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, 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.

Get more information about bike overnights.



14 responses so far ↓

Steve Butcher - Jan 15, 2012 at 5:11 PM

I really enjoy rail-trails! I live in southwest Missouri and have done about 2/3rds of the Katy Trail in 2011 in two segments; a spring and a fall long weekend. My wife and daughter, who did not ride, drove along hitting the antique and gift shops. We spent the nights in hotel/B&B settings. I might try to finish the remainder this fall (seems to be the best time to me). The spring ride was done on an old rigid frame mountain bike turned touring bike and the fall ride was on my "frankenbike" singlespeed road bike. Either worked just fine with appropriate tires. Also, for those who might be interested, there is the Frisco Highline rail-trail that goes about 36 miles between Bolivar and Springfield, Missouri. It is the second longest rail-trail in Missouri; a distant second to the Katy. The Frisco Highline is crushed limestone but is less "plush" than the Katy. I usually ride my full suspension mountain bike on the Frisco but many ride it on cyclocross or even road bikes. Again, appropriately wider tires with puncture resistance help considerably.

Michael McCoy - Jan 17, 2012 at 7:18 AM

Steve, thanks for that info. I'd like to try out the Frisco Highline.

Kevin - Jan 17, 2012 at 9:28 AM

I feel like such a slacker. I've only ridden three of the ten on your list. The Mickelson & Katy Trails are on the agenda for this summer. I hope to hit all of them within the next couple years.
I love this bike overnight website. It's a great idea. I submitted a May 2012 trip for the Rio Grande & Glenwood Canyon Trails in Colorado. I hope it's okay that they are for three nights. I'd also like to submit one for September on the Mickelson Trail, but we'll see how the Train to Trails trip in Glenwood Springs goes first.
Once again, I'll post information about this blog/website on, because I know my readers will enjoy this site as much as I do.
Thanks for the information.

Steve Butcher - Jan 17, 2012 at 6:08 PM

Michael, you can find out more about the Frisco Highline by going to Kevin, the Katy Trail has an interactive website which gives bunches of info. including mileage markers and the food/lodging/camping that is available and which I've found very useful. Go to Happy and safe journeys!

Kevin - Jan 18, 2012 at 9:11 AM

Thanks for the tip & link, Steve. I am really impressed by the great websites some of the trails provide. They've come a long way in the last few years. When I first started looking for trail information, it was almost non-existent. It's nice to see so much of it out there now.

John - Jan 18, 2012 at 1:29 PM

Kansas is active, too, in rail-to-trails. The wife and I did an overnighter on the Prairie Spirit trail. We did half the trail (about 24 miles) from the middle (Garnett) to the top (Ottawa) and stayed in a motel close to the trail and returned the next morning. I called the Garnett Police to tell them our car would be there overnight. I get the feeling not too many people do that but they were pleasant about it. Had a nice time!

trailsnet - Jan 18, 2012 at 6:36 PM

I know what you mean John. I often stay at motels near trails & assume that a lot of people do it. But I'm often surprised that the staff doesn't even know there's a trail within a couple blocks of their motel/hotel. I guess a lot of people haven't discovered what a pleasant little mini-vacation it makes to ride the trail out & back w/ a pleasant overnighter in between.

Michael McCoy - Jan 20, 2012 at 11:59 AM

John, that sounds like your next Bike Overnight!

Darrell in mid Mo. - Mar 21, 2012 at 6:58 PM

I feel lucky that the Katy Trail is my local "pedal stomping grounds". Spending time out there is a favorite hobby that seems to never get old, I've been doing it for many years now. The last few years I've been doing vacation multi-day camping trips with a motel or B&B stop or two mixed in. The weekend overnighters and day rides are always fun, especially since the new bike and hike addition was made to the bridge at Jefferson City. I recommend the Katy for any skill level.

As Steve said, the Frisco Highline is different from the Katy Trail, in places a bit more challenging I suppose, but smooth asphalt on both ends, it's a very fun bike ride. The hybrid gets used on this trail. You may see an occasional horse and rider on part of the Frisco Highline, which is pretty cool really, ads to the experience. Don't know what trail edicate is pertaining to passing horses, but I just pulled over and remained still as they passed, I think it was appreciated by the riders. Horses are also allowed on part of the Katy south of Sedalia.

I'm hoping to get over to Kansas to ride the Prarie Spirit Trail this year and if possible at least part of the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska. Rail trails are fun to ride, long rides with little worry about auto traffic, just ride and take in the sights. That works.

Kevin from - Mar 21, 2012 at 8:33 PM

I agree with you 100% Darrell. I enjoy rail trails for the same reason. Another one you may want to consider is the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota. I'm planning on riding it in September as part of the Mickelson Trail Trek Tour. In fact, I took the liberty of reserving three hotel rooms in case I can talk a few folks into joining me. It's a large group ride that includes daily shuttles. The trail is 109 miles and the Trek covers those miles in three days. I just posted information about the tour on if you're interested.

Michael McCoy - Mar 22, 2012 at 1:39 PM

Thanks for comments guys. Darrell, I agree you're lucky living in such close proximity to the Katy Trail. And I second Kevin's motion re. the Mickelson--my wife and I did the Mickelson Trail Trek a few years ago, and had a GREAT time. I was constantly amazed by how those pioneer surveyors were able to identify such a (relatively) flat grade through the radically up-and-down Black Hills.

Alan Osborne - Mar 24, 2012 at 1:53 PM

Just wondering if any one has done the Silver Comet Trail in Atlanta or the Greenbrier Trail in West Virginia? Looking for some tips on those. I am in Apex,NC so both of those are a 6 - 8 hour drive for me.

Kevin from trailsnet - Mar 24, 2012 at 2:31 PM

I did the Silver Comet Trail a couple years ago and loved it. Connect it w/ the Chief Ladiga Trail and it's 100 miles each way. The only bad part… there's very little lodging near the trail (camping or hotels). The Silver Comet Depot is right on the trail and is a great place to rent bikes including recumbents. I tried a recumbent for the S.C. trip and found it very relaxing. For more information about the Silver Comet, you can check out my description of it at
I hope you get a chance to ride the Silver Comet. I would recommend spring, or fall. It may be rather hot in the summer.
I'd love to hear how your trip goes.

Lee Nagel - Mar 7, 2013 at 10:29 AM

I, also, live in SW Missouri and regularly ride the Frisco. This June I'm planning a 5 day Katy Adventure. Rails-to-Trails are a huge blessing to us "vertically" challenged riders here in the Ozarks.

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