other fun activity. But due to current public health and safety guidance, and the recent rapid surge in trail use over the past month, resulting in overcrowding on trails—we’re urging people to find new ways to safely explore these places and spaces.

Related: Using Trails and Outdoor Spaces Safely in the Wake of COVID-19

Thankfully, the ubiquity of smartphones and personal computers still allows for all of us to enjoy trails—just in a different way! Here are a few ideas for exploring trails from the safety and comfort of your abode!

1Trail Videos

YouTube offers a ton of virtual trail experiences that you can watch while riding a stationary bike, working out on an elliptical machine, running on a treadmill or even just jogging in place without any fancy equipment. Here are a couple of options we found. The World Nature Video channel has several beautiful bike rides set in the United States and abroad; or, if you’re more of a hiker, the 4K Relaxation Channel offers a nice playlist of relaxing nature walks. And Treadily offers a variety of videos for runners.

2Virtual Trail Walks

TrailLink is a free app in Apple App Store and Google Play
Download the free TrailLink app on iPhone or Android.

If you have a pedometer or other fitness tracker that records your steps, you can set goals that match the lengths of trails you want to travel—and then reward yourself when you’ve “completed” your destination! You can look up the mileage for your fantasy trail on, which lists more than 4,000 multiuse trails in the United States, and then plan how many days it will take you to “walk” the trail. A total of 10,000 steps equals nearly 5 miles, depending on your stride. 

3Online Events

On April 18, RTC invites you to Celebrate Trails @ Home—an all-virtual  celebration of trails:
On April 18, RTC invites you to Celebrate Trails @ Home—an all-virtual celebration of trails:

On, you can search by keywords like “walk” or “bike” to find free or low-cost online events to participate in, like virtual wellness walks, bike rides (with an indoor bike), bicycling 101 classes and other fitness-related topics. You can also join your fellow trail enthusiasts for our national, all-virtual Celebrate Trails @Home event on Saturday, April 18!

4Story Maps

Screen Shot of Katy Trail State Park Storymap by Missouri Department of Natural Resources:
Screen Shot of Katy Trail State Park Storymap by Missouri Department of Natural Resources:

Story Maps are web-based maps that integrate photos, video and other multimedia tools—the perfect format for experiencing trails virtually. We found a few examples of Story Maps for our Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductees, which represent some of the best rail-trail experiences in the country, but you can find other trail Story Maps with some online searching. Check these out: Missouri’s Katy Trail, New York’s High Line and Idaho’s Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.

5Google Maps Street View

A few years ago, the Google Maps “Street View” experience expanded to show off-street views as well thanks to the innovation of the Street View Trekker (a backpack-mounted camera). Some cities like Indianapolis, and even whole states like Minnesota, now have their major trails available for viewing online. To see if you can explore your community this way, visit Google Maps and search for your town, then click the menu button in the top left corner to turn on the “Bicycling” option; zoom into any trails you see marked in dark green and click and drag the Street View icon (the yellow “Pegman” in the lower right corner) onto the trail you want to view.

6Photo Galleries

2016 "I Support Trails!" Photo Contest

Need a positive pick-me-up during these tough times? You’ll find some gorgeous trail photos to savor on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Flickr page, Instagram account and online Rails to Trails magazine archive. Our TrailLink website also has thousands of photos submitted by trail users around the country, so check it out to get inspired for future trail adventures.

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