THE PHRASE “abandoned railroad corridors” probably conjures up dismal images of derelict tracks strangled with weeds. In reality, many disused railway routes across the U.S. have been resurrected as scenic bike trails thanks to the nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and many trail advocates instrumental in their development. With a mostly flat or gentle grade, these six rail-trails in particular beckon, offering opportunities to drop a fishing line, spy on swooping herons or stop along the way in sweet small towns. Best of all, each of these cycling paths showcases the kind of scenery well worth slowing down for.
Peak Pedal Experience in Colorado
Rio Grande Trail
Following the corridor of the former Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, the 42-mile Rio Grande Trail extends from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, traversing a landscape of thick evergreen forests, stands of aspens and expansive hay fields, horse pastures and cattle ranches. You’ll be wheeling beneath soaring peaks, though the trail itself is relatively level. Visit in spring to see the wildflowers or in summer for reliably bright and sunny days. Carbondale is one of several towns worth exploring, for its outdoor sculptures or tasty restaurants, including the modern Mexican Axkawa (senortacoshow.com). For those who want to ride a portion of the trail or just one way, a public-transit bus can drop you off near a trailhead.rfta.com/trail-information
Coasting Through Cornfields in Ohio
Little Miami Scenic Trail
Keep your eyes peeled for great blue herons and other birds along the Little Miami River when riding this pastoral 78-mile Rail-Trail from Springfield to Anderson Township. Mostly following the bed of the former Little Miami Railroad, the route passes through a dozen small towns as it rolls by fields of corn and soybeans. In the heat of summer, the river becomes a nexus for canoeing and fishing. Cool off at any of the many ice cream shops along the way, including Young’s Jersey Dairy, a short detour from the arty town of Yellow Springs. miamivalleytrails.org/trails/little-miami-scenic-trail
Lumbering Along in California
Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail
The fragrance of ponderosa and Jeffrey pines accompanies you on this remote, 25-mile trail that follows the former route of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Weaving through original train tunnels and across historic railroad bridges in a rugged canyon land, the Bizz Johnson (named for the Congressman who had a prominent role in its establishment) connects Westwood with Susanville, both former logging towns. Plan to linger awhile in Susanville, the county seat of Lassen County. Stop at the Lassen Historical Museum for the lowdown on the early lumber trade and at the Boardroom for one of the beers made locally, at Lassen Ale Works—likely your only chance to try a Bizz Johnson Blonde Ale. From Susanville, you can also bike to Devil’s Corral gorge (14 miles round-trip) over a series of historic bridges and among stands of cottonwoods and black oaks. Picturesque anytime of year, that route is especially gape-worthy in fall, when the trees flaunt their brilliant golds and reds. blm.gov/visit/bizz-johnson
Sun, Sand and Spinning in Florida
The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail
Winding along Florida’s west coast from St. Petersburg to the Pasco County line, this 54-mile urban trail skirts verdant parks and serene waterways. (It takes its name from the county administrator who was a proponent of green spaces and the rail conversion.) Following the right-of-way of the old CSX Railroad, the route is peppered with colorful art installations as well as live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Food options are abundant, but a stop at trailside Cafe Alfresco in Dunedin is especially atmospheric, with its leafy outdoor patio (cafealfresco.com). Cycle in the winter, taking a spur trail to sunbathe on Honeymoon Island State Park’s undeveloped beaches. pinellascounty.org/trailgd
Swimming Pit Stops in West Virginia
Greenbrier River Trail
Flanked by the Allegheny Mountains, this 78-mile rail-trail mostly hugs the Greenbrier River, following a segment of the former Chesapeake and Ohio Railway corridor. In summer, inviting swimming holes dot the secluded path connecting Caldwell to Cass, a former railroad town. For a short, scenic option, book a shuttle for you and your bike from Marlinton to Cass, then pedal the 24 miles back. One of many reminders of the route’s railroad past, a restored rail depot in Marlinton now hosts an art gallery. Refuel at light-filled Dirtbean Cafe, also in Marlinton (dirtbean.com). wvstateparks.com/park/greenbrier-river-trail, greenbrierrivertrail.com.
Creative Carbo Loading in New Hampshire
Northern Rail Trail
This almost 60-mile rail-trail runs from Lebanon, N.H., to Boscawen, N.H., along the wooded corridor of the old Boston & Maine Railroad. The southeast portion—Franklin to Boscawen—is especially lovely as it rolls through tree tunnels. (The shade makes for a pleasantly cool ride even on a hot summer day.) The trail allows easy access–via short detours–to Webster Lake, where orator Daniel Webster spent summers as a boy, and Enfield Shaker Museum, which exhibits the signature minimalist furniture of this Christian sect. Just off trail, the Vulgar Brewing Company in Franklin serves up unusual pizzas such as the Royale with Cheese, topped with ground Black Angus Beef, mozzarella, tomato sauce and yellow mustard. (vulgarbrewing.com). fnrt.org
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