10 Impactful Rails-with-Trails in America

Posted 03/20/20 by Amy Kapp, Eli Griffen in America's Trails

San Clemente Beach Trail | Courtesy RTC
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This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Rails to trails magazine. It has been reposted here in an edited format.

Rails-with-trails (trails built along active rail lines) continue to increase in number across the United States as communities seek ways to make the most of valuable transportation corridors—in beachside areas, historical districts, busy urban centers and pristine natural areas. 

A new report just released by the Federal Highway Administration found that in the past 18 years, the number of known rails-with-trails has grown from 65 in 30 states to more than 343 in 47 states—spanning an estimated 917 miles, demonstrating this growth in popularity and impact.

Here are just 10 examples of unique, scenic and super-connecting rails-with-trails that demonstrate the true value of these “dream teams”—for commuting, travel, fun and recreation.

To learn more about America’s rails-with-trails, check out Rails to Trails magazine’s Fall 2014 cover story, “Dream Team.”

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Metropolitan “Met” Branch Trail (Washington, D.C.)

Metropolitan “Met” Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. | Courtesy RTC
Metropolitan “Met” Branch Trail in Washington, D.C. | Courtesy RTC

Spanning 8 miles between Northeast Washington, D.C. and Silver Spring, Maryland, this busy urban trail—currently a mix of on-road and off-road facilities—offers vital transportation links to many of the District’s neighborhoods and destinations, including Brookland, Eckington, Edgewood, NoMa and Takoma Park, as well as the National Mall, the U.S. Capitol, The Catholic University of America and Gallaudet University.

Following the former route of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Metropolitan Branch rail line, the trail—which is lined with colorful murals through a project by NoMa BID—was created by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and shares a corridor with DC Metro’s Red Line, MARC Train Service, CSX freight trains and Amtrak, making it ideal for commuting.

DDOT and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association continue to work to fill gaps to create a continuous off-road trail. Future plans also call for a link to the Capital Crescent Trail, which stretches from Northwest D.C. to Silver Spring. The trail is also part of the developing

Capital Trails Coalition network, comprising 800 miles of trails in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.

Length: 8 miles

Surface: Asphalt

Uses: Biking, walking, inline skating; wheelchair accessible

Parley’s Trail (Utah)

Route: S. Wasatch Blvd. (south of Parley’s Canyon) > 500 E (south of

Wentworth Ave.), Salt Lake City

Length: 5.5 mi. (asphalt, concrete)

Highlights: The trail shares a mile of corridor with the Utah Transit Authority’s S Line—which is easily accessible via four stops along the trail. The streetcar, trail, kempt landscaping, public plazas, etc., are known as the S-Line Greenway.

Astoria Riverwalk (Oregon)

Astoria Riverwalk | Courtesy Oregon State University | CC by 2.0
Astoria Riverwalk | Courtesy Oregon State University | CC by 2.0

This 6.4-mile waterfront gem in Astoria, Oregon, follows the former Astoria and Columbia River Railroad—an important transportation asset in the early 1900s for both timber and tourists heading to the coast from Portland.

The route connects a variety of attractions and industrial marvels—including the Port of Astoria, the 4.1-mile Astoria-Megler Bridge, the Maritime Memorial and the world-class Maritime Museum.

A major highlight of the rail-with-trail is the “Old 300” Astoria Riverfront Trolley, a 6-mile round-trip excursion ride (with eight additional stations) that offers a historical narrative of the area and stunning views of the town and Columbia River shoreline. (Note: Open at varied days/times between March 23 and October 2018, with daily and weekend-only [Friday–Sunday] runs—except when raining! Check the Old 300 website for info, or check signs at trolley stations.)

Other Astoria claims to fame: The area is home to the oldest European settlement in the West and an important migratory site for some 20,000 birds each fall. Astoria also helped usher in the canning industry in the mid-1800s.•

Length: 6.4 miles

Surface: Asphalt, boardwalk

Uses: Biking, walking, inline skating, fishing; wheelchair accessible

Frisco Trail (Arkansas)

Route: Scull Creek Trail (W. Prospect St.) > Town Branch Trail, Fayetteville

Length: 2.39 mi. (asphalt, concrete)

Highlights: This tree-shaded trail—which parallels an active railroad for a portion of its route—connects Fayetteville’s south side with its vibrant entertainment center, providing a safe alternative to access the area on foot or by bike.

Heritage Rail Trail County Park (Pennsylvania)

Heritage Rail Trail County Park | Photo by Tim Senft, courtesy York County Rail Trail Authority
Heritage Rail Trail County Park | Photo by Tim Senft, courtesy York County Rail Trail Authority

This 25-mile rail-trail follows the former route of the North Central Railway, which President Lincoln took to deliver his famous Gettysburg Address. The trail now shares 10 miles with Steam Into History—an excursion ride powered by a replica 1860s steam locomotive that honors the area’s rich past. The trail also features seven railroad structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Howard Tunnel, the second-oldest active railroad tunnel in the country.

Length: 24.9 miles

Surface: Crushed stone

Uses: Biking, walking, fishing, horseback riding, cross-country skiing; wheelchair accessible

North Cedar Lake Regional Trail/Cedar Lake Trail (Minnesota)

Route: Hopkins > Minneapolis

Length: 9 mi. (asphalt)

Highlights: This busy urban trail follows a freight line for most of its route between Hopkins and downtown Minneapolis. The trail runs (with the freight line) underneath Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, and eventually ends at the Mississippi River.

Wow Trail (New Hampshire)

WOW Trail in New Hampshire | Photo by TrailLink user abeetle
WOW Trail in New Hampshire | Photo by TrailLink user abeetle

Currently at 2.7 miles and eventually stretching to 9 miles between Laconia and Belmont, this extremely picturesque trail shares a corridor with the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, between Meredith and Lakeport. Although the pathway travels through urban areas, the three local water bodies for which the trail is named—Lake Winnipesaukee, Opechee Bay and Lake Winnisquam—help create a serene natural backdrop for trail users.

Length: 2.7 miles

Surface: Asphalt

Uses: Biking, walking, inline skating, fishing, cross-country skiing; wheelchair accessible

Inland Rail Trail (California)

Route: Escondido Creek Bike Path, Escondido > San Marcos

Length: 6.5 mi. (asphalt)

Highlights: This developing 21-mile trail runs along the Sprinter light rail service connecting Escondido to Oceanside—and will eventually connect with the Coastal Rail Trail (rail-with-trail).

San Clemente Beach Trail (California)

San Clemente Beach Trail | Courtesy RTC
San Clemente Beach Trail | Courtesy RTC

Situated along a 2.3-mile stretch of shoreline in quaint San Clemente, this trail’s expansive Pacific Ocean views easily make it one of the most scenic rails-with-trails in the country. The sand surfaced pathway shares a corridor with an active Amtrak line as well as Metrolink trains that are part of the L.A. commuter rail system. When constructed, the trail project included crossing gates over the active railroad tracks that now enable pedestrians from town to reach the beach safely.

Length: 2.3 miles

Surface: Sand, boardwalk

Uses: Walking

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