Great American Rail-Trail? - CycleBlaze

Bicycle Travel Forum

Great American Rail-Trail?

Jeff Lee

I know some people find rail-trails (and multi-use paths in general) kinda boring, but I think this is a cool idea. I've occasionally fantasized about such a thing, usually while touring on an unpleasantly busy road. 

Great American Rail-Trail

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6 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Jeff Lee

Wow, a trail like that would be so great. So far we have noticed that while Rails to Trails has a lot of total distance, not much is interconnected.

Canada already has something like this. It used to be called the Trans Canada Trail but has been renamed The Great Trail. It claims to be 100% connected, but since this is Canada, that includes about 1500 km you have to canoe - from Winnipeg to Sault Ste Marie! Other bits are pretty remote - even the section from where we live, 50 km north of Victoria, into Victoria.

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6 months ago
Gregory GarceauTo Jeff Lee

This route looks great, and I say that as a frequent complainer about the boring-ness of rail-trails.  The rail-trails I'm familiar with in my home state of Minnesota are acclaimed for being paved and well-maintained.  But you can't see anything beyond the trees.  Miles and miles of trees on both sides of the trail.  The occasional town provides great relief.  Wisconsin's extensive network of rail-trails has the same problem, but without the pavement.  Believe me, I have no problem with crushed rock trails as long as I can see something--anything--beyond the trees.

My favorite rail-trails are the ones that provide a route through metropolitan areas.  Often they give traffic-free access to streets with bike lanes that lead to some pretty cool inner-city highlights.  (Definitely true in Minneapolis.)

I like how the Trans-America rail-trail runs south of here.  I much prefer looking across the vast cornfields of Iowa and the plains of Nebraska than a blocked-out view into a cluster of trees.  I've ridden the rail-trails of Northern Idaho.  There are many trees, but they never obstruct the awesome view into the mountains.

I'd love to see a cross-country rail-trail through the desert states, and through the south in general.  Somehow, I don't think that will happen.

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6 months ago
John PescatoreTo Gregory Garceau

Back in the late 1980s I was an early member/supporter of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. There was a lot of early discussion about trying to focus on interconnection but some realities intruded:

  • Way more people ride recreationally than tour or commute
  • While some of the funds came from transportation oriented sources like the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, way more came from parks and recreation sources - and the general population (and politicians) were much more supportive of adding to or creating new "parks."

So, lots of pieces got built vs. an interconnected system in many areas. But it got a lot of people and kids on bikes!

Good to see many interconnection efforts. I have one friend in Columbus OH that I go out and bike with, OH has a great grid of interconnected segments. Another friend in FL says the Coast to Coast trail system is now more than 85% gap-free.

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6 months ago
Jeff LeeTo John Pescatore

Another friend in FL says the Coast to Coast trail system is now more than 85% gap-free.

Last October when I was riding the Natchez Trace, I met a couple from Florida who told me I should come down and try the coast to coast (Gulf Coast to Atlantic Ocean) trail that was under development there. Your post reminded me to check on its status. As you mentioned, it looks like it's about 85% complete. There are multiple website that describe it:

Bike Florida

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

C2C Trail

OH has a great grid of interconnected segments. 

Yeah, the Ohio bike trail system is pretty great. When I lived in north central Kentucky, I would ride sections of it frequently. My first "bike tour" when I started riding in 2005 was an overnight out-and-back from Milford to Springfield on the Little Miami Trail. I thought the 75 miles each way was a big accomplishment at the time - ha!

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6 months ago
Mike AylingTo Jeff Lee

For those considering a visit to Australia  the State of Victoria developed a large network of railway branch lines, a number of which have been converted to rail trails but as you can see from the map, they don't link up. If you click on the link the 1900 railway lines map is quite informative. CycleBlaze member Joel Emo has spent some time tracing the path of a number of these discontinued lines that have not been converted to rail trails.

For Gregory Garceau I can tell you that you do not have to ride a rail trail to see nothing but trees all day. The road from Yarram to Sale in eastern Victoria is exactly like that and I agree with Gregory that it does become extremely boring!


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6 months ago