Longest U.S. Hiking and Biking Trail EVER Is Almost Here

Imagine being able to hike or bike across the nation from Washington, D.C. to Washington State without a car in sight. Outdoor enthusiast David Burwell did just that more than 30 years ago in 1986 when he co-founded the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) and, as they say, the rest is history.

After more than a year and half of analysis of more than 34,000 miles of open trails nationwide, including state and local trail plans, and discussions with hundreds of local trail partners and state agencies representing all of the trails along the potential route, Burwell’s dream of connecting trails from coast to coast is closer than ever to becoming a reality.

In a January 23 press release, the conservancy announced that 12 trails have been announced as “gateways” for making possible the nearly 4,000-mile connected trail. Keith Laughlin, President of RTC said, “With open trails comprising more than 50 percent of the potential route, combined with strong local and state enthusiasm, we are now confident that the Great American Rail-Trail can be completed. RTC is ready to lead the effort to connect the trail across communities, counties and state lines to create a seamless off-road biking and walking journey for the country.” 

Cardinal Greenway in Indiana. Photo by Tony Valainis via RTC website.

While the full route for the trail won’t be released until spring 2019, the 12 gateway trails that make the Great American Rail-Trail possible have been announced:

  • Capital Crescent Trail, Washington, D.C. and Maryland: This 11-mile trail—and the Great American Rail-Trail—begins in Georgetown, near the historic landmarks of the nation’s capital.
  • Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Washington, D.C. and Maryland: The nearly 185-mile trail connects Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland, featuring canal locks, lock houses, aqueducts and their canal structures.
  • Panhandle Trail, Pennsylvania and West Virginia: The 29-mile trail heads west from the Pittsburgh suburbs into northern West Virginia, serving as a literal gateway between the states.
  • Ohio to Erie Trail, Ohio: The 270-mile trail cuts diagonally across the state, connecting two major waterways, the Ohio River in Cincinnati and Lake Erie in Cleveland.
  • Cardinal Greenway, Indiana: RTC’s 2018 Rail-Trail Hall of Fame inductee stretches northwest for 61-miles through rural Indiana, making it the longest rail-trail in the state. 
  • Hennepin Canal Parkway, Illinois: The 100-mile-plus trail parallels the early-20th-century canal and runs west from the Illinois River to the Rock River.
  • Cedar Valley Nature Trail, Iowa: This 52-mile pathway, one of the first rail-trail conversions in the state, follows the Cedar River and connects Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids.
  • Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail, Nebraska: One of the longest rail-trails in the country, this 219-mile trail traverses rural Nebraska, connecting small towns and offering views of the High Plains.
  • Casper Rail Trail, Wyoming: This 6-mile trail is an important connector in one of the largest cities in Wyoming.
  • Headwaters Trail System, Montana: The nearly 12-mile trail connects to Missouri Headwaters State Park, where three rivers meet to form the Missouri River: the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin.
  • Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, Idaho: This nearly 72-mile trail runs through Idaho’s panhandle, delivering breathtaking vistas through the state’s forests.
  • Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, Washington: Another of the nation’s longest rail-trail conversions, this trail spans more than 200 miles across Washington and marks the terminus of the Great American Rail-Trail.

Beginning in historic Georgetown in Washington, D.C., the trails will go through some of America’s most beautiful scenery, utilizing the great C&O canals to running along 29 miles of scenic creeks in northern West Virginia and ending at its largest stretch of path at the Cascades State Park trail. As a kid who loved her bike, I dreamed of just putting on my backpack and taking off to explore, especially the big skies of Wyoming and Montana. I can’t think of a better vacation than walking and cycling through nature. In a nation weary of technology and political hysteria, it’s good to know that there are hard-working outdoor enthusiasts trying to make our world a little bit better place. Still, I cannot resist. Who says conservatives don’t respect nature? #Reignwell