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Using Trails

Swap Out a Car Trip for a Trail Trip With These Tips and Tricks

By: Ryan Chao, Amy Kapp
August 31, 2022

Along the Great Rivers Greenway trail network in St. Louis, Missouri | Photo courtesy Great Rivers Greenway
Along the Great Rivers Greenway trail network in St. Louis, Missouri | Photo courtesy Great Rivers Greenway

Right now in America, the transportation sector contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, with personal vehicles and light trucks accounting for the majority. Bringing down these emissions—by driving less and making vehicles cleaner—will help decrease our carbon footprint and is critical to the health of our planet and our communities.

It’s evident that the effects of climate change—exacerbated in the past couple centuries—are being felt across the country, from 100-year storms happening each year, to heat waves and longer fire seasons. And while there is much debate about what can and should be done to mitigate the impact of climate change in the short and long term, everybody can play a role.

More than half of all trips in the United States are within a 20-minute bike ride, and a quarter are within a 20-minute walk. Swapping even a portion of these short trips from car trips to walking and biking trips (trail trips!) is something we can all do to make a difference. The best part—it will help us feel better, too.

That’s why the team at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) is embarking on an eight-week “Swap-a-Trip” challenge. Beginning Sept. 6, #TeamRTC will explore new ways to embrace active transportation by swapping car trips with walking, bicycling and other self-propelled activities—while getting the physical and mental health benefits to boot.

Whatever the reason—whether it’s to reduce your carbon footprint, or steep gas prices have got you down—we hope you will consider swapping a car trip for a walk or a bike ride. Here is a collection of tips and advice, brought to you from RTC, to change up that daily car commute or errand run while embracing trails, active transportation and a more active lifestyle.

Let us know how you do, and feel free to send any of your own tips and tricks, in the comments section below!

Finding Your Way by Trail

Find Your Trail on TrailLink.com | Graphic courtesy TrailLink
Find Your Trail on TrailLink.com | Graphic courtesy TrailLink

It can be a little nerve racking for some to walk or bike on streets and roadways. We may be biased here at RTC, but we much prefer the comfort of trails. If you’re looking for safe off-road routes to get you where you want and need to go, check out TrailLink.com™, RTC’s free trail-finder website and app. TrailLink catalogues some 40,000 miles of multiuse trails—including 25,000 miles of rail-trails—and includes descriptions, photos, ratings, user reviews and other helpful route information.

A huge plus is that you can search by geographic location and find out which trails are closest to, or travel directly through, your intended destinations.

101 Trip Tips: Walking, Biking and Wheelchair Use

Biking in D.C.'s Rock Creek Park | Photo by Hayden Duncan, courtesy Victoria Yuen
Biking in D.C.’s Rock Creek Park | Photo by Hayden Duncan, courtesy Victoria Yuen

Sometimes, it’s the little changes combined with advanced preparation that can make the biggest difference when taking things to the next level.

From RTC’s #TrailMoments collection: Dan and Saul Brownstein have some advice, developed from their own experiences, for wheelchair users to hit the trail in their neighborhoods and beyond. And Victoria Yuen talks about her journey with her husband to swap out car trips for bike trips in Washington, D.C.—which eventually led to getting rid of their car altogether. “I’ve never enjoyed nature as much as I have on a bike,” wrote Yuen.

If you’re a passionate pedestrian, you may also want to take a quick peak at part one of the late Jay Walljasper’s four-part series on “Easy Steps to Walking More”—which is full of simple but impactful ways to integrate walking into your daily routine.


RELATED: How to Prepare for Your First Long-Distance Trail Ride

Getting Back on a Bike … After a Really Long Time

Amy Kapp trying on helmets, June 2015 | Photo by Elissa Southward
Amy Kapp trying on helmets, June 2015 | Photo by Elissa Southward

#TeamRTC Editor-in-Chief Amy Kapp’s preferred trail mode has always been running—for her mental and physical health. She says that when she joined RTC in her 30s, “I could count on (less than) one hand how many times I’d ridden a bike since high school. Truthfully, my bicycling experiences hadn’t always been great ones, and I had some anxiety about getting back on the saddle. That said, with the support of some of my fellow (bike-savvy) staffers, I did learn to re-embrace the mode after nearly two decades and have—as a result—been able to experience trails and communities in new, awesome ways.”  

If you want to get back on a bike but are struggling a little, check out her blog, “How to Get Back on a Bike Years Later,” which catalogues a few of her experiences, plus some tips.

Turning the Wheels on Your Commute

For those of you who are not estranged to bicycling, but have generally limited your treks to recreation, you may be just a few routine tweaks and equipment checks away from working wheels into your daily commute.

Here is an article from former #TeamRTC staffer Jake Lynch, who talks about how he was able to make bicycling his primary means of transportation to and from work, saving him money and time, and positively impacting his sleeping routine.

Getting the Kids Involved

Colorado's Farmers High Line Canal Trail | Photo by Scott Stark
Colorado’s Farmers High Line Canal Trail | Photo by Scott Stark

Got kids? Bike commuting doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. Children of nearly any age can join parents on a bike trip to the grocery store or to run other errands, and older kids can bike to school and to their friends’ houses.

From RTC’s #TrailMoments collection, #TeamRTC staffer Laura Stark shares some tips to help your children become successful and happy riders, and make biking part of their everyday life, too. And fellow bike enthusiast Dale Majors, a father of six, also has some advice for taking younger kids (even babies!) out on bike trips.


RELATED: From Father to Son—A Beautiful Life on a Bike Seat

Adapting Your Walking or Biking Trips to Weather

CATS Trails In New York | Photo by Tom Sexton
CATS Trails In New York | Photo by Tom Sexton

Whether the degrees on the thermometer read 9 or 90, preparation is the #1 key to making your trail trip more pleasant while mitigating or avoiding potential issues.


RELATED: Pedaler’s Palate at SXSW: Four Cyclists Dish on Food, Cycling and the Real Foods Movement

Gear Tips + Hacks for Bike Commuters and Trekkers

“We’ve all had those days where things just didn’t go as planned,” wrote Katie Harris. “But while some things are simply up to fate to resolve, others are under our control!” In this blog, Harris—who has seen it all in her years of bicycling, including a trip across the country (featured in our 2014 Green Issue)—discusses seven things that can go wrong and how to fix them.

With so many types of gear, it can be confusing to know what one really needs. After all—it’s not the gear, but the experience, that’s important, with USA Cycling Coach Stacey Richardson affirming in a 2018 Performance Bikes blog that “if you’re on a bike, you’re already winning.”

That said, being in the know (and prepared) can sometimes make the difference between a bad, good or great trip—nor does gear have to be expensive! Take it from #TeamRTC, who provides some super insights and a few MacGyver-worthy hacks in this blog.


RELATED: How to Be Equipment Ready for Your First Long-Distance Trail Ride

Inside Track on Recumbents and E-Bikes

Photos by Stephen Matera, courtesy IZIP
Photos by Stephen Matera, courtesy IZIP

Bicycles and tricycles come in all shapes and sizes, and like gear, knowing which is right for you can be downright daunting without advice. Additionally, e-bikes have been increasing in popularity, enabling more people—including those with mobility issues—to embrace trails and get more physical activity into their daily routine.

For more information on e-bikes, check out this April 2022 blog by Corey August at IZIP. And, if you’re considering a recumbent, or you’re seeking advice on how to keep your trike or recumbent in tip-top shape, here are some great insights from recumbent rider Jack Kurrle and recumbent manufacturer Catrike.

Don’t Forget to Share the Trail and #RecreateResponsibly!

And of course—if you’re on the trail in pursuit of your next destination, don’t forget that safe + fun = a great time for everyone.

Learn more about the six “Golden Rules” of trail use and etiquette on RTC’s Share the Trail page, with additional insights from the national Recreate Responsibly Coalition on how to safely be active and be good stewards outside when visiting America’s parks, trails and public lands.


RELATED: Golden Rules: Six Things You Need to Know for Trail Season

Ryan Chao | Photo by Anthony Le
Ryan Chao

Ryan Chao is the president of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, responsible for overseeing the organization’s national leadership in trail development, policy advocacy and movement building. He brings to his role a long history in community and economic development and a passion for connecting people to opportunity and the outdoors.

Amy Kapp | Photo courtesy Amy Kapp
Amy Kapp

Amy Kapp serves as Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief of Rails to Trails magazine. Kapp frequently writes about the impact of, and vast historical and cultural connections made by, America's rail-trails, parks and public lands.

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