Travel Tip: Let's hear it for rail-trails!
Three weeks ago I posted a piece at my Adventure Cycling Biking Without Borders blog titled Flat's Where It's At: My 10 Favorite Rail-Trails. While I didn't exactly pull these ten trails out of a hat, I do admit that I haven't personally experienced them all. I've bicycled half of them -- the George S. Mickelson Trail, Great Allegheny Passage, Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, Katy Trail, and Raccoon River Trail. The other five I've read enough about, or talked to enough people who have ridden them, to know that they're definitely among my "favorites." But there's easily another two or three dozen rail-trails that I could have pegged as favorites, as well.
South Dakota's Mickelson Trail cuts through the granitic heart of the Black Hills.
A large share of rail-trails make excellent venues for Bike Overnights, whether it's your first or your fifteenth outing. They're sometimes designated state parks, and feature adjacent state-park-like campgrounds. And because the trains went through towns, the rail-trails do, too; many of these communities have transformed old railroad depots into musuems, visitor centers, and even cafes. Likewise, in many instances, locals have caught on to the economic benefits of rail-trails and established bed & breakfast accommodations alongside or close to the trails. Such arrangements can provide for an excellent first try at a bike overnight, as you can forego the camping and cooking gear, dining and sleeping in luxury.
Old tunnels and trestles are some of the highlights of the Mickelson Trail.
Some rail-trails are paved or blacktopped; others feature surfaces of crushed limestone or other rock materials. The surface has a bearing on what kind of bike and/or tires you'll be comfortable riding. For instance, I rode an all-out mountain bike on the Mickelson Trail, an unsuspended hybrid on the Great Allegheny Passage, and a skinny-tired road bike on the hard surfaces of the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the Raccoon River Trail.
You never know who you might meet on a rail-trail. I bumped into Adventure Cycling's Julie Huck (second from left) and her friends on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes in May 2010.
To find a rail-trail or two near you, go to TrailLink.com, a free service of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. And to learn out about rails WITH trails, which are trails alongside active rail lines, point and click into this website.