With spring here, we’re all longing for a good dose of fresh air and some quality time with Mother Nature. One of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors and spend time with your family is by biking or hiking on your local bike trail. And planning an overnight or multi-day bike ride is a great family project that everyone can get excited about.
Some of the best options for multi-day bike rides are rail-trails. Rail-trails are bike trails that are created when a railroad stops using one of their lines, allowing that old railroad route to be converted into “linear park”. There are thousands of miles of rail-trails in the US, ranging in length from less than a mile to hundreds of miles.
My rail-trail family story began several years ago when my son wanted to ride his bike across the state of Missouri. It sounded like a crazy idea at first, but after a little research we realized it was actually attainable.
Luckily, here in Missouri we have the Katy Trail, which stretches 230 miles – almost from one side of the state to the other. This covered most of the distance, and we used Google Maps to plan out the remaining 60 miles, mostly on barely-used country roads. We spent the spring and early summer getting in shape, with “long rides” on weekends and some shorter rides during the week, when possible.
Then in August, after getting dropped off with our bikes and gear at the Kansas-Missouri state line, we headed east. A week later, we dipped our bike tires in the Mississippi River to celebrate the end of our border-to-border cross-state ride. Our daily mileage varied from 25 miles to 55 miles. We stayed at B&Bs and motels along the way, and got our meals from country diners and local stores in the little towns that dot the trail. We experienced charming small town Americana, beautiful nature, breathtaking views of the Missouri River and its bluffs, and met some of the nicest people we could imagine.
It was truly a life milestone experience for both of us.
Missourians are lucky to have the Katy Trail (http://www.bikekatytrail.com), but chances are there are amazing rail-trails near you too. Some of the best-known trails include:
* The C&O Canal Trail, 185 miles long, runs from Washington DC to Cumberland MD. (http://www.bikecando.com)
* The Great Allegheny Passage runs 150 miles from Cumberland MD to Pittsburgh. Because the Great Allegheny Passage connects to the C&O trail, you can literally ride the trail from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. (http://www.bikegap.com)
* The Silver Comet Trail runs 62 miles from Smyrna GA to the Alabama state line, where it becomes the Chief Ladiga trail, continuing 33 miles through Alabama to Anniston. (http://www.bikesilvercomet.com)
* The Erie Canalway Trail covers around 300 miles in upstate New York, from Buffalo to Albany (http://www.canals.ny.gov/trails/about.html)
* The Cowboy Trail stretches across 320 miles of northern Nebraska. (http://www.bikecowboytrail.com)
* The Ohio and Erie Canal Trail runs 80 miles from Cleveland OH (http://www.nps.gov/cuva/planyourvisit/ohio-and-erie-canal-towpath-trail.htm)
There are hundreds of bike trails across the country, ranging in length from less than a mile to hundreds of miles. They can be found almost anywhere; the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy offers a great tool for finding trails in your area, at http://www.traillink.com/
Author: Ray Scott is a Software Engineer and Data Scientist at Global Vision Technologies, and also the webmaster for several bike trail websites