Picture this: a 15-mile trail with scenic views for you to traverse on foot or on your mountain bike—and you get to go through 10 long and dark train tunnels! Amazing. (Okay, we retract one of them if you’re on a bike. Still...nine long and dark train tunnels!). How long of a tunnel are we talking? Try 1.661 miles long and with a beautiful seasonal waterfall at one end! Now prepare your mind for this next bit: the trail also includes seven towering trestles (those tall railroad bridges that span gorges). Want a last bit of persuasion before you put this trail into Waze? Most of the trail is downhill, and shuttles transport your exhilarated self back to the beginning. You need to buy a trail pass and shuttle ticket; more than fair. The trains that once rattled through here were Milwaukee Railroad trains that got to tackle 11 tunnels and nine trestles. The trail’s still being added to (another 31 miles are planned), so visit now so that when the new part opens, you can be all nonchalant about how it used to be.
People have been talking about rail trails for a really long time (check out this helpful timeline from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy if you’re interested in the history) as a clever and eco-friendly way to “recycle the railroads” after the automobile rose in popularity and trains stopped being invited to parties. Where rail lines fell out of use, right of ways were purchased to keep them as verdant walkways or bike paths. Today as we’re trying to build and maintain our rail infrastructure, these “linear parks” are still important: if we can’t have trains on them, at least we have access to nature!
And we’re all eager to get onto these trails: at last count by the conservancy, the U.S. had more than 25,000 miles of rail trails open across 2,400 trails. And there are 868 projects underway that will add more than 9,000 more miles. You can find a trail anywhere in the country; click this map to find the ones in your state. Our list here of the 12 best rail trails in the U.S. is woefully inadequate; please think of this list as a starting point to get you invested in finding others in your state or the state you’re traveling to.